Tara Kannangara: The WL Interview

Purveyors of: Wild trumpet melodies, searing guitar lines, lush synths, piercing lyricism 

File next to: Allie X, Thanya Iyer, Munya, Charlotte Cornfield

Playing:  Tara Kannangara + Corey Gulkin (double album release) + Essie Watts: Wavelength, April 12, 2024 @ Monarch Tavern (12 Clinton St.) 

More info here

Juno-nominated artist Tara Kannangara is a second-generation, Sri Lankan-Canadian force of nature, giving you music that is deeply personal, genre-bending and culture blending. Tara has been featured on CBC’s The Signal and The Sunday Edition and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts.

Wavelength chatted with Tara about collaborations with artists, “longing to be seen,” and lyrical themes.

Editor’s note*: This interview has been edited for clarity

WL: Your music has been described as deeply personal, genre-bending and culture-bending. How do you approach blending different genres and cultures in your music?

Tara: My writing style is definitely influenced by western pop-culture of the early 2000s. The music was written to be produced alt-pop jams, but our background as a band is also in experimental music and jazz, so you’ll find that subtly woven into the work. This side of us comes out in our live shows

The music is deeply personal because the narratives in the songs come directly from my life. There isn’t a lot of figurative language in my writing and I like to challenge myself as a songwriter by being as direct as possible. In terms of culture-blending, there are a lot of themes in the record about being caught between two worlds, in both the lyrics and the music. I still carry some guilt that my music is more influenced by western culture than South-Asian culture and that tension exists in the songs. I’ll probably be exploring this theme for the rest of my life.

WL: Can you take us through the process of your latest album?

Tara: It was a pandemic record! I remember we were tracking drums in March 2020 and one of my bandmates, Matthew Fong, walked into the studio and said that we probably had to stop because it was too unsafe. Like many people, I thought we’d hold for two weeks and come back to finish tracking the rest of the band. Obviously that didn’t happen.

But, we managed to piece it together by recording remotely or finding moments in between COVID waves to track safely. It took longer than expected, but it was nice to track without a specific deadline. Also, I wasn’t sure we’d ever play shows again, so there was some freedom in the process since no one knew what the future would bring.

WL: You’ve collaborated with remarkable artists like Jeremy Dutcher, Charlotte Cornfield, and Witch Prophet. How have these collaborations impacted your artistic journey and the evolution of your music?

Tara: Actually, I’m writing this email to you in a coffee shop in Halifax. I’m here for the Junos since I’m performing with Jeremy on the live broadcast (I play trumpet in his band). Jeremy has been an incredible inspiration to me. Watching him dive deep into his culture through his music has helped me reckon with my own complicated feelings about being an outsider.

Charlotte is an artist I’ve long admired and I was lucky enough to be in one of her music videos playing her “Partner in Crime.” She’s an uncompromising songwriter and I think her lyrics are so advanced. I’m in awe of how she can say so much without taking up too much real estate.

Witch Prophet is a force, also bold and uncompromising. I played trumpet on her latest record The Gateway Experience. We actually have something pretty specific in common. We both have epilepsy. Though our seizures manifest in different ways, we’ve both had to deal with the trauma of irregular electrical functioning in our brains. When she reached out to me and told me the record would contain these themes, I was totally on board. It was cathartic to be a part of this project.

WL: Your lyrics often explore themes of being a dreamer, an outsider, and a woman longing to be seen. How do you navigate these themes in your songwriting, and what messages do you hope to convey to your listeners?

Tara: The hardest part about writing about being a dreamer or “longing to be seen” is actually admitting to people that I am these things and that I care a lot. In the past I wanted to be cool and chill, a “take it or leave it attitude.” But for this project I want my writing to cut straight through any kind of pretense. I want it to say, “I care deeply about the world. I want you to get that and get me.”

WL: Any upcoming Tara Kannangara news that you can share (other than your album release)?

Tara:  I’m being featured in this amazing documentary on the Toronto music scene called New World Beat. It’s playing on TVO. It’s hosted by Lydia Persaud, one of Toronto’s super talents. The docu series features a bunch of fantastic artists including Charlotte Cornfield, the Weather Station, Kyla Charter, DijahSB and many more. I’m thrilled to be a part of it. My episode is premiering May 1st.

Don’t miss Tara Kannangara on April 12th at the Monarch Tavern as part of the monthly Wavelength Music Series. Get tickets here!

– Interview by Tara Hejazi