One Small Step For a Band: Tan Cologne on Launching Their Lunar Debut

Photo by Marissa Macias

Lauren Green and Marissa Macias speak with reverence about their home base of Taos, New Mexico and its unique position in time and space. It’s a town steeped in native and colonial history, but it also boasts a vibrant artistic present. It’s a landscape rooted in its own strict seasonal flow, but it also hosts visitors from all over the world–and, depending on whose stories you believe, maybe even visitors of otherworldly origin.

That intersection proved to be just the spot for a couple of artists like Green and Macias’ to found an ambient indie rock project. Their debut album as Tan Cologne is called Cave Vaults On The Moon In New Mexico, and it distills all their observations of Taos and its particular natural and social dynamics into eight tracks-worth of dreamy, New Age visions.

Each unfolds like an alien transmission; the words are often just beyond hearing, but spacey guitars and reedy keyboard pads vibrate with unmistakable intelligence and the purposeful arrangement of a message. The duo’s voices wax and wane behind wispy clouds of reverb drone and, on “Cerro,” the sound of rain falling on the land that gave rise to the project.

Before releasing Cave Vaults On the Moon In New Mexico, Green and Macias spoke to The All Scene Eye about soundscapes, moon landings, and launching Tan Cologne beyond its local foundation.

A few years ago, the two of you formed this artistic collaboration, Psychic Sink, which included a gallery and performance space. How did you initially meet and start working together?

Green: We met here in Taos–we came here on different trajectories, became friends, and started playing music together. We would just set up tons of amps and guitar pedals in a circle, play for hours, and make some trippy, experimental soundscapes and stuff like that. 

Then we had an opportunity where we had a friend living in and operating a gallery, who was moving, so we ended up taking that over for a little bit and hosting various shows. We tried to focus on it being multimedia–different layers of visual, sound, tactile, things like that. That all came together through playing music together and wanting to expand. Marissa in particular is a musician and visual artist, so it was cool to combine all of those efforts.

Tell me more about the gallery space. What’s that like?

Macias: The space is actually in a historic plaza–one of the first plazas that were set up from colonial expansion in Taos–so the gallery itself was close to 300 years old. It was made out of adobe and the walls were about four feet thick in some spots. When we actually recorded in there, it was a very patient experience because the electricity wasn’t totally grounded and there would be a lot of funny noises. 

It was weird being in there and also opening it up to the public and experiencing this old fortress. We were there for about a year and a half, and one of the summers, there was a major monsoon, and it actually washed down a ton of flint and arrowhead from the top of the roof. We felt really lucky to be there, but it was almost a little maddening at times because it was kind of crumbling around us. If you look up Ranchos de Taos Saint Francis de Assisi Church, we were about ten feet away from it, and it’s one of the most photographed churches in the U.S.

Green: Like Marissa was saying, it was cool because inside the adobe, the walls were–who knows. Almost two feet thick or something.

Macias: I said four. [laughs]

Green: They were pretty thick. It deflected phone calls, we didn’t really get service, didn’t really have internet for a while, so that was really beneficial to harnessing creative time and making space to record. But yeah, some of the outlets had some dirty electricity–or ghosts. Who knows, really.

Macias: [laughs]

Green: We had to do quite a few different takes, but it was an experience for sure. It was a lot of time spent just maintaining it. Someone ended up taking over the space recently, but it was really special and rare to be able to have that time. With the gallery, we would have a show and then take the sign down outside when we were recording or whatever, and people would be like, “Where was that gallery space again? I think it was over here, or over there,” you know.

You have this gallery space and you’re experimenting with soundscapes. From there, how does the more concrete project of Tan Cologne develop?

Macias: We were taking a lot of time to help artists that we really believed in in Northern New Mexico and have friends come and create installations in our space. We wanted to pair it with sound, so sometimes we would create that sound and other times we would have a band or a performer play with the visual. What happened is we noticed that as much as we were presenting, we created quite a lot. 

It was a strange time–opening up our gallery, closing our gallery, hiding and then presenting. It was this extreme experience of, “We want to pretend we’re not here and then we want to just open the doors.” We would seclude ourselves when we weren’t doing shows and just create together. It was a really different time of friendships and relationships, and I think we internalized our creativity into that space and started writing more concrete songs than just sound.

Green: Yes.

Macias: For a minute, I feel like we were just working with sound as our own little soundtrack to life or art, and that dialogue started to come out in a story. A lot of this album is a story of New Mexico, a story of that journey.

Green: It would be cool because I would come up with a part, Marissa would come up with a part separately, and then we would come back together and play, and miraculously, a lot of the time, the parts would fit together. They would be two separate solid chunks that were in the same key–all of these things that were really, really special when it came together. Then we started writing lyrics and adding vocals because a lot of the time we wouldn’t have vocals with the soundscapes, or if we did, it would just be a little ambient sound. So yeah, that was really cool to see, and then we would just develop the song together. Not every song was like that, but a lot of them were.

Macias: Yeah, a majority.

Green: Two separate parts from two separate times come together. That’s kind of how that came about, and just being in such a beautiful landscape that’s so incredible, and wild, and unruly, and beautiful at the same time–it’s really special to write an album about that.

The two of you played almost all the parts on this album, and we’ll get to the exception later, but can you break down for me how that divides up?

Green: We borrowed a drum set from our friend for like, a whole year, so that was pretty cool. That also contributed to fleshing out the songs with percussive elements, but–I played drums, bass, guitar, vocals, some keys here and there, and then just random percussive elements like shaker.

Macias: I played the synthesizer, which we got right at the end of recording, and I played a keyboard that I’ve had since I was eight. [laughs] It’s really 80s, it’s so good–or 90s, I don’t know. I played the electric guitar and–did I play tambourine?

Green: Yeah.

Macias: I think I played some percussion on some stuff, and vocals. It was neat because Lauren is an amazing drummer, and I’m not a drummer, but I can hear what I feel, and she has the ability to bring that to life. We have a really interesting communication with what fits and what goes in. 

When we were initially writing the album, we didn’t have drums. We were just playing two guitars together and sometimes a little bit of keys, but barely. After we started to record, we actually realized we had to strip away–and there’s a lot of guitar on that album, but we had to take away a huge percentage because we had filled up so much space with just the two electric guitars. We had to make room for everything else, and that was amazing.

You alluded to the fact that there’s a story you’re communicating. Can you tell me about the overarching arc of this record?

Green: A lot of it started with observations of the landscape and the seasons. “New Dune,” for instance, is about–during the summers and spring, it gets pretty windy, and these little dirt devils form. And the elements that are collected and deposited in another place, it creates what we, in our minds, developed as a new dune. “Monsoon” is obviously about summer, monsoon time, and the feelings and experiences that go along with existing within some pretty extreme conditions out here. I’m from Texas, so I’m not really used to seasons in general. [laughs] It’s been a really eye-opening experience to see how that shapes your life and how you view things–what you’re able to do or not do because maybe it’s snowing or raining a lot. It was a lot of observational things about where we met and where we live at the moment and putting a soundtrack to that.

Macias: There’s also the second observation–but also experience–of being part of a community that’s so extreme. In Taos, we have major conspiracy theorists. We have a lot of artists that have hidden out for a long time. We have the pueblo, which is totally ancient. It’s really dynamic here, and yet there’s about 5,000 people just circling around each other, so things become kind of twisted and funny, and people know what you’re up to even before you know what you’re up to. [laughs] There’s a lot of fanaticism of what it’s like to be in a commune here and what it was before in the 60s. There’s a lot of people that will come up here just to go to Dennis Hopper’s grave, and it’s like, “Okay. Really? Okay.” [laughs] 

Lauren and I have both lived in a lot of different places, and I think there’s something really sacred about being here. We see it as a privilege and not as a right, you know? It’s a small place, but it can easily change, and I think we’re more interested in what it is and not what it can become. The album was a lot into witnessing and telling the story of the landscape, the story of visitors, and the story of what may exist, and we told it through elements versus, you know, persons.

You’ve played in places like Texas, places like Mexico. What has it been like taking these songs out of where they were born and where that identity is so rooted?

Green: It’s really cool because we were asked to play Levitation in Texas, and when we were doing the tour poster, we were wondering, “What should we call this thing? Should we call it ‘Old Mexico?’” Because really, Texas, New Mexico, Mexico, there were no borders. We thought it was pretty cool that that would be our first experience performing these songs outside of Taos, and we received such incredible feedback. I think a lot of people are very interested in the oddities and the rarities and being in the west–like Marissa was saying, those conspiracies. A lot of people are drawn to that, so it was cool to take that elsewhere. A lot of people have questions or are interested in that in themselves.

What has your experience been like with those kinds of conspiracies?

Macias: I think there’s one part of us that dives deep into those things, and it’s pretty exciting to hear about what people experience out here–what they’ve seen in the skies, or the reason they were drawn here, or when they were born here, what it all was, but we also hermit quite a bit. Creating here is really special, and it’s good to experience all of those stories, but it’s also really wonderful to create your own little space, and I think a lot of people do that here. They venture into what’s happening, because really–I mean, flyers for a show work better in Taos. Running into someone at the market–

Green: It’s a little more analog.

Macias: Yeah!

I noticed you’re not on social media very much.

Green: That’s what’s funny about it. We’re trying a little more with the album approaching, but we’ve kind of just stuck with Instagram and the website. And, you know, Spotify. It’s really sweet and special that people do still take the time to hand-draw flyers and go get them printed, and word of mouth–that’s kind of how things work here. 

To answer your question, that could even tie the experiences with other people and their feelings about conspiracies and things like that. Say you’re going to promote a show and you’re going to go print some flyers. That can turn into a whole day where you see everyone at a coffee shop, and they’re like, “Whoa, I had this really crazy experience where I was at a bar and this guy was telling me about how he saw these three witches in a cave, and then he met a guy who was raised by those three witches,” you know what I mean? It’s the narrative of existing here, and if you have a day to just get swept up in the whirlwind of it, that could be the story for a whole new album.

Macias: Yeah, so I would say the balance of receiving these stories is also the balance of taking a lot of quiet time as well.

Green: Right.

Macias: It’s a good place for that.

On another level of the community and interactivity of this album, Lauren, you worked with your mother on recording flute for a couple parts.

Green: Yes, exactly!

Had you worked together on music before?

Green: No, and that was a really special thing. I was there for a wedding and to just hang out, and–you know, my mom played flute in high school, and I knew she had it somewhere. I was like, “Do you still know how to play that thing?” And she was like, “I think so,” and she brought it out and dusted it off. I had brought a couple mics and a laptop, and she just sat down and immediately figured out the key and started doing some trippy stuff over it. 

It was pretty special because I feel like we’re getting to know each other in a lot of different ways. Musically, I’ve never collaborated with her, so it was really cool to have her on the album, you know? Because like you were saying, Marissa and I did all of it. We recorded all of it, we played all of it, so it was pretty special to have her featured on it. That really brought all of us together because I’ll just text her and be like, “Hey mom, did you see you could buy your flute playing at now?” [laughs] And she’s like, “Shut up!” She’s really humble and shy about everything.

The two of you directed the music video for “Alien.” Both of you being these wide-ranging artists, was the music video a medium you had worked in before?

Macias: Yeah, I studied photography and I’ve had to take on really interdisciplinary work because I just–I love to create and my language kind of shifts dialogues quite a bit. I have worked in video before, more for friends who were designing something, or if I wanted to put stuff to music just for myself. When we decided to do our video, it was kind of in this fun, like, “Let’s do home footage of alien arrival.” We could have done that video in weeks, or a week, and we ended up doing it entirely in one day. It was just both of us, and we really had a wonderful time, like–we had talked about what we wanted to do. There was a story that had come out in the summer about these two men who had been on this volcanic plateau, and–

Green: They were elk hunting.

Macias: They were elk hunting, yes. One saw two beings which he felt were from outer space, and they saw these structures later on that kind of disappeared. It was so cool to read because we had already written “Alien,” so I think that was just like, “Let’s put it into visuality.” Our little take on just being out where we live. We didn’t make it with the best cameras or the best things–we just made it with what we had, and it was a blast.

Green: That’s what’s fun about the project too, is things like that. We try to be in nature as much as possible. Sometimes in the winter it’s more difficult because it’s so cold, or your car gets stuck and you’ve got to shovel yourself out, but that was cool, to go and scout locations and romp around the land for a little bit. It’s been a pretty deep winter already, which is great for creating too because there’s a lot of reflection and time just to record and be present..

When you’re taking these songs on the road, you play with a full band–what’s it like growing these songs and bringing other people on board?

Green: That was pretty wild, to have that experience. This is a different constellation than I’ve worked with in the past, where it would be a band, and you all write the songs together, and you’re solid, and you go out into the world, you know? This was interesting because it’s just Marissa and I who wrote the songs, and then we had a couple buds from Taos who played with us, and what was even cooler is that once we cruised into Mexico, we had some musicians from Mexico City who also played with us–played keys, played bass, melodica, funny little things. We had a cellist, a friend of mine, Joey, who I’ve known for a really long time. He sat in with us for one of the Levitation shows.

That’s a whole new experience for me, to see different musicians and how they interpret your music, whether it’s verbatim, or they add some flair to it. I think that’s where we’re headed with this project–to have maybe a few solid people, but a few guests if people want to join in, which is really cool, to see the songs come to life. Like Marissa was saying, we started with just two guitars, and that was completely intricate and ridiculous, to an extent. We kind of got lost in that, so it’s been really cool to hear everything be a full body of songs.

Macias: Mexico City blew us away. We had a dialogue that was a little bit broken with our language barrier here and there, and then we get down there and we had three different musicians play with us who knew our songs and knew them in their way, and had favorites that they felt connected to. It actually made us tear up when we first heard them play because we were like, “Wow, we made this in our funny little gallery, kind of crumbling space, and here we are in Mexico City and these incredible musicians know our songs almost better than we do.” [laughs] Not better, but they knew them well. It was really cool to play and have a new conversation with performance.

You alluded to this direction of what’s next for the project. How much do you know about what you want to do after this album?

Green: We have a few shows in and around L.A. for the album release and then we’re planning on a European tour over the summer. Our label, they’re out of Sweden, and we’ve actually never met them in person–just Skyped–so it’s going to be pretty special to head over there. I think we’ll collaborate with a few musicians, possibly, in Sweden, so that’s really cool to just see where it goes. We’re ready to cruise over there, I think.

Macias: As far as another album, we probably wrote two when we actually were ready to start recording. “Monsoon” was the last one we recorded, and when we got to it, we felt this completion for at least the story of Cave Vaults On The Moon In New Mexico, because it’s just like the weather. When the monsoon comes, it’s crazy and wild and then there’s this beautiful quietness. It was weird because when we finished monsoon, we felt finished with this album, but we have more. Just the other day, we were up in my grandma’s attic in California playing a lot of new things, and I think it’s exciting. We kind of dreamed of recording in other spaces, and now we feel really in love with recording ourselves. [laughs] It was dreamy to be able to listen to what you had and re-record it as necessary.

Green: My favorite part of recording is, once you have the bones and the structure down, I like all the twinkles and layers and things you can add after the fact. That can be, like Marissa was saying, a narrative that goes on for a while, but then you finally just feel like, “Okay, this is ready to be released into the world.” So yeah, tour’s coming up, and then probably we’ll start getting back into recording for the next one.

The title for this album came from a soundscape called Cave Vaults of the Moon by Joanne Forman. How did you originally encounter that work?

Green: We were eating at the local diner and we saw this cool article in the local newspaper about this woman who–she’s still around Taos. She has a radio show. I think she does puppets. It was this quick little article about how she, in the 80s, was asked to be a part of this exhibition, and it was on alien artifacts. She made the soundscape for it, and we kind of fell in love with the name of it. That’s something that represents how we view and how we move about this area. It does feel like the moon. It does feel like there’s little time capsules here and there and you cross over and find different things of different times, and we just–we’ve actually never met her. We should probably send her the album. We haven’t even talked to her about it, but we really fell in love with the name, and we expanded from that.

Macias: We were doing the gallery at the time, so it felt like this echo reaching to us from the past, and we had responded in the future. It was strange to be like, “Wait, we’re making a gallery and we’re doing soundscapes in this space.” We were kind of spinning when we saw that, so we took her title and created it to fit that we were actually on the moon–New Mexico was the moon–and that was fun to think about. Taos is really obsessed, and so are we, with space. Like, “Did it happen? Did we land on the moon?” It’s fun to play with all of those ideas, so that was really neat, to see that she was working with the same things that we feel so inspired to think about, talk about, or depict.

Do you think we landed on the moon? 

Both: Oooh.

Green: You know, it’s interesting because we kind of go back and forth. 

Macias: We do.

Green: We want to believe it, but then you’ll see photos of the machines that supposedly landed on the moon, and it looks like it’s just wrapped in foil or something, and you’re like, “Is that real?” [laughs]

Macias: The one thing we talk about about the moon landing a lot is that NASA taped over the footage.

Green: Yeah, do you remember reading about that? There was some article, and it was about trying to locate the footage–you know, man landing on the moon, and NASA responded with, they taped over it.

Oh my gosh. I hadn’t heard that one. 

[both laugh]

Green: We want to believe! We want to believe. Do you think we landed on the moon?

Macias: Yeah, I was going to ask.

I don’t have as much information as I thought I did–that’s not a question I’ve interrogated very rigorously.

Green: Go jump in that wormhole. Allow yourself a few days. I think it’s just because we see–like, you’ll go to the local park or something and there’s a whole handwritten manifesto from someone about how we never landed on the moon, there’s chemtrails, and if you focus on the chemtrail and you tell it to go away, it’ll go away. There’s all these things posted around town like that, and it’s great. I mean, it can be kind of ridiculous at times, but it’s also fun to question everything. I guess I grew up questioning everything, so that also became a part of the project too–who are we, really?

We’re going into a new decade. Do the two of you have New Year’s Resolutions?

Green: I think mine is to just go for it because, you know, there’s so much happening. It’s letting go of fears and just to keep creating as much as possible. I feel like that’s one of the reasons why I exist, so I want to keep going with that. Also, cooking more.

Macias: Oh, yeah!

Green: Cooking is such a beautiful pastime and creative endeavor. It’s a nice thing, and to just share that with friends because I think the art of storytelling and discussion maybe doesn’t exist as much anymore, so–yeah, just sharing around the table.

Macias: I do remember when we got back into Taos after the holidays–we both have 90-year-old grandmas we went to go visit, and it was neat because they share such incredible wisdom. It’s funny because we get really quiet up here and we hide out, and I think we got back and wanted to spend a little time with friends, so we’ve been doing that the last couple weeks, which is crazy. You think you’re just in a rural place and you shouldn’t be busy, but life gets busy anywhere now. I think we–we just recently went sledding [laughs] so I think, not that it was a known resolution, but we’ve been making time to listen to people and enjoy life in different ways.


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