SXSW Music: Introducing Tearist



The sun is shining brightly in the late afternoon in Austin, but inside the The Victory Grill on the east side of town, things are somewhat darker. A thin figure with wild hair is breathing, in a rasp, while her stoic companion plays menacing, twisted electronic music behind her. This is Tearist, a Los Angeles-based duo who are leading the charge—along with pals Abe Vigoda, HEALTH, and other Angelenos—to turn LA into the new go-to for emerging American music. “Everyone is really supportive,” says Yasmine Kittles. “The DIY music scene in Los Angeles,” her partner Will Menchaca agrees, “is really pretty strong.”

The band is comprised of what initially appears to be a pair of opposites—the outspoken and emotive Yasmine Kittles, who acts in her spare time and is known for her gross/erotic collaborations with her close friend Eric Weinham of Tim and Eric, and her soft-spoken partner, Will Menchaca, formerly of Silver Daggers and No Age. It is possible to only interview Kittles, who is quick to laugh and fast to answer—but never is she more intent than when Menchaca speaks. Kittles, influenced by the Futurist text The Art of Noise or Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, is concerned with the primal, while Menchaca’s jilted drum machines and keyboards feel like an android, mechanized nightmare. The dichotomy is most pronounced onstage, with Menchaca playing dark, noisy, and utterly mechanical synth music and Kittles moaning while beating a metal box. “The performance should have contrast,” says Menchaca. Later, Kittles adds, “What I am doing on top of what he is doing doesn’t seem to make sense. But [the combination of synth and experimental vocals] is truly who we are. I’m singing about what is happening.”

An aside: authenticity is a definite theme of this SXSW, with artists like Odd Future and James Blake delivering energized, uncontrived performances for crowds exhausted by the overt rock-and-rollness or spacey, new age vibes of previous Austin buzz bands. “We realized that our friends might hate it, and everyone might hate it, but it was really who we are,” Kittles says. “It was genuinely what was coming out of me, in response to anything about him, or what he was doing, or our relationship. We became free once we thought no one would like us.” She pauses. “But then they did like us.”

Both beautiful and terrifying, Kittles approaches the stage almost with the Meisner acting technique she is trained in—finding the “truthfulness” in a situation and expanding upon it. “I want my performance to be fully innate and animalistic. Not even necessarily need words… but whatever this is,” she gestures to her stomach, “to come out. To the point if I get hurt, I just don’t notice.” This has happened before, she says, when she’s seriously bled on stage due to her being, as Menchaca says, “The crazy, wild maniac injured at the end of the show.”

In fact, it is such an intense experience, the duo are already putting out a live album this April. “I hate everything, but this—this I’m really proud of,” Kittles jokes. “The label Thin Wrist said to us, ‘We want to capture this live.’ So they found a bunch of recordings of us from when we first started in 2009 and have compiled it into a live album.” And Kittles wants to take her film experience and lend it to the band—both of them are thinking of making a Tearist movie. Of course, after they return from their upcoming European tour, the duo will record their full-length debut with Matt Boynton (who’s worked with MGMT and Bat For Lashes). Kittles, with makeup freshly applied and hair tamed to one side, is now the opposite of the creature on stage—but this duality is what makes Tearist exciting, in both LA and beyond: a search for  authenticity in the strangest places.