Finding Her Place and Becoming Taranoya

Though she was born and raised in Iran, Taranoya’s music combines a wide array of surprising and disparate ideas to create something singular and captivating. The aural landscapes she builds are like dreams of other worlds, places where anything seems possible. Deep listening reveals trenchant emotions and a thirst for uncovering hard truths through sonic exploration. Using an assortment of synths and electronics, Taranoya builds a lilting foundation for her magnetic voice to enchant listeners.

Taranoya’s debut album, Becoming, is out now on sound as language.

Let’s start with your early memories of music and sound. Are there particular sounds or songs you heard as a child or even experiences you had that are related, that have stayed with you?

I remember when I was very young, maybe five, and my dad would listen to Simon and Garfunkel a lot in the house, and “The Boxer” was on repeat often. I remember I was absolutely enchanted by those “Lie la lie”s and the emotional performance of Paul Simon. I’d make my dad play it over and over again even though I had no idea what the song was about!

Another early memory is watching Home Alone and loving the soundtrack. I’ve listened to John Williams’ score many times since then and I’ve realized those songs greatly impacted me. “Somewhere in my memory” will always have a special place in my heart. 

Home Alone and its music was always a world I wanted to escape to honestly, being from a place that wasn’t exciting to grow up in as a child, for me anyways… I also distinctly remember that I had a tiny used keyboard that was given to me by a family friend and I used to mess around on that for hours and just experiment. It’s funny because I now have tiny keyboards I mess around with! And, it’s interesting you ask about childhood because I think as artists we stay children and it’s almost essential…

And what were your first experiences like when it came to playing music (or singing) and what sort of things pushed you in the direction to start creating and performing?

I think I was kind of born to do art. The reason is that there are so many things I need to process emotionally, whether things that have happened to me, around me, or passed down generationally and genetically. I feel like a creative place is where I sort through all that and make sense of things. I read a quote where Camus is quoting Nietzsche saying “we have art in order to not die of the truth” and that rings so true. My first name is Taraneh/ترانه which means “song” in Farsi!! Go figure!

I have also tried writing stories, drawing, acting, and taking photos as well as singing and making music. When I was very small, I used to reassuringly say that I’m going to be an actor/singer. And I used to perform shows for my family. I would do plays and sing cover songs. I just have this need to express I suppose.

My parents are both art appreciators as well. So I guess maybe there was some genetic component of this connection to art. Music was always different though. I was always obsessed with music as far as I can remember. Every memory I have is probably tied to a song or an album. My relationship with music is different from my relationship to other forms of art. I got my hands on anything that tickled my ear from the moment I had the freedom to do so! I remember the only reason I went out with my first boyfriend was because he was a drummer in a band and I thought that was so incredibly cool at the time. LOL! I started talking to my parents about music school (it’s very different in Iran) and I did end up taking some private piano and guitar lessons at a very young age that I don’t remember much of, but eventually my parents convinced me I had to focus on school and in all honesty, the music I was interested in wasn’t a viable option in Iran, as a woman…so I pursued getting an English literature degree, another subject I loved.

Once I got into one of the top colleges and their mind was at ease, I started taking underground vocal and solfège lessons from a super talented woman and even had a mini-concert. I decided I’m going to pursue it later on when there are better opportunities. I was always doing things on my own at home though like learning and covering different tunes.

I moved to the States in 2013 for my Masters and ended up staying here to work and live. I started singing and making music pretty much the moment I could get my hands on software or could find folks who would be down to do it. The moment I could afford the time and the money, I started out and taught myself. I kept making music and acquiring whatever equipment I could afford. I think I still used the interface I bought years ago in Iran on some of the songs on the record!! I have a new one now though! And the last couple of years because of chronic illness, I’ve been at home often which has quieted the extra noise even before the pandemic and allowed me to see what matters and focus on what matters most to me: music.

There’s a lot of different emotions throughout Becoming. The way you can shift from something that feels melancholy and heavy to passages that are even playful is impressive. What kind of mindset do you try to have when you’re writing and recording? Is there a common thread you’re trying to weave throughout the pieces, even when the mood and sound are so varied?

Thank you for the compliment. I’m glad you enjoyed it. As far as mindset, I just try to be my emotional self, AKA myself, and be authentic to how I feel without judgment. 

I am in a way looking for a sort of connection to a higher state of being, something that lifts my spirits too I suppose, a space to escape to. I think a lot of the artists that use the “ethereal” sound share that to a degree. I feel like I am constantly looking for some sort of dreamland to flee to because I can carry a lot of grief. I daydream a lot too. I really focus on “raw emotion” and let that sort of lead the way…. that’s why I love organ sounds and organ music so much. I watch the choir of King’s college every year on Christmas even though I’m not religious and it makes me feel so connected. I was also obsessed with Christmas music as a kid. Again it was that sense of escapism…

The vocals are the thing that really stands out on the record. The synths and electronics are excellent, too, but your voice is really the centerpiece and really draws me in every time I listen. How do you try to use your vocals to connect with listeners and get across the feelings and moods you’re expressing in the work? 

I try to be in the moment and authentic to the feelings that arise and that translates into the vocals. And it’s sort of other-worldly for myself as well when I’m in that state. I think I was also always searching for peace unconsciously, and now consciously, because I burn out so easily and that might be why I was led to the ambient music world. I hope the music would give you room to contemplate and explore… and maybe face yourself.

Why did you call the album Becoming?

‘Becoming’ explores identity and growth, and the idea of a “self”. So I keep asking the question of “who I am” and “who am I becoming” and what that means. I’ve been really interested in this idea of who we truly are. 

I felt a lot like I’m trying to find myself and my sound and that is obviously ever-changing and each artist is doing this whether they know it or not. But this idea of deepening my understanding of the “self” better and better through music every day became very important to me. That making and listening to music is part of my identity became a recurring thought. All those themes made it into the record one way or the other whether sonically or thematically so I thought it fit to call it Becoming. There is a sample from a Charlie Kaufman speech at the end of the track “Accidents,” where he is talking about the idea of who we are, what we are a product of, but more in a frustrating tone. He laments, “How weak I am I? Why can’t I be a healthier person, a saner person, a more generous person?” And I’m just sort of leaving those questions there at the end for myself and others not to find an answer to but to explore. Meanwhile, the overall theme of the song is more encouraging; accepting accidents, mistakes, and shortcomings and there are moments in the song that get anxious and loud. Then, there are moments in the song that become more peaceful and it’s asking you to accept the dichotomy. Although everyone is free to interpret their own version of course.

Right now all my focus is on music and It’s always been in a way like I said before but I have engaged in some acting and writing in the past and I still write. I have a section on my phone that is called “musings” and it’s literally what I’m musing and those pieces and sometimes poems eventually make it into my music!

With acting, it’s the same idea with engaging with the emotions and feeling them fully whether it’s based on memory or “current situation” and I think that’s similar in creating music and in my view, any kind of art that I would personally be interested in! I haven’t done it in a long time though. At times, watching films informs my view about something or there could be themes that might end up in my music. For example, Charlie Kaufman is a huge inspiration to me, his experimental style, his view of the world and of identity, and the way he approaches his creations fascinates me. Maybe also because he is intrigued by the same themes: identity and the self like I am. You can watch Adaptation or Eternal Sunshine for the 10th time and still come back with a newly profound understanding of what “desire” is. 

That’s really interesting about your connection with music being different than other art forms. That resonates with me as well. Multi-part question… what other creative interests do you have and how do those things influence your music?

It’s hard to explain how music is different, isn’t it? Like science has tried and explained the effect music has on the human brain and it’s hard to put into words for me. It’s Like Tarkovsky says in Stalker “Nonetheless the music miraculously penetrates into the very soul”. I see things and get lost in other worlds with music. It makes me feel things I need to feel. Music is sort of always playing in my head. I look inward. Sometimes whilst having a metaphorical conversation with the performer in my head. 

Second part, how does music feel different for you?

I guess the fact that you can listen to so many sounds from so many different parts of the world and see a part of yourself in the music or feel a connection so much that you would wanna listen, again and again, that’s music bringing people together through a language that is more honest and more expressive than speech. Growing up, I connected more with “western music” and isn’t that the perfect example? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been listening to more Iranian music… And when I’m saying “higher state” maybe I also mean this oneness or this spiritual yearning. 

What are your favorite sounds in the world?

Well, my favorite band has been Radiohead since I was a teen I suppose. I admire Thom Yorke’s work so much and I’ve learned so much from the way he approaches and views music and how he changes with every song and every album. I guess I was looking for this comfort at that age and I found it in them and haven’t been disappointed since. I’m looking forward to the new KID A MNESIA. I was also influenced by a lot of the self-taught female producers like Bjork and FKA Twigs, Grimes, Grouper and so many more. I love artists who threw out the script for recording and structure like Daniel Johnston and learned so much from their authenticity. 

There are so many things I listen to, lots of experimental, electronic, folk, ambient, dream pop, and shoe-gaze acts. My favorite sounds are usually those that show vulnerability of some sort. For me, usually, emotions, fragility, and playfulness come first, everything else comes after.

What’s next for you and for Taranoya?

Well, I’m working on another record! There are songs I have been working on for a while and they are asking me to shape them into an album. And there are hopefully going to be some collaborations in the works that I’m excited about! Eventually, there will be live shows as well, just not sure when! I’m excited that my music is finally being heard and I can’t wait to share more.

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