Analogue Music | SPELLLING


By Matt Conner

Tia Cabral probably would have avoided this conversation the last time around.

It's taken sometime for Cabral to get used to the structure required to release music these days—at least with any real effort to find a listener base. At first, under the name SPELLLING, she would record-and-release, an act marked by immediacy and innocence. These days, she's learning to lean into the considerable effort required—a cycle that includes learning to talk about her own art—to support and sustain the life of a well-crafted album.

The Turning Wheel, SPELLLING's latest work, is exactly that—a mesmerizing, inventive, and infectious work sprawling in beautiful new directions from past acclaimed albums like Mazy Fly. The Sacred Bones release drops June 25 and deserves to be heard by the masses—that is, if Cabral is up for the promotional work required.

Fortunately, Cabral was at least up for chatting with us in the days leading up to the release of The Turning Wheel and gave us insight into her artistic confidence and the joy found in her creative community in Oakland.

Analogue: Let’s start with the release and the habits and emotions around this time for you. How different does this feel from your earliest days releasing music?

Tia Cabral: It feels a little more refined. I guess as I’ve grown into this project and began to figure out my voice and this vision, it’s expanded a lot. I’ve even directed a music video for the first time. It’s not as though I’m more or less invested, but I’ve come to really understand how much labor goes into any sort of art that you experience. I’m definitely investing a lot more time than I was when I was putting out music in the past, which felt more leisurely. [Laughs]

" Conversation about my art has been really anxiety-inducing, because it’s just difficult to commit to words around what I make."

Analogue: Does that work well for you to adhere to the structure? Does it create friction? Is it a big learning curve?

Tia: With the timeline part, there wasn’t such a huge learning curve. I actually enjoy having these buffers built in where I get to have space away from the thing I made and then put it out later. I think I’ve adapted well to that aspect of it.

But even what we’re doing now with interviews and speaking about my work off the cuff or just in real-time has been a really big learning curve for me. As I’m talking now, it feels really comfortable and that’s not how it was before speaking about my work. Conversation about my art has been really anxiety-inducing, because it’s just difficult to commit to words around what I make—to say that it’s one thing or another.

So I’ve avoided a lot of that in the past. I didn’t do a lot of interviews or requests would come in and I would think about what I would potentially say and that it would change how the song is heard or how people see it or perceive it. I’ve learned to get over that and just know that everyone’s interpretation of things is totally different than what I intended anyway, so… [Laughs]

There was this freedom to do things at my own pace. I’d finish a song and think, ‘Oh, I’ll just put it out now.’ That immediacy was great. Now with this project, I finished it six months ago and then you go through the structure of release by working with a label and doing it proper like that. So it’s totally different. It has helped me to become more responsible. [Laughs]

Analogue: Well that makes me quite grateful for our time today. Has all of this been an exercise in what you just said—about moving beyond the fears of what others think?

Tia: Yes. I was talking to my dad recently, who we were just having a talk about growing up. He mentioned as you grow older you still feel like you’re your youngest self at your core. He was asking me that and I totally get it. No matter how much you accomplish or grow, there’s still that part of you that feels like it’s being swept along, just riding the wind and that child part of you is always there at the core.

But I also think that I’ve changed a lot as a person by doing SPELLLING, just as far as my focus and my confidence. I was a ridiculously shy person before I started making music, so it really altered my day-to-day limit for what I thought was possible for my personality and my life. Seeing myself break through those things, even though it’s still difficult to share things and I still battle with my self-consciousness, especially with a performance, but getting through that threshold where ‘Oh, this was literally impossible before’ to doing it and knowing I can do it again—it’s all really altered how I see myself in a positive way.

As I keep going with this project, it was the next level with bringing in a ton of people and being vulnerable in that way. When I wrote Mazy Fly and Pantheon of Me, it was just me in my apartment. I didn’t have to bring the raw things to anyone else when they weren’t ready. It gave me that comfort where I could put my head down and just make something until I felt ready to share it. But with all these other artists, the musicians on the Turning Wheel, I had to go to them and have them help me put things together. I had to have a lot of trust, so that was also a big step for me.

Analogue: If you were that painfully shy, why even put music out there in the first place? Why expose yourself that way?

Tia: It just gradually became where there was enough encouragement around me that I felt I should give it a shot. I didn’t have high expectations for what was to come or expect many people to listen, so that helped me ease this along.

I think living where I do in Oakland, we’re not a city necessarily known for being where musicians go to start their careers. But it is really ripe with innovation and artists who do a lot, artists who are multi-faceted and I think I was luckily aligned with a great friend community of artists who were just naturally saying I could do this and that it’s okay to be a beginner. There was a lot of support there through my community.

The Turning Wheel
The Turning Wheel

I think about that a lot because I imagine if I were to live in a different place, like L.A. or New York or something, it seems to be more of a competitive aspect at work. That’s not to say there’s not a lot of space for community and encouragement, but people move there to be in the grind and close to what’s going to offset their career.

So being in the Bay, there’s more of an experimental and encouraging community. So I started here playing really small shows or in basements having only a song to do. I remember my first show in Sacramento and then my next one in Oakland, I didn’t run off the stage—I think I’m overdramatizing it—but I pretty much did. [Laughs] I barely had songs. I was making stuff up on the fly with my loop pedal and I did one but planned to do five. I was like, ‘That’s it. That’s all I can do.’ I drove back to Oakland just ruminating on it in my head like ‘Why did I do that? This is awful. I’m never doing this again.’ But I knew I had to shake that feeling because I am naturally also stubborn, so that’s what kept me going. I knew I had to make up for that.

Analogue: What’s it like for you to hear the finished product of these tracks where you really went for it? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable and say ‘I’m great!’ but I would think there’d be a real sense of accomplishment.

Tia: The day before I put something out, there are a lot of nerves because you’re so close and familiar with it. You forget what it’s like to hear it out of thin air, basically. I can’t really ever step into that. But I guess when I hear feedback that hits the mark, it’s really satisfying.

For “Little Dear,” someone said it was giving them Jackson 5 vibes. That energy, that youth is something that was on my mind when I was making it. I love that song “Wanna Be Where You Are” from when Michael Jackson was really young. I was listening to that a lot when I made the song, so it was nice to see those things identified. I thought, ‘Wow, if this is shining through then I feel successful.’

I love to see that it can stand on its own also, because the album is, to me, I see it as a complete thing. I’m not the type of artist who wants to release singles. I have a lot of intention with the full album and the songs being in concert together, so when I put out a single, I’m like, ‘I don’t want you to think that’s all there is! There’s so much more!’

I’m glad that they can stand alone and that’s also successful, but it will be even more satisfying once the album is out and people can hear everything behind it.


Photo: Adora Wilson