Tangerine’s Marika Justad on navigating the messiness of being in your 20s
This story was originally published in the November 2nd, 2018 issue of The Slant. Want more Asian American stories like this one? Subscribe to the newsletter for free.
Marika Justad, her sister Miro, and Tobias Kuhn have made music since childhood. And as the band Tangerine, they’ve still got youth on their mind.
Though now, it’s from retrospect, and specifically from “the messiness of finding yourself in your 20s.”
“Your 20s is such an interesting time,” Marika Justad tells me over the phone. “You’re still young enough to be dreaming and trying to build your career, trying to figure out who you’re going to be. But the walls are closing in a little bit.”
And with songs like “Cherry Red,” that longing for freedom makes itself clear. Justad waxes nostalgic about cruising around North Seattle in her friend’s red Ford Echo in high school, and listening to Tangerine’s dreamy, pulsing melodies, you’re right there with her in that reverie.
But Justad’s lyricism extends beyond rose-colored lenses. Justad, who is of mixed Korean and Irish ancestry, says her songs are also influenced by the uneasiness she felt as an Asian American of mixed race growing up.
“There was this feeling of everywhere you go, there’s this insecurity that someone could say something to remind you that I don’t belong here. This feeling that you’re never totally in your space,” Justad says. “You’re always in somebody else’s space. And I’m sure that that’s influenced a lot of my lyrics.”
Combined with that yearning for that Ford Echo, that sentiment is irresistible. And Tangerine’s new EP, White Dove, overflows with it. Listen to it on Spotify, and read our interview with Marika Justad below.
We’re showcasing a few interview highlights here. You can read the full transcript, too.
On growing up as a mixed-race music fan
When I was a kid, I was a big fan of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Because I loved their music, but also because it was nice to see that [Sarah O, who is of Korean and Polish descent] came from a background that was similar to mine. She was able to be out there. People let her be out there, you know?
I think it’s because the mixed race experience — though it’s the only experience I know — it’s very specific. It’s not the same. I didn’t grow up in a big Asian community that I felt accepted in, and I didn’t grow up in a white community I’d felt accepted in either. I always felt that — and my sister probably feels the same way — that I was walking this line.
And generally speaking — we had a good childhood, but there was this feeling of everywhere you go, there’s this insecurity that someone could say something to remind you that I don’t belong here. This feeling that you’re never totally in your space. You’re always in somebody else’s space. And I’m sure that that’s influenced a lot of my lyrics, for sure.
On being pigeonholed as a “women who make music” band
If anything, it’s been the gender thing that’s been more pervasive [than being a band led by two sisters of mixed race]. We’ve almost felt pigeonholed from that. Because I think there’s been this tendency to almost make women who make music almost its own genre. And I’ve run into a lot of that, like female vocals, girl drummer, all that stuff. Which I think people want to support, because in the past it’s been rare. But sometimes I kind of wish that it wasn’t the only thing that people talk about.
On talking about being mixed-race without talking about being mixed-race
I kind of inject this uneasiness, is the word I want to say, into these lyrics. I think it’s the product of that feeling I talked about earlier, that you’re sallying the line between two worlds and not belonging to either necessarily.
There’s a line in “Sly Moon,” a song we released last fall. “You were the golden child, the all-American boy in their eye.” And that’s sort of me reflecting on the way I was in a school with pretty much all white kids. And that was me talking about — well, that was about a guy. (laughs) But it is kind of about how some people can be perceived as these golden children, and starting to realize they’re not really perceived in that way.
On being described as a “Californian sound” when the band’s from Seattle
(laughs) Sometimes, we were like, does that mean we sound happy and without substance? ‘cos like, what does that mean? But I think that we didn’t necessarily fit the Seattle sound. And so people weren’t sure what to call it. And I guess that’s what they landed on.
On the backstory of “Cherry Red”
I feel like we’ve been getting people saying “oh my god, it’s so nostalgic,” and we’re like yes, it is, it’s what it’s supposed to be about. (laughs)
It’s like a tribute to different friendships I had growing up, like female friendships specifically. I think Miro can relate to this, too. We just kind of ran a little wild in our girl pasts. Got into trouble, had a little too much fun sometimes. And it’s about capturing that feeling of complete fearlessness. Like at the time, you really do believe that nothing bad could ever happen to you. You’re like, “bad things happen to other people.” And it’s ridiculous but it’s also super intoxicating. And the song is about that. It’s a tribute to those times.
Sisters Marika and Miro Justad and Tobias Kuhn have been making music together since childhood. In 2017, Tangerine moved from Seattle to Los Angeles to pursue music full-time. After recording the singles “Fever Dream” and “Sly Moon,” produced by Michael Shuman (Queens of the Stone Age, Mini Mansions) and Zach Dawes (Mini Mansions), and touring the U.S. with Bleachers, they created White Dove. It’s an 80’s guitar-laced pop EP about yearning, nostalgia, female friendship, and the messiness of finding yourself in your 20s. Produced by Sanj & Luca Buccellati (Tei Shi). White Dove is sad enough to dance alone to, bumps hard enough for your next crazy night out.