Tribus (GroundUP Music)
“I want to be a voice for young women. Especially the third culture kids, who are citizens of the world, but also a citizen of none.”
Stretching across three continents and cultures (Thailand, Sweden and America), Sirintip’s remarkable debut album Tribus — produced by three-time Grammy winner Michael League of Snarky Puppy — is a gathering of different moments from the last four years of the singer/composer’s life. It’s an exciting, eclectic work that touches on pop, R&B, electronic and jazz, while creating a sound uniquely its own.
Tribus means “three” in Latin, a number that serves as the overriding theme on the album — three continents, three languages and the three relationships we all share (to the world, to other people and to ourselves).
And it certainly reflects the singer’s international upbringing. “As someone from three cultures, I’ve dealt with being as much of an insider as an outsider,” she says. “This has fundamentally formed the way I view the world and how I interact with people.”
Born in Thailand, Sirintip’s family noticed their daughter had a natural affinity for music. “I don’t remember this, but apparently every instrument I touched, I could play a melody I heard on the radio on piano or violin. And I was singing all the time —I probably got this talent from my grandfather, who was a pianist for silent movies.”
To nurture her musical endeavors and reconnect with her Swedish heritage, Sirintip moved with her mother to Sweden at the age of 11. Already a quick study on classical piano and violin, she continued her musical journey and took up double bass (again, the power of three) and began to study jazz — a path that would eventually take her from the Royal College of Music in Stockholm to (years later) the prestigious Manhattan School of Music.
“My first jazz discovery was Diana Krall when I was 14,” she says. “She played piano and sang at the same time, which was super cool. And she made me realize jazz is about freedom, finding your own identity and expressing that! Very liberating.” Her interest piqued, the singer dove into the jazz’s rich history, embracing some of the genre’s legends (Ella, Louis, etc.)
That musical appreciation that paid dividends years later, when Michael League discovered Sirintip while she was working at a jazz club in Stockholm. Recognizing an adventurous and like-minded musical spirit, the Snarky Puppy bandleader told her to send some music and “give him a call” if she ever moved to New York.
Sirintip did end up helping Snarky Puppy’s Bill Laurance with a few tracks on his album Swift. She also moved to New York to pursue her Master’s Degree. While still going to school, performing and competing in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, she signed to GroundUp (Snarky Puppy’s label) and began work on her first full-length album, with League behind the producer’s chair.
Tribus embraces a jazz heritage but sounds decidedly modern — you could easily put these songs on a playlist between Thundercat, Kimbra and Little Dragon. “The idea behind the album is to bridge the gap between pop and jazz by combining singable melodies with grooves, jazz harmonies and electronics,” says Sirintip. “The music might sound simple when you listen to it at first, but if you dig deeper, you´ll find the hidden depth and complexity.”
She continues: “I want to also appeal to people who don’t know anything about jazz… while inspiring and challenging the people who do listen to jazz in a new way.”
So you’ll hear dark trip-hop (“In My Garden”) alongside the pop resonance of “Shut It Up” near a pretty piano ballad (“Ashes of Gold,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on an Annie Lennox record). The vocals are in English, with some Thai and Swedish in the background. Some of the drums were recorded in the very poor parts of northeastern Thailand; Mark Guiliana (from David Bowie’s Black Star) also contributes, from simple grooves to the complex triplet feel patterns on “Nothing in the Room” (featuring lyrics gathered from “The Paradox of Our Age” as written by the great Dalai Lama)
Lyrically, these are songs of empowerment and hope. Witness “In My Garden,” which the singer notes is “a little girl’s idea of how to make the world a better place.” Here, Sirintip uses seasons as a metaphor. “You should still plant seeds in the winter even though you won´t see the results until the summer. You shouldn´t get discouraged by not seeing the result of your actions immediately.”
“Time is our witness,” she sings on “Emperor of the Sun,” telling us how time will always be there to watch us and carry on our actions, even after we’re long gone. “Shut It Up,” conversely, is a mix of generational angst and determination. “I think it resonates with people in their 20s,” she says. “A lot of women of my generation, they feel like it’s never enough and that they’re trying to live up to an impossible ideal.” In the song, Sirintip embraces the challenge. “It’s me inside of a boxing ring, after being knocked down a couple of times — I stop fighting and trying to fit in. Instead, I stand tall, embrace the beauty of life and walk my own way. Life is too short to follow what you think one should do.”
Outside of her album, Sirintip’s talent and musical background have led to some fascinating collaborations: She worked with Benny Andersson from ABBA during a fundraiser held at the Guggenheim (“We played “Thank You For the Music,” and I realized Benny was very particular about how it would sound,” she laughs.). As well, she opened at the Polar Music Prize to honor jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter, performed for the King of Sweden at the Wallenberg 100th anniversary, honored the king of Thailand at the National Theatre in Bangkok, and was twice selected to perform and compose a musical interpretations of Nobel Prize nominations at the Nobel Museum in Sweden.
If you do catch her live, Sirintip will be working with a quintet, while also using a guitar pedal board to create different vocal effects. It presents another unique arrangement to her music. “I incorporate electronics so I can be one of the instruments,” she says. “People are programmed to listen to the human voice first, so it can sometimes be hard to lead the ear to other instruments. By manipulating my sound with my electronics, I can create a sound landscape behind a solo … without creating unnecessary attention.” As well, you’ll witness more of her jazz influence — Tribus purposely had no solos, but the live arrangements have room to breathe.
Consider Tribus a great first step for a young performer who’s willing to stretch boundaries and embrace her cultural heritage. “Even now and probably for the rest of my life, I´ll be searching and experimenting with how I can incorporate my different cultures into my music and what I can do with my voice. In the end, it’s about asking myself, ‘What can I bring to the table?’”