Think you’ve got problems? Right now, Tara Simmons doesn’t have eyebrows. Perhaps it’s a bit crass to reduce a cancer diagnosis to such a seemingly dismissive opening to her first new biography in five years, but that’s just Tara in a nutshell. She’s already been through it all - wept it all out, wrestled her perceived mortality and emerged with a whole lot of new perspective. And a hunger to make music again.
A quick five years has slipped by since her last releases - a prolific stream of singles, EPs and albums that all served the ambitious writer, producer and musician significantly. But the experimental Tara, always in motion, could not and would not sit still, instead pushing against her natural pop sensibilities and opting for an alternate moniker that both stood out and fit in. Naturally, the project called CastleRays fashioned its own momentum - she toured as frontwoman and vocalist for electronic outfit YesYou and extended her live chops guesting on many a big stage alongside festival mainstays RUFUS. Meanwhile she watched material from her back catalogue take on a life of their own, garnering international radio play and solid television placements that would open the door to new followers. Naturally, the Tara Simmons sound of old - string-driven pop experimentation with field samples - started to creep back into her subconscious.
“At some point I realised I had started writing a lot of 'Tara Simmons' sounding stuff again, stuff that sounded like me again. I started to float the idea of maybe releasing stuff under my own name when suddenly I found myself diagnosed with breast cancer. It really pulled everything into perspective and I immediately knew then that another record was what I wanted to do.”
Next a metamorphosis occurred, and while she didn’t have eyebrows or a single hair on her head, Tara was happier. Her friends rallied around her in a way only tragedy can encourage and the music started to flow.. She regrouped with her longtime collaborator Yanto Browning to see where some writing would take them.
‘Achromatopsia’ was the first song Tara began work on and the first the pair finished. It quickly recalls the astute production values of The Postal Service with an upshot that falls somewhere between contemporaries like Sylvan Esso and even St. Vincent. Her trademark, breeze-tinged vocal, almost at risk of being too damn flawless, succeeds in surviving the years of transformation.
Aside from a last minute, surprise studio encounter with a string quartet, Simmons and Browning wrote, produced and played everything on the recording, but even those strings parts were written by Tara mere moments before recording began - a tip of the hat, perhaps, to her early career in which cellos were a part of her touring band. But the thing she loves most about this song is that it pulls together two of her great loves - art and the brain.
“I wrote this after reading the first chapter of Oliver Sax's book ‘An Anthropologist From Mars’, a story about a painter who suddenly went colour blind. Many of the lyrics in the song are pretty much of a game of redacted text from the story. It was a writing tool I was experimenting with at the time.”
With a condition such as this, most might go into a tailspin of sadness - not Tara. She’s foregoing melancholy for music, ambition and her art is prevailing with an immediate future largely involving building upon her legacy. That’s what makes ‘Achromatopsia’ and what’s to come such a step forward for her: there’s a new sense of ambition from within, an artist with nothing to lose. Having taken a masterful journey so far, Tara is more equipped than ever before to take the world by the horns.