Interview: Sarah Tanat-Jones

Sarah Tanat-Jones is a WIFIE with many feathers to her cap. Previously singer/drummer in pop-punk three piece, Come On Gang! Sarah has since toured as Synaesthete, and is currently performing as Tanat (much easier to pronounce, I’m sure you’ll agree). Her debut album, Array was crowdfunded using Kickstarter, and includes a 16-page picture book, which she wrote, produced and illustrated. A member of professional network, WOMEN WHO DRAW! Sarah is no newcomer to increasing the visibility of women* in the Arts - you’ll likely recognise Sarah’s beautiful illustrations from The Guardian's Review, The Suffragette's and Why They Still Matter and The Guardian's Guide, Pop Goes Trump.

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You studied at ECA and had a stint in Glasgow - tell us, where are you based now, and what projects are you currently working on?

Hello! Thanks for speaking to me. Yes, I studied Visual Communication in Edinburgh, then moved to London where I started to get my illustration career up and running. It took a few years, during which I was working office jobs, playing in a band, moving a lot and learning new skills, like starting to get to grips with production. I was really impatient to get where I wanted to be at this time, but it takes a while to get all your ducks in a row. I got an illustration agent, quit the band, made an album on my own, moved around some more, travelled a bit and then wanted to start working on a new album. My room in London at this point was so small that I couldn't even fit a desk in to work on. I had had enough of being totally cramped so I moved to Glasgow where I had a big lovely flat all to myself. I made my new album there, and learned more about production (though I'm always trying to get better). I'm a really private person so it was lovely to be able to make noise and do whatever I wanted in the Glasgow flat without anyone to bother me. The album's ready now and I'm about to start getting gigs for 2017. I moved back to London to learn a bit about animation in a studio here. Currently I've got a few plates spinning: illustration, new songs, getting some gigs booked, learning to animate, organising my life a bit. I always want to read more and to travel. There's so much to do and not enough time.

Tell us about your mini series, Rituals

That was a self initiated project because I wanted my work to be sexier. I'd been doing a lot of editorial, colourful, slightly messy work and wanted to move more towards more grownup, sultrier stuff, at least for one project, to see how I handled it. Successful illustration is often sexy (quelle surprise) - either that, or the opposite, chintzy floral niceness, which I am not a fan of. But my work for Rituals still wasn't really overtly sexy. It was just intended to be closely cropped, carefully coloured images of women getting ready. An idealised view of what women do in private. The reality is probably, ironically, a lot messier than what I drew.

Who, what, where, inspires your work?

Lots of things inspire me, I'm a total history and architecture nerd so walking around London and Glasgow gives me so much inspiration. People watching sends me into hyperdrive, I've recently started an informal series called Londoners, which is pretty self explanatory, just drawing interesting people in cafes at the weekend. I love illustrators like Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden which a lot of people have rediscovered in recent years, but I also love new wave and post punk designers like Barney Bubbles. I like simple, colourful work, illustration is in a golden period at the moment, there's a lot of strong and beautiful work out there at the moment, but also a lot of mediocrity and copycats - I guess that's par for the course.

Music wise, I'm so inspired by all sort of choral music from around the world, especially Bulgarian and Georgian choirs. I love women who make all their own music and production, like Georgia who's on Domino, Empress Of, and Grimes and Bjork. I love beats and rhythm - Underworld especially for their interesting percussion. I love a lot of music. I'm inspired by so many things, sometimes it feels a bit overwhelming, but you have to process it and try to make something good out of it all. 

We heard you play a couple months ago at the Shelter, Home for the Holidays event. Tell us about the song you wrote Santa Someday for the Christmas Songbook.

Haha, that song was fun to make. I made it in my room, quite quickly. It was about wanting the one thing for Christmas that Santa can't fit into his sack - and that's LOVE. At the time, I was falling in love, and I was worried about how things would turn out*. I was thinking of Kirsty MacColl when I made it and I wanted it to be a little humorous but also sad, bittersweet like so many good pop songs are. (You can hear Santa Someday here )

(*It all turned out well.)

What's the best show you've ever played?

A festival in the middle of Ireland called Castlepalooza. It was raining, and I was playing in the only tent. My set was at 7pm on Saturday night - ie, everyone was hammered, but not TOO hammered. Plus, they were Irish, therefore very warm and friendly and up for fun. It was amazing. And the green room was a huge space with a chandelier in an old castle. Thanks for that, Ireland. 

Do you have any advice for young musicians and artists who are trying to get their work recognised?

I'm not the best at self promotion, and that's something I'm trying to work on. I will make stuff all day long and then refuse to show it or play it to anyone. 

I would say, just keep going, and do things that make you squirm - email people, tweet people, talk to someone standing at a bar at a gig, you might make friends and then who knows where it could lead. I've put on gig nights based on people I heard on the radio and then got in touch with. If you're like me, you need to get over your self consciousness cos no one else cares that much, what matters is putting good work into the world. Don't be lazy, finish things to the best standard that you can. And then just remember to remind people that you're out there. 

But I don't find it easy, especially in such a noisy world full of relentless self promotion.

Who is your favourite WIFIE?

I couldn't ever choose a single favourite creative woman. There are just so many incredible, strong, interesting women out there. And so many that I'll never find out about, doing their own thing in far off places. 

(Photos belong to Sarah Tanat-Jones)


Interview by Rachel Morgan-Bruce