San Diego, Meet Tearist

Under multicolored lights, Yasmine Kittles and William Strangeland Menchaca, the duo known as Tearist, set up shop on stage at Soda Bar on Aug. 4.

Menchaca delivers synth lines that lie somewhere between ambient, danceable and ominous as Kittles unleashes a deep, soulful barrage of vocals, each unique and esoteric. Kittles' enviable long locks are blown around by a fan that practically serves to keep the frontwoman at a comfortable temperature, but makes her appear to be in constant movement. The trained dancer and former figure skater's moves are unconstrained and free flowing. Between songs, there is an unfamiliar sound at the small venue: silence.

It’s safe to say that efforts at typecasting Tearist are fruitless, and thats the way they want it.

“If we start to sound like something else, we scrap it,” Kittles said in an interview with SoundDiego. “I don’t think you should be able to categorize yourself. The second you can, you’re thinking about it too much. It's coming from somewhere that is outside of you.”

Tearist broke onto the scene in 2009 in Los Angeles. Strangeland-Menchaca’s and Kittles mutual artistic vision inspired them to pursue a musical project together.

“We saw this rusty train car in Downtown L.A. and I told him, ‘I wish we could plug in and play a show right there,’ and he just said ‘yeah.’ At that exact moment I knew we’d be a perfect match," Kittles said. "The idea sounded so aesthetically exciting. We didn’t know what instruments we were gonna use or what the sound was gonna be; we just knew it was time for a movement.”

The result? What LA Weekly declared “could very well be the most crucial musical project to come out of Los Angeles in recent years.” They built a fan base from frequent live performances and from a series of live performance videos on YouTube at Loyola Marymount’s KXLU. After such buzz, they released a self-titled EP and their first LP, Living: 2009-Present, compiled from various live recordings. 

Tearist in the studio and Tearist’s live performances exist in two completely different realms. Their recorded material is fantastic, but where the duo truly comes to life is on stage.

“I think its stifling to get stuck in the idea to sound just like the album. I always want to become something else in front of the audience, see different reactions,” Kittles said.

Midway through the show, Kittles whipped out her preferred mode of percussion: a pair of metal pipes. She channels a darkness, thrashing herself against Soda Bar’s black padded walls and furiously banging pipes against the speakers. Kittles gives into every primal instinct, what she describes as “a physical response to what you’re doing and hearing.”

Tearist attracts the audience's undivided attention. In the beginning, the crowd maintains a safe distance from the stage, witnessing the movements Kittles and Strangeland-Menchaca carry with such devotion. As the set progresses, the crowd moves in, realizing Kittles will not bite, nor will she make them into a percussive instrument. No longer witnessing, but taking part in the movement, allowing the music to take over. Some dance, some stare, but regardless, all take notice.

Kittles' intense stage presence is indicative of her devotion to her work, but in conversation she is sweet and outgoing. She is eager to discuss her creative process, her eclectic background (born in Germany, spent time in Iran as a child, grew up and attended college in Texas) and her favorite piece of graffiti in the women’s restroom. (“Somebody in there is really upset about the stolen incense.”) She is full of funny, witty stories ranging from being pursued by iconic '70s photographers at festivals and the biggest Tearist fans she knows: her parents.

“My dad desperately wants to be our tour manager,” she says, laughing. “My mom will call me and ask, ‘Did you bring your pipes? Do you have your black electrical tape?’ My dad was shopping at Home Depot for pipes as my Christmas present.” (Kittles recently began writing a column for Vice magazine about her parents’ antics entitled “My Parents Know More Than You.”)

What Tearist is doing is hardly an act, but something deeply dynamic and heartfelt. They deliver an utterly fearless and unapologetically honest depiction of themselves. There is no hesitation to show whatever raw emotion the music evokes in them at the time. The duo shares a creative synchronicity that produces something that is uniquely Tearist.

At the end of the show, Yasmine Kittles has a twinkle in her eye as she steps off the stage, exhausted yet beaming. Ever eager to share the inner workings of their creative process, and very dehydrated after her cardio workout of a performance. It’s clear that these are the moments that matter most.

“I was having some intense moments when I was banging on the pipes tonight,” Kittles says. “I was thinking about some dark stuff.” She continues, “Do you think they got it? I hope nobody got too freaked out.”

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