Looking back on her last full length album released in 2019, Laetitia Tamko can’t help but feel like it remains in some small part incomplete. Released in October, just five months before a global pandemic shut down the world, Tamko — better known by her stage name Vagabon — sees her self-titled album as an incomplete circuit.


“I never got to play those shows or tour that album — so if you think about it like a cycle, the loop didn’t get too close,” she tells Billboard via Zoom, sitting on the floor of her bedroom. “By the time the lockdown happened, a lot of artists were like, ‘Perfect, I’ll just write new music.’ I spent that first year and a half doing absolutely nothing music-related, because I was mourning the fact that I couldn’t, be out there performing.”

But the pandemic did bring Tamko something she hadn’t expected; a new audience. At the early height of the COVID-19 lockdown, the 30-year-old singer-songwriter watched as a song off of her self-titled album, “Water Me Down,” began to gain significant attention, with fellow quarantined people around the globe finding some solace in her introspective songwriting and experimental alternative sound.

Tamko “wasn’t ready” to make new music, but she knew that she had a new cadre of followers waiting to see what she did next. Now, nearly four years after the release of her self-titled effort, their patience is being rewarded. On Friday (Sept. 15), Vagabon released her highly-anticipated new project Sorry I Haven’t Called, a thrilling, pop-infused album of escapist fantasy, where Tamko fully embraces her potential as a star in the making.

The project was born in a small village in Germany, where Tamko retreated in 2021 to evade the dreariness of her life in lockdown and to privately mourn the loss of a close friend. Yearning for something to distract her from the tedium of her day-to-day existence, Tamko sat down and did what she does best — she wrote.

“A lot of the stuff I was making was music that I used to lift myself out of my grief. And that was confusing for a while — ‘I am in despair, so why am I writing about sex and horniness,’” she recalls. “I started to realize that that’s a valid reaction to grief.”

When it came time for her to start producing the songs she’d written, Tamko decided to run with that feeling and make Sorry I Haven’t Called her first dance-adjacent album. Filled with house beats and dance-pop synths, while still maintaining the bedroom, DIY feel of her previous work, the album enters uncharted territory for the artist.

Specifically, Tamko refers to the genre of her Sorry as “‘Dancing on My Own‘ music,” paying homage to Robyn’s iconic single. “She is the best there is at doing these huge pop songs with crazy emotional depth for sad girls who love to dance — ‘girls’ being gender neutral,” she says. “Like, ‘Do you have mental illness? Do you want to dance? Great, this is for you.’ That is what I wanted the sound to be here.”

The house influences turned out to be incredibly timely — while Tamko was in the middle of finishing and mastering her album, she watched as megastars like Beyoncé and Drake delivered their own new takes on the genre (“I thought to myself, ‘Okay, this is how I wasn’t taking too long,’” Tamko quips). But as she puts it, house music, as a genre, is largely timeless thanks to its origins in underground Black queer spaces.

“In its foundation, there is a richness of creativity, it’s rich in references,” she says. “When genres sprout up from people making do with what they have, that’s part of the reason that the genre won’t go away. People will always want to be inspired and encouraged to move. And it’s fun to be a musician in those instances, because you get to shepherd other people moving and living. It’s a complete privilege.”

Towards the end of her writing and producing process, Tamko had a chance meeting with Rostam Batmanglij, the former member of Vampire Weekend-turned-solo artist and producer to the stars. Seeing that Rostam had sent her a DM saying that he loved her music and wanted her to stop by his studio, Tamko took the opportunity and brought him all the music she had been working on for Sorry.

According to Tamko, she knew almost immediately that she wanted to work with him on the album. “He has such a deep musical understanding and knowledge — even just hearing compliment the things that I’ve done was like a badge of honor,” she says. “I just knew I wanted any help he could provide.”

The feeling was mutual. After hearing a handful of tracks, Rostam offered to help produce the rest of the album, bring a “cohesiveness” that Tamko says was not nearly as present before he joined. But of all the many contributions Rostam made to the album, the singer says that his greatest skill came was his malleability.

“He knows how to be in service of the art and who that art is coming from,” she says. “I think that’s why we got along so well — that and the fact that he has great taste and also a very scientific brain when it comes to music.”

Throughout Sorry I Haven’t Called, Tamko still offers the kind of heart-wrenching, introspective lyricism that made “Water Me Down” such a potent pandemic listen. Album closer “Anti-F–k,” for example, sees Vagabon reeling from a relationship that cannot work, as she asks herself “Am I wrong to decide? The last thing I want is unknown/ Am I wrong to reply? The last thing I felt was alone.”

But the feeling of introspection is different this time around — it’s rendered through the lens of a fantasy world generated inside of her own swirling emotional interior. The same way Tamko fled to Germany as a means of managing the emotional fallout of her real life, Sorry I Haven’t Called offers listeners just over 30 minutes of time where they don’t have to actively deal with the myriad struggles of modern existence, but rather let their feelings rush up and out.

“I’ve always looked to music that is the opposite of whatever I am experiencing,” Tamko says. “The ethos of what I wanted on this album was just to tell the audience, ‘We’re fine, at least for now.’ For the duration of this album, you’re being held in this world. There’s still yearning and some heartbreak, because for it to be a world, it needs to have like the valleys so you can better feel the euphoria. You have to embrace the lows before you can reach the highs.”

That very concept in and of itself — the ability for Tamko to conjure up her own universe via songwriting — is a testament to where she has arrived in her own journey. No longer questioning or doubting her own abilities, Tamko says she is finally ready to command the attention she deserves.

“I think I’ve had enough time with the internal,” she offers, bluntly. “It all comes down to confidence, and I have found a profound sense confidence in myself, in my voice, and in my ability to say things and I was maybe too scared to say before. I found a way to take up more space.”

Source: www.billboard.com

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