As if Grimes’ long lost lo-fi sister, Cream with a K is a new project by Japan influenced art rock musician and visual artist - Lee Tatlock.
Having fronted Universal Japan's bubblegum J-pop band Neko Punch, we asked why Tatlock felt the need to leave and start over alone, leaving behind a promising career in Tokyo. Her response was quite sobering. Tatlock implies that her former band used her for her image and that “it could have worked with any foreigner girl who spoke Japanese”. No doubt also fuelled by Tatlock’s chance meeting with Beck, the multi-instrumentalist lo-fi artist and one of her biggest inspirations, she realized that she needed to get back to the essence and process of making music as an art form as there were many limitations on her artistry in Neko Punch. She recalls how she was actually slated for being “too artistic or too creative” by her bandmates and that they were not interested in nurturing artistry at all; now in hindsight dubbing her former band “super contrived and phoney”.
“When I quit, it was a huge deal to some people but…. you know, you’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelette sometimes.”
Tatlocks commitment to exploring her artistry is highly commendable: spending a lot of time sketching out storyboards and ideas for her music videos, making mood-boards for styling and hair and make up for herself and her bandmates in Cream with a K— sourcing clothes, adding trinkets and tailoring etc. “Even on the visual design side, I created all my own branding, jacket art and also edited and colour graded all my music videos”. She tells us that she finds “the visual aesthetic of an artist is almost as important as the music itself”, especially in regards to music videos, admitting that this has always been the case since watching MTV as a child. Her DIY video ‘Terrible Voices’ in particular presents this bleak and melancholic vision of a girl drowning in a bathtub while playing her guitar, which actually really epitomizes her sound if one were to visualize it.
Tatlock having lived in Tokyo for 9 years, has fully fused Japanese influences into her western music project. For Tatlock, Japanese culture is her core, her “base” saying that she’s adopted it into all parts of her life and that “everything [she has] is because of Japan.” Her song ‘5:35’ is purely about the Shi-hatsu-densha (the first departing train of the day) on the Ginza line in Tokyo. She recounts fondly the feeling of boarding it after late night shows and witnessing Tokyo at its most raw, seeing “passed-out salary men, hung over hostesses, weekday clubbers vomiting ramen on the floor of the subway,” adding that despite how horrible it sounds “it’s actually quite an interesting part of Tokyo life and it’s quite a peaceful moment in a way. I like it.” In a way Tatlocks sound reflects this culture influence, with vocals reminiscent of Japanese ‘Kawaii’ or cuteness culture, in its style and mannerisms which is then contrasted by this frank take on Tokyo life in her instrumentals of distorted guitars and drone synths that manages to create a peaceful balance. Cream with a K’s sound to me is as if someone took Grimes then scrubbed away that glossy EDM outer layer, leaving the raw and often vulnerable essence of art rock. It is at times experimental, rough and not quite fully formed with songs like ‘Burn’ being hard to define but it’s ok— as Tatlock herself is unsure of a genre where she falls: “Melancholic-Grunge-Clown-Pop? Ethereal-Alternative-90s-disco-rock? I don’t really know”.
Look out for Cream with a K’s LP release and tour around summer this year, but in the meantime — you can Spotify her and see what you think. You can check out Cream with a K's latest single 'Stuck in the House' below.