Merrill Garbus: On My Culture Radar

‘I’m in awe that Alicia Keys goes without make-up,’ says the Tune-Yards founder

Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown has influenced me lately. I feel everyone should read right now, it's a rare book that's offered tangible hope for moving humanity forward. I can't be as articulate as she is, but she looks at patterns in nature, like fractals and flocking: how birds know in a microinstant how to respond to one another. She uses these as starting points for what's possible, while looking at the way current systems don't work. It's written in an exquisitely personal way, and it's brought up conversations, questions and useful tools to move forward in 2018.

I'll be honest and say I consciously try to look for art made by people of colour, because I know mainstream culture will give me white culture. So I'm excited that 2 Dope Queens, with Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, is a podcast which is freaking hilarious to anybody no matter what colour their skin is. They happen to be two black women who talk about their experiences in an entertaining way.

Visual artist
Alex Chitty is mainly a sculptor and happens to be one of my best friends too. She's based out of Chicago, and she did my album covers for Nick Nack, BiRd-BrAiNs and Whokill. I have a visceral response to the things she makes, I may not like it at first, but then I ask myself why. It asks more questions than makes statements, which I appreciate in all art.

The artist I've listened to the most recently is Linafornia. She's an incredible sampling DJ who works out of LA, and she has an album called Yung that just doesn't get old, no pun intended. And Sammus is a brilliant rapper coming from the perspective of a PhD candidate who's brutally honest about her experience as a black woman in academia. And she's really playful with her love of video game culture, I guess . . . I don't know anything about video culture. You have to check her out, she's everything.


TV personality
I love Alicia Keys right now. I'm in awe that she goes without make-up, or she did for a little while, when she was a coach on The Voice in the US. I'm ashamed that's radical. When I go without make up on TV I understand why people use it, so she's ground-breaking for taking that step. I can only imagine what negative feedback she gets in this misogynist society we live in.

I don't want to watch 'Black Mirror' right before I go to bed

I appreciate my Bose noise-cancelling ear buds. They work. For better or worse I'm on a plane a lot these days, and even if there's a crying baby next to me, I'm able to go in my zone.

Social media profile
On Twitter I like W Kamau Bell, who has a show on CNN called United Shades of America, and he's part of amazing podcast called Politically ReActive. He points to really amazing things, plus I find he strikes a nice balance of funny and serious.

TV show
I've just started watching Black Mirror. It's the most thought-provoking show, if bleak. TV shows that give me hope these days are hard to find, so right now I go to television to have my mind blown a little. That doesn't mean I want to watch it right before I go to bed.

We have the wonderful experience of touring everywhere, but Oakland in California is my home. Right now, people are looking deeply at systems and big-picture stuff there. That comes from its deep history of environmental activism and civil rights – the Black Panthers originated here.

My friends are going to kill me for saying this because it's already getting so busy, but Shangri-La, which is a vegan Tibetan macrobiotic restaurant in Oakland. It's close to our studios so we go there if we want a healthy lunch but don't want to cook.

  • Tune-Yards' latest album, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, is out now. Read our review