AMERICAN SONGWRITER INTERVIEW: "Figg Release Self-Titled Debut, 10 Years Later"
by Tina Benitez-Eves, July 13, 2020
Patience is a virtue in art. When Robin Peringer and Gilden Tunador finally finished their debut album in 2010, it would have to wait another decade to get a proper release.
Initially, everything unfolded organically for Figg. Their history goes back more than 20 years, playing the Northwest circuit, in and out of bands together—first in Tunador’s band Stella Maris, before both joined the Seattle-based Carissa’s Wierd (Tunador on keys and Peringer on drums), with Mat Brooke (formerly with Band of Horses) and Jenn Champion. Carissa’s Wierd eventually disbanded in the early 2000s, and when Tunador and Peringer, who also moonlighted as Modest Mouse’s guitarist for two years, hit a creative crossroad, the two started connecting the pieces of a future project that fused their different musical registries.
By 2003, Tunador was living in Topanga Canyon, CA and Peringer was in Echo Park—one of the only times the two lived in the same city. At the time, Tunador was playing in two other bands when Peringer approached her with some music he was working on.
“I jumped at the idea of writing the melody and words,” says Tunador. “We both listen to all different kinds of music, but seem to share a similar sensibility when it comes to writing.”
When the two regrouped, Figg was planted. Still connected, they continued to pass songs back and forth as life was happening around them. People died. People were born, and people moved, says Tunador. “They’re like windows into the moments in time that we were experiencing,” she says of how Figg came together. “Some songs were set aside and some made it onto the record, which was initially ready to go in July 2010, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Eventually, they gave the album a soft release on Bandcamp in 2015, which received a positive reception, before deciding to pull it down.
Art takes time, and Figg is the first chapter in Figg’s storybook that’s finally ready to read. Across its dreamy soundscape, Figg is delicately weaved in textured instrumentation and melodies from opening “Case Study in Plagiarism” gliding into the mistier “Jack Is the Pulpit” and more abrupt “Don’t Want to Have to Hate.” Penned when Gilden was pregnant with her first son the song, says Peringer, was written around the idea that building a family makes it harder to be a hateful punk.
Pensively moving through different twists and tangles, Tunador lucid and fetching tone harmonizes with Peringer, wrapping up each narrative through “You and Me, Oh Please,” recorded partially on 8-track and Figg’s ode to Tones on Tail’s “Slender Fungus” (1984).
“I always joke about writing a seven-part trilogy, like Star Wars, and imagined that this this was one of the songs that was part of such a trilogy,” says Peringer of the track, which even has a touch of banjo. “The second verse has mouth percussion. I am tapping on my cheeks and moving my mouth to get notes. I’m also trying to sound like a backwards hi-hat, which is the ‘tststststs’ part.”
Even if Figg has been living for a decade, each song has its place in time—then and now. “It’s like most things, when you set something aside for a long while and then re-familiarize yourself with it, you gain a fresh perspective,” says Tunador. “It wasn’t so much that the meanings of the songs evolved, but maybe how I’ve evolved since writing them.”
Initially, the acoustic-led “Bungleweed Motherwort” was a message to Tunador’s son. After having her first child, she found herself processing the grief of the death of her mother, who died when Tunador was 7, all over again. “I was terrified that I was going to die and that he, too, would be left motherless,” says Tunador of the slow-twirling ballad. “Of course, in retrospect that was a projection of my fears. But within my sleep-deprived, new mother’s mind, I had an urge to leave behind a message for him, that just in case I did die, he should go outside and find comfort in Mother Nature.”
Now, she says she listens to the song differently. “I’ve healed that aspect of myself and I don’t really fear death as much, because I’ve integrated the message, which is universal,” says Tunador. “I’ve been able to find peace by getting out of my head and connecting to something greater than myself, to go and sit under a tree or take a walk and look up at the sky.”
Of the more whimsy “Black Tar of Camden Yards,” Tunador says was “a leap forward into making a wish for my own happiness.” She adds, “But the song’s meaning no longer belongs to the songwriter, it belongs to the listener, instead.”
The video, using footage pulled together by Peringer and Tunador during quarantine with editing from Len Burge and YouTuber Jacob the Carpetbagger, captures the childhood vision of playing with “little people” and escaping to imaginary worlds.
Tunador says video-making reinvigorated her love for filmmaking, which she set aside for some time. “I loved all of ‘The Borrowers’ books as a child, where the little people had matchboxes for beds and spools of thread for tables,” she says. “I’ll still take the lead on a fairy hunt, any day.”
Peringer is currently finishing up another video for Figg’s “Don’t Want to Have to Hate,” which will feature some stop motion and green screen techniques.
“That’s what’s so fun about songwriting,” says Tunador. “You can craft words together to envision an idealized life and when you combine music with the medium of film, you can create sensory magic.”
Possibly the first song Figg worked on together, “Destroyer” is a goodbye message to a friendship that ended. Tunador finds some healing, drifting through lyrics I’ve cast you aside / I’m not going to grieve you… It’s been a long ride / We’ve weathered all seasons / I’m cutting the binds / That tethered our weak link.
“It was therapeutic for me to put my thoughts to the page,” says Tunador. “If words and music are frequencies of energy in motion, maybe it can send out that healing energy to others.”
There’s is a part in the song where Tunador sings a ‘do do, do do’ part that Peringer says he wanted to sound like The Cure. “[I’m] not sure if it does, but it’s still cool,” jokes Peringer. “Most of the album was me trying to have fun with recording and messing around. It was less about being polished or tight.”
While living with friend Ben VeHorn, Peringer started exploring new ways of recording beyond tape. “This record was recorded on almost every medium you can think of—ADAT, a computer, tape… Ben collects analog synths so I took a stab at playing some on the recordings,” says Peringer. “Once I got some songs together, I asked Gilden if she wanted to take a stab at lyrics and singing.”
Figg closes on a ruffled and syncopated “Song for Dwyre,” a song Peringer says just flowed out. “It was an apology to someone I was being a dick to when I shouldn’t have been,” says Perginer.
In the end, there were some pieces of Figg that were cut, including a cover of Brian Eno’s 1974 single “Needles in the Camel’s Eye,” a track the duo hoped to release as a single.
Figg is a chapter in time for Peringer and Tunador that has finally been opened up and has been read. Moving forward, Figg are working on their next chapter, for possible release in 2021.
Tunador remembers first re-listening to Figg last fall in an old CD player that her home’s previous owner left behind, and she immediately knew they had to finally release the album.
“It surprised me, the record had a palpable energy and emotion and deserved to be heard outside of my kitchen,” she says. “It had never had a proper release and we had to make it happen because life is too short not to do what you love.”
Unaware of what was in store for the world, the album was released June 2020 in the midst of a pandemic and protests, yet somehow Figg is the just right music for right now.
“I guess the timing is right because thematically, the album is all about love and healing,” says Tunador. “Collectively there’s a lot of both that needs to happen right now on so many levels.”