June 12, 2015

Featuring: Vagabon and Bethlehem Steel

Catching up with tourmates Vagabon and Bethlehem Steel.

When Laetitia Tamko was booking a tour for her band, Vagabon, she knew she wanted to bring along a group she would continue to have a blast seeing night after night. So she enlisted Bethlehem Steel, which is fronted by friend Becca Ryskalczyk, a fellow Brooklyn-based alternative band with an emphasis on vocals and a penchant for melodies and no-holds-barred performances. “I’m excited and terrified,” Tamko said of going on her first tour, an 11-day trip along the East Coast that wraps up June 15 (Vagabon’s other members, and Bethlehem Steel, have toured before.) “It’s gonna be awesome,” Ryskalczyk reassured.

Both Vagabon and Bethlehem Steel are heavily involved in Brooklyn’s DIY music scene. They frequent venues like Shea Stadium, David Blaine’s The Steakhouse and the Silent Barn as performers, bartenders, door-workers and fans. Tamko, 22, moved to the borough a year ago and started playing music around the same time, though it was merely coincidental — “I didn’t know there was an arts scene happening in Brooklyn at all, but it just worked out really well” — and Ryskalczyk, 26, moved from Buffalo three years ago. “It’s so different here just being submerged in it at all times, and working at DIY spaces and stuff and at shows all the time,” Ryskalczyk said. “It’s constant inspiration from everyone around you, so it’s easy to write and share and always want to be working hard.” Both women credit their ability to carve out spaces in the local scene and book a tour like theirs to the overwhelming support of the community. “We’re lucky to have such good homies and people who support us,” Ryskalczyk said. Tamko echoed those sentiments, but sometimes needs a reprieve from the myriad influences. “Whether we’re working at DIY venues or being there or bartending or doing door or playing, we’re always in the music scene, and sometimes I find myself having to kind of check out for a little bit,” she said. “There’s so much good shit around, and I don’t want that to absorb into me and what I’m writing. I don’t want to write what my friends are writing, necessarily.”

Tamko recently has written new material, but Vagabon isn’t working on anything specific (Miscreant Records put out EP Persian Garden last year). Bethlehem Steel just wrapped up recording an EP, which the band hopes to release by the end of summer, also on Miscreant. Both Tamko and Ryskalczyk serve as the bands’ lyricists and take a collaborative approach to tweaking song components with their bandmates. They also forgo any vocal restraint during live performances; Ryskalczyk’s singing on the upcoming EP is “pretty chill and quiet,” she said, though she won’t pare down screaming in the live set. “That’s something that I don’t want to take away from the live performance,” she said. “Getting into it and feeling everything and interacting with each other onstage is important.” Tamko added she “played it more safe on the vocals” on Persian Garden, but now she performs with an embrace of a “raw vocal kind of thing.” Bringing those vocals on an 11-day tour and putting out EPs are impressive feats, and to many, signify reaching a level of success; that’s not necessarily how it feels to Tamko and Ryskalczyk, however. With community support, it all seems relatively normal and attainable for Vagabon and Bethlehem Steel. “You can literally do it yourself. You can just make it happen,” Tamko said. “It doesn’t really feel like something you can’t do. It’s totally within reach.”

June 12: Raleigh, NC @ slims
June 13: Richmond, VA @ our house
June 14: Washington D.C @ the dance institute
June 15: New Brunswick, NJ @ cooler ranch

Listen to Bethlehem Steel and Vagabon on bandcamp.

Tour poster by Mary Shyne.

Quinn Kelley, a Baltimore-based writer, who has never not finished an open bag of Swedish Fish. She tries really hard on twitter.