The former NEKO PUNCH vocalist returns with her first English language solo project…

Lee Tatlock is no stranger to trying something new. Born and raised in London, she moved from her hometown at the age of 17 and pursued a musical career in Japan. Her leap of faith paid off in 2013 when her band NEKO PUNCH won the EMI Revolution Rock Competition and consequently signed with Universal.

Five years in the band left Tatlock at a low ebb and frustrated with the industry, but as serendipity tends to go, a chance meeting with the one and only Beck spurred the singer and songwriter to realign her dream, reconnect with the West and pursue a sound that was more true to her. Her debut single from her new solo project Cream With A K, ‘Terrible Voices’, mixes fuzzy 90s-toned indie rock with her deceptively sweet vocal and packs quite a punch. In short, it’s an earworm! We caught up with Lee to learn more about the track and her plans for the project…

We really love your new track ‘Terrible Voices’! Can you tell us a little about it?

I remember really clearly that I wrote ‘Terrible Voices’ in a Starbucks in Komazawa-daigaku, Tokyo, on a rainy day in February. I was still waiting out the end of my contract with Universal for NEKO PUNCH and also trapped in a toxic relationship.

I was just messing around with the midi piano and came up with a piano loop and I just aimlessly followed the path it took me down. Looking back on the song now it was an unconscious depiction of the situation at that moment. It’s ironic because I feel that the song was a landmark for a huge turning point in my life.

Was there anything in particular that was inspiring you when you wrote it?

Looking back, amongst the above mentioned toxic relationship with a narcissist… The song is about my experience in being victimised in the music industry. “Terrible people in my bed” is a pretty big line – everyone wants to know about that. NEKO PUNCH had success and I’m proud, but actually I always felt empty and disconnected from it. Behind the scenes the band was completely dysfunctional. I was heavily mind-controlled to the point I believed I was untalented, unattractive, incapable and worthless – I was told I should be grateful for my situation because it was the best “someone like me” could ever expect. I worked 24/7 and I was so stressed out – I couldn’t sleep or eat. Even my hair started to fall out!

And I was gaslighted to think I was actually lazy. I started to doubt my own perspective of reality.
So I actually started writing for Cream with a K as a way of keeping a journal of my thoughts and feelings. ‘Terrible Voices’ is all about this experience and was the tipping point but don’t worry, fortunately, there are no more “Terrible people in my bed”!

You describe your sound as “equal parts Smashing Pumpkins and St. Vincent” – what do you most love about those two artists?

Actually, someone wrote that in an article but I love it. What a huge compliment. I grew up listening to Smashing Pumpkins and still do. It’s crazy, but I have a theory that listening to Smashing Pumpkins links in to the reason why I fell in love with Japanese Pop. The harmony, melody and structure is really similar. Which is why Smashing Pumpkins are hugely famous in Japan and also many famous Japanese artists have also covered their songs too. I guess my ear for music and writing style is a bit 90s J-Pop so maybe it might resonate in a similar way? I don’t know!

I really admire St Vincent for she could be arguably the only Female Guitar Rock Icon out there right now. Not to mention she’s a goddess. The quality of her music is outstanding amongst the shit music that’s everywhere right now. What’s even cooler is she’s totally competing. She gives me confidence as a female artist to be strong in my identity. I’m rooting for her.

Are there any other artists that have inspired your sound?

I love the Pixies. They are my biggest inspiration. I refer to their recordings when I mix. I like to keep my tracks sounding raw as if everything was performed in a room. I also really like Beck and relate to his music a lot. He is the original DIY artist so he inspires me to do as much as I can by myself. I saw in an interview that he does the first mix, gets his engineer to do the second, then he does the final. That’s the same as me! I met him in Tokyo once too – he’s a really nice person.

You’re gearing up to release an album! What can you tell us to whet our appetite?

I feel like this album was a graduation for me because every detail was thought through carefully and everything was a process of trial and error. We kinda approached it like a big 90s record. Every instrument we recorded a few different ways to find the best method or equipment. As whole piece, I think it’s more like a compact photo book opposed to chapters of a story or even a focused message.

What is your favourite song on the album and why?

I think ‘5:35’, which is about riding the first train of the day on the Ginza Line in Tokyo. It’s the most chill and atmospheric song I have ever written.

“I was a pretty strange kid… but then again as a musician I feel like you never really grow up”

You were previously the singer in Japanese pop band NEKO PUNCH, but Cream with a K is your first fully English project. Why did you choose to write entirely in English this time around?

I wanted to completely disconnect from the messages of my old group, and language is a good place to start. Also I felt liberated by Japanese people not being able to understand my lyrics – my recent stuff is so intimate. I feel uncomfortable being so honest in Japanese – maybe it’s a cultural thing – but when I sing in English, hopefully people will be more about the music! But I do have one Japanese song on the album for old-times sake. 

You’ve lived and worked as an artist in both London and Tokyo. How would you compare the music scenes and the experience of being a creative in each city?

Having not lived in the London area since I was 17 and then coming back to UK to start again from zero was …a massive reality check, to say the least. Even though I have played at arenas in Japan in the past, I could hardly book a gig in a pub. Haha! It took time but it’s not my main focus right now as next year we are planning a tour throughout the U.S.

Although I’ve had rough patches in Tokyo I now love it again. My music is hitting a new audience and I’m doing collaborations with some cool Japanese brands so it’s looking pretty optimistic!

You also worked as a songwriter for Japanese and Korean artists. How does the songwriting experience differ writing for others? 

I think writing for others is fun. You get to pretend you’re someone else; you don’t need to sing the song and your ego is far away. That gives you a lot of freedom. However, ultimately your aim is to please!

Writing for myself is much less goal orientated. I just let the song unfold as it wants. I always make sure it’s a song I would want to listen to myself because I feel like I could be BF’s with all Cream With A K fans anyway. I’ve seen some of their Spotify playlists and we basically listen to the same music. 

Do you find it easier to write music for others or yourself?

I’m taking a break from writing for others. When you are writing to please people you start to second guess yourself. Like “is this melody strong enough… hmm is it too long to be a hit? I need a catchier word in the chorus” etc. When I do that in my old music, I stop myself from doubting my first idea. Right now I’m trying to write as quickly and as spontaneously as I can.

What have you got planned for the rest of the year?

I have a couple more singles coming out followed by the international album release in Autumn/Winter. I’ll be in Tokyo from October and playing some shows!

If you could collaborate with any artists (dead or alive!) who would it be and why?

John Lennon! It sounds ultra nerdy but since I started songwriting when I was 11/12 years old, I used to look up The Beatles chords to learn how to put a song together. John Lennon’s solo work is actually my favourite.

I remember when I was stuck, I would close my eyes and call upon John Lennon’s ghostly energies in the hope of being bestowed with the talent to write a hit song like ‘Imagine’. I was a pretty strange kid… but then again as a musician I feel like you never really grow up, haha.

‘Terrible Voices’ is available now.