Tasneem is a songwriter, producer, and multidisciplinary artist whose most recent EP, Just Before the World Ends, dropped late last year. Tasneem, who recently relocated from LA to Toronto, produced their own record and is sharing their experience with other artists who may feel isolated in their creative processes. Just before the pandemic took hold in all of our lives, Kajal caught up with Tasneem to chat about their approach to producing their own songs, their work as a mentor to other women and non-binary artists, and their journey honing their craft.
Kajal: What parts of the recording and production process excite you the most?
The thing that excites me most about the technical side of production is hiring an engineer so I don’t have to be in charge of engineering and I can focus on producing. But I am seriously obsessed with the mixing process. I think it stems from a sense of being a control freak. I write, perform, and play most of the instruments in my songs. I also arrange and produce all my music, so I feel like it’s only natural to want to be a part of the entire process. I love that in the end I can go even deeper with the recording and the final product will sound the exact way I want it to. That way the story I’m telling through each song in the end really comes to life. When I was recording Just Before The World Ends, I also got quite into the mastering process and was present for all the mastering sessions. Mastering is the final frontier technically before a song is released.
Can you speak to the differences in your approaches to songwriting and producing?
Songwriting for me is sometimes regurgitative in nature. I hate to use that word but it’s just how I process it. But production isn’t always that way for me; I don’t always know what I want to do. It doesn’t come to me like songwriting. Songwriting I think about as being gifted a song like it’s a present. I don’t really have any control over it! I’ll sit down at the piano and then boom it’ll come out, or I’ll be with the guitar and it’ll come out.
I think the way that I produce music, I have to study what I want the song to be like or have an idea in my mind before I go. Take “Goth Angeles” for example: I knew what I wanted it to sound like in my head before and I knew that I wanted it to be big and soaring and emotional. I knew I wanted a lot of strings, and I knew I didn’t want any drums. I knew that I wanted it to sound a little bit haunting and a little bit poppy, so I listened to songs that I thought were near what I heard in my head. Then, I started executing ideas.
Producing is almost like taking blocks that are spread out, but you know you want a house so you just have to start building it. The vision comes to you as you’re building, you know what I mean? So in some ways the vision changes. You have this idea that you want but sometimes the song tells you who it is. The song tells you how it’s going to be shaped because you do certain things that you have in your head and they don’t work. So you’re like, oh I have to try something else. Which is actually really fun!
Do you find that process energizing or do you end up procrastinating when something doesn’t sound the way you envisioned in your head?
Sometimes when I get stuck I do get frustrated, but I’m actually not a person who wants to take breaks because I’m kind of obsessive when it comes to production and mastering and mixing. I just want to push through and keep going. Some of the people I work with have more of a balance and will say, “We need to take a break. We need to rest our ears.” I think resting your ears is really good but I never want to do that which is why I’m grateful for those collaborators. I like to push through and be like, “Okay, let’s get this right,” but that’s not as good as resting. I think taking a break is always smart, but I also think in the recording process it is important to utilize the energy to keep going. I take little breaks here and there but once I hit a stride I like to just go because you never know when it’s going to come again.
Have you considered or done production for other artists?
One of my goals this year is to produce music for other people. I think I’ve produced music for myself because I don’t trust that anyone else will be able to really care about my vision the way I do, but I think also one of the gifts I have been given is being able to hear what other people want and being able to help them achieve and tell their story and achieve their sound. I’m very open to collaborating and producing other artists!
You recently moved from LA to Toronto. How has that transition changed the way you make music?
Toronto’s a different city from LA — very different. It’s funny you ask this because one of my friends who worked with me on [Just Before the World Ends] was like, “Wow, Toronto seems to be going really well. They’re putting a lot of respect on your name.”
Toronto is a place that’s more open to my voice. LA people were not open to my voice; they didn’t connect with it. Here in Toronto, a lot of people are connecting with it. I had a lot of growth in my listenership from Canada, on all the streaming platforms. I also think people are more interested in me being a Canadian voice. People here are more salt of the earth in general, and I think those people who are more salt of the earth are more open to hearing what I have to say and how I am saying it. And they’re more interested in giving me a platform to do that.
Does the difference in reception influence the place that you’re writing from?
It has! I love the direction of this last EP. I feel like my songwriting has streamlined into a more “Goth Angeles” type of songwriting. In my opinion that’s the song that has the most depth and weight production-wise as well, so I found myself writing from that place a little more here. Also, there’s so much going on in Canada right now with climate change and activism and indigenous rights to their land, and it’s something that I feel is really beginning to influence my understanding of what it means to live here and what it means to be an artist here. I think these issues are shaping not so much my songwriting as my commitment to what I want to say musically. It’s returning to this idea about others. When I first started songwriting, I was writing about other people and I was writing about what living in New York City was like. I would write about what it means for other people to be oppressed, and I wouldn’t necessarily write about me, me, me. And then I moved to LA and I went inward for many years. I started writing about myself more, which is really great, but now I feel like I’m writing again about other people, which feels great, too. It’s kind of like a cycle.
Where does immersing yourself in other people’s art fit into this cycle of creation?
I do that a lot. I listen to a lot of 90s stuff because that’s what influences me the most as a songwriter. When I was mixing this record I called my friend who I consider a mentor, Stuart Matthewman. He played saxophone for Sade, and I met him when I was a freshman at NYU studying sax at the jazz department. I called him up and I asked him questions about levels in mixing and how they approached it when they were recording some Sade records. I definitely listened to a lot of her records because I admire him and I admire his relationship to sound. I was listening to his stuff and was like, how did he do this? I think I want my music to sound as good as the music that I love.
Tell me more about your desire to mentor other women and non-binary producers.
I think that in order for me to continue to thrive as a person who’s gaining all this knowledge and becoming a producer in my own right, I have to teach and empower others to do the same thing. I don’t want it to stop with me. I think in order for women to feel empowered, they need to see themselves in these positions. So at Artscape, I try to make myself available to other women who are producing. They just want someone who’s like, “Yeah I see you. I see the work you’re doing. You can see what I did, too. Try this.”
I’ve been at this for a minute. I’ve seen myself through a lot of different phases and I have a lot to offer, so I think holding that back is really not beneficial to anyone. It only will help me move forward if I share what I learned. It wasn’t freely given to me, all this stuff that I learned, but I love giving it away.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.