By: Shayla Lee
When I first heard Cream with a K’s track “Terrible Voices,” I was immediately hooked on the Smashing Pumpkins meets St. Vincent meets American Horror Story vibe that the track emits. Cream with a K carefully wraps her ethereal vocals and a variety of unique sounds with a moody production creating a gift for listeners that still sounds as good on the one hundredth listen than it does the first time. After hearing a song so stunning, it’s not surprising to find out that Cream with a K has been in the industry for awhile.
The woman behind the Cream with a K project is Lee Tatlock; a British musician who fronted the Japanese Pop band NEKO PUNCH while she was living in Japan. After living in Tokyo for nine years and wanting a change, Lee made the decision to embark on her own solo project, and Cream with a K was created.
We had the chance to chat with Lee about overcoming adversity as a woman in music, the advantages that come along with being a one-woman show, and what fans can expect from her upcoming album.
Femme Riot: After fronting the Japanese band NEKO PUNCH for years, you have decided to start your first independent western project – Cream with a K. Can you tell us more about how the Cream with a K project came to fruition?
Cream with a K: I met Beck in Tokyo, we spoke a bit and I wanted to talk to him about my music…but I suddenly thought NEKO PUNCH wasn’t a true expression of what I wanted to make and I decided not to tell him about it. So I then realized if I’m too embarrassed to tell my music idols about my music it’s probably time to do something new! So I’m setting up something good for next time I meet him. Haha.
You now live between Tokyo and London and have also spent time in Los Angeles recording and writing. How does living in between these places influence your music? How do the local music scenes differ from each other?
I’m not sure if it’s good or bad but I don’t feel that location influences my music anymore. I try not to write too “Japanese” as it is really imbedded into me. I consciously have to decide to write a western song, otherwise I would constantly write little J-pop numbers. Not that that is a bad thing. Haha.
As for the scenes, the Japanese alternative scene is bubbling, it’s more niche compared to my old band but my new fan support is diehard. The LA scene for me is the most interesting as it’s so diverse and there is an existing scene for every sub genre of music. From next year I’ll be focusing on gigging in the US mostly. The London guitar rock scene is not really healthy right now, so I’m saving myself the stress and dipping in and out with a light touch at the moment.
Your music is such a unique blend of sounds and it is impossible to place it into a genre. How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before? Who would you cite as some of your musical influences?
I normally call my music 90s Grunge Pop? and I feel that touches most corners but I honestly think of my music as “Sad Clown” music. I wish that was a genre. It’s kinda colourful, heavy, weirdly stoic and a little bit goofy.
I’m big on the Pixies and Frank Black. I really like lyrics that are ironic or funny.
I’m obsessed with ‘Terrible Voices’ and it reminds me a bit of Smashing Pumpkins meets St. Vincent meets a badass American Horror Story instrumental track. Can you tell us more about this song?
That song I wrote at the rock bottom of my life so far. I was in a dangerous relationship with a narcissist and on top of that was being really used up by the music industry. “Terrible People in my bed” refers to the people around me at that time. I was being heavily mind-controlled by multiple people and gas-lighted to the point I didn’t know up from down. I was working 24/7 and I was so on edge I couldn’t eat or sleep, I felt my body wanting to shut down. But everyone around me led me to believe I was lazy and not working hard enough. That I was an “ingrate” for not being chipper all the time.
I was writing the music, I had a tv show, I was doing modeling, I was making music videos, playing gigs-back-to-back, Japanese vocal lessons, styling the band and rehearsing. I had zero freedom but as I was under contract, all I could do was surrender to it.
From writing and arranging to styling and editing, you are in complete creative control of all aspects of the Cream with a K project. This must feel liberating! What is the best part about being a one-woman project?
100% freedom! I love being my own boss. I have changed and grown so much. I know that what I’m doing is good so the opinions about my work don’t really matter anymore. When I did my first Cream with a K live in Tokyo all the NEKO PUNCH fans were messaging me saying how it could never measure up.
But I felt that that was an confirmation that I didn’t vibe with the NEKO PUNCH peeps to start with.
The hard part is managing my own expectations, sometimes. This project is my precious baby, I want to do the utmost best I can do! For example, mixes go on forever if I don’t draw a line somewhere.
Have you faced any challenges being a woman in the music industry? If so, how did you overcome the adversity and do you have any advice for other women facing similar challenges in their own lives?
For sure. Even though I was the driving force of NEKO PUNCH, no one believed that I was doing anything apart from singing and getting my makeup done. “How could she possibly have a brain to write songs in Japanese?”.
Everyone praised the bassist for being a genius although all he was doing was arranging the way I directed him to. He loved it too though and took on the “I’m the producer” stance and would answer all the music related questions in interviews.
I would keep telling my management “it’s not fair, I wrote that song!” but they wouldn’t listen to me. It was the worst nightmare. They would say “I don’t know why you are complaining all the time, you don’t need to write songs!” And I’d be like “Ok, I won’t” Then obviously the bassist would freak out and be like “Oh no! We need you to write music – everyone loves your music – everyone knows you write it” and would somehow persuade me to keep writing. My name isn’t even on the music. I felt really worthless.
I think my only advice would be to be defiant. It’s completely in your right to stand by your perception of reality. When there’s success about, it’s a free run so you have to protect yourself and root yourself in your truth.
When there’s success about, it’s a free run so you have to protect yourself and root yourself in your truth.
What can fans expect from your upcoming music?
My upcoming album is kinda of all about my going back to my truth I guess. I feel like it’s a collage of thoughts and feelings. We recorded it like a big 90s album so it really had a lot of thought and attention to every aspect of its production.
What songs are currently listening to?
I really like The Breeders new “All the Nerve” album that’s out now. I really recommend it.
Anything we haven’t asked that you want to add?
Thanks Femme Riot! You ruleeee!
Aside from being a musician, Lee is also an incredibly talented visual artist and I highly suggest giving her a follow on Instagram. You can also stay up to date with her project on Facebook. Check out her music below!