By: Shayla Lee
Cream With a K, aka Lee Tatlock, has been one of our favorite underground musicians for awhile. Her unique ability to blend various production elements spanning different genres seamlessly while still managing to highlight her ethereal voice makes her music a treat to listen to. Living and creating art between Tokyo, LA, and London, the multi-instrumentalist first gained popularity in Japan while she was in the bubblegum pop band Neko Punch.
The artist has since branched off and created music as a solo artist. Last month Cream With a K released her self-titled debut album which is full of honest, beautifully crafted music. My personal favorites include “Not a Peep” which is an 80s infused punchy grunge rock track full of sticky synths and “Stuck in the House” in which Lee details her personal experience with agoraphobia.
Lee has penned an honest essay about the process of creating her album, exclusively for Femme Riot readers. Detailing her struggles with self-doubt and soul searching, the artist describes her struggles that ultimately led to her triumphant debut album.
“This album has been a really long strange process. I unofficially started writing the music for it 3 years ago – I was waiting for my contract to run out with Universal Japan. I was over it. Maybe over music? But maybe not.
I thought I’d give it one last try. I wanted to see if I could make music that I would listen to. It sounds simple but when you’re always writing for other people’s taste you start to doubt your own judgement. It’s like being gaslighted artistically, you just start to think your reality is incorrect.
The project started on my laptop using a midi keyboard at Starbucks near my house. I’d make a track, go home, add some DI guitars, Bass, vocals and go back to Starbucks the next day and do the first mix. I got into the routine and tried not to judge anything that came out. Just write quickly and move on. It became a fun, addictive game. Even though I was ironically signed to a major label, I had forgotten I was good at song-writing.
Although it sounds horribly narcissistic, the first few months I would just listen privately to the songs by myself on earphones in the Tokyo subway or when I was walking home. I figured, if I could retrospectively become a fan of the songs, I could pursue this path. It’s not easy to fight for something you don’t 100% believe in. As my own boss and employee, I needed to figure out if I was an artist worth investing in.
I decided to give myself the shot.
This music would obviously not go down well with my Japanese fans. (Who did actually turn out to be completely betrayed at the thought that after years of me singing tight air-brushed bubble gum J pop, that I had suddenly regressed to squirming around in a spooky bathtub probably moan-singing about wrist cutting or something in my mother tongue. Hah! Can you blame them?)
I started showing the songs to people I knew outside Japan, creators and industry people I knew and considered cool, to get some honest feedback. It was mixed.
Some people really didn’t like my voice, it was squeaky and airy. It was good in Japan but there was no one cool singing like that in the west. It was just “cringey”.
Some people didn’t think it was in trend enough, either. 80s was the vibe that was happening at that moment. The best opinion people had was – “you remind me of Grimes!”. Which I have ambivalent feelings about. They didn’t get it. 90’s style was going through an awkward stage back in 2017. People personally loved it but it was not yet really industry “cool”. It was like people secretly relished listening to Radiohead “Pablo Honey” in their car but made sure it wasn’t played too loud and that their windows were fully closed.
Anyway, after getting out of a major label, where I was obliged professionally to listen to people’s opinions all day, negative opinions didn’t really bother me at all. I knew this sound was new…but nostalgic, in a good way. I just knew it would take a bit of time.
Luckily, this was affirmed immediately when I started an Instagram account as Cream with a K. I got discovered by some amazingly encouraging fans who actually have become friends. They got it straight away. They saw exactly what I was seeing. “Even if it’s a few people, it’s ok. These are the people I care about” I told myself.
In the next couple of years, there was a lot of soul searching. Trying to find a home outside Tokyo was tough. I lived in London for a few months, then in LA for a while, actually no, back to Tokyo, then back to LA, then Tokyo and then finally landed back in London again.
This resulted in recording an insanely complicated record over 3 continents. I worked with a lot of people, some collaborations were productive; some not so much. Some songs like “Burn”, I played every instrument on the track. Some other tracks like “It Gets Me Down” are tapestries I patched together of parts played by musicians I befriended from around the globe.
Sometimes over the internet, sometimes in real life.
The necessary parts of the album were pretty much all there and it felt authentic and honest. But it needed some serious TLC. I met Alex O’Donovan (OCTAGON) and we quickly bonded. I handed a messy folder filled with thousands of inconsistently recorded (and poorly labeled) audio stems. I hoped he wouldn’t laugh at me and tell me to take a hike. He didn’t. He was great. We worked hard, I sat by his side as we went through each track one by one, taking out unnecessary instruments, relabeling and putting everything in a sensible order. I’m very fussy about song mixes. I probably say a lot of contradictory things too – like “I want this warm and fuzzy” “No, it sounds too muddy!” “This bass needs to cut through with more definition”. But by the end, Alex was really good at knowing what I liked.
I’m never satisfied with mixes and I knew tweaks would last forever if I didn’t draw a line in the sand at “This is good enough”. I was completely relieved when this album was finally done. I have to tell you, I cried about 3 times during the process of making. The release also had a lot of delays which was heartbreaking every time.
I have grown a lot from this album. I’m currently writing for the next release but already the process is going a lot smoother thanks to (painful) past experience.
I’m really grateful to everyone who’s been listening to the album. I was really nervous to share it as it is the most personal thing I have made to date, but all your amazing feedback and encouragement have really inspired me. Thank you so much for your support!”