Steph Bishop and Robert Maril, former bandmates in queer country outfit Kings, spent years apart before reuniting as Tender Creature. Leaning into the uncertainties of transformation, instead of struggling to recreate something long gone, is in part what makes the duo’s electronic folk-pop debut, An Offering, so compelling.
Bishop’s lyrics are informed by the wisdom that comes from hindsight. Lilting vocals summon frissons of emotional nostalgia in thematically heavy songs, each rife with evocative imagery—clenched fists, the salt of the sea, torn and ripped seams. Maril is playful in his digital production, bringing a certain electricity, voltage varying, to every track.
“Whether it’s tweaking the melody slightly or singing the same melody over a different chord so there’s a little dissonance,” Bishop says. “Robert pushes us in directions I wouldn’t normally go.”
How long have you been creating your art?
We have been musicians since childhood. We started making music together in a band called Kings in 2011. After a hiatus from that band, we formed a new band called Tender Creature and began making music together in the fall of 2018.
Where are you from? How does that influence your art?
Robert: Since we live in separate places two hours away from each other—I live in New York City and Steph lives in upstate New York—we had to find a way to use our limitations to our advantage. By limitations, I mean being in two different places, having a limited amount of space in which to record, limited instruments at our disposal. The programmed drums include samples of us banging on furniture and groceries in my apartment—you can hear Steph’s dog moving around in the background on the last track. I wanted a record that brought digital music into an intimate sphere that sounded really organic. The places this record was recorded, at Steph’s house upstate and in my Manhattan apartment, lends to that intimacy.
What projects are you currently working? Do you have any upcoming releases?
Our debut EP, An Offering, comes out on September 18, with two singles coming out before that. Since we’re in the middle of a pandemic and are in separate places, we’ve been making performance videos remotely.
What is your inspiration? And why?
Steph: My inspiration is the challenge of making sense of the nuanced, beautiful, and often painful experience of being a human. I write from my own experiences as a way to understand myself and the world around me and to connect with others.
Why is music important to the queer community?
Robert: Music has always been important to the queer community because it lets us express things that we haven’t always been allowed to express in words. Queer people have always created communities around music, whether it’s folk music, disco, whatever. When I was a queer kid growing up in Oklahoma, music with a queer sensibility or made by queer people let me know that there were a bunch of other like-minded people in the world, who saw things in as complicated and conflicted a way as I did.
What do you hope to achieve as an artist?
We hope to make music that earns a place in people’s heads and hearts and helps them understand themselves a little better. Our songs are about really specific things in our lives, but they’re also open to interpretation and leave room for people to find their own stories in them.
Who are your top 3 major influences?
Joanna Newsom, Arthur Russell, and Jackson Browne.
How can we all support your work and talent?
Listen to our music, buy it, and share it! Support local music venues during this time so they can continue to exist.