“Well, there’s this little creature called The Pilgrim, and it’s in a different universe - but it’s kind of our universe as well, and it goes on a journey.” This, according to drummer and cellist Wilf Cartright, is the OAP-approved summary of Tapir!’s creative output thus far; at least, that’s how he described the band he’s in to his grandparents. Four of the enigmatic six-piece are chatting to DIY in unseasonably sunny South East London, a scarlet papier-mâché head having been brought along, mascot-like, for the interview too. For anyone with even a passing acquaintance with Tapir!, the elephantine headwear will likely be familiar: featuring in their Instagram posts, music videos and live performances, the costume pieces serve to bring the character of The Pilgrim - and, in extension, the universe it inhabits - more tangibly into our realm.
“It’s all about trying to make it more than just ‘band plays gig’,” bassist Ronnie Longfellow explains. “Yeah,” laughs lead vocalist and guitarist Ike Gray, “even if the lasting impression we give is, ‘Well, they’re weird’.”
From their early shows at East London’s iconic George Tavern to signing to Heavenly, Tapir! have always operated outside any typical conceptions of what being a band should entail. Alongside music, their work encompasses paintings, puppetry, film and more, while collaboration (namely with producers Joseph Futak and Yuri Shibuichi, and folk duo lilo) is a core tenet of the project. “Other people getting involved allows more to come from it, and creates a community,” says Ronnie. Wilf agrees: “The project is very much alive. That’s sort of why we did the three acts - we want to be involved in this thing as it grows and evolves.”
“It’s all about trying to make it more than just ‘band plays gig’.” - Ronnie Longfellow
These “acts” refer to their soon-to-be trifecta of EPs which, in the new year, will be combined into a debut album: a multi-disciplinary narrative record following The Pilgrim’s journey across land (2022 debut ‘Act 1 (The Pilgrim)’), sea (this summer’s ‘Act 2 (Their God)’) and space. “The final EP is based around the final ascension up the hill,” Ike notes. Tapir!’s work draws inspiration from mythology, and thus religious or folkloric allegory can be found if the listener chooses to hear it. But the band take pleasure in the idea that The Pilgrim’s narrative doesn’t prescribe a single meaning. “I think people connect with folklore and folk music in this age due to some sort of speculative interpretation of the past,” muses guitarist Tom Rogers-Coltman. “It’s almost like nostalgia for something that never existed in the first place. But if you make your own folklore through, say, an album, you can create this alternative nostalgia that everyone relates to in a different way.”
“It’s that fixation on trying to find purpose,” continues Ike. “It’s important to have that, but then so is acknowledging that maybe sometimes there isn’t the finality we crave, whether that’s in terms of religion or other things in life.” And if that sounds expansive and cinematic in scope, it’s because Tapir! are both those things and more. Defying definition and eluding explanation, they’re leading us - much like The Pilgrim - to an unknown, but welcome, destination.
‘The Pilgrim, Their God and the King of My Decrepit Mountain’ is out on 26th January 2024 via Heavenly Recordings.
As featured in the October 2023 issue of DIY, out now.