Songwriter-producer Sarah Tudzin of illuminati hotties sits on the ground in front of a train.

What it Means to be ‘Tenderpunk’: An Interview with illuminati hotties

Music Interviews

2023 has been one of the best years for concerts in recent memory. On top of an amazing lineup at this year’s Kilby Block Party, Salt Lake City has been graced by performances from 100 Gecs, Death Grips and more. One of the most anticipated concerts of the summer has to be boygenius’ upcoming show at Library Square on Thursday, August 3. Ahead of their performance, I sat down to chat with the brains behind illuminati hotties, songwriter-producer Sarah Tudzin, who will be opening for boygenius at the Salt Lake City date on their tour.

Tudzin has been writing, producing and performing music for as long as she can remember. “As a product of living in L.A., it was always accessible to go to shows,” she says. “I remember wanting to be able to recreate songs that I was hearing, and I begged for piano lessons as a little kid … It took a while to make it happen.” After playing piano for years, Tudzin switched to drums, and the rest is history. 

The last time Tudzin visited Salt Lake, she performed at Soundwell—a venue that holds 650 attendees. This time she’ll be playing in front of an audience of around 7,000 people. “I’ve been to a lot of the [cities] that we’re going to,” she says. “In general, [we’re touring at] venues that are much bigger than we’ve ever played.” While the larger venue sounds daunting, Tudzin is facing the challenge with excitement and determination. “The boygenius fans are quite rabid, which makes them really exciting to play for,” Tudzin says. 

Since their formation, illuminati hotties have released four studio albums. Their sound can be best described as a mix of classic punk rock and softer indie fare—think Soccer Mommy meets Screaming Females.

Luckily, Tudzin came up with a much more succinct label than the aforementioned genres: “Tenderpunk.” “I don’t know if anyone has said it before me. I can’t imagine I’m really the first person to think of anything,” she says. “It’s really just the ethos of punk, anti-establishment and anti-monoculture. Just sort of bucking the norm. But I do value sensitivity and sweetness, and I think that is missing from a more traditional punk scene.” Illuminati hotties’ blend of punk ideas with softer tunes makes every song sound fresh and unique. There’s nothing more punk than compassion.

Illuminati hotties’ newest single “Truck” leans into the “tender” of tenderpunk. With soulful vocals and acoustic guitar, “Truck” tackles themes of change with love. “When I wrote that I was … trying to get back to basics a little bit and really write a good song,” Tudzin says, and she accomplished her goal. “Truck” was partially inspired by the exit of long-time drummer for illuminati hotties, Tim Kmet. “[He] went back to his full time job, which was in the trucking world, and he just was like, ‘I want to start a family and buy a house and move to where my wife’s family lives.’” “Truck” perfectly encapsulates those feelings of nostalgia for a time before now.

Illuminati hotties has rightfully earned the title of tenderpunk pioneer. Sweet but tough, their music is sure to be a hit when they play at Library Square on August 3. Follow illuminati hotties on Instagram at @illuminati.hotties for music and tour updates.

Read more reviews of local artists that emulate the “tenderpunk” sound:
Local Review: Number One Babe Team – See You Later
Local Review: Shay Obray – Flowers