Patrick grew up on the prairies of South Dakota and drew early musical inspiration from her grandfather, who would sing Depression-era ballads accompanied by his banjo. Before touring and recording with New York-based folk rockers the Dorkestra, Patrick formed a politically inclined rock band in college called the Icemakers of the Revolution, who released three albums. After the Dorkestra disbanded in 1996, Tammy and several ex-members of that group formed the Bathtub Virgins, whose debut, Summertime, was released shortly afterward. The album's corresponding film of seven music videos was shown at the New York Film Festival in 1997. The Virgins followed up with an album of blues covers called Underground.
Patrick and her partner/bass player/producer Jeff Farias moved to Phoenix in 1998 and started their own recording studio, Gecko Park, where they began work on The White Album, which was inspired by stories from her family's farm in South Dakota.