I must admit that I was very anxious to catch up with Nicole Turley about the latest Swahili Blonde release, as the last time we talked turned out to be one of my favorite interviews I’ve ever done. At the time, early in 2014, we were discussing Kimono Kult , a supergroup comprised of herself, Teri Gender Bender, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, John Frusciante, Dante White, and Laena Geronimo, many of whom she’d worked with previously, including in her “primary” musical outlet (I didn’t clear that designation with her, but I think she’d be okay with it…), Swahili Blonde. Swahili Blonde has been putting out music since 2010 and, while it’s pretty much all Nicole, it has boasted contributions from some pretty awesome players [including John Frusciante], such as Duran Duran’s John Taylor, Devo’s Alan Myers, Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, and The Slits’ Viv Albertine. However, on her most recent EP, Deities in Decline, released this past Tuesday, Turley made herself responsible for every single aspect of Swahili Blonde (with the exception of the strings). The album is the perfect blend of morose post-punk and the funkiest brand of ‘90s alt rock, with dashes of new wave’s interpretation of disco. Earlier this week Nicole and I got a chance to chat and she told me all about the latest incarnation of Swahili Blonde (among other things).
Izzy Cihak:: First of all, I have to say that the chat I had with you and Teri Gender Bender regarding Kimono Kult like a year and a half ago is on of my favorite interviews I’ve ever done, so thanks for being super awesome and interesting. (I’m also super thankful to have one of the only, or possibly the only, copy of that album on CD, which Michelle burned for me… like she did your latest.)
Nicole Turley: Well thanks so much for your interest in the Kimono Kult EP!
Izzy: During our last chat, in January of last year, you told me you had a ton of stuff in the works for 2014, including your upcoming EP, in addition to working on stuff with Kimono Kult and Sexual Castle, and even a few TV series, so I’m curious: What wound up being your biggest highlights of 2014?
Nicole: Lots happened in 2014. I released the Kimono Kult EP, which was neat. And a debut EP for this new project I have called Amoureux with my very dear friend, Miss Jennifer P Fraser (aka Holiday J). I also wrote a TV pilot script with another close friend, Arianna Basco (who was in the SB live band for years). Her and I wrote in a couple months. It was inspired by some kids we went to performing arts high school with in Orange County. Kind of a “where are they now” story — like FAME-meets-The Big Chill. So yeah, we wrote it and then started working with this really great production company called Ranch Hand Entertainment, and with their help, ended up shooting and editing a full 30-minute pilot. Nothing ever happened with it, unfortunately, but it was an incredible experience. One I feel very fortunate to have had.
Izzy: Okay, I promise this is the last pre-Deities in Decline inquiry (although I guess the last question sort of is about this album, since it was included in that timeframe): You’ve worked with a lot of really insanely cool and insanely talented musicians throughout your career but, for personal reasons, I have to ask how it was to work with Viv Albertine, who’s a major heroine of mine?
Nicole: I love Viv. She’s really great. And ridiculously talented. Her and I were put in touch many years ago through Paul Beahan of Manimal Vinyl. He asked if I wanted to do a remix for a song of hers, “Never Come.” And being a huge Slits fan, of course I said, “Yes.” And then her and I just kind of kept in touch. And eventually I asked if she would play on a SB remix I was working on, which she very kindly agreed to. We haven’t corresponded in a while, but I hope she’s wonderful and continues to kick ass and take names 🙂
Izzy: I understand that you consider Deities in Decline to be your first legitimate “solo album.” What was it that inspired you to go in that direction and utilize significantly less input from outsiders?
Nicole: Well, Swahili Blonde has always been a solo project because I do everything myself — songwriting, recording, producing, most of the instrument playing, singing, mastering. Even when I’d have people come in and play on the records, they’d come in for a few hours (depending on how many songs they were playing on), I’d record their ideas, and would edit them into the songs later as I saw fit. So yeah, it’s always been a solo project. But I guess what I meant in the bio was it feels that way even more so now because there aren’t any contributors on this record. It’s just me, playing everything, whether I feel proficient in it or not. Except violin. I had Laena come in for that, but that’s mainly because she’s my favorite. I love her playing so much. It’s a special treat for my ears. But yeah, this EP has been a whole new level of vulnerability and an exercise in self-acceptance. Like, “This is me, this is what I’m capable of and it’s enough as is.”
Izzy: You’ve said that the album, in its largest sense, is about the idea of more or less making the people that we care about or love into sacred and one-dimensionally positive figures. How did this concept come about?
Nicole: The origination point for that concept started with parents. How, as young children, we unfairly idolize them and have these completely unrealistic expectations of who they are and what they’re capable of, on a subconscious level. Because instinctively we know we’re so dependent on them, we see them like superheroes. Always ready to save the day! But they’re human beings; imperfect and flawed, but, I believe, always trying their best. And what’s interesting is a lot of my friends now are becoming parents, so this is all kind of coming full circle in that they’re now the imperfect and flawed superheroes. So yeah, it started there, and then I just kept thinking about how even though that concept and belief starts in young childhood and seems to get dispelled pretty early on, those themes continue to transfer over throughout our lifetime. We continue to project these ridiculous expectations onto people in our day-to-day — teachers, celebrities, friends, family, spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, children, co-workers, colleagues. And unfortunately, it’s easiest to do this to the people we are closest to.
Izzy: I really love the new EP as a whole, but I especially dig “Three in the Tree,” which is one of my favorite tracks of the year and sounds, to me, like the lovechild of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Luscious Jackson (Hopefully that doesn’t bum you out.) How did that particular track come about?
Nicole: I love both Siouxsie and The Banshees and Luscious Jackson, so thank you very much! Man, I haven’t thought about Luscious Jackson in years and years. I had a tape of theirs in junior high; used to listen to it all the time. I think “Three in the Tree” was actually the first song I wrote for the EP. It’s about people who impose themselves on you and your life. Delusional clingers on. It feels pretty invasive, and in some weird way a power struggle. I’m sure folks can relate on some level.
Izzy: Finally, how do you hope and plan to spend the remainder of 2015, whether in relation to Swahili Blonde or anything else you may be working on? Any chance that we might get to see you in a live setting sometime in the near future?
Nicole: Hhmmm… Well I’m excited for the SB full length to come out either the end of this year or Jan 2016. That’s a very special record to me on a lot of levels. I recently decided to change the album name so it fits the music a bit better, so now I’m calling it And Only The Melody Was Real – which is a quote from my favorite chapter (Aunt Beast) in A Wrinkle In Time. Jen Fraser and I have plans to start working on a new Amoureux record in Fall. That will be very fun. And in general, I’m always working on new SB songs and writing short stories and scripts for fun. So more of that will be happening I’m sure. And I’d really like to take a play-writing class. A while ago I read three plays by this English playwright Polly Stenham that were really great and inspiring. So yeah, her and David Mamet (watch Edmond!) have put a fire under me to learn more about that art form. We’ll see what I can find in LA. Might have to go to NY for that one. As for playing live… I’d love to at some point; I do miss it. But it would have to involve the synchronicity of right place, right time, right people. We’ll see what 2016 brings.