Photo by Heather Cvar.
Founded as Nicole Turley’s solo project in 2009, Swahili Blonde has always involved a varied and multi-talented collective of musical contributors across its releases—including guitarist John Frusciante, Duran Duran bassist John Taylor, Slits guitarist Viv Albertine, Devo drummer Alan Myers, as well as Los Angeles scene staples Brad Caulkins (Fool’s Gold), Laena Geronimo (Feels), and Dante White Aliano (Dante vs. Zombies).
The 2015 EP release, Deities in Decline, found her once again self-producing and engineering in her Los Angeles studio. Performing everything herself (alongside the strings of Geronimo) resulted in Deities’ uniquely examining electronic triumph. The experimental, emotional feat garnered her praise from PopMatters (“art pop that remains grounded without becoming lost in pretension”), The 405 (“incredibly engaging, off-kilter machinations”), and LA Weekly (“a strangely serene shower of lightly electronicized, dubby-pop midsummer madness”), among many others. And Only the Melody Was Real is Turley’s next chronicle in an intensely personal and powerful self-study of a breakup; capturing the universality of those painful, and eventually illuminating, experiences. Turley confesses this was a difficult record to make, bringing in close friend Jennifer P Fraser to co-write the album with her. And Only The Melody Was Real will be released digitally by Neurotic Yell Records, January 22, 2016, and Ghettoblaster recently caught up with her to discuss it. This is what she told us.
When did you begin writing material for your most recent album?
I began working on And Only The Melody Was Real around February of this year, although I didn’t know it was going to be a new record at the time. I had suffered through a creative block writing for my solo project, Swahili Blonde, for a few years. Looking back now, I think that had to do with feeling more and more disconnected from myself and my life. Feeling like my thoughts and feelings didn’t matter. I didn’t have a voice, so what was the point in trying to use it.
Luckily though, during this time I still felt comfortable enough to create with close friends, releasing a few one-off records for fun- like working with Teri Gender Bender on the Kimono Kult EP and Jennifer P Fraser (Holiday J) on the Amoureux EP. So when I was able to start working on my own material again this year, even though it was all instrumental at first, I felt very thankful. And didn’t care what is was or wasn’t going to be in the long run. Just happy the block was released, I was back in touch with myself, and able to write again.
What was the most difficult song to take from the writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
I didn’t have that experience with this new record. Or I guess even in general, I don’t have a difficult experience with writing and recording. I write and record at the same time, and never have a preconceived idea as to what a song’s supposed to sound like. Part of what I find so enjoyable about writing and recording music, is the discovery process of it showing me what it is. I try to stay out of my own way, show my ego the door, and stay open to whatever the album or song is supposed to be.
Life is stressful enough as is – for me, it’s important music is a fun and flowing process. It’s nice to be able to vacate yourself for a while and be filled up with a creative energy that’s so much bigger and stronger than we could ever be on our own. It always feels very relieving and peaceful to be in that space.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept of the song?
I don’t have concepts going into songs. I just start writing and recording and let the song show me what it’s about. It’s more fun for me that way.
Do you have any guest musicians playing or singing on the record?
Yes. “And Only The Melody Was Real” was co-written with a close friend of mine, Jennifer P. Fraser (ZAZA, The Warlocks). Jen is also my band mate and co-creator in Amoureux. She wrote a lot of the vocal melodies and lyrics for the new Swahili Blonde LP, and also sings backing vocals on a few songs.
Who produced the record? What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
I produced this album. I produce all records I work on, whether it’s my own material or working with another band. Trying to work with outside producers has been a pretty frustrating experience for me, which is why I learned how to do it myself. I find a lot of producers are more concerned about giving a record or song their special stamp and sound, than taking themselves out of the equation and really focusing on how to make the band sound as good as possible, as is. And now, having recorded and produced since 2009, it’s hard to imagine it any other way. To me, recording and producing is just as creative as songwriting. They all bleed into each other. It’s one long creative process.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
Yes. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, And Only The Melody Was Real was written about the deterioration and eventual breakup of a relationship with someone who meant a great deal to me. Someone I gave seven years of my life to. Someone who taught me a lot and gave me a push to grow in a huge way. It’s about ending’s and beginnings, and how painful growth and change can be.
But one thing I’ve learned recently is, no matter how much you try to dodge it, growth and change is truly unavoidable. If you don’t consciously chose it, life will throw a wrench in your wheel, bringing you to your knees and forcing you to wake up and be an active participant in your own life again. It can be very rough to go through- a make it or break it kind of situation. But if you can get to the other side, you’ll find yourself so much wiser and stronger than ever before. And this is why I believe ultimately we’re all here- to learn and to grow. And you can’t do one without the other.
Have you begun playing these songs live? Which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
I don’t have a live band right now. Writing, recording, and producing is so fun for me, I often forget about the live aspect of music. I would like to play live again though. But I think I’d like for it to be something different. Something all encompassing to the viewer. Multimedia. Something involving dance, costumes, lighting and projections. I can see it clearly in my mind. So we’ll see how it ends up manifesting.
(Visit Swahili Blonde here: http://www.neuroticyellrecords.com/artists/swahili-blonde-2/.)