Swahili Blonde is the nom de plume of one Nicole Turley, L.A. resident, label owner, philosophically bent musician and wordsmith, and recording engineer. Coming off a four-year break following her enchantingly skewed-pop Man Meat (2010) and Psycho Tropical Ballet Pink (2011) albums, Turley now brings an EP titled Deities in Decline, on her own Neurotic Yell label, which L.A. Weekly is happy to premiere below.
Foretasting a full-length coming out in October, Deities is, like the albums that preceded it, a strangely serene shower of lightly electronicized, dubby-poppy midsummer madness. She proudly takes full responsibility for every single note. We spoke with her about the album's themes of self-acceptance and tearing down your idols, and how tarot cards influenced her writing process.
You’ve said that after a few years of mucking around in the music biz, you’re now feeling comfortable in your own skin, and that that’s making a difference in your attitude toward art making. What have you learned?
Self-acceptance is an amazing thing. I'm a big Pema Chodron fan, and she refers to this as “maitri.” A big lesson in Christianity is to treat others as you would want to be treated. But there's also a big lesson in treating yourself as you would treat others. A lot of the time it's easy to give love, kindness and compassion to our friends and family. But then why is it so hard to give that to ourselves?
The EP has a running theme of seizing power through self-realization, in part by examining our idolization of the people we love most.
Idolization is introduced to us early on in life, with how we feel about our parents. We see them as magical superheroes. It was such a relief when I finally realized my parents were just people doing the best they can. The expectations we impose and project onto friends, family, co-workers, celebrities, etc. — although coming from a pure place of love and admiration — are completely unrealistic.
Deities in Decline interprets self-acceptance by proposing music that follows arcanely personal aesthetic rules. The songs have an intuitive, seeking type of feel.
I don't know how to make music any other way. I am a slave to it. It is not a slave to me.
On past projects you’ve collaborated with other musicians, including ex–Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, Duran Duran’s John Taylor, The Slits’ Viv Albertine and late Devo drummer Alan Myers. But on Deities you not only composed, produced and engineered, you played all the instruments, too, with the exception of guest violinist Laena Geronimo. Why go it alone this time?
Things change. I changed. The other SB albums had lots of layering of different rhythms, instruments and parts. But I started to get into hip-hop again because I wanted to put into practice that “less is more” approach, to be simpler, more repetitive and straightforward. I liked what I had in the demos and thought, from a producing standpoint, I didn't need to add anything to the songs to make them better. Trust yourself and your instincts and realize you're enough.
You have a refreshing disregard for the normalities of melody, harmony and arrangement. Is it true that you consulted the tarot in the creation of these songs?
I've thought about doing that with writing projects, like an occult Oblique Strategies technique. The tarot involvement was less about consulting the cards for guidance and more about mutual themes between certain cards and the songs, such as the tarot Tower card and [its reference to] the cyclical relationship between destruction and renewal.
Where are you going, and what do you expect to find when you get there?
For the first time in a long time, I don't know where I'm going. But that's OK. I always have a plan and direction, so finally not having one is probably much needed and long overdue. Whatever ends up happening to me, I just hope I land in good company, with people I connect with. I will always follow inspiration, wherever it leads me.