The first thing Gavin Turek wants to talk about is the trips she took in college to Ghana and India to both teach and learn about dance as a form of empowerment for kids. Not her current string of sold-out shows at her May residency at the Bootleg Theater, or her music, which seamlessly bridges disco, pop and the sounds of L.A.’s beat and electronic scenes — but about a time in her life when she used her gift for performance to positively affect people.
That formative experience was years ago, but if you’ve been lucky enough to get into one of Turek's shows at the Bootleg this month, you can witness for yourself the positive effects of her music. Even L.A.'s most flat-footed and perpetual arm-crossers start to move a little bit when she's performing.
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” Turek says. “The first two shows were sold out, and I have, like, two singles out and the project with Tokimonsta. I just think L.A. is loving to me because I’m from here and I’ve just been out playing here for a long time.”
Turek has put in work supporting acts such as blue-eyed soul singer Mayer Hawthorne and Canadian funksters Chromeo, and has extensively collaborated with Tokimonsta, starting with breathtaking appearances on the L.A. beat-scene maestro's Creature Dreams EP on the songs “Darkest (Dim)” and “Little Pleasures,” which led to 2015’s collaborative mini-album, You’re Invited.
While this fruitful musical relationship with Tokimonsta produced gorgeous, fun and emotionally honest electronic pop songs, Turek started to hone in on a sound of her own, based in part on the disco, soul, dance and R&B music to which her parents exposed her.
“My parents have a crazy record collection,” she says. “I always thought Donna Summer was the most amazing, beautiful person in the world. My grandpa loved Diana Ross; he would make us listen to her. A lot of Stevie Wonder, too, a lot of Roberta Flack and Patti LaBelle. As a young artist you’re still getting to know yourself, and I didn’t really understand how I could translate those disco and dance-music and soul influences in a modern way that was compelling.”
She describes that process of finding her sound as “a lot of trial and error, a lot of mistakes. But collaborating with people like Mayer Hawthorne, Miami Horror and Tokimonsta has helped me home in on what I want to talk about, and what I feel represents my voice the best.”
This sound can be heard on Turek’s recently released song “On the Line,” a tightly constructed pop song built on a crisp funk beat, a boogie bass line, a summer-y synth backing and of course, Turek’s soulful singing.
“Chris Hartz produced the single,” Turek says. “He’s incredible. We often start practicing by putting out whatever sounds, whatever chords feel good, then we maybe overdo it, and then we start taking away stuff from the music, and that’s where you find the sound and what’s going to resonate. I think it’s OK to go overboard and then to strip it away to see what’s really there.”
Turek's knack for weaving the disco and soul sounds of the past with today’s electronic and pop music isn’t nostalgic, cloying or gimmicky, but gels into a genuinely organic sound that comes from a deep love and understanding of both the music of the past and what's happening today.
“I’ve made a lot of unreleased disco music that honestly I don’t think would relate to people in my generation,” Turek says. “You can make throwback music and reference the greats, but it has to be relevant. That’s the goal. I still gotta connect. I don’t want to put out music that doesn’t make people feel anything. I want them to dance, and I think disco music has that power, but I want them to care about the lyrics, and not just have it be mindless blah.”
Gavin Turek plays the last show of her Bootleg Theater residency on Monday, May 23. She’ll also be performing at L.A. Pride, Saturday, June 11.