by Alex Wexelman (@AlexWexelman)
Think back to the last debut album you heard that featured an eight-minute song. Now think of a debut album with nearly three songs reaching the eight-minute mark. While you’re dusting off that Neu! self-titled LP you bought to prove you weren’t losing your edge I’ll begin introducing Turnip King.
The four-piece—featuring Cal Fish and Lucia Arias on guitar and vocals, Christian Billard on drums and Ken Winfield on bass— hails from Sea Cliff, New York and will be releasing their full-length debut Laika on Fire Talk Records. Laika indeed features three tracks that stretch out to nearly eight minutes of spacey and hypnotic soundscapes. It’s here that TK establish their prowess for both setting a mood and shifting it with layered guitar freak-outs.
Case and point comes via “Rosy’s On Safari,” which we’re premiering below. Across three sections, spoken word segments play over a repeating guitar phrase replete with breezy bass. The song wanders like the titular dog through a series of passages but never loses its way.
Cal, Lucia, Christian and Ken gel well together while behind the mic, but their camaraderie is also palpable in their interviews. I recently emailed the band some questions, which they’ve humorously and thoughtfully answered below:
Alex Wexelman: Lucia, you told IMPOSE, "calling us a shoegaze revival band is sort of a cop-out." How would you prefer Turnip King be categorized? Do you find genre labels limiting?
Lucia Arias: Shoegaze is so distinctly limiting because of defining characteristics like texture in sound, reverberation and pedal manipulation. But what happens when we have songs that don't follow those guidelines? Genres are limiting, and I guess the best way to describe our music if we HAD to pick a genre is just rock. That's what I tell my family when they ask what kind of music we play- that we're a rock-band. I'm not going to explain shoegaze as a "movement" or niche or its origins or anything to my grandparents/uncles/cousins because so what? When they hear it, they get it. It should be more about listening and feeling than it is about listening to hear an unintended resemblance. That being said, just so we're clear, we all love shoegaze, but we love other types of music as well.
Cal Fish: Yeah, genre labels are more practical for music marketing fellas than they are for describing the sounds of an artist. If you are trying to describe the unique sound of an artist go with adjectives! Step outside the iTunes Store y'all!
I found the referred article to be quite imposing... attributing some sounds from our track "The Ho_se" to a synthesizer, which were actually from the work of my feets and pedals! Does this make us shoegaze? Yes and no, you can do so much with pedals, and relevant adjectives are more interesting and informative than the blanket term. That being said, I have gone to see My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive play live in the past 5 years and am out here for the sake of all shoeboys and shoegals and any shoepeople. <3 Pedals are interesting because they turn the focus from instrument manipulation to sound sculpting!
Just call us "Post-Trash"....
AW: Laika, of course, was the first animal to orbit the Earth. What similarities can you draw between T.K. and Laika? Why did you choose to name the album after her?
CF: Well for those who don't know, Laika was the first animal to live and die in space, sent on a Soviet space vessel, and was sent there as part of the Space Race between The Soviet Union and the United States. On the cover of our album Laika is reframed as a dog holding an
American flag... we can relate to this doggy... Have you ever felt un-American but been indisputably encrypted by, and embedded in United States culture and mentality? Have you ever thought that your life and death has been pre-determined by power structures with ultra nationalist intentions and a negligence for empathy?
Or, that because of this your best moments are only when you look cute and domesticated In front of a crowd or in media before you are launched into "space" and spend the remainder of your life alone looking back at the place that once embraced you, and that you once embraced, and thought you would spend your life happy?
Christian Billard: I don’t know if there are any similarities between TK the band and Laika the dog. I can relate conceptually to the sensation of being launched into space against my will, but for me personally the story of Laika the dog carries a reality of seriousness that goes beyond this metaphor. It makes me feel a little bit sick when I visualize Laika trapped in this small capsule as she meaninglessly orbits the great human planet for the cause of no concern of her own.
AW: How do you think playing in basements helped shape your sound?
CB: I don’t believe basements have really shaped our sound so much; it seems more likely that the sound is shaped by lived experience (in and out of basements) which we use to sculpt the sonic environment of the basements.
LA: The TK basement is a safe space that allowed us all, Nick included, to experiment with songwriting and creating in a judgement-free zone. We are lucky that Christian already owns most of the gear that allowed us the ability to record and practice and I don't take for granted that a lack of materials often is a big setback for many people and and it may discourage them from freely experimenting with their art. This is also partly why (I believe) Christian has been really great about letting other people work with him to record in his basement. Available resources, encouragement, and positivity have been the root of the basement's ethos from day 1.
CF: Yeah! The passion and hopes were always high while stakes and stress were low in the basement we started playing in. As far as basement shows go, it's interesting to think about the appropriation of utilitarian architectures taking place across the United States in basements everywhere! Guitar amps on laundry machines and teenz wrapped around a boiler, wowza, it's not pretty, or acoustically pleasing, but it's real!
AW: Could you explain the spoken-word segment of "Rosy's on Safari"?
CF: Well, first off, Rosy is a dog from Texas, sooo this is a dog song. Those words come in three sections, the first were written by me at a backyard festival in Bushwick that we played a few summers ago, at a house that has since been torn down to make way for construction --> Condos. It was a 2 day thang, and we played on the second night with one of our favorite bands, Palm. The first night I had spend a good deal of time with this dog who had a giant head and a drunk owner, the second night the man was there without the dog. We were all always really into dogs, and I know at the time I wanted to be a dog, but also thought about the mundane lives of domesticated albums and the pointlessness/absurdity of loud music and intoxication, along with domestication and gentrification.
The second portion was written about an incident during high school where me and a few friends were on a golf course during a school day, in a sand pit, playing music, we even had a few unplugged guitar pedals because it was funny, we were calling one sand pit," 285 pit," and another "Death by Pit," We were having fun, and then a dog came running up to us, super psyched, ready to be pet. Then, following him came an extremely angry pair of men in a golf cart, yelling at as they quickly approached. "What the Fuck are you doing?" over and over. They expected us to run, but we did not, we just kept petting the dog and told them we were just playing music. Very angry, very fucked up, golf courses are an extreme atrocity to the natural environment and take up a huge portion of the landscape. They should all become public parks. These segments are spoken by Lucia.
The third, spoken by Christian, is from when we were recording the initial tracks for Laika at Water Music and Christian's mom called him to tell him they still couldn't find his dog Leo who had ran off. Christian was extremely phased, Leo was found quickly and is sweet to this day.
AW: What's your favorite piece of gear you own and why?
LA: My Boss Blues Driver is my favorite pedal. It was a Christmas gift from my parents a couple years ago. I wanted it because I knew Carrie Brownstein had one and so I figured it had to be good.
CF: Aside from the Apple iPhone, which is THE ONLY piece of technology anyone could possibly ever need right??? :( :( ...loop pedals are really cool, and the FREEZE pedal is always under my foot... Right now it's my borrowed tiny FM radio transmitter and Fisher boombox though!
CB: My favorite piece of gear is definitely my body, including the l’noggin. These are the tools which manipulate all my other gear. But my giant cymbals definitely influence and assist what I am trying to do as well.
AW: If you had to boil Turnip King's ethos into a mission statement, what would it be?
CB: I don’t think the mission statement of Turnip King is conceptual, or verbal.
CF: The ethos can't really be boiled down right now nor understood I suppose, yet, It definitely involves collaboration, understanding, acceptance, and creativity...
AW: The first we hear your voice on the album you sing, "I want to make myself clear," though throughout the record it can be hard to make out all of the lyrics. Are the words as important for you as the music itself or are they there more to contrive a melody?
LA: I believe that the lyrics are of equal importance to sustaining a melody. For "The Ho_se," the opening line goes hand in hand with the hardness of each guitar section. The guitar parts that I play were originally inspired by Marissa Paternoster's guitar playing and I just wrote the lyrics so that the song would come off as straightforward and unapologetic- the same way I interpret most of her music to be. Each track varies in its influences.
AW: What would you recommend a listener unfamiliar with your work keep in mind when hearing the album for the first time?
LA: We hope you like it, and if you do, you're gonna LOVE album TWO which is currently in the works! Also, keep in mind that this is our first album. As much as we like to say we know "what's good", these are Muddy Waters™ and we're taking everything one step at a time so that eventually we can really truly know what's good.
AW: If you could collab with one artist dead or alive who would it be?
LA: Mary Timony
CB: I think I would choose to collaborate Mark Hollis.
CF: Iannis Xenakis!!! + Dj Kren. Dj Kren - Sun Ra