BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Taleen Kali is someone you should know. You probably don't have enough cosmic punk femmes in your life who make amazing music and art. Kali is an LA-based musician, artist, yogi, and writer who just released her debut solo album, Soul Songs, on Lolipop Records this June; Soul Songs was recently featured in Pitchfork’s Guide to Albums Summer 2018, and rightly so.
The album, which was produced by Kristin Kontrol (fka Dum Dum Girls) and recorded at the legendary Sunset Sound Studios in Hollywood, draws from 70s punk, 80s goth, and Riot grrrl passion. As a whole, the music is a fierce glimpse into a world of synth and vulnerability mixed with gritty vibes and tough-as-nails aesthetic. The songs alternate between dance-goth melodies and ethereal 80s beats in a way that feels natural, and interestingly contradictory. "Half Lie" and "Lost and Bound" are the singles from the album, although I personally love the rawness of "Bluets" the most.
Check out one of her music videos - and don't forget to buy/listen to her album here. Kali is also the publisher of DUM DUM Zine, an experimental art-lit publication, proving that she's basically good at everything.
I was thrilled to speak with Taleen about her influences and other artistic endeavors:
JV: What were your music influences growing up? What are they now?
TK: When I was a little girl I was in love with Madonna, Ace of Base, Michael Jackson, and The Beatles. I'd create little choreography routines to my favorite songs which I had recorded from the radio onto my cassette mix. Junior high and high school was all about punk, grunge, rock, metal, and female solo artists - I heard Garbage before I ever heard Nirvana and I loved them both, as well as Bush, No Doubt, Metallica, Tool, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, I loved them all. In college I got way into Bowie, The Stooges, Jesus And Mary Chain and other goth and shoegaze bands - that still remains on heavy rotation. And I still listen to Madonna all the time!
You're a writer as well. How are music and writing connected for you? How do you decide what might constitute a poem, versus a song?
I love the relationship between the word and sound, how one sometimes informs or precedes the other, and how they intersect within a space. Sometimes I'll write little micro-poems as standalone pieces and they'll turn into a song later in time. And other times, the inverse will happen - a single lyric will become a reference for an entire experience and turn into a poem or a short story. When I'm doing it right, as in, when I'm not overthinking and I'm fully in the flow - the words and melodies tell me where they want to go.
When did you first start playing music?
I began playing piano at age 6, and making little compositions based on C.S. Lewis books and my pets at age 8. Guitar found me at age 15.
You practice and teach yoga and meditation, and generally have a passion for the occult. How did this develop for you? For people just starting to dabble, what would you recommend?
Yes!! I stumbled into a yoga meditation class at Yoga Blend in 2012 out of a desire to heal my hands and arms - I had been playing too many back-to-back gigs, and they were burning out from tendinitis. Through yoga movements, meditations, and community I found more rituals and creative routines that helped me return to myself, so I could revisit my creativity in a healthy way. If you're looking for a place to get started, take a yoga class at a studio that also has meditation, sound, restorative, and gentle offerings. You can also do tons of simple writing rituals at home - my favorite is a daily practice of morning pages from the book The Artist's Way.
How do you relax and practice self-care?
My go-to self-care pose, which anyone can do at home, is "legs up the wall." It's a restorative pose that calms the nervous system if you're feeling wired, and it also has the ability to perk you up if you're feeling down. I also make sure to do tons of warm ups before playing music, I've got morning routine of daily writing, a gratitude practice, and intention-setting rituals during the new moon.
What's a song you're obsessed with right now?
"Ciao!" by Lush feat. Jarvis Cocker. What a star duet!
What are your favorite books?
The White Album by Joan Didion, Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, Bluets by Maggie Nelson, 1984 by George Orwell are a few; the the list goes on...
Who inspires you?
My bandmates Miles, Royce, and Ben. My zine sisters Rose and Julia. My close friends and community in L.A. and New York.
Tell me something that scares you.
Censorship and erasure.
How long did this album take, from start to finish, for you to create?
Soul Songs was written 2012-2017, although pre-production on the songs started August 2017, we recorded in November 2017, and everything was mixed and mastered in Feb-March 2018. So 6 years or 6 months, depending on how you look at it.
What's your next project(s)? What is your dream goal?
I've got some cover songs I'm excited to release, and a few singles I've written recently that I can't wait to record, and one of my dreams is to have a song placed in a badass vampire club scene or hacker movie! It's the ultimate dream to keep making music, poetry, a book of short stories, poems, and longer writings...
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.