This month we are shining a spotlight on drummer, solo artist, musician and artist Nico Turner. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she has had a passion for travel for as long as she can remember. Just returning now from a tour as the opening act for Cat Power, Nico has been able to see the world and follow her passion for music at the same time.
Our first GlobetrotterGirl of 2014, Nico has a way of seeing the simple beauty in all that she does, from the incredible opportunity of opening on such a high profile tour to describing perfectly what makes the act of travel such a fulfilling experience. Whether she is traveling in a tour bus or on her own, in a five star hotel or crashing on a couch somewhere, her philosophy about life is inspiring, perfect for the start of the new year: follow your heart and your instincts to find that thing in life that brings out the best in you, so you can give your best to the world.
To read about more incredible women who have infused travel into the fabric of their lives, check out our entire GlobetrotterGirl of the Month interview series here.
And now, on to our interview with Nico Turner.
Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles.
How would you describe yourself as a child – did you always know you were creative?
I would say I was a very quiet child, thoughtful, self-entertained. I gravitated toward art from a very young age. My mother drew a lot and would teach me how to shade and color. I definitely decided early on that I was interested in creative pursuits.
In your Twitter bio, you describe yourself as a “Multi-instrumentalist, Poet, Painter, Photographer, Wordsmith, Professional non-sequiter slinger.” Of those creative pursuits, which is your focus? Do you consider yourself a musician first?
At this moment in my life, musical pursuits are my focus. This is only because I haven’t pushed myself as far as I believe I can go. I always considered myself a painter first because painting is what I endeavored first. I don’t think any one is greater than the other, and everything I do informs everything else I do. Creativity and expression and continuing the great conversation of art and spirit and rebellion is really what I’m after and this is the way that I know how to ask questions and uncover the mysteries of life and self. I think it’s important to find that thing that excites you and expands your thoughts and opens your heart, and makes you available to others as well. So, all those things that I like doing, I feel, connect me to the world and hopefully influence things around me in a good way.
You come from a musical family. Do you feel that coming from a creative family allowed you to pursue your own passions freely or did you go down a more traditional path and then have a break free moment?
I always fought tradition and traditional things, even if I had to be involved in them at points in my life. My upbringing definitely simultaneously stifled me and let me be free with just the right balance to shape me in a way of always doing my best to pursue what I love. My mother, for instance, taught me her beliefs in tradition and work ethic and using caution, but also told me that I could do anything I put my mind to, and I believed her. She would allow me to argue my points and fight the school and work system even though it scared her to do so or even if she vehemently disagreed with me, she’d always hear me out and eventually say “Well, do it if you think you can, but be careful. I just want you to be happy.”
I also grew up listening to her sing. She was influential in my musical tastes. So was my dad and so was my brother in different ways. I think people go down a certain road – a nine to five office job road – for instance, sometimes because they absolutely have to, like my mother who had a child she had to provide for (i.e. Me), some do it because they like stability and they’re happy doing it, some because they feel like they’ll disappoint someone if they don’t do what’s traditionally expected of them.
I always think about a line from one of my favorite movies, Sister Act 2 (don’t ask me why). Whoopi Goldberg is talking to Lauryn Hill’s character and she quotes Rilke’s Letters to a young poet and then says something like “If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think about is singing, then you’re supposed to be a singer.” That stuck with me.
I hear people say “Wow! You’re traveling all over. I wish I could do that.” And I say “DO IT! Just go and do it if you can!” The world isn’t so scary once you start to see it and realize that every city is every city and people are very similar.
I read that you dropped out of university to form a band. Did you feel that this was a risk? Was there fear involved? How did you know in your heart that jumping off the more traditional path was the right thing for you?
Well, I just knew. I knew that the traditional path felt completely wrong for me. I knew that it felt like a struggle, and struggle is good of course, but this one was the wrong one for me. It wasn’t that I was lazy, it was that I felt deep in my gut that this path would take me from the path that I knew I was meant for. I would learn things, but not the right things for me to be useful to the world. I think I knew this so strongly because of how I felt when at school. I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like I was putting on clothes that didn’t fit and walking around in them.
Being at school, sitting in class, was more scary than leaving. I didn’t feel the risk at the time. I knew that if I chose this path, I’d have to make it work. That was that. Somehow I felt it would work.
How did you go about forming your first band? Was that band VOICEsVOICEs?
The first band I was in I joined as the drummer. I left shortly after for not feeling fulfilled. The idea for VOICEsVOICEs came during an early 20s existential crisis. I decided to stop painting then, bought a guitar, borrowed an effects pedal and amp and just started experimenting with sound. I wanted the band to be two people, two voices, like a visual of two people communicating with each other.
I wanted the music to sound like a dream. So I thought about all of these things a lot. Just ideas. Once I returned to Los Angeles, I met another female drummer, Jenean, who was having the same feelings and a similar experience with her band. We discussed our ideas a lot, but she wasn’t ready to go for it. I found someone else who said they wanted to do it. Then I booked a show. The someone else I found backed out at the last minute, so I convinced Jenean to play this show that I had booked. Our first show was literally an experiment. We had never played together before. We really had to listen and feel each other and let go of fear. So began that journey.
You just finished a gig traveling with Cat Power, playing percussion. You also had the opportunity to open for her throughout the US. How did these two opportunities come about?
The two opportunities came about through good grace, good fortune, chance, and friendship. I met Chan (Cat Power) through a mutual friend in what felt like happenstance. A week later she discovered I made music and asked me if I’d be interested in joining her band. When I met Gregg Foreman shortly after, we got along well and it just snow-balled from there. With opening for Cat Power, it was a similar feeling of happenstance. She asked if I could and rather than say I couldn’t I just prepared and did my absolute best. I’m grateful for the people involved and for the opportunity to prove to myself that I could do both.
How would you describe your music? How do others describe it?
I’ve heard it described as drone rock, psychedelic, noise, dreamy, even Americana. I describe it as an experiment in sound. This allows me the freedom in my mind to do whatever feels right. Like when a child picks up an instrument they normally don’t say to themselves “I am going to make this sound like a blues song or a folk song.” They just play and they follow the sound and the feeling. So I’m following a feeling mostly. There are sounds I’m drawn to. I love soundscapes a lot.
When you travel on tour, how much sightseeing are you able to do, realistically? Do towns pass by in a big blur? What were your favorite cities on this most recent tour?
Life on the road… I’ve been fortunate to be on the road with people who are like family. ARE family. Found family. It’s a great time to learn. Sightseeing on the road is sometimes limited to what’s outside your window. When it’s that way, and there isn’t a lot of time to see everything, it makes each moment and each thing you do get to see so important and special. I try to remember to be in the moment so much more than I probably would if I knew I had a lot of time to see a lot of things.
My favorite cities on this most recent tour were New Orleans, Austin, Nashville, Brooklyn and we had a lot of fun in Dallas.
Was this a domestic US tour or did you have international gigs too?
The recent solo tour was in the U.S. but the year prior, we went to Australia, New Zealand, South America, Europe, the UK, and Asia. I want to go back to all of these places. I love them all so much.
Do you have a mentor? How has s/he helped you grow as an artist?
I gratefully find guidance from so many close special people in my life. Right now, I’d have to say Chan is a great mentor, whether she knows it or not. She’s changed my life in so many ways and has opened my heart and mind in so many ways. The simplest thing can change a person, like learning how to hug. Chan taught me how to give a good hug.
What are your goals for the future? Will you continue to pursue music, build your photography portfolio, maybe do something wildly different?
So many goals. I’m glad I have some time to do what I can to reach all of them. I will pursue music and photography definitely. Annika Oksanen have a large photo series idea in the works. I want to keep traveling. Eventually… I’ve always had a desire to do activist work in the U.S. and in other countries. I want to see Africa.
How often do you travel when it is not work related? Would you say that travel is a passion or more a part of the job?
I feel like my whole life has been travel or set up for travel. It’s definitely a passion. When I was a teenager I decided that I needed to learn how to fall asleep anywhere (for my future in traveling). I got rid of my bed and slept on my bedroom floor for a couple years. Even when I wasn’t touring as much, any chance I got, I would drive somewhere or move. I have this insatiable desire to experience different cultures and foods and cities, whether it’s across the globe or the next county over.
How many states and countries have you traveled to?
Hmmmm… Good question. I’d have to look at a map! I think I’ve been to 20 countries? I’ve visited all of the U.S. except Hawaii and Alaska.
How would you describe your travel style?
I feel like I’ve experienced most styles of traveling. Sleeping in cars or vans, cheap motels, five star hotels and couches. I met this traveling musician recently. He travels the old way, by train hopping, and then plays in cities by busking or finding a bar that needs a musician for the night, then he moves along. I’ve never done that, but it was really intriguing to see the willingness and adventure of someone else’s traveling and musical pursuits.
How has travel affected your world view? In other words, how do you think your perspective on life, your priorities and your understanding of the world have evolved the more you travel?
Traveling is the best tool I’ve found in understanding myself.
When I get to have a conversation with someone from another country or another culture, I get to see who I am and what I’m capable of. The time in between places is very special. While in transit there’s nothing to worry about, the goal is to get from point A to point B, so you have all this time to see the world as it passes by, and to think about where you’ve been and where you’re going and to dream and plan. When you arrive, you’re in a different place than where you started. By that time, you’ve grown, if even just a little bit.
Just Kids by Patti Smith, Auguries of Innocence by Patti Smith and The book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
Favorite travel quote?
Die with memories, not dreams
Do you have a mantra or motto that you live by?
There is no try, there is only do.
Make it Happen
What Music inspires you?
People inspire me. But what I’m listening to now that gives me that feeling that anything is possible: James Blake, EXITMUSIC, Sister Crayon.
Do you have a piece of travel gear you couldn’t live without?
Notebook and pen, camera and a book to read.
Travel advice for our savvy travel community
Always bring a neck pillow. Know how to tell a good joke. You can learn more about a place by talking with locals than you can by sight seeing.
How can readers get in touch with you and find your music?
Tour/gigs info: nicoturner.com/nico-turner-epk
Facebook: nico turner music
Other: listen to my old band, VOICEsVOICEs, I’m proud of that music. And some of my newer music is at soundcloud.com/nicoturner