It’s a crisp Los Angeles evening when I arrive at the El Rey. A few rows from the stage, I settle myself between a friend and the aisle. I had never seen the space with chairs set up so it almost felt like a different venue. Vincent swoons us with song and Woody holds down the other melodic sounds. I catch a slither of a gun amongst a cymbal and a high hat. And just above them, hair as strong as her guns, there she is… keeping this trio consistent. Keeping this trio true. Holding down the pulse of these weighted songs. The kind of songs that make eyelashes heavy. The kind where you can hear the person next to you breath, as if their exhale was written for the song. It’s almost as if Nico accounted for all the breaths in the room and made it part of the set.
By Arianna Basco
Photos by Mia Valentine
Full name: Nicole Turner
Nickname/pseudonym: Nico Turner
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Where do you live now: San Diego & Los Angeles, CA
Bands you are drumming in currently: RRIICCEE, DREAMtapes, VOICEsVOICEs
Bands you were drumming for in the past: VOICEsVOICEs, Brightblack Morning Light, Her Friday Girl, boy/girl
What you do for a living: Make music
Tom Tom Magazine: When did you start playing drums?
Nico Turner: I began playing drums when I was 15-years-old and got an actual kit. Before then I just carried drumsticks around with me everywhere and drummed on everything.
I was taking an anthropology class in college. I remember our instructor described her travels in Africa and the music they played there. She spoke of ancient tribes and how women, being the natural bearers of life, having cycles, and being more connected to the rhythms of earth, were the beat makers in tribal rituals, while the men made the melodies. I dropped out of school the next semester and started a band.
Tom Tom Magazine: Reason that you started playing drums?
Nico Turner: I grew up in a very musical setting, or maybe it just felt that way to me. My father played trumpet a bit with Miles and other jazz rags around. I remember, as a child, waking up to either bebop, hip hop, or classic rock from my dad, my brother, or my mother, respectively. I think their influence can be heard in my drumming style. I naturally lean toward an amalgamation of all three.
I really think it was the look of the drum kit initially; this majestic 5-piece instrument that is so full of rhythmic possibilities. Beyond that, rhythm just came naturally to me, and I wanted desperately to express that.
Tom Tom Magazine: What is your favorite drum set-up? Why?
Nico Turner: I really like a jazz kit. I love having a piccolo snare for everything- I don’t care what type of music I’m playing. It’s about the snare and the kick for me. I love a large, thin kick drum, which really makes for a deep boom. One rack tom, two floor toms, hi-hat, and a ride. The crash is optional for me. Or, I just like a less is more approach to my set-up. It gives me more room to be inventive.
Tom Tom Magazine: What would your dream kit consist of?
Nico Turner: The above, with a lot of percussive additions: chains and bells, a splash cymbal, and a Roland S-PDS. Three Floor toms!
TTM: What do you think the role of a drummer is in a band?
NT: Songs are rooted in some type of rhythm. I’ve experienced the attitude of drummers being the throw away pieces of the band, like there’s some revolving door for drummers and they can be easily replaced with a drum machine. I tend to disagree with this, not only because I am a drummer, but, because I believe the drummer is the backbone of a band. A band’s sound can be completely and dramatically altered based on the drummer. For example, Nirvana was not the same band with Chad Channing as they were with Dave Grohl. There’s something to be said for the charisma and attitude of a drummer that I think adds a lot to a band’s demeanor.
TTM: Do you play any other instruments? If so … how does that effect your drumming?
NT: There’s something to be said for playing music these days. It seems like there’s a real place for the avant-garde, like more people are thinking outside the lines, which is very inspiring. A lot of people aren’t doing what they’ve been told is the formulaic or correct way of doing things. More and more, people are taking on different roles and breaking the rules. Genres are being integrated. It feels like everyone is open to anything or hungry for something new. I feel the same way, open and hungry.
That being said, I do play other instruments, I’m always searching for new ways to be musical and in a way that I’ve never heard before. That means picking up a lot of instruments and discovering what else they can do. Anything I’m interested in, I play. Typically, guitar, beat boxes, etc. I try to approach everything musically with childlike wonder and enthusiasm, like… My friends in EXITMUSIC gave me a Shudh Sangeet last year. I play it all the time. This inspires my drumming in a sense that it opens me up more. If I’m experimenting with other instruments, I’ll have to be experimental with the drums.
TTM: What do you consider to be the most challenging thing about the drums?
NT: Challenging to me is finding a way to create something new within the realm of being a drummer. It’s easy to be a standardized, immovable beat machine. What’s difficult is finding a balance of standard, palatable beats and experimental techniques. I’m up for the challenge though!
TTM: What’s your favorite part about playing drums?
NT: Well, Being a female drummer has just made me a stronger musician. It’s the most immediate instrument and it’s the one that people say girls aren’t supposed to play. I feel like since I’ve tackled it with curiosity and passion, I can play anything. I love that the drums/beat/rhythm are always there to fall back on. It’s the thing that gets you tappin’ your toes, nodding your head, dancing. That feeling that everyone feels once the beat starts, I feel it first because it’s coming through me, and I love that feeling.
TTM: Most notable show you ever played?
NT: One of the most notable shows I’ve ever played was with Brightblack Morning Light in Europe. We got to play ATP Festival (curated by My Bloody Valentine). The next night, Colm Ó Cíosóig (the drummer of My Bloody Valentine) and Hope Sandoval came to our show. Hope confessed after the show that Colm kept excitedly nudging her during our set saying that he had to rethink his drumming style after seeing me play, which was a huge compliment.
TTM: Have you experienced any setbacks as a female drummer?
NT: Not setbacks, really… I’ve never been denied a chance to play because I’m a girl. With that though female drummers always have to deal with being compared to your male counterparts. People still aren’t used to seeing a girl drummer, and there are attitudes that go along with that. There are comments like “wow, I wasn’t expecting that” or “she’s really good for a girl” or the sound guy doesn’t show you any respect until after the set. Other than that, I feel pretty empowered being female anyway, but being a female drummer just makes things so much more interesting.
TTM: If you could change one thing about the drums what would it be?
NT: The Price.
TTM: Where do you shop for your drum gear?
NT: Small drum shops. I like Professional Drum Shop in Los Angeles. They’re helpful. I really like getting things second hand, I like feeling that a piece is broken in and maybe has some good vibes still resonating. It also gives me more freedom to fix things up the way I like them. Craigslist, pawn shops, friends, etc., are good resources for used gear.
TTM: What would you recommend to a new drummer starting off?
NT: I never ever set out to sound like any musician or band in anything I do. I definitely take inspiration from people, but it’s more that they’ve done something inspiring to begin with, or the way they live their lives that makes me want to get behind a kit or get up on stage. For any person starting out, I’d say, be free. Don’t tie yourself to any sound or technique. Don’t set yourself up inside some predictable pattern. Don’t say ‘I want this song to sound more like this band or that musician. Explore, discover sounds and ways of doing things you’ve never heard or seen before. That will make all the difference. If you don’t know how to do something right now you will if you care enough about it.
TTM: What are some of your other hobbies / interests?
NT: I went to school for fine arts before I dropped out to start a band. I studied painting and photography, did some murals around LA. I draw constantly. I’m also an avid photo collector, physical and digital. I have a whole blog dedicated to the photos I find online because my desktop was so out of control and littered with photos that I had to put them somewhere. I eat my girlfriend’s vegetarian cuisine. That’s definitely a constant hobby/interest.
TTM: Who are some of your favorite lady drummers right now?
NT: I dig Kaki King a lot. A lot of drummers from LA are really amazing: Rachel Cole (BlackBlack, dubBumba), Tennessee Thomas (The Like), Sandy Vu (dum dum girls), Kate Hall (Mika Miko, DUNES).
TTM: Who are some of your favorite bands right now?
NT: EXITMUSIC, Sister Crayon, The Kills, We Are The World, The Dead Weather, The Polyamorous Affair, Fever Ray, Brightblack Morning Light, Rio En Medio.
TTM: Top 3 songs that changed your life and why:
NT: 1. “The Soft Parade” by The Doors
This song is full of wonder, rebellion, mysticism, poetry, humor, sadness… I used to sit in the middle of my bedroom with the lights off and try to let it seep into me. It just gets me going.
2. “Pissin’ In A River” by Patti Smith Group
Patti Smith, this woman, this artist, singing the sadness of losing someone or maybe loving someone who never really loved you back. But she sings it with a bit of angst and strength almost like she’s challenging this person, like she knows who she is ultimately. I took the name ‘Voices Voices’ from this song. Totally apt, I’d say.
3. “Down by the Water” by PJ Harvey
I heard this song and then saw the music video. I had never seen anything like PJ Harvey before. I was kind of afraid and very intrigued. No one was doing what she was doing. It was completely mesmerizing. I was young and here was this WOMAN wailing and stomping about, tougher than anyone since Mick Jagger. It opened up my world to what seemed to be endless possibilities.
TTM: If you could sit down with anyone, dead or living, musical or not, who would it be:
NT: Ani Difranco or Patti Smith. I feel like both women have experienced life, advocated/taken a stand for what they believe in, taken from the past with an eye on the future, both are mothers, both have a humility, strength, and grace about them that I greatly admire and am inspired by… And they’re still doing it!
TTM: Where do you see yourself at in 2020?
NT: Well, if the world hasn’t ended or I haven’t died by then, I’d like to have contributed something beautiful to the world, have a family, paint, grow some food, have some quiet comfort and happiness. I want to still be making music and contributing some sort of useful inspiration to the world. Maybe I’ll be pursuing activism by then.