An interview with New York's Turnip King on their debut record.
In a dire attempt to distract myself from the shit show that was last week's Republican National Convention, I decided to revisit Turnip King’s last EP, which came out in November. Titled Trump King: One Year Until Election Day, Where Are You?, the release (with album artwork featuring Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell next to Trump himself), skates from genre to genre – melding shoegaze, freak folk, drone, and punk. Trump King’s absurdist tracks, self-described as a “collection of [the band’s] distorted aura,” are a jolting introduction to Turnip King as not only a band that defies genre conventions, but one that simply makes music they’d want to listen to themselves. Hailing from Sea Cliff, New York, the psych-punk four piece is Cal Fish and Lucia Arias on vocals and guitars, Christian Billard on drums, and Ken Winfield on bass. On August 19th, the band will release their debut full-length LP, Laika, via Fire Talk Records. We were able to speak with Turnip King about the album, touring, and gas station snacks.
The Le Sigh: How did the name Turnip King come about?
Cal Fish: "Turnip King" is carved in a stone in Hippy Park in Sea Cliff where we played our first show. We originally played under a different name but then a friend at a party suggested we name the band Turnip King. It resonated with us and from then on out, we played as Turnip King. There are different origin stories of how the carving on the stone came to be but from what we know, it's been there since the '60s/'70s? It's a hometown staple.
TLS: What were some of your earliest experiences with music?
CF: I remember making up songs in kindergarten and singing them on the playground. I was really into Aaron Carter. My dad would bring me to Phish concerts when I was little.
Christian Billard: I started taking drum lessons so I wouldn't have to sing in the chorus at school.
Ken Winfield: I really liked Toots and the Maytals. It was the first concert I ever went to.
Lucia Arias: I listened to a lot of the same music my parents listened to like The Cure and The Smiths and 10,000 Maniacs. Then I got really into Avril Lavigne and she really inspired me to play the guitar, so my grandmother bought me a classical guitar at Guitar Center and it took me a while to get over the feeling of playing as a chore. My parents signed me up for lessons at Queens College when I was 9. I stopped going because I felt uncomfortable being around an older male student demographic that I couldn't relate to as a youngster, and as a girl and it was insufferable and uncomfortable. I stopped going and I taught myself how to play as time went by but I still can't read music. I like to play by ear. I got really into Alanis Morissette in the sixth grade.
TLS: What are your influences, musical or otherwise?
CF: Trees, disturbing political history, reverb, the movie Almost Famous, mostly this little picture I keep in my wallet [pulls out an obscure picture of a man holding an American flag], seeing artists in communities come together and have fun.
CB: Trees, plants, and dreams.
KW: Positive energy, Sun Ra.
LA: Lots of sad music, technical guitar mastery (for watching and pining and potentially learning myself) community building in music and art scenes and visibility for minorities and societal outcasts.
TLS: Your sound is constantly in flux. Do you feel pressure to settle on a genre or do you find it liberating?
CF: We kind of just make what we are into at the time.
LA: We make music we like to listen to, and when we're listening to a specific artist during our songwriting process, those influences definitely come through in our songs.
CB: We should be answering these questions only in rhymes.
KW: No dice, genre demarcation is bad advice.
TLS: You guys are all sort of spread out around New York. What was the recording process like for Laika?
CF: The initial tracking session took place when we were all still living close to each other. I was finishing high school. The initial recording process took twp days and overdubs took much longer to record.
LA: We tracked the bones of the album in New Jersey and overdubs were recorded upstate. Our engineer, Ernie, worked on it in a cabin for about a month. The songs are very old. We've played most of them for almost the entirety of our band's existence. I'm really ready for our second album to be closer to finished.
TLS: I love how the visuals in your music videos complement the music. It’s nostalgic and disjointed and really lovely. How did you guys decide on the style for “Carsong” and “Metonymy”?
CF: Last year, I started experimenting again with the old consumer cameras I had used as a child. I thought that the magnetic distortions that came out of the processes looked the way our music sounded. The way the technology framed reality resonated with how I felt about the world.
CB: People reject distorted images quickly but listen to distorted music all the time. The consumer grade video technologies we use for most of the videos askew the professionalism that people seem to expect from music videos – professionalism that makes visual expression an expensive and exclusive medium.
KW: Recycled relics of a home video era are cool.
CF: In the “Carsong” video we also tried to make it fun and compositionally beautiful.
TLS: What pop song would you guys consider covering?
CF: Kate Bush - "Why Should I Love You."
KW: B-52s - Give "Me Back My Man."
LA: Same B-52s song or The Sugarcubes - "Deus/Birthday."
TLS: You guys are in the middle of a July tour right now. Anything memorable or weird happen so far?
LA: We picked up a hitchhiker in Virginia and brought him to North Carolina. I liked sleeping in people's houses and going through their record and CD collections. There was a house we played at in Asheville, NC that had a lot of Plan-It-X posters on the walls and it was exciting because I was really, really into PIX in high school. Also I saw MS Saint play last night at Mammal Gallery and it was one of the best sets I've seen on tour so far. I want to ask them to play a show with my other band sometime in the fall.
CF: It was cool to get to trade my VHS with someone, and to see people's recording setups in their homes.
LA: Ken's girlfriend Aurora drove from Tivoli, NY to Athens, GA in a day for Ken's 20th birthday. She was with us for the Georgia leg of the tour as well. Now she's driving to Philly to see her family and then going back to work in upstate New York.
TLS: Favorite tour snax?
CB: Cloverhill Big Texas Cinnamon Roll, Mega Omega trail mix from TJ Maxx, BBQ KIND bars.
CF: Vegan Rob's snacks, and Sexy Pop.
LA: Clif bars, dried mango, and Diana's wafer cookies (fresa/strawberry).
KW: Cosmic Brownies (Cal is eating one right now).
*Please note: Christian only ate the Big Texas because he was psyched by the fact that they were 500 calories*
*Also note: Ken and Aurora ate at Waffle House three days in a row*
TLS: What’s next for Turnip King come fall?
CB: Jordan Michael (JMC) tattoos. I hate corporations, and that's why I'm building a robot armpit. Thanks for the inquiry!
CF: We're doing overdubs for our new album. We all have solo albums that are going to be released before the end of this year.
LA: We're playing a show at SUNY Purchase the first Friday in September. Christian and I are in a two-piece called Anna Altman and our friend Rafi is mixing our first album, Freightliner. I'm currently working on the album art for it and tapes should be out soon. I'm really excited about it.
KW: DJ Kren.
Listen to Turnip King on bandcamp.
Written by Taylor Silver