Deep in the heart and soul of her native Los Angeles, artist Taleen Kali (TÜLIPS) concocts tunes as celestial as stardust and as daring as red lipstick on an overcast day. Drawing from the tales of her Armenian roots, and nods to her Lebanese and Ethiopian family stories, Kali stitches notes that blend her ancestry with the defiant beats of modern countercultures. Watch her on stage, and you’ll understand those murmurings of praise throughout the LA underground. Those fiery days of youthful rebellion have transformed into a sleek punk elegance, peppered with noise pop and a nod to old-school new wave.
Taleen Kali is also the dynamo behind the avant-garde Dum Dum Records as well as DUM DUM Zine. More than just notes and chords, Kali dabbles in the mystical as a sound healer, guiding souls through group meditations. In 2021, she took a brief detour from psychedelic punk path to soundbath, with her album, Songs For Meditation.
Beyond the melodies, Kali’s poetic expressions and visual musings have graced both digital realms and international paperbacks, from the satirical wit of The Onion to the in-depth reviews of Razorcake and Los Angeleno.
2023 marked a significant feather in this accomplished polymath’s cap with the release of her first full-length album, “Flower Of Life,” via Dum Dum Records. Noteworthy names like The Smashing Pumpkins’ Jeff Schroeder and Josiah Mazzaschi added their magic at The Cave Studio to this piece de resistance.
And now, just a half-year since its launch, Taleen Kali is gearing up for a dazzling September spell in L.A. and a whirlwind fall tour. Hold onto your hats and hit the play button below as Kali herself guides you through her thought process as she dissects each song on the critically acclaimed album Flower of Life – in her own words.
- “Flower of Life”
I wrote “Flower of Life” as a response to the collective hell we’ve been going through for the past decade. Although the song is about coming back to life and making it through to the other side, there’s also a powerful death drive within the album as a whole, so I wanted to open it up with this song about rebirth.
It has about 10 guitars packed into 2 minutes, which is twice the amount of guitars we’ve ever put on a recording. Suffice it to say we spent a lot of time playing multiple guitar lead lines in the studio, and yet on the final mixing day there was still something missing– the lines weren’t quite interlocking. Finally Josiah Mazzaschi–our engineer on the album and the producer on this track–played a line that was exactly one of the guitar melodies from our previous album closer “Evil Eye II.” It created this perfect bridge, an Easter egg of sorts from the last album into this album.
This song is about all the impossible feelings of having a crush, taking inspiration from some of my favorites: “Breather” from Chapterhouse and Ride’s “Vapour Trail.” It’s got this killer guitar solo by Jeff from Smashing Pumpkins so it’s a real treat, and it became our last single before the album came out. It was almost like we were holding it hostage for as long as we could.
In some ways “Crusher” is one of the oldest songs I’ve ever written, in other ways it’s the song I was writing right up until the last minute. On the demos I had an entirely different melody line in the chorus and the verse melody hadn’t revealed itself. So I started thinking of my earliest demos from 2010-2011 before I even started being in bands. I pulled one of those early demo melodies into the verse and it all started to make sense. I already had the lyrics “Super crusher” and “she’s a crusher” but it was still missing something, and when that happens I always open up my little green notebook with random phrases that I write down when they strike me. And then I saw it: “fire water.”
When I showed it to the band during our first album rehearsal I cried when I heard Rhys Hastings play that breakbeat drum intro. It all came together so perfectly.
- “Only Lovers Left Alive”
“Only Lovers Left Alive” is about finding connection despite all odds. I wrote this one while walking through the deserted streets of L.A. during the early pandemic. There was nobody in sight, I hadn’t seen another human being for days, and I imagined what would happen if there was only one other person left alive in the world.
It was amazing working on this song with our producer Jeff Schroeder of Smashing Pumpkins. We joked in the studio about how this song has 2 moods: leather jacket punk and jangle cardigan vibes rolled into one. I love all the instruments in the track that embody this tension; we have Jeff’s 12-string guitar vs. his solo guitar, Miles Marsico’s synths doubled up with the same guitar line, and Royce Hsu’s surfy bass with Rhys Hastings holding it down on the drums.
The song was originally called “Out of Time” in the demo phase and even in the tracking phase. Once we finished tracking my bandmate Miles asked me if I’d ever seen the Jim Jarmusch film Only Lovers Left Alive. Immediately I went home to watch it that night and it became an instant favorite, so we changed the name in the studio the next morning.
- “Trash Talk”
“Trash Talk” is all about “do no harm, but take no shit.” The band was getting some toxic people at our shows and we were getting trolled online so I wrote “Trash Talk” in the hope that it gives a voice to anybody who’s been silenced or worn down. The acoustic guitar is my favorite part of the song ‘cause it lightens up the dirtiness a bit. My bandmate Royce and I had to play the same acoustic guitar at the same time for the intro when we were recording it the studio. I couldn’t manage to hold the chord down and he couldn’t get the rhythm the way it was in my head. So he held down the chord and I strummed it. “Trash Talk” was different when we first played it live pre-pandemic. It was a bit more American, a bit more vampy and poppy. Later in the studio I rewrote the chorus melody to make it more oblique, so it started sounding more like my favorite jangly Brit-pop songs, and we somehow also managed to make it sound a little alt ‘90s as well.
- “Tomorrow Girl”
“Tomorrow Girl” is about finding your future self when the present isn’t cutting it. I desperately wanted change when I wrote this song. Sometimes when we want change we seek the wrong kind of love, we take drastic measures, we make dumb mistakes. This song is my dumb mistake. There are so many punk songs titled “____ Girl” in the punk canon and I wanted to write a song in that tradition from a female POV. So, it’s a song about a girl, but we don’t know if the subject of the song is a love interest or if it’s the narrator having an inner conflict, which I wanted to leave purposefully vague; an inherently queer song.
- “Fine Line”
“Fine Line” kicks off side B of the record. I wanted to explore the ways we feel marked by love and pain. How much of an impact the smallest of impressions can make. And how they can feel when they fade. I wrote this song in the summer of 2018 right when the last album Soul Songs was coming out. The process of putting out my first solo record was so strange and cathartic that a handful of new songs just came spilling out during that time, and this was the first one. I really wanted there to be a demarcation for side B of Flower of Life so “Fine Line” is written in a minor key, setting the tone for the 2nd half of the album.
Cazimi, Crusher, Tomorrow Girl, and Spirit Plane were all written in 2020-2021 on home demos. I’d never written songs that I didn’t immediately take into band practice and work out with my band punk style for a show soon after. The pandemic really changed that for us. So these 3 songs are definitely B-side ethereal ones that I might never have otherwise written if we’d had access to the regular way of doing things in Taleen Kali. Interestingly enough once we got together to record, this one became another band favorite cause I think it’s just so weird and tense. Listening to the recording, you’d think it’s a slow burn but the only way for it to work in a live setting is to have a galloping tempo straight out the gate. “Cazimi” is an astrological term that refers to planets that are so close to a conjunction with the Sun that they are “in the heart of the sun,” which I thought was so gorgeous that I worked it into the chorus lyric. It’s all about the tension of searching “for the one,” whether that means purpose or meaning or love, it’s about being hell-bent to seek it out.
- “Summer of Sound”
I remember writing “Summer Of Sound” deep in the summer of 2019. It was just as hot as it is right now in L.A., and I was yearning for something new while I was going through a deep reckoning with myself. I wanted love to escape my problems, to seal the deal on summer, to transport me somewhere new. So I imagined a lover who came around and changed my summer, making all the trials and tribulations of that strange year worthwhile. Once I finished writing the song, I wrote down the lyrics and sang them into my iPhone voice memos while strumming my guitar as I sat on the edge of my bedroom mattress.
- “Vague Flesh”
I was so relieved when I finally quit smoking in 2016. So many traumatic and horrible things had to happen for me to be able to finally stop poisoning my body with smoke and ash. “Vague Flesh” is about leaving all that behind: the addiction, the trauma, the codependence, the sheer helplessness of that time. I started writing it sometime after we released the first album in 2018. I think it was the next song I wrote after “Fine Line” so I was getting deep into the darker stuff and starting to think of non-traditional melodies, more Middle Eastern melodies I heard growing up. I only showed it to the band once or twice and it didn’t quite find itself until the pandemic and home demos helped me fully actualize a more complex and nuanced song with a different time signature. It’s our first ever song with a drum machine and real drum hybrid–I love how the full drum kit comes crashing in at the end.
- “Spirit Plane”
“Spirit Plane” is about touching God (the universe (the other side). I always wanted to write a song like this but never knew how it would fit on a punk record. Since Flower of Life, especially side B, isn’t a cut and dry punk record, it’s almost like I subconsciously sequenced the tracklist in order to be able to write a song like this, for it to make sense on the record. I jokingly call “Spirit Plane” the ‘Jesus song’ because the vocal harmonies I did on this thing sound downright churchy, like devotional or spiritual or meditation music, kind of like some of the stuff Spiritualized does. “Spirit Plane” is where the album cycle comes to an end and the death drive is consummated.
Catch Taleen Kali on tour, beginning in September at her LA residency at Harvard & Stone, all the way up the West Coast, making stops in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and more, culminating once more at Gold Diggers in Los Angeles this November. Dates below:
- 9.6-9.27 HARVARD & STONE RESIDENCY • LOS ANGELES, CA
- 10.28 PSYCHED FEST • SAN FRANCISCO, CA
- 10.29 CAFE COLONIAL • SACRAMENTO, CA
- 10.30 THE DIP • REDDING, CA
- 10.31 WOW HALL • EUGENE, OR
- 11.1 LE VOYEUR • OLYMPIA, WA
- 11.2 REAL ART TACOMA • TACOMA, WA
- 11.3 FREAKOUT FEST • SEATTLE, WA
- 11.4 COFFIN CLUB • PORTLAND, OR
- 11.5 THE WINCHESTER GOOSE • CHICO, CA
- 11.9 GOLD DIGGERS • LOS ANGELES, CA
Info and tickets can be found here.
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