TRASH TALK 002
THE QUEEN OF PECKHAM, TALLULAH, DISCUSSES TATTOOS, SYNESTHESIA, MUSICAL INFLUENCES AND STARTING HER OWN RECORD LABEL
Exclusive conversations with the most exciting artists, filmmakers, musicians, designers and cultural innovators in London.
Words & Photography by James Arden / Styling & Creative by Sophia Katyea
Published 7 July 2019
Talullah is a singer, songwriter and label founder from Peckham, South London. Inspired by the powerful women who populated her parents’ record collection, Tallulah's music combines beautifully written pop songs with a riot grrrl aesthetic, drawing from a broad spectrum of influences from Cyndi Lauper and Kate Bush to modern day musicians like Dev Hynes. In 2018 she enjoyed success with her single 'I Feel Again', premiered by The Line Of Best Fit. Hunger Magazine then declared her "London's next soul-pop Queen", leading to a sold out headline show at North London's Waiting Room. Her hotly anticipated EP ‘Purple’ dropped in May 2019 - a deeply personal project with three tracks exploring three different stages of three wildly different relationships.
I caught up with her in her hometown (and my adopted home) to chat about music, life, relationships and, of course, tattoos.
I've heard you referred to as the "Queen of Peckham" - what do you think about that title? What about Hunger Magazine calling you "London's next soul-pop Queen" - there are worse titles to be given!
Ha I mean the Queen of anywhere is pretty good! I was born in Peckham and live down the road now, so I'll take that for sure - and if people wanna go even bigger and say Queen of London well that’s even better, ha! Soul- pop is how I'd define my music so yeah for anyone to call me the queen of that or anything or anywhere is great, and I'm super flattered. Do I start wearing a crown now?
So you say you were born in Peckham… what was that like and how has it been seeing it change? I've only been local for 3 years and the pace of change is insane!
Yeah I was born in Peckham and then have always grown up and lived in, and gone to school in, different parts of South-East London. Going to school around here is funny, you know everyone from your area rather than just everyone at school; everyone was into the same things and was proud to be from South-East. Deptford’s changed the most though I think - it’s well nice now, it used to be proper shit! I only ever used to go there to go to Wavelengths swimming pool; they have a wave machine and a flume that went outside the building haha.
How did you get into music? Who are your influences? I think it's safe to assume there are some powerful female figures in there?
I've always sung; from around five years old I started going to dance and singing lessons and just got super into it. I think I'd always said that I wanted to be a singer, and I'd always written songs and been into writing. I still have some of those childhood notebooks now at my parents house, they are hilarious! Once I left The Brit School I kind of fell into dance music, it didn't really allow me to write or express myself the way I wanted to so I quite quickly fell out of love with that and spent a while writing for other people and working out exactly what kind of music I wanted to make. It’s been around a year since I released my first single as Tallulah and my first EP came out a few weeks ago; I feel super comfortable in what I'm making now, it feels very me.
There’s so many female artists that have inspired me, I'm super into 80's music so all of Madonna's looks and songs then I love. I'm a massive Cyndi Lauper fan too and on the lyrical side of things I love Tracey Thorn and Joni Mitchel.
I read a book called 'Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution' by Sara Marcus about 6 years ago. I was already a Bikini Kill fan but finding out about the whole movement and Kathleen Hanna's zines just proper inspired me. I think its so important for womxn to support one another, and for me that particularly applies within music - every other month I put on a ‘Ladies to the Front’ event for new artists and DJs to play at. I also really love physical things I'm a bit of a hoarder, constantly make physical art alongside the music I write, so my EP and first single both have zines that go along side them that I have given out at shows, they’re really inspired by riot grrrl.
When did you get your first tattoo and what was it? What are tattoos to you? Meaningful? Throwaway?
The first tattoo I got was actually on my hand! I was 17. I always knew I wanted tattoos so I guess I thought “fuck it” and went straight in - it’s my sisters name 'Evie', we're super close and I would’ve always got her name on me at some point but I can't deny the tactical element of knowing my parents couldn't complain tooooo much if it was her name haha. I've got loads now, when people ask how many it’s like… reeeeally? I'd be counting all day! I guess they’re all meaningful in the sense that there’s a story to all of them - whether that’s matching tattoos with people I used to know, or random drawings done by friends whilst drunk, or tattoos done in different countries with strangers. Let’s just say some have more meaning than others, and some have better stories than others. I don't think they’re all good, in fact some are proper shit - but I love them all, if purely for the memories and the stories.
Congrats on the PURPLE EP dropping! I read that each track explores a different stage of a different relationship from your own experiences. Can you go into any detail about what each track means to you?
Thank you! Yes, the three songs are about three different people, and three very different relationships. Everything I write is always pretty self-explanatory and pretty straight to the point. 'Don't Leave' is about a relationship where I realised, in hindsight, I was being gaslighted. The song is about apologising when I hadn't done anything wrong just to keep the peace, and still not wanting that person to leave, even though I knew it was them in the wrong; they were in control and would make me panic that they'd leave me and that things were all my fault, I was in a pretty shit place at the time. In the end I left; well done me. 'Kept' is about a pretty brief situation, I met someone and was into them I was down to make things more serious or at least see how things went but they just had no idea what they wanted, and I wondered how they felt knowing that they lost their chance. Again, in hindsight it properly wouldn't have lasted long. Finally, 'Strangers' is about that weird feeling once a relationship is over, when someone you knew so well and was your person just becomes someone you know. It’s weird how that happens, and I think straight after those situations everyone spends time wondering if that person is thinking about them, and how they remember things.
On a more positive relationships note, you, like me, got engaged recently - congrats! Do you see that being worked into your music? Do you work much with your partner?
Thank you, and congrats to you both too! Well, for starters, everything I've been writing since the EP came out has been happy! I'm gonna have to start forcing arguments now before studio sessions so that every song doesn't sound like candy floss haha! It does actually make a nice change, in the past I had found it hard to write happy songs but now that’s what comes naturally. I'm in a really good place. Henry is very creative; he's made lots of zines himself so he helped me a lot with my last one. He's also a photographer (which is great because I love an impromtu shoot!) and a tattoo artist. Needless to say, I have lots from him.
You experience synesthesia - what's that like and how does it effect your creative process? What does PURPLE conjure?
So I experience synesthesia with words - different words to me are different colours, and colours are different moods. It’s funny because I actually don't really know how it effects my creative process because I don't know any different! If a song has certain key words in, then I'll think of the song as that colour - and usually whatever colour that is relates to how I see the mood of the song. Purple to me is almost unnatural, it’s not blue because that’s the sea and the sky and it’s not red because that’s blood and all of those things are natural. I guess that makes purple mysterious to me; uncertain and the colour of fantasy. The EP is all about being uncertain and fantasising about people or what could have been.
You founded the label Trash Like You (my company is called The Trash Factory so we clearly both like that word a lot) - you were inspired by Gummo, right? Why that name from that film? What does it mean to you?
I love Harmony Korine, and I love the film Gummo. I actually have the quote “Life's great, without it you'd be dead” from the film tattooed on me. The name of my label; 'Trash Like You' (which needless to say I also have tattooed ha) is from the scene in which a man has just sexually assaulted a girl in his car. As the girl and her sisters start to hit him and get out of the car he shouts “It’s nothing new for trash like you” at them. I guess starting a label, I wanted to feel empowered, there’s really barely any women who run record labels, and at times the music industry can feel like a particularly sexist industry. Reclaiming the phrase felt good. He's trash and she's not, that may be fictional but it’s unfortunately fucking relevant. On the flip side I like the word Trash, it’s a good word. One man’s trash, another man’s treasure. I'd probably describe my overall aesthetic as Trashy too.
You showcase new artists and DJs with Trash Like You - what spurred you to start doing that? How have the events gone so far?
I actually did the first one as an event to perform at myself. I put the night on, did the line-up with myself on it, I didn't tell anyone I'd actually made the night ha! I needed a gig I could invite people to attend. It went well, so I decided to continue them, and my friend Ava came on board, we now do everything for it together. I've only played at one since then, but I might again soon. The events have been great so far, they’re always so much fun and they’re growing each month. Being a new artist is hard, so I enjoy being able to offer people London shows. I don't party much anymore so I look forward to being able to dance to DJs I love too. We've got a lot of exciting ones coming up, the next one is August the 8th at Ace Hotel and that will be one of our ‘Ladies to the Front’ events, and later on in the year we are doing one in collaboration with Annie Lennox's charity 'The Circle' - raising money for period poverty across the UK and Uganda.
Social media is so key these days to promote events like yours, and to promote yourself as an artist. What's your relationship with it like at the moment? Do you have a love-hate relationship with it?
On the whole I enjoy social media. I can understand the difficulties people have with it, and the obsession people can fall into, but I guess it comes down to realising that it’s not reality and it doesn’t define your talents, looks or work. I like Instagram - in terms of posting stuff I don't really post much about my personal life, it’s more just music stuff or just pictures of myself that I like. I save loads of pictures into different folders for references and I guess in that way I treat it more like a magazine! Twitter I'm rubbish at - I barely use it, but I love reading people’s trending tweets at the same time as watching TV. It’s hilarious and you can see what everyone else is thinking at the same time! So yeah - I'm cool with social media. It’s TV that’s my problem… I LOVE watching TV.
What's next for you, in music and in life?
There are the next two ‘Trash Like You’ events we’ve begun planning, as well as hopefully three amazing artists all releasing music on the label this year! I'm in the studio a lot right now and will be releasing another single soon. It’s great releasing stuff through my own label - there are no rules. For the rest of the year I just want to focus on making loads of new music, releasing the stuff I'm super proud of and in a way that makes me happy, and lastly helping support other artists in doing the same thing! :)
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