INTERVIEW: Ma Turner Plays All The Instruments, Paints All The Pictures, and Mild Rowdy On Music!

Pictured above: Ma Turner my human soul-mate. Photo Credit: T-800 Terminator Cyborg.

Describing Ma Turner -his music, not the man- is a difficult task. It seems evident upon even the most cursory of listens that Turner doesn’t give a shit about convention, that he has and will continue to follow his muse wherever that may take him, be that the sometimes sludgy, mutated weirdness of The Warmer Milks, the broken pop of Salad Influence, the fuzzed out slacker indie of CROSS, or the freak-out soul of his most recent solo efforts (to name a few that is). This Saturday, Turner is performing his solo material with a full band alongside fellow Lexingtonians Jovontaes and Live Island, as part of Turner’s art show, the Tiny Rebels Closing Party, at Dreamland. You can get information about that here, and go to the show on Saturday like a real hero would do.

Never Nervous: How would you describe your musical output to anyone not in the know?

Ma Turner:  I usually note that it is a confusing maze of sounds from various sources of inspiration. If the person I’m talking to is actually interested, I will go in depth about whatever it is I’m working on currently but I try to avoid genre descriptions or comparisons to other artists. However, I tell my mom it is “rock-n-roll”.

NN: It seems like some of the projects you’ve played with have had nebulous lineups, or at least lineups that were prone to move around. If your band swapped instruments, what inspired one arrangement over another? For your current set up, how do you select who to play with? Does the music inspire the collaboration or does the collaboration inspire the music? How important is a steady line up one way or another to your vision?

M: Warmer Milks was the last group I was in that actively switched instruments. We all focused on various instruments on our own time so it was only natural to leak that process into a group setting. It was always a matter of someone bringing in an idea on whatever instrument they were fixated on in that moment and we’d build around it. Sure, we had long periods of staying in our respective “spots” but that was only to serve the piece of music/project at hand. Most of us lived together in a house with a basement area to play in so collaboration/improvisation inspired the end result half of the time. The other half was individual wood shedding skeletons for the group to fill out post haste.

I’m only concerned with consistency in terms of feeding the inspiration. This goes for my time spent in Warmer Milks, CROSS and Salad Influence as well as my new groups TISE and Fatufairfe. I play with others based on my enjoyment of their output as well as time spent with them. It is most certainly a matter of friendship and mutual admiration. That either breeds or reinforces inspiration. I understand and value being “in the pocket” and “tight” but I also realize that life is constantly growing, moving along on a highway full of twists, dips and turns. As much as I possibly can, I try my best to remain fluid with that notion. I’ve written, performed and recorded with many people that I am crazy about but nothing lasts forever. The most important factor in creation is feeling. If I can feel the other players as well as feel what it is we are doing at that moment, I’m satisfied.

NN: I hear all sorts of sounds throughout all your music. When I saw you live, you had what looked like a late 70’s Sears Drum Machine of some sort. Where do you get all your wonderful toys? What is your favorite lately?

M: The drum machine you speak of belongs to the fellow I was playing with at that show, Barrett Avner. On that trip (as well all summer long), I’ve been playing a cheap SG copy electric guitar through a small practice amplifier. I own that guitar and amp as well as a barely playable parlor guitar, a three stringed banjo, an early 1980’s Casiotone keyboard as well as a few digital synth computer interfaces. I’ve since tapered off all of that and have been focusing on electric guitar for the most part.

NN: How do you record? For being as prolific as you are, I assume you have to be recording stuff on your own. What do you use? How do you engage the process?

Pictured above: Ma Turner’s secret life as a Furry revealed.

M: Yes, I primarily record on a desktop computer, iphone and four track in my home as well as a few friends houses. I’ve done studio work in the past and will again at some point, but I’m really content with playing guitar at home or meeting up with my friends and jamming. Currently I’m zoning in on the act of making the music, not really in a hurry to record anything beyond a rough sketch.

NN: Tell us about ZOZ. My buddy Matt Thompson says it’s an enormous effort, and one worth spilling some ink. I’d definitely like to hear it. How would you describe it.

M: ZOZ was a year and some change of my life. 12 thirty-two minute cassettes. Roughly 6 hours of music. Each tape originates from individual eps I was posting once a month online. ZOZ came out in box set form early spring of this year.  I took a track from each cassette, remixed, added parts and collaged it into a single LP that Sophomore Lounge released the beginning of this summer.

I recorded ZOZ mostly during nighttime hours. The point was to engage myself in a soothing, meditative activity. It definitely shows in the physicality of the music. Lots of expansive passages, no rush to get anywhere, not much allegiance to what constitutes “music.” There is also some traditional song structure happening though, but I easily fall out of it, slip into another slimy tentacle, get completely lost.

NN: What can you tell us about Tiny Rebels? Is there a particular theme or motif at play?

M: Tiny Rebels” is a song Emmett Kelly wrote for his group The Cairo Gang. It might sound mawkish but it is such a comforting piece of music for me and I wanted to utilize the good vibe I got from listening to the song into my creative process. Not necessarily one informing the other aesthetically but rather, transferring a feeling that brings me joy. The pieces are a combination of collage and drawings. At the beginning of the process I was honing in on the relationship between humanity and nature (I know, right?!) but I quickly drifted away from the plot and began making moves from a more subconscious place. Better yet, a childlike place, doing whatever brings me a smile. Stoned on grass. Giggling pictures. Getting OUT.

NN: When did you get started with making art? What is your process like? Does it differ from how you compose music?

M: I believe I drew for the first time in 1981. Never stopped. I really love to draw and do collage. I’ve played around with painting, woodworking and fabrics but I usually direct my attention to the former. I mostly work on an 8.5 x 11 size format or smaller and use a black ink pen. The paper varies but I’ve been using graph lately primarily because there is a tablet at work that I found and I’m there a lot of time, so why not? With collaging, I have around fifty or so National Geographic magazines from 1950-1975 that I’ve been dipping into the past year.  There was an art show for the ZOZ box and I made accompanying canvas flags as well as copies of a 8.5 x 11 folded book of drawings with a mesh screen cover. I’m working a lot smaller now. ZOZ was an amazing time but it got tedious towards the end.
Making art and music is similar in that I get these little ideas that I walk around with in my mind then slowly start playing around until something comes together. I’m certainly more motivated to play music than I am working on visual art but I’ve been fairly consistent on keeping up with both lately so perhaps that is changing. Both are equally rewarding on a personal level. They both feel the same kind of good at the end of the day.

NN: How is an art show different than a music show, and why?

M: The past two I’ve been involved in I also played music at because I feel dumb standing around for three hours talking about my work. Well, I didn’t play at the opening of the Dreamland show but I’m playing the closing. It honestly depends on the environment. If it was an art show at a spot where it wasn’t friends involved and I didn’t have to be there, I would not go. I made the stuff, put it up and it’s great that that people want to look at it but I don’t really think my presence is necessary in someone’s experience with the work. In the case of my last two shows (Institute 193 in Lexington and Dreamland in Louisville), these are spots run by friends, people I care about and the majority of patrons are also friends of mine. The experience is more personal and not just me standing around, answering questions, pretending I know what the fuck I’m talking about. That being said, I love looking at art. Whether it be in a gallery, book, basement or outside. THAT is something worthwhile to do with my time. I just don’t really have any questions for the creator. Once the work hits the world, it’s completely open to interpretation. Then again, I suppose this (interview) is the same thing although we’re going into depth beyond passing quips and handshakes.

Music shows are completely different. I have something to actively engage in. While the music has been performed prior, it is still a living entity that is happening in real time. I guess I find playing music live something I can bite into deeper.

NN: I’ve certainly heard of Warmer Milks (saw you all open for Low what feels like 100 years ago now), but am relatively ignorant to the Lexington music scene, except that a lot of my peers talk about how weird and noisy it is. Can you speak to that in any way? What’s the difference between the Lexington scene and Louisville, if at all?

M: I am NO expert and I can only go based on what MOVES me but Louisville has a wider range of history with forward thinking underground music. Apart from a few great hardcore/punk rock bands that started in the early 1990’s, Lexington didn’t get its TEETH until the Freesound label got up and running. I believe it was started by Ross Wilbanks and Ross Compton somewhere in the mid 90’s. That’s where Trevor Tremaine, Mike Connelley  and Robert Beatty (Hair Police, Three Legged Race, ATTEMPT, Clay Rendering, Resonant Hole, Eyes and Arms of Smoke, etc.) got their start. You also have Travis Shelton (Warmer Milks, Autocrat) out of that mix as well as Matt Minter (Wretched Worst, Guilty Feelings) and I think Brian Manley (Club El Rancho, ArtxFM) and J.T. Dockery (artist, writer, The Smacks!). Ben Allen (Live Island, Arcane Rifles, Mad Shadows) started jamming with those folks towards the end. While in the 1980’s we had this amazing no wave styled band The Thrusters, we had no Babylon Dance Band, no Dickbrains, no Juanita, no Maurice, no Your Food and we CERTAINLY had no CIRCLE X for chrissakes!

I will say that Lexington did its share of catching up though. After the Freesound label folded (when I say “label”, I mean crudely recorded, dubbed and packaged cassette tapes given away for free or donation featuring low fidelity, abstract, insane, DIFFICULT “music”), Hair Police formed and some others were beginning to really run with the idea of making insane sound going against the grain of the current “alternative” bar scene. By 2003, Lexington was host to a handful of urgent, incredible artists that were bent on putting out crazy records and traveling as much as possible. Around that time, I made music with many people in a punk/rock/song fashion (Emeraldine, Brassknuckle Boys, etc.) then met up with the weirder crews and it rocketed from there.

Not ones to stay in a certain zone for very long, a lot of Lexington artists got into an array of styles/avenues/aesthetic ventures that have only one thing in common: WEIRD. Currently we have a slew of artists raging around town and a lot of us play in Louisville often and stay involved with the likes of the Cropped Out festival, the Sophomore Lounge label, Astro Black Records and the Dreamland space. I’m even playing with a group of guys in Louisville currently. I consider it just as much home as I do Lexington. Note: that is a LOADED question and I know I am leaving many talented artists out, Lexington AND Louisville.

NN: I once asked my cousin, eight or so at the time, what his favorite weapon was. Without hesitation he answered “revenge.” How do you relate to or disagree with that answer and why?

M: I try my best to live in a world without weapons or revenge.

NN: What pop culture thing or things do you not understand when people dislike (or even hate)?

M: I usually high five them.

NN: What non-musical things are getting you riled up lately? Tell us what to read, watch, or eat.

M: Spending time with my loved ones, taking walks, trees, night drives, water, coffee, salads, BLT’s, “Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky” by David Connerley Nahm.

NN: What have you been listening to lately and why should we?

M: Brian Eno’s Before and After Science,” “Another Green World,” “Taking Tiger Mountain,” and “Here Come the Warm Jets,” because he encapsulates the “Golden Hours” so well. I’ve been a fan of those records since 1996 and I keep going back. I gotta say Agitation Free– “Live ’74,” “At the Cliffs of River Rhine” because it is essential “rainy afternoon/screened in porch/marijuana/zoner” action. Sonny Sharrock’s  “Ask The Ages” is an essential ecstatic jolt of power-soul that saves me every single time I listen to it.  Charlambides’Houston,” because everyone needs something as beautifully jarring as what Christina and Tom Carter made for us. Other than that, I absolutely love The Grateful Dead. Every single day of my life. Oh, and I’m excited to see what Aphex Twin has coming out. He is a fucking wizard.