Defiant Dreams: an Interview with Taleen Kali

Written by Kristin Anahit Cass

30 October 2023

Photo by Sophie Prettyman Beauchamp

Taleen Kali’s music will take you on a journey that can at once be dreamlike, cosmic, and full of the defiance that the world oftentimes provokes. A musician, singer, songwriter, and more, she makes music that is polished and raw, intense and subtle, and defies being contained in just one genre. 

Anahit Cass: I love the energy and emotion of your music. It feels genre-bending and I like all its moods. Your background has taken you through so many formats, from traditional piano lessons to guitar, from zines to performing. Can you share some of your backstory? 

Taleen Kali: Yes! When I was six, my parents had me take piano lessons. I started writing songs on the piano about my pets and C.S. Lewis books when I was 8. Got my first guitar when I turned 15 and learned every song I could until eventually, I started writing my own songs and began forming a band.

AC: From Tulips to Changing to your solo work, I love all the places your music has gone. It has a recognizable thread, but still winds its way through different sounds, ideas, and sensibilities. I feel influences of punk, new wave, psychedelic, grunge, and more. Can you talk about the trajectory/evolution of your music?

TK: I love all those genres, and I like to make the kind of music that I’d want to hear. Capitalism and trendy scenes tend to want to create/celebrate products that fit into a specific marketable category, and I think that tends to make some music myopic. I also think I like to cram all the styles I love into my projects. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of dance music so the next record will have more elements of dance.

AC: What drew you to the DIY scene?

TK: I wanted to be part of a creative community.

AC: You discovered an affinity for the Riot Grrrl Manifesto at some point, still very relevant today. How did that affect your music and other creative practices?

TK: It helped me feel that my voice mattered and gave me permission to make whatever I wanted to make. I felt like I could make anything as long as it fit into the pages of a zine or a punk song.

AC: Can you talk a bit about Dum Dum Zine? About your writing?

TK: I started DUM DUM Zine during the recession when so many publications shuttered that there weren’t outlets for my friends and I to have our writing published. I felt jaded by traditional journalism and was writing a lot of short-shorts, flash fiction, lyrics, and poetry, and I wanted to create a platform that celebrated and uplifted all experimental writing.

AC: I often find myself really fixated on your song lyrics. How do your songs come about? 

TK: Sometimes it starts with a phrase or an idea, and sometimes it starts with a central melodic line, and I start to slowly build the song around it as more pieces come to me.

AC: Do you have a process for writing lyrics? For composing music?

TK: Yeah, patience, lol. I can’t just sit down and write a song based on a cut-and-dry prompt or idea. It has to either emerge out of some extended jams, or the ideas have to come to me on their own.

AC: Do your albums start with a concept and have a cohesive theme? Or how do you end up with the songs that make up an album? What comes first, the songs, a theme, a concept, or something else?

TK: It all kinda comes rushing in piece by piece until I have enough pieces I can make sense of.

Photo by Sophie Prettyman Beauchamp

AC: You grew up in the valley in LA and went to Armenian school. What was that like? How has it influenced or affected you and your music?

TK: I listened to a lot of Garbage and Bush and No Doubt and Madonna and Ace of Base and Michael Jackson and The Beatles in [my] Armenian school days. Whatever was on KROQ and whatever my parents had in their record and tape collection, and eventually, whatever I could afford with my allowance to buy from Tower Records and Borders. There were only a handful of kids who cared about art or rock music in Armenian school, so it felt like some kind of rare exclusive magical thing that was just ours. We had to wear uniforms but our Converse shoes were covered in drawings and our backpacks were covered in patches and band names drawn in White Out. We went to shows in L.A. anytime we could, usually when there was an all-ages listing on L.A. Weekly or a big national artist in town and it felt like a really big deal every time. I think it made me realize how special it could be to be part of a musical or creative community, and I sought it out constantly ever since.

AC: Our Armenian community can be very unwelcoming to feminists, queers, mixed folks, others who don’t conform. Do you feel like part of the community? 

TK: Part of me definitely agrees, and yet now, as I meet more and more Armenians outside of my community of origin, I’ve realized that there are plenty of progressive, nonconformist Armenians. It’s just been a matter of finding each other. I don’t want our Armenian community to be known for being unwelcoming. I want us to create a community together that engenders inclusivity and progressive thinking and all ways of being.

Photo by James Duran

AC: What’s the most Armenian thing about you?

TK: I have at least 2 containers of Lebni in my house at any given time! (Lebni or Labneh is an ultra-strained, thick and delicious yogurt dip or spread.)

AC: What do you do when you’re not making music?

TK: I journal a lot. I make zines and create new merch. I read like a monster and watch way too much TV.

AC: What’s one thing you really want to learn?

TK: More graphic design!

AC: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

TK: I jumped over the pool fence at the Madonna Inn wearing 5 inch Doc Martens heels.

AC: What’s your superpower?

TK: Manifestation

AC: Do you have any advice for other creative folks who may be struggling?

TK: Start writing in a journal. It helps to collect and reflect thoughts when you’re at an impasse and might help creativity rise up from your subconscious when you least expect it.

AC: Are you working on or thinking about any new projects?

TK: Yes! We’re working on remixes with so many friends for each track on our album “Flower Of Life.”

You can find Taleen Kali’s music on Spotify and other platforms linked on her website. You can follow her on Instagram and other platforms linked on her website. Check the tour dates on her website and don’t miss the chance to see her live.