From England to Iran: tracking TALA

Sandra Song

Rumored to be the lovechild of M.I.A. and Hudson Mohawke, a dead ringer for Jai Paul and a regal queen, cradling a scepter and sending traitors to the guillotine, 25-year-old London-based producer TALA has been quite the head-scratcher for a bevy of Internet dwellers ready to throw a frenzy of signifiers at her.

“I mean I understand why people do it,” she muses, pausing for a brief second as we chat on the phone, the service shaky as she drives through the English countryside toward Somerset; the last work-related obligation before a weekend of respite from the circus of a schedule that’s been her life as of late. “But I do think it’s great when [their reference points are] so diverse,” she finishes. “It makes me think that people don’t really know exactly where to put it. The idea that you can keep switching it up, keep changing.”

Most of this can probably be attributed to the fact that she feels like the human incarnation of sparkling water—her mind moving a million miles a minute and bubbling over with fresh, new ideas and influences. A space where stagnation is and never will be an option.

Her telephone manner mirrors this as well. Burbling, upbeat, and energetic, our conversation is peppered by lots of eager “brilliants,” drawn-out “hmms,” and nervous laughs—all underlaid by an unpolished openness that makes it apparent that her success still hasn’t completely registered. Especially surprising in today’s too-cool-for-school dance production world, it’s refreshing to talk to someone so honest and so unreserved in their usage of heart and smiley emojis. Because what’s fascinating about TALA is her refusal to play along with the “Internet art enigma” schtick that tends to engulf a lot of the up-and-coming Soundcloud set. And while she refuses to divulge her real name, there’s no pretense or “artistic” inclination behind it. Merely a desire to keep her personal and professional life as separate as possible, as any person with a “regular” 9 to 5 would.

“I think it’s quite important to have that,” she demurs. “I mean, music is a massive part of my life and it definitely seeps into my personal life, but it’s nice to have that separation.”

This separation is in no way a reflection of her musical aesthetic though, which melds and blends different aspects of her multicultural background into one West meets Mid-East sonic fusion, jumping from Persian pentatonics to soaring pop vocals to club-ready bass lines in the span of seconds. A result of spending her childhood exposed to a multitude of disparate genres and global influences thanks to a mixed family of Brits, Iranians, and Qataris, TALA had a Walkman filled with everything from Timbaland to tanbur-tinged pop from a very young age.

“My house was a bit of a melting pot of sound and culture,” she says. “Different music always playing. Like you’d have Arabic music in one room, my mom would be listening to some pop music and I think it was just having that immersion of sounds all around me that influenced me in some weird way.”

She insists that she didn’t even realize she was doing it until quite recently, laughing about how the things you’re exposed to as a child end up being the most important and influential things down the road. Whether it was D&B or R&B, she insists that, “I’ve sort of absorbed all this stuff and somehow it’s worked its way into what I’m making now. It’s like I have a little library in my head.”

And even though she has a remarkable way of spanning cultures and continents without emanating sonic schizophrenia, TALA still continues to live in the same quiet area of Southwest London she grew up in. The place where she’s basically lived her entire life. She’s even back at home with her parents for the time being while waiting out a housing renovation. But she laughs it off and insists that it’s fine, as she still commutes to Central London to work in her “first proper studio.”

Because even though her physical world just oscillates between Oxford Circus and the Hampton National Rail Station, her imagination spans decades past and thousands of miles. For instance, all of the Iranian music her parents played dates back to the Parsipop era or the days before the Iranian Revolution banned various forms of “Western-style music.”

And that may be why she didn’t really know what to make of a lot of her work before putting it out for others to hear.

“My expectations were quite low to be honest,” she insists. “In the beginning I wasn’t even planning on doing an EP, it wasn’t even going to be with a label. It was just going to be like ‘put a beat tape up on Soundcloud of seven ideas.’”

As such, she wasn’t quite prepared for when the number of plays for “The Duchess” skyrocketed, eventually picking up more and more as outlets like The Fader and Dummy began to take notice.

“It probably now doesn’t seem like a lot, but I was like, ‘Wow, 10,000 plays. That’s pretty good,’” she lets out a long laugh, still sounding a little incredulous at what this has all become. Still surprised by the overwhelming response. “It was really nice to see, obviously. Especially when my music has been on my computer for so long and just like putting it out into the world is quite a hard step.”

She pauses for a moment, contemplating it all, “It’s like your baby and letting it sort of fly. It all definitely gave me a lot of confidence.”

TALA

An added confidence booster is the fact that she’s also getting help through London-based label Aesop. Their support being quite the ringing endorsement, as the group has already played host to a venerable stable of up-and-coming talent including soundscape superstar SOHN and soulful singer-songwriter Gent Mason.

The label was all just a natural coincidence though. And either way, I get the impression that she’s hesitant to talk about behind-the-scenes business, as she soon turns the subject back to how surreal everything’s been. How she wasn’t even sure she was putting it out in the first place. How it was just a test run for all intents and purposes.

“It gave me a bit of confidence that people actually like it,” she says in a hushed tone barely audible above the hum of the car . “I probably would’ve been happy with just a hundred plays. Maybe I’m doing something sort of right”

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