Sound Baths Helped Center Taleen Kali; Now She Pays It Forward With Free Songs For Meditation EP

Photo Credit: Devon Ingram

Last April, as soon as Taleen Kali and her bandmate Miles Marsico were vaccinated, they headed to a warehouse in Glendale, California, just outside of Los Angeles, with a bass, a harmonium, some synths and singing bowls. Then they hooked up the bass and synths to “a mess of pedals” and recorded a sound bath. On November 5, the fruits of that session were released as a five-track EP, Songs for Meditation, for free, a gesture that Kali describes as a “gift to the universe during these wild times.” 

Songs for Meditation is divided into five improvised compositions that take their titles from the components of narrative structures; it begins with “Prologue” and ends with “Denouement.” The EP is also structured similar to a traditional sound bath, although some of the techniques they use aren’t. “It’s a meditation record, a sound bath record, but sometimes it also sounds like a post-rock record or an ambient album,” Kali says on a recent phone call. It’s also a culmination of a rock musician’s journey into the healing power of sound baths. 

Back in 2013, Kali, who plays multiple instruments including piano and guitar, had been experiencing tendonitis and was noticing the beginning of carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s when she headed to her first yoga class, which quickly became a passion. In a class she took early on, the teacher played a singing bowl; Kali was instantly intrigued. “It sounded holy. It sounded beautiful,” she recalls. Kali wanted to learn everything about singing bowls, so she trained to become a sound bath practitioner. 

Singing bowls, particularly the crystal ones that Kali often plays, have some major differences from traditional rock instruments. “With rock and roll or punk, you can thrash. You can thrash on your guitar and it feels amazing. You can feedback. I feel like when I play traditional rock instruments, I can be really volatile with them and channel anger and channel all sorts of things that come up,” Kali explains. “However, with singing bowls, if I do that, I’m going to break the crystal bowl.”

In fact, Kali did have a crystal bowl once that broke when it fell, even though it was packed inside of a gig bag. The fragility of the instrument lends itself to a different type of playing style. “You really have to play the singing bowl with reverence and be very grounded while you play it, otherwise, you’re going to hurt the singing bowl or hurt yourself,” says Kali; it’s more like settling in to a balancing pose in yoga.

Still, there are elements of singing bowl techniques that Kali, who released the rock-oriented EP Soul Songs in 2018, has been able to transfer over to her work on guitar. “It was great practice for me for relearning to play guitar in a safer way in order to avoid injury,” says Kali. “The practice of playing the crystal singing bowl really has reeducated me in thinking, getting grounded, taking a few breaths before I play, so that I’m playing from a more centered place.” 

A few nights before our interview, I sat in on a virtual sound bath where she played three crystal quartz composite bowls that were tuned to the notes D, F and A, respectively. “They make up a perfect triad, a perfect chord, a major chord,” she explains. The bowls were already tuned to those notes in order to achieve the harmonic sounds that they can produce. 

In the sound bath, she encouraged viewers to set an intention and gave journal prompts. The latter activity, she says, is the result of the amount of people in the creative fields who attend the events. “They can be really creatively generative,” she says of sound baths. Something like a journal prompt can help direct that inspiration.

Kali has been creating sound baths for about three years now, but, for a while, she had put the practice aside due to touring. “My singing bowls were in the studio in the gig bags,” she says. “I didn’t have them out anymore.” That changed, though, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Kali brought her bowls home from the studio. “Within the first few weeks of the pandemic, I started doing these virtual sound baths because I needed them,” she says. “I needed to come down off of all the anxiety related to the start of the pandemic.”

She kept going with it, and has more recently started doing one-minute sound baths on Instagram, where she plays at times that are unannounced, although they typically come at the top of an hour. These mini sound baths are a response to the phenomenon of doomscrolling. “I also fell prey to so much doomscrolling and internet addiction, especially in the middle of the pandemic, when I couldn’t socialize normally,” Kali says, noting how she would end up spending time on social media networks even when she didn’t want to. “It started to not feel good. That’s how I knew that it was addictive.”

The Instagram pop ups are a way to offer some of her sound bath work for free, something Kali felt was important to do. “By playing the instruments, it’s actually helping me too,” she says. “It’s a fair exchange of energy. I’m not giving anything away. It’s helping me, it’s helping others, and that feels really good.” 

Follow Taleen Kali on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Taleen Kali Covers “Baby Love”

Valentine’s Day is more than just the seminal masterpiece starring Bradley Cooper, Jessica Alba, and Ashton Kutcher (I kid, I kid). It’s a day of flowers, candy, and hiding away in your apartment listening to sad songs on repeat.
If Adele’s 21 has invaded too many of your Spotify playlists, Taleen Kali’s latest single “Baby Love” will fill your I-bought-myself-chocolate disposition. Originally recorded by The Supremes in 1964, “Baby Love” has that classic Diana Ross cool to it – a detached sadness that pairs perfectly with a shoulder length bob and a glittering pantsuit. Kali’s cover combines a modern beat with a ’60s surfer vibe vocal; it’s a definitively West Coast rendition, the kind of tune Don Draper would spin in his California bungalow. If you’re looking for a gimmick, look elsewhere *cough Weezer*; Kali retains much of the original song’s melancholy, while adding in a style that is all her own.
Read about the song’s production process – with help from former Dum Dum Girl Kristin Kontrol – and listen to “Baby Love” below:
AF: Why did you choose to cover this song?
Taleen Kali: “Baby Love” is the first song I remember singing along to as a kid… I’d sing it to my parents all the time, so this one’s dedicated to them. I’ve always wanted to do a noisy space-rock take on a classic Motown love song, and nobody does girl groups quite like Diana Ross.
AF: What is the experimentation phase like for a song like this? 
TK: This one was a total studio experiment during our Sunset Sound album sessions. I wanted to keep the lyrics old school and subvert the classic love song by shaking up the instrumentation, so we went through a few different vibes with the band. First we tried a grungy take that didn’t land, and then a sleepy shoegaze version that was too saccharine – there was no bite. Once my producer Kristin Kontrol helped us find the right beat, Miles Marsico’s fuzzy bass line was able to take front and center, and then everything else fell into place from there.
AF: Did you have the phrasing down when you went into record or were there a few variations at first?
TK: I always knew I wanted to sing certain parts with that classic girl group affectation of feminine yearning, and then at some point to disrupt it, updating it with an active drive. The phrasing was all done on the spot, line-by-line… it begins with a question and ends with a demand. It feels so empowering.
Taleen Kali’s latest record Soul Songs is out now Lolipop Records. Looking for the perfect date night? Catch her LIVE:
2/13 Valentine’s Single Release @ Alphaville, New York
2/15 Live on the air @ KUCI 88.9FM Radio, Irvine
3/01 DUM DUM Zine Fest @ The Smell, Los Angeles
5/18 L.A. Zine Week Kickoff @ The Echo, Los Angeles

PREMIERE: Taleen Kali Explores Healing Sound on Debut EP Soul Songs

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Photo by Kristin Cofer

Solo efforts can often result in tense, unfocused attempts to create something altogether new. But when it all works out, fans get an exciting glimpse into what makes individual members of their favorite bands tick. Taleen Kali’s debut EP Soul Songs has the garage rock vibe of her previous band TÜLIPS, but don’t fool yourself: this one’s all Kali. 

Where TÜLIPS’ songs were more straightforward DIY affairs, Kali adds layers of drone and vocal effects you often hear in a more produced sound. Songs like “Half Lie” feature slick guitar riffs and soaring vocals; “Evil Eye II” creeps into the psychedelic with Kali’s voice reverberating against the walls. Sunset strip is only a short drive away when you’re listening to Soul Songs; it conjures up empty alleyways and crowded music venues where the cool kids hang out til the traffic dies down. 

We sat down with Taleen to talk about going solo, life as an LA native, and how her many passions interact with one another.

AF: You’re an LA Native. What was the music scene like growing up? Were you one of those cool city kids who got to sneak out to shows in middle school?

TK: I am indeed! I don’t know how cool I was in middle school in the era of KROQ SoCal bands… Our moms would take us to see Green Day, Bush, and No Doubt. In high school, The Smell was always getting shut down so we’d sneak out all the time to The Roxy and Whiskey to see local valley bands. So I guess somewhat cooler? Haha.

AF: I grew up in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, so that sounds very cool indeed. When did you first start to take an interest in creating music yourself?

TK: I remember writing songs on the piano when I was really young, like 7 or 8, but I didn’t realize it was “a thing” until I was 15 and I got a guitar. And then it took a few more years after that, during art school, for them to become fully fleshed out songs.

AF: You co-fronted Echo Park band TÜLIPS before striking out on your own. What was the catalyst for going solo?

TK: After TÜLIPS I spent a whole summer sitting in silence and just listening. I began to hear more parts within the songs I’d been writing, and different, newer parts for instrumentation were coming to me. I was beginning to think in more diverse musical arrangements that gave me the confidence to go solo and conduct my own solo musical project.

AF: Synths are a new edition to your music. How did you get into them?

TK: I was getting deeper into yoga and sound healing instruments, and I think my brain space and capacity for sound was growing in a whole new way and synths felt like an extension of that… to add to the drone, but also to manipulate it digitally. Plus my background is in piano and it was easy to pick up and start learning.

AF: My husband has actually gotten into building them. The underground movement is really interesting. Have they changed the process in which you construct a song?

TK: Oh that’s an awesome question! Not so far. I’d imagine they might down the line though, since the process is pretty amorphous/intuitive.

AF: You’ve also started performing soundscapes in addition to your more traditional punk rock shows. When did you first start exploring this concept?

TK: I first experienced sound healing in 2012 when I took a Yoga & Sound class at my home studio Yoga Blend in Burbank. I became enamored by certain frequencies and tones an started including them in punk rock playlists I’d post on my blog. I bought a few little instruments of my own shortly after that, and then I learned how to play a wider range at a sound practitioner training last year. Then finally I came into some large crystal singing bowls of my own this year. They’re pure tones so I can sample them in recordings too. Right now I have a D, F, and A bowl, a perfect chord triad.

AF: You are Editor-in-Chief of DUM DUM Zine and you also teach Punk Rock Yoga. You’re an inspiration for those who feel bogged down with too many interests. How do you balance such a wide array of projects?

TK: I try to remind myself that it’s all coming from the same source, that spark of creativity and inspiration. I try to find balance by giving love to each project according to what it needs or what events are going on around that time. I do writing rituals, yoga, and breathwork in order to stay in tune with my inner desire and outer focus.

AF: Your record release show is June 26th and we’re very intrigued by the lineup! Can you give us the inside scoop on what a concert-goer can expect?

TK: Of course! We’re going to have flowers, rituals, and punk rock…you’ll have to come to see what it’s all about! My BFFs Wasi are DJing the night, and we’re having a specialty flower vendor. As far as bands, I tapped my favorite female-identifying punk bands in L.A. to come be part of this night. Object As Subject is playing their punk ritual set with the amazing Paris Hurley, Emilia Ponysweat, Gina Genius, and Patty Schemel on drums. Blood Candy is bringing their angel goth shoegaze vibes.

I’ll be playing the Soul Songs EP in full joined by the Taleen Kali boys. We have some fun surprises planned during the set.

Preorder Taleen Kali’s new EP Soul Songs HERE. Check out her tour schedule below to see where you can see her LIVE this summer! 

Taleen Kali Tour Dates
06.26 – Los Angeles, CA @ Resident (Record Release show)
07.01 – New York, NY @ Pianos
07.13 – Los Angeles, CA @ Lot 1 Cafe (punk covers)
08.24 – San Francisco, CA @ Brick and Mortar[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]