Private Playlist: Topaz Faerie traces her journey from sublime jazz to futuristic pop

Topaz Faerie. Photo by Jacque Hammond

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments.

One of LA’s most exciting emerging artists, the mysterious Topaz Faerie produces an intoxicating blend of avant-pop, trip-hop, and bedroom experimentation. Her mini-album, 2019’s “In The Pits,” calls to mind the streetwise chanson of Martina Topley Bird and the stark and strange electronica of Belgium’s Crammed Discs. She grew up around LA, including a spell in the Arlington Heights neighborhood, where she received classical piano training from an older Belizean neighbor, Miss Pike. Switching to trumpet and finally to bass guitar, she became a jazz devotee, taking a particular interest in Chick Corea and the fusion of Jaco Pastorius and Weather Report. After a period spent composing in longhand, she learned electronic music production and developed the world of Topaz Faerie. In recent years, she has served as a touring bassist for Yves Tumor and Kelsey Lu. She is currently working on a full-length collaboration with Bobby Earth, to be released later in 2021.

For this edition of Private Playlist, Topaz Faerie connects the dots between her jazz roots and her current love of producer-driven music, from Geri Allen to Tame Impala.

“I like hearing artists talk about their experience [in LA] because it gives you a different perspective on how people are living here. I find it very interesting how people voice that on record.” — Topaz Faerie

Topaz Faerie: Right now I'm at peace with the whole [lockdown] situation and the current state of affairs, so I'm just going with the flow. Being on lockdown gave me more time to really think about what I want to do musically since I was stuck at the house. It gave me time to go out on walks and explore the neighborhood, since I moved right when lockdown happened. It also gave me a chance to explore new music. I made it a personal goal to discover new music everyday when I'm out and about.


While I was on tour with Yves Tumor, I think we were in Belgium. And we were staying at a hotel where, by pure coincidence, Channel Tres happened to be at too. I didn't know who he was at the time, but we immediately locked eyes, just because we're in the middle of nowhere and we just see two people in the lobby that look artsy. And we also bonded over the fact that we're both from LA, and it was so random to see him in the middle of nowhere in Belgium. But I listened to his catalogue of music, and I think "Jet Black" is my favorite song that he's produced. 


I liked Vince Staples' album, "Big Fish Theory," and "BagBak" is probably my favorite song. I appreciate that he raps over beats that aren't necessarily conventional in the genre, so I really like this song for that.


[Tame Impala's] Kevin Parker is so talented in the way he composes music. I would like to pick his brain one of these days. This is one of those songs that I could listen to on a daily basis. And when I first heard it, I did listen to it on repeat several times. I think after I saw the band perform live, it made me appreciate the song even more.


"No More Parties in LA" is really just Kanye and Kendrick talking shit about life in LA, [and the] real-life events that they most likely endured. It's refreshing to hear them talking about it so freely, because it gives you a different perspective. [It's] kinda relatable, but not so much, just because, you know, it's Kanye and Kendrick, and they're very wealthy, bougie people living a different lifestyle. You have Kanye, who's not from LA but has lived here several years. And you have his perspective about how it is in his tax bracket living out here. Kendrick [is] a native who grew up in Compton, and to hear his perspective on life and how it is for him now is very interesting.

I like hearing artists talk about their experience [in LA] because it gives you a different perspective on how people are living here. A lot of people outside the industry have a different perspective on what LA life is like. And then you also have people who have lived here all their lives who have [another] perspective. So I find it very interesting how people voice that on record.

I started getting into music when I was about 8 years old through piano. I was classically trained by my neighbor. Then I got into middle school band on trumpet, but I stopped caring for it, switched to bass, and discovered the world of jazz. And that's really where it all started. I didn't start composing music until I was 16, but even then, I didn't share it with the world until I was 19.

I've always composed songs — I actually wrote it out on manuscript paper. But I didn't translate that into the digital world until two years ago, because I didn't know any better. I was so afraid to even get into that world for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of my own fear and restrictions. In terms of who I looked to when I was younger, I was heavy with the jazz world. I was really into fusion when I was in high school. So I looked at Chick Corea, may he rest in peace, and Weather Report. And I was learning about bassists, so I got into Jaco Pastorius, and even now [I’m] getting into Thundercat and all that stuff.


I was actually listening to [pianist] Geri Allen’s "Unconditional Love" yesterday, and I haven't listened to it in about three years. It brought back a lot of good memories, very fond memories. The first time I heard it, I believe I was about 16 or 17. One of my music mentors at the time got a bunch of tickets to a concert Geri Allen was having in Santa Monica. She was on tour with Esperanza Spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington as a trio, and they performed this one particular song. It's a beautifully composed song. The original is just instrumental, but since they were on tour with Esperanza, she was also singing the melody. "Unconditional Love" is one song that always humbles me and reminds me why I like jazz anyway.


[Initially] it was really challenging for me to mesh live instruments and electronics together, just because I was so conditioned into just being an instrumentalist. When I was younger, I was such a stickler for live instruments, I was never down with the cause in terms of incorporating electronic stuff into my live performances. That didn't even register to me at the time. But I got used to the idea that they can correlate, and there is a way to make it work. And I think Hiatus Kaiyote's overall sound is a good example of what the possibilities could be for meshing the two worlds, because it sounds cohesive and different in a good way. As a whole, Hiatus Kaiyote is very forward-thinking. They have a futuristic sound. It's a nice blend of different subgenres.

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