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January 2023
Vol. 22, No. 4

Cover Story

Natural Rhythm: RHYTHM ROSE Gets Back to the Source

by Francesca ValleJune 2018

Rhythm Rose. Photo by Cathryn Beeks.

Photo by Freddy Vandervelpen.

Rhythm and her dad, Shawn Turner. Photo by Dan Chusid.

Photo by Cathryn Beeks.

Photo by Cathryn Beeks.

From the gravel in their voice to the tattoos drawn upon their skin, Rhythm Rose is a walking portrait of experience. (Wait a minute, did I just say they? Am I still talking about one person? As various expressions of gender are more widely being acknowledged in our culture, there are certainly some kinks to work out in our language. When avoiding the use of a “him” or “her” pronoun, most often these days we elect the term “they,” acknowledging both the male and female sprit that resides in an androgynous individual. Rhythm is certainly a complex human with far more than one facet than any single gender or label can describe effectively. There’s no need to be confused. “They” can refer to a group or it can refer to a non-binary-gendered individual. This is a newer function of our language. Just roll with it. Let context be your guide. It takes a little practice for all of us. We are only talking about one human in this article most of the time.) A musical staple in San Diego, Rhythm Rose has spent decades writing songs entrenched in lessons learned through a rich life filled with travel, love, spirituality, and heartache. Both Rhythm’s performer persona and songs invite question and challenge to the audience, with a common thread of a life filled with gratitude. Audience curiosity is one of the telltale signs of a great performer, but one can know Rhythm for decades and still be left with a million inquisitions.

Pinning Rhythm down for an interview can be difficult, with a packed schedule of performances and touring. With an unyielding sense of purpose, Rhythm navigates a life filled with professional evolution and personal edge stretching. But somehow, she manages. Always. In the face of homelessness, imprisonment, hate crimes, and a seemingly endless list of hurdles, Rhythm manages to keep from being defined by any one situation and rise above heart-wrenching setbacks. Always thankful for the lessons learned in the process.

Recording in the studio now, Rhythm Rose is releasing their first self-titled album this summer and diving into a new level of vulnerability. Taking the reins in the playing of the vast majority of instrumentation on Rhythm’s most current tracks, this longtime singer-slash-drummer is currently recording bass, acoustic and electric guitars, harmonica, vocals, drums, and a variety of percussion, with even a little banjo and mandolin making their way into recording sessions these days. Rhythm is finally fully embracing all facets of the title “musician.” “Give me a second to get into the weird,” Rhythm repeats with a soft smile to a mixing engineer. “I’ve never really had [virtually] unlimited time to work my tracks in studio. This is an awesome and new experience for me. I love it. But it takes longer ‘cause I can spend so much time fleshing out ideas now.” Akin to the experiences of one of Rhythm’s most beloved influences, the Beatles and their sessions at Abbey Road Studios, Rhythm beams with excitement, hopping around from instrument to instrument in a 2am session. Decades ago, with the expense of tape and multi-track recording, unlimited session time was rare, almost unheard of for less-renowned artists. Nowadays, with the advent of the DAWs and iPhones with samplers, music recording is a completely different, far more accessible experience for the working musician. “It’s sort of the dream scenario, not to be rushed in the studio. And I’ve definitely found a place that fosters my creativity. I try to stay humble. I’m a decent guitar player, but sometimes the way we put it together in studio makes me feel like, ‘Wow, did I play that?’

“Now days things are not the same. We gotta learn to change when we make mistakes, we gotta grow even thought it aches…,” one of the many lyrical gems in Rhythm’s newest collection of songs and a philosophy Rhythm carries into every experience. Most musicians these days have a day job. Rhythm’s day job is most often as a touring and session drummer. Lugging around the largest and heaviest of the standard blues and rock instruments is not for the faint of heart. Generally acknowledged as the strongest instrument on stage, drumming demands the role of fearlessness and leadership, two characteristics less commonly associated with females. “Women aren’t expected to be loud. I think that’s what catches the attention of so many people when they see women rock out.” There was a time when Rhythm related with the archetype of the “female drummer” but now that has changed. “One can carry a flute in one’s purse. I don’t really own a purse,” Rhythm chuckles. Nevertheless, that is still how much of the world views Rhythm. Ironic, given that when one watches Rhythm play, that is when gender most fades. “Close your eyes and listen, do you hear a female drummer or do you hear a drummer?” Rhythm ponders. “People refer to me as a female drummer every day without asking me how I feel about that label.”

Navigating most any industry requires a little more grit from women. The latest #MeToo movement has made this painfully apparent to many of us this year. Most booking agents, producers, engineers, and players are male. Rhythm often offers an initial or modified name to be considered with an open heart by projects looking for drummers. Now, releasing an album outside of Rhythm and the Method, a collaboration that has been around for more than a decade, Rhythm has had to consider what name to put on this future musical release. Dropping the last name Turner has been a thoughtful struggle. With an androgynous name like Rhythm, one would think an audience might assume neither gender, but the feminine “Rose” in the middle seems to “out” this gender-queer human. Named after their mother, Rhythm holds the name Rose with the most attachment and the most difficulty. “I love my mother, so I want it there, but you can always tell who is my friend in real life or not if they call me Rose as my first name. News flash! I don’t like that. Do I look like a Rose?” Always happy to offer an explanation or laugh at the discomfort of paradox, Rhythm shrugs off the push for defining oneself in a pronoun. “I’m Rhythm. I have a woman’s body, but don’t call me a ‘girl,’ I don’t like that. And ‘woman’ is better than girl, I guess, but I don’t identify with either of those words really, outside of my body parts. But I’m not even built like the typical woman. I have square shoulders and no hips. But I’m not confused about my parts. I’m in touch with that. ‘Her’ doesn’t bug me that much because its more like a function of language I just wish wasn’t there.” Checking the male/female box has always been difficult for Rhythm, a composite of both very masculine traits and feminine birthright. Rhythm has felt the impact and challenge of being a woman in the music industry, and the impact of androgyny in society. “I never really get angry at being referred to as a woman. I don’t like it, but what it really says is you have triumphed over adversity. And thats a good thing. When you’re a badass ‘female whatever’ that means you have pushed beyond the boundaries of society’s expectations of you.

“The truth is there, the resistance is coming, you know we’re gonna have it out. Winning or loosing, there’s no way we are gonna give up now…”

Standing in one’s truth is a core value Rhythm is constantly tapping into. In 2009, at only 25 years old, Rhythm was confronted and attacked for nothing more than sexual orientation while packing up after a gig in Mission Beach. As Rhythm and her then girlfriend, Lisa Viegas (Todo Mundo/Sister Speak), said their goodnights with a hug and a kiss they were harassed by a couple of strangers behind the venue. “Are you lesbians? Gross! You’re lesbians aren’t you? Kiss!” Rhythm and Lisa shouted a few defensive warnings, hoping that standing firm would scare off their perpetrators. “Are you a boy or a girl?” One of the strangers shouted. “What do you think?” Rhythm responded. The next thing Rhythm remembers is the strangers fist slamming against her nose, crushing it and sending her body crashing to the ground. It turns out, the assailant hit Rhythm several times, splitting open Rhythm’s eye socket and crushing her nose. This is not a subject Rhythm likes to give much energy to these days.

“That’s not my story, it’s what people write about, but its not my story. I’m not the victim of a hate crime in my mind. My story is the after. What happened after that. I don’t want to bring power to the ugly past. Why don’t I speak about things that need to be done now and in the future? Why don’t I utilize that energy that was created by overcoming those things to move forward. Instead of using it to recount the past?” Several years later, in what Rhythm hardly dismisses as happenstance, she caught the eyes of her perpetrator. “I believe you respond in fear or love. And you can’t let fear be the basis of good decision-making. You can use fear to your advantage and see crisis as an opportunity for growth. I work hard to raise my consciousness to a place where I don’t act out of fear or it steals my happiness. I shook his hand and gave him a hug in the end.” Acknowledging that she still has a lot of discomfort with fast motions near her face, Rhythm has yet to shake flashbacks of the incident. Nevertheless, Rhythm expresses intense gratitude for encountering the man that literally broke her face.

In “Vision,” a track that Rhythm performs all of the instrumentation on, there are clear suggestions of a troubled past. The less common hum of the flanger effect on the electric bass helps create a background of the seemingly endless journey that Rhythm is on to communicate better with what she calls “spirit” and individuals. “Made my mind up though cosmic consultation to keep on, keep on, keep on. But I knew all along that you would understand,” Rhythm professes in a smooth and often masculine tone that is found throughout the album. Rising above her past is a subject Rhythm has spent decades doing. “The only reason the story of my past is relevant is so I can use it to empathize better with people who are maybe going through the same thing. You’ve been in jail? Me too. You’ve been homeless? Me too. I went to jail the first time when I was 14 years old.” An all too common tale, Rhythm bounced in and out of juvenile hall throughout her teenage-hood. All stemming from one event in middle school. Always fascinated by knives, Rhythm can be usually found with multiple pocket knives in her pocket at any given time. This apparently held true in adolescence. In San Diego, at age 14, Rhythm was arrested and incarcerated for the first time. Held for five days, Rhythm was booked, strip searched, and even forced to choose a race to associate with. In “baby jail,” just like in the general population of adults in prisons, race places a crucial role to one’s safety. With a shaved head and tough guy attitude, Rhythm felt the first terrifying taste of not fitting in. With the added impotence of being a minor, being imprisoned created a strong lesson in humility early in life. “I got bounced in and out for years because of I couldn’t keep to the 5pm curfews and calling my probation officer every day. They expelled me from school and sent me to a bad kids’ school. When I applied for my first job I had to answer ‘yes’ to the question ‘have you ever been convicted of a felony?’ They took me off campus in handcuffs.” Rhythm had shown up on campus with a cigarette. Attending that particular school for their exceptional drum line, Rhythm was expelled after the hall monitors searched Rhythm’s bag and pockets where they found and confiscated a three-and-a-half-inch folding and locking pocket knife. “I bought the knife at the swap meet with my brother. We thought we were so cool with our matching knives. Mine was green, his was red. And I brought it to school to show my friends ‘cause I thought it was cool.” This story would follow a young Rhythm through young adulthood. “People labeled me a criminal at 14. If I could go back and tell my younger self something to make my life better in that moment, it would be not to get mixed up with all of that. Not to let myself get tied up in the system.” Rhythm has polished a lens to see the world through, that seems to filter out a sense of mistakes or regrets. “I see all of my experiences as necessary choices to be where I am. The big part of it is that we have to want to change. Learning to change is the best way to turn what your mistakes into lessons. They don’t HAVE to be mistakes.”

With the release of this summer’s solo debut, Rhythm Rose is swapping out the seats of the band with only occasional appearances from members of the Method, Rhythm’s kin-based backup band for more than a decade. “I’m trying to express as much of my vision and express what is in my heart as I can with my own hands. I’m most at home behind the drum kit for sure and there are so many players that I just can’t even hold a candle to but I’m more proficient at acoustic guitar now than I ever have been in my life and I’m really getting into electric guitar, it’s a whole other beast. I humbly try to learn more and more every day. I’m really digging into my harmonica more now, too. Humbly. The key is to make your offering humbly, you know? That said, I don’t think your friends should just support your music because they are your friends. Sometimes people get the gig because they are someone’s friend not because they are talented. And that exists in everything. But we need to have a departure from that. It’s important to push each other and give and take constructive criticism without being overly sensitive to it. And some people really take suggestions toward their art personally. Growing is uncomfortable. It’s a constant balancing act. Being confidant but staying humble.”

Having spent the last year as the touring drummer for Black Market III, Rhythm has practiced balancing the art of leading and supporting from the back end of the band. “It has given me the opportunity to feel extra grounded and extra present. When the band is unified not only musically but intentionally, energetically, and spiritually in tune with each other, it makes such a huge difference. I enjoy being the support and being a positive light when anyone in the band looks back at me. I try to be light for the energy of the band and the audience. ‘Cause if the drummer isn’t joyful and not confidant, no matter how cool they think they look, it’s a total bummer. I know what’s right and what’s wrong on drums and how drummers feel; drums are my home. But I always try to stay humble as I progress. But I feel like I know those things because I have been a front person so long, the two experiences are very yin and yang. And they complement each other. But it helps me practice empathy for the support players, the more empathy we have the better in everything.”

After spending the last 18 months as a touring drummer, Rhythm is back home in San Diego, planting a few roots. “I just bought a car. It feels nice. I’ve been traveling so much the past couple years, I’ve essentially been homeless. Living out of my truck, which leaked! But I think as a musician you have to have some of that nomadic spirit. I’ve always loved that feeling. When I was a kid I’d run away from home because I enjoy the thrill of having a backpack that made me choose what things I could put in there that would somehow get me where I needed to go. And then as I got older I just loved traveling and living out of my backpack. It’s always been just so amazing and so fun to me to live that way. There are some huge disadvantages to it though. For sure.” Rhythm has no problem listing the inconveniences of living city to city but chuckles at the stories of missed luxuries around the world. “Not having a bathroom can be rough. When you carry a backpack everywhere with you, everyone assumes you are homeless. But it’s the most liberating thing in the world too. It’s not for everybody, let’s just say that. But it makes you grateful for simple things like waking up in the middle of the night and having a real toilet nearby. Having a toilet, a bathroom accessible at all times is really a must, but you learn to make due and be grateful for it when you do have it and it’s not in the back of a grocery store or on a tour bus.”

Nomadic touring life has given Rhythm a unique glimpse into homelessness. Homesteading in the city with the nation’s fourth largest homeless population, Rhythm is all too familiar with the challenges of living on the street. “It’s hard for everyone, but as a female person it’s harder. You are more of a target, although I look kind of scary and warrior like.”

But oftentimes, a musician doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from. Poverty isn’t something Rhythm is unfamiliar with. “I believe the more that I know myself and the more I feel that I am doing exactly what my mission on this planet is, gradually things just fall into place. A lot of people get scared of being poor. They quit and they get a day job. The sacrifice is too much for them. I used to have the belief when I first started playing music that if I didn’t ‘make it’ by the time I was 25 then I just never would make it and quit. And now I laugh at that young, stupid 19-year-old me because it’s not true. There are ways that I can influence the world in a positive way through my art and I can struggle to make it and I can make an impact. And I get a little further every day. And I’m determined to bring light and love to the world. And I will keep acquiring the jobs piecemeal and the gigs and the connections I need to make the money that is necessary to do that and to get my voice, to get my heart out there. So I work on opening myself and allowing abundance to flow into my life. To help carry my to the next place I need to go to continue my mission.”

Pinpointing Rhythm’s mission isn’t difficult. An artist constantly focused on reflection and connection, she seems most comfortable speaking about things like purpose, faith, and divinity. “I believe I am here to raise the collective vibration–inspiring people one by one to be their genuine selves and to be aware of their potential to be happy. And I try to do that by creating community and creating safe spaces for people to be themselves. I want to facilitate unity so we can function at a higher level spiritually. We need each other. Poor musicians need rich people to go to crazy parties and hire us to play at them. We need to eat and buy instruments so people with money help make that happen. And they need us to bring art and healing to their world. We all have a unique role. I want to communicate better, as humans to one another, like just don’t be an asshole. No one is better than anyone else. I want to demonstrated better how to communicate more respectfully and with love all of the time. I want be the support for my community that I need from my community. How can we collectively raise each other up? That’s what I ask myself all day.”

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