David Herrle SubtleTea Interview with Neila
Neila is a poetic hip-hop/rap/soul artist from Los Angeles, California.
She has two albums out: Vertical Trees With Eternal Leaves and For Whom the Bells Crow.
D: G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1905: "Love means loving the unlovable - or it is no virtue at all." Your thoughts?
NEILA: I believe that love begins as a subconscious act and that virtue is in the eye of the beholder. Stating that there is no virtue in your love unless what you love is unlovable is like saying that your love is meaningless unless the recipient of your love is not capable of being loved. Love has a different meaning to the giver and the receiver simultaneously. For one to deem another person's love as a love without merit is quite impossible. I would like to see Chesterton's quote as an observation of his personal experience, maybe he once loved something that could not receive his love or something not capable of reciprocating his love and it was through this painful experience that he learned what love was for him. I mean, we all will have or have loved something that would not love us back and through that experience we learn the complexities of love and its vulnerabilities. I would like to also clarify that I am referencing love for others because, of course, I am aware that I love broccoli but it won't ever love me back but there is still merit to my love for broccoli.
D: Thoreau wrote: "The poet sings how the blood flows in his veins." I consider creative hip-hop to be worthy poetry. (As for rap, I remember being the only white kid who listened to Run DMC in middle school. I knew then that this was a special strain of art.) Your lyrics, aside from being clever and well-placed and paced, seem to transcend typical politics and the usual social bitching. Social realism and utilitarian focus tend to ruin Beauty, tie cinder blocks to its wings. While these subjects have their place, do you prefer levitating "between earth and heaven", to use your lyric from "Unhuman", above the ideological cockpit and racialism? What is your personal philosophy on hip-hop and rap?
NEILA: I never honestly have dissected any of my lyrics to consider where I levitate in this world of ideologies. When I write, I listen to the beat and I write what ever comes to me through the music. I don't really ever consider the political aspect of what is omitted and what is written. I approach the song as a living thing that guides my thought process, the outcome or the words just come and I never really know what I am going to write about until it's written. My personal philosophy on hip hop is deeper than the pages of this interview can hold so I will try to explain how I feel briefly. Hip hop and rap music have always been a huge part of my life since elementary school. I saved up for my first cassette, Raising Hell (the red and blue cover), because my older brother had it and he would never share it (he had a black and green cover). The love I had then has deepened and evolved throughout my life. Hip hop has been the best vehicle in the world for me, as I have made lasting friendships and have had rich life experiences being part of such a vast community of creative minds. Hip hop is a blessing, as it has always made me happy. If I could not write or paint, I'm sure I would die of a brain overload. My philosophy is that if you feel it in your heart then do it, whatever the medium no matter who likes it just as long as it moves you to a better place in your life.
D: What are some of your key musical influences/inspirations?
NEILA: I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii and I listened to a lot of roots reggae growing up. I really enjoy Gregory Isaacs, Augustus Pablo, UB40, Aswad, Black Uhuru, Bob, Tosh, Isreal Vibrations, and many more. I am a cassette hoarder, so I basically am stuck on late-eighties to early-nineties rap. I love the Digital Underground and I always have. I also still bump 3rd Bass, De La Soul, Masta Ace and all my old cassettes. I think I was truly inspired when I was exposed to underground hip hop for the first time. Key rappers or groups that have inspired me would be: Aceyalone, Luke Sick, early Hiero stuff, Joe Dub, Tony the Skitzo, De La Soul, 2Mex, Die, Awol, and everyone I have done music with. I'm inspired by all types of music I like TV On the Radio, The White Stripes, old rock, and basically good music is good music. There are so many good groups that have inspired me, and I can't name them all off the top of my head because I am really really bad with names and titles.
D: I've transcribed three points that I find correspond to each other. Please share your reactions to the clips and your thoughts on how they relate or what they imply.
Freud wrote that "the commandment, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself', is the strongest defense against human aggressiveness and an excellent example of the unpsychological proceedings of the cultural super-ego...But anyone who follows such a precept in present-day civilization only puts himself at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the person who disregards it."
In Coppola's Apocalypse Now film, Admiral Kurtz describes his enlightenment (which is actually despair) after witnessing horrors while in Special Forces, the film generally adapted from Conrad's Heart of Darkness: "We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio...We went back there and [the enemy] had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember...I...I...I cried. I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized - like I was shot - like I was shot with a diamond, a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, 'My God, the genius of that'. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we...they had the strength, the strength, to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment, without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us."
NEILA: All of the quotes imply that being essentially good leaves you vulnerable to the violence that surrounds you. I agree with Freud in that the notion of loving the neighbor as you love thyself is only useful if everyone loves themselves and there is a universal consensus of the value of human life. As for the Orwell quote, I object to violence but I also object to those committing violence on our behalf, so I don't know if I can agree to this notion. The Coppola quote refers to the rules of war, the animal instinct of survival that has no mercy. Those without compassion who are devoid of emotion are powerful machines against those who feel. I believe that the world would be better if we all valued all life and treated life with respect. There are billions of power pyramids on this earth that keep us all divided based on the locations of our birth. We are born into sets of laws and boundaries where power is inherited where it has always been. The way the earth is run needs to change, how humans treat humans needs to change. I am a flicker holding on to the hope of peace but I am still searching for the answers.
D: Your favorite book(s) and film(s)?
NEILA: I will keep this one short. Top Five Books then Top Five Movies...
1. Secrets of Don Juan - Carlos Casteneda
2. Sick Puppy - Carl Hiaasen
3. Inferno - Dante
4. Lady Sings the Blues -Billie Holiday
5. Beneath the Underdog -Charles Mingus
1. Safe Men
2. Sour Grapes
3. The Big Lebowski
4. Dirty Work
5. Office Space
D: You tend to write about the mystery of Self and solitude versus Others and social apparency. Your care is deep, admitting the Abyss in which we can be "face to face but we cannot touch" but looking for Light. From "Vertical Trees With Eternal Leaves": "From the get go to the let go disappointment blurs our souls' true windows/I finally found what I was looking for, and it's not enough and I still want more." In "Object" you point to face-saving public masks: "...and we paint our watercolor smiles, pretend that people are happy."
In "Felt": "Who needs a victim when your mind's a prison zone?" "...bodies compacted together, crying for something better, dying to hate each other, dying to love each other, hoping to find him, hoping to find her/Every apartment complex holds a hopeless dreamer..."
"I look around and all I see are reflections of my reflections staring back at me," you spiel in "Boarded Windows" (the windows motif recurs in your work), "Endless corners without motel vacancies/silence is there when misery loves company/only the lonely and the lost will be set free...in and out of desperate measures to choose the lesser evil/Who do you see when you stare at other people?" The Self/Other/reflection theme continues: "I'm following you to find myself." Thoreau noted how still, reflecting water might as well be fathomless and deeper than the Atlantic Ocean. Once you study your reflection, you sense the depth of your mysterious Self. Please discuss these lyrics and themes.
NEILA: All the lyrics I write are reflections of how I interpret the world through my eyes. A web of my own social consciousness of which I am the first to acknowledge is not all that of a positive thing. I see cities of dreamers, workers, strugglers, and those who have plenty but rest behind empty eyes. I am in a constant battle to find happiness but at the same time question whether or not I would recognize it when I found it. I suppose the songs I write are just chapters from my endless quest sprinkled with revelations from my everyday life. We all want to live a good life and experience the world but we are trapped in a world where we work, sleep, and eat just to survive. What good is life if we cannot grasp it, express ourselves, and follow what makes our hearts glow? Hence, this struggle is the theme of my life and the music and paintings are the outlets for my expression, little light bulbs to keep my heart afloat.
D: Neila, I'm pleased to have discovered you. I listen to your work regularly, and it speaks to me each time. I wish you blessings on your path. Do you have any closing words for fans/readers?
NEILA: I just want to say that I never made music knowing that anyone else other than my friends would ever hear it. I realize that being part of the underground hip hop community is a blessing and I am truly honored that other human beings listen to my music. I want to thank all my fans for their years of support and their smiling faces. I am deeply moved by the love I have gotten from all around the world and it means everything to me. May we all find what it takes to keep our hearts smiling.
Visit Neila's MySpace site and la2thebay!
Buy Vertical Trees With Eternal Leaves and For Whom the Bells Crow!
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