ARTIST INTERVIEW: SHEILA NICHOLLS

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Sheila Nicholls is strong, kind, and a spiritual guide of sorts. In her front yard is a spray painted bus ready to take in some ten to fifteen passengers to go to the annual Rainbow Gathering; a festival in the woods where Nicholls recalls seeing a man create his own bar by the river and another transforming a nearby tree into a localized library. Her front porch consists of comfy thrifted furniture. As I knock on the door, she gives me a warm hug and offers me English black tea, bread, and grapes. We move back out to the porch and a bunch of cats roam comfortably around us. Sheila tells me that since her daughter, who is off at school, doesn’t really have the luxury of getting too pissed of with her because Sheila’s all she’s got and so they do pretty good. However, it isn’t just them two since the cats come and go and another family, of raccoons, “come[s] back every damn year” because she been unable to get rid of them no matter how hard she’s tried. Innocence is bliss as Sheila says her daughter has come to think they’re quite cute and so they are kind in feeding them. Over the years, Sheila has built a life for her and her young one here in America and over time has settled in Los Angeles.

Growing up, “Brothers can be assholes” she says. She has two younger ones that in combination with her father created a dominant patriarchal environment where even her mother favored her brothers. However, Nicholls has come to take them as they are and loves them, but adjusts her expectations. Things in Britain are different. Her music—to her family—isn’t anything serious and is seen as more of a hobby. Instead of nurturing her talent and encouraging her to maybe play a song on the piano or sing for them in the family’s pub, they want her to get behind the bar and pull pints.

She was finally able to break free from that environment in an iconoclastic, feminist action that came about spontaneously. While Sheila struggled to grapple with the repercussions and nasty labels the tabloids as well as her family placed on her after streaking at the Lords Cricket Ground game of England vs. Australia on May 29th of 1989, she is the ultimate definer of what this action meant to her. In 1989, she had just left home to crash on someone’s couch to get some space. Her household was a pressure-cooker one as college wasn’t looking like the plan so she took her things and bravely left home to strike out on her own. Then, she came to America and immediately hit the road and traveled all around meeting a welcoming crowd in the Rainbow Gathering (when she tried acid for the first time), but crowds where it is unavoidably difficult to ascertain who to trust.

It’s easy for outsiders to characterize Nicholls as a hippie-dippy, go with the flow, carefree person, but upon looking deeper one finds intensity, thoughtfulness, reason, and a profound optimism that has shone through the darkness. I’m grateful to have been able to lend my ears to Sheila’s experiences. I wanted to do my best to keep this interview unfiltered as she steps away from the bullshit and superficialness that the music industry can harbor. She is unbothered by this noise and is nothing but her true self. On this Wednesday afternoon, I skipped a class to travel to Highland Park, sip black tea with Sheila, reflect and contemplate the past, and reconcile what is means for the present and future.

Gabriella Clifford: Let’s start by talking about the evolution of your music making.

Sheila Nicholls: The first record is a lot more—I was really young, I think I was a lot more like, “Fuck off” and I’d been listening to a lot of Ani DiFranco and I wrote the songs entirely from a place of I’m thinking about any type of audience so there was that that I think is refreshing about that record and I think that it’s the most classic record in the sense that it doesn’t have any particular genre to time. Then I got involved with Hollywood Records and that’s a whole other different thing because they’re a corporation, they’re a subsidiary of Disney and they want to make their money so things become—you’re pushed into a more formulaic situation. I really didn’t like that. They want something familiar that has already sold. People will talk about being stewards of music and we love you as an artist—but now change. But anyway, the truth is that I was very lucky, it was an amazing time, I learned a great deal, I worked with incredible people, but I do know that when I write a song, I’m not writing it because I want to have a hit, I’m writing because I’m very adamant about making sure that I stay grounded in why I always started writing songs, which is that I just feel like it’s this really unique form of expression and I guess my perspective has matured in that obviously somebody else is going to hear it—more than likely—so their perspective counts as opposed to when I was younger I was like, “I don’t care what you think.’

There is now a much deeper understanding of the joy that that brings when somebody else gets something from your work. That’s something that has evolved for me much more. I’m still pretty clear that the mechanism that I write songs with in the first place feels clean and unique in the sense that when I write from that place I’m so much happier with the songs and it pleases me to no end to find a perfect storm for me in a song. Right now I think there’s a perfect storm where I think we need more songs that are talking about our time. Back in the day, throughout history there have been people with commentary that have testimony—whether it’s Woody Guthrie in the Dust Bowl, or whether it’s Bob Dylan in the 60s, or whether it’s N.W.A. in the early 90s. There’s nothing there [now]. Even back in 1990, Aretha Franklin was doing that with young women and she was talking about abortion and she was talking about getting raped and she was talking about all of that stuff and these are not things that people want to touch.

There are still things that people don’t want to touch—like they don’t want to touch the idea that capitalism might not be the savior of all life on the planet or I think people still have a really hard time talking about feminism or women being equal. I think the “Me Too” movement is awesome, but there’s so much further to go considering that white men have been in charge for 2,000 years because it has a direct connection to whether or not we’re going to survive as a species. If rape culture continues in the minds of the masculine, then we’re going to keep raping the planet and not care and there’s all these ties to the personal and the infinite or the planetary and that’s the one thing that I think has gone throughout all of my records is that I think that is a very clear thing throughout all of the songs—underneath there is a striving to connect the personal to the planetary or the finite with the infinite because they are essentially one in the same.

My experience with audience is a continuously evolving one I think. It’s really exciting right now to know that there’s 106 radio stations right now playing my stuff—that’s really exciting, I feel like it’s palpable, it’s tangible and there in a way and I’m grateful for it. My daughter will turn on my computer sometimes and she’ll find a track of mine that I haven’t heard in years and I’ll be like “Ohhhhh” and I’ll find myself so cringy and it takes me a second to go okay, that’s okay.

GC: What was it like when “Fallen For You” was featured in the movie High Fidelity in 2000?

SN: Well that was the check—that’s what brought me out of my wandering, nomadic—it was basically a co-dependent love song that I wrote about a guy. I wrote eight songs about this guy. It was a well-crafted song and that’s why they wanted to put it on there, which was a very cool experience without a doubt, the coolest experience—it was a super-high Hollywood moment. I think I’m really kind of a country girl, meaning that I’m secretly not a city girl—I feel like I’m that nomadic, hippie person that wants to keep my feet on the ground. One thing that does happen when you have a record deal is that it’s really difficult to not become an asshole really fast. It turns you into an asshole—it can because there’s so much hubbub and people treat you in a particular way and there’s so much sycophantic behavior and people telling you things that are not true and you have to ground yourself with your real friends and your family.

Otherwise, you really have to watch your step. For me, I had no family here and that was really—I missed that part of me that was just Becky from the Block—I was much happier with it. I think I’m a much more grounded person now. I like where I am now. Those times were interesting—it was amazing though.

GC: What was it like when you were first performing? Did you find yourself having stage fright?

SN: I really enjoy it now a lot. I used to get stage fright a lot, like when I got my record deal I really had a lot of stage fright. I would shit myself, I would really get a lot of stage fright—huge anxiety I remember. I don’t do that anymore, thank goodness—I’m in a totally different place about it. I think it was just like fighting off my childhood. When we were kids it was just like you didn’t cross over certain lines, it was considered arrogant to speak out or it would be obnoxious to behave in that kind of way and my personality is so much that way that I think I got really knocked down as a kid like I think my parents were just like, “Shhh, be quiet!” Now I find it a really fun and pleasurable experience and when you live in Los Angeles, the community of musicians is really tight. It means now that I can just call up my friends and say I’ve got this gig and when you’re onstage with your friends as well and you have people you can really trust, the whole thing is really great, it’s just really fun.

I’ve just written this new song that I’m pretty happy about that I’m going to put out there at this show. I’m trying to find this fine line about speaking truth to power, which has always been a theme of mine, but not sounding soapboxy and what’s really true and real that needs to be confronted and discussed, but not be a bummer and it’s a really fine line. I tend to write sort of ballad-y things and also have these songs that are more like poems to music and so this was more like a poem to music and it’s coming from just this perspective from what if aliens came down today what would they think of all of this stuff, which gives me massive—I could say anything! So then I’m really able to confront the things I want to confront like—capitalism is based in rape culture and we got to be really careful or that capitalism and racism are contained inside of patriarchy. I find that these are really subjects that are hard for people to talk about.

I don’t know if this is being talked about on college campuses—maybe people are finding joy in talking about the big stuff. We’re out of time, we’re losing so many species—we don’t have time to pontificate—we have to find peace on earth right now. We don’t have time for people to stand around and talk about it anymore—those years are gone—the air is polluted—it’s already there. I do think it’s the job of artists to talk about it.

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GC: How have you felt engaged with the community politically?

SN: I think I’ve always had spurts of political action—I was really involved with the occupy [Los Angeles, CA] movement. We set up a women’s space at occupy—that was amazing, that was fantastic because once I realized they were camping out and then it became literally like a rainbow gathering—we had everything we needed—we had a university and a library and a kitchen—indigenous space—we had a bike camp to repair your bike for you, we had a camp for women and children, we had daycare and we had meetings inside and a queer affinity group would meet there—the women’s group would meet there and everybody from different camps and there was another camp of ex-soldiers so it was this very dynamic, diverse unique cultural expression and I find myself going after unique cultural expressions and I like finding weird Americana. I guess all of this rhetoric going on with Donald Trump—we have to come through with a different ideology at this point—we can’t be reactionary, we need to find a way for the high qualities of humanity to really push through and be strong and not be seen as weak or female or both—empathy and compassion are radical. Patriarchy is real everywhere it’s so traditional and so historic that we can’t even see it—we’re really blinded to it and people always go, “Oh, we’re doing so much better now. We’ve come so far” but if there’s still a slavery of the mind—whether that’s just through what people believe they are in their identity itself—the creation of the female identity, which has been defined by a vocabulary that has been forged by patriarchy—these are not things to get upset about, these are things to do something about—it’s getting everybody on the same page, which we are certainly not.

I’ve been watching a lot of brothers having a really hard time changing the name of masculine and in a way we’re sort of watching the historical death throws which are really violent and that’s what I think Donald Trump is—he’s the historical death row of an ideology that is over—it’s just over—it doesn’t have any sustainability whatsoever—I mean they can fight all they want, but it’s not in the universal plan because it doesn’t sit in balance with what is ultimately real. I think that’s a lot of what the record is about in certain ways—the whole first song on the record is about that arc of the purgatory all humans have—we’re all suffering that’s the buddhist notion of how life is about suffering you don’t want that part of you to destroy yourself and how do you take that aspect of yourself on if you take it on by being really honest with yourself and forging some sort of practice through divorce and it was a really rough going with a baby and I had no family here—my family is all over there.

I found that meditation was a really powerful tool or just choosing to be grateful for the smallest things could lift me above the depression and life me above a state of mind that was toxic and gave me a tool or way to be responsible for my own mind—for having dominion of your own mind, which I think had alluded me throughout most of my life up until that point—so in that respect it was actually a gift and that’s kind of what the first song is all about—it’s about the amount of time we waste shadow-boxing with ourselves and when you meditate you very often have an experience where you start to objectify your subjective. When you keep your mind still, you start to experience the eye behind the eye—so you begin to watch your thought process and because you’re trying to keep your thoughts still—so what you’re doing is you’re watching your thoughts and you’re not reactionary to your thoughts, your just allowing your thoughts to be there, because as soon as you react to a thought you go “Oh God no!” [sighs]. No criticism — you stay neutral and over time there’s something that’s watching your thought process and you realize your thought process is not you whereas day-to-day we identify with our brain being “us”.

There’s an understanding there where you begin to objectify your thought process and you realize there’s sort of an eye behind the eye and when you begin to settle into that place—it’s really magical because it’s a place that’s sort of time out of time—it’s a place that’s really esoteric—it’s a place that connects you with all beings and there’s this understanding that there’s only one here—there’s only oneness. Beyond the linear, but it’s really a true experience and I think it’s an available experience and I think that once you go there—you can really save yourself and you can really bring your full self to the table, which I think is really important to have a social movement. I think a lot of time at Occupy we were really divided, especially towards the end, we were really divided because marginalized people very often have suffered more historically and generally speaking—it can lead to more pathology or psychosis or hardship. When we come together to create social movements we divide and conquer each other. We can’t listen and our heart is closed because we’ve been hurt—so in order for us to create social movements that are actually in the new ideology of empathy and peace and love and joy and all of the high qualities of humanity we have to actually find those in ourselves and we have to really practice those in ourselves beyond the trauma.

GC: We spoke about the presidency and with everything we are hearing in the news some of us have come to expect the worst.

SN: And you don’t want to expect that because the potential of humanity is so massive. We’re such great creatures and we have this potential to do amazing shit and have good in the world. That time for warfare and fighting and chest-beating and posturing—all that shit comes from patriarchy and it’s over—it doesn’t make any sense—it’s an antiquated idea. When I start to think about the bigger picture and I think about the universe—there does seem to be some kind of an evolutionary pulse in the universe. When I think about the big questions about life’s imperative it feels to me like life does want to walk into the light. It does want to walk into the goodness. There’s an urge of some kind and there’s this word consciousness, which is really confusing and I don’t think anyone really knows what it is, but just an awareness of self and an awareness [in general].

GC: How did you find your community and people to trust in a place like Los Angeles?

SN: I don’t think I tolerate anything less at this point. Don’t get me wrong—this is a strange city —it’s not all that easy to find a community and there is a lot of la la land stuff so people will talk to you from a super shallow place and that can be really tough when you first get here. I think that now I have my group of friends and they’re pretty solid and they’re pretty old friends. I definitely am open to having new friends and I think my community is pretty set just because I’ve been here for a while.

The shallow stuff is really tough for me—I can’t do it. I’m the girl that shows up at Thanksgiving and wants to talk politics and wants to talk religion and wants to talk about—because it’s fascinating to me. We should be working together to figure out what the new frontiers are— even if you have a degree or you don’t have a degree let’s feel into those things and it doesn’t matter if we don’t agree with each other. That’s the other big thing that when you grow up in England debate club is really massive and you’re taught to debate and you don’t get emotional about it. You debate—as soon as you’re emotional you’ve lost, but I think here there’s not that much training in that and so people get really flustered and take things really personally really quickly and then shoot each other—it’s really stupid.

 
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GC: What was it like making your own studio and learning the equipment?

SN: There’s a lot of chicks that sing—there’s less chicks that sing and write songs—there’s even less chicks that sing and write songs and produce their work—there’s less chicks that sing their own songs and produce their work and play their work—if you know how to engineer you can tell the engineer what to do. If you know how to produce then you can produce. Anita Franco was a big beacon for me even though we’re about the same age. I was not able to—I was not in a place that I realized what I really wanted to do while she was already filling big venues. What was so amazing about her was that she did all of those things—she wrote, she produced, she had her own label and she was therefore completely free to do or say anything she wanted. She has full control. If you don’t have that control, somebody else is going to do it for you. If you want that that’s totally fine and there’s nothing wrong with it, but I think for me the idea of being able to do all of that then gives you a lot of power to be like, “No, I don’t like that there I need you to play it somewhere else and play it like this.” The engineering is the tricky one though because there are people that are stunningly good at using protools and the software and it is a little tricker, but I can do all my own prerecording and I can get myself a baseline and a piano part and a rough vocal, I can pretty much get whatever I want because it’s not all that difficult—but fine-tuning stuff generally speaking I’ll hand that off because it’s not entirely my forte. As long as I can wake up in the middle of the night and go, “Oh, I have this idea” and get it down not just in my iPhone, but get it down and have a part that’s bonafide I’m really happy with that because I can get it down and give it to friends. Being able to flush out my ideas fully is just another choice around personal empowerment—being able to see it through because if you have to bring other people in in the middle of the writing process it changes what you’re trying to do. It changes the nut of it. Getting that core idea down from a place of pure integrity.

GC: What motivated you to streak during the Lords Cricket Ground game of England vs. Australia in 1989?

SN: This is the first time that I ever put it in my bio. There’s a reason for that because when it happened—my parents thought it was devastating. They were like “Your life is over—what the hell is wrong with you?” At the time I didn’t really know what was happening. It’s an exciting story because I really realized what it actually was. I mentioned before my childhood wasn’t hard or difficult in the sense that I didn’t grow up walking four miles for water. I wasn’t a child soldier or anything insane—but there was a huge tension around the misogyny I experienced from my father and his friends and my mother who had to put up with it. I just had this gut feeling that something was really off-kilter through most of my childhood—there was this part of me that was really like big, but kept getting squashed a lot. It started showing up in my schoolwork. I was not succeeding and I did really well when I was like sixteen and then it started to really go downhill.

GC: It’s a daily thing that you must have been experiencing.

SN: It’s a state of mind. So the pathway of course was that you have to get your A-Levels to go to University in England and if you don’t pass your A-Levels you can’t go to University and I didn’t do very well in my A-Levels and so my parents would just livid and it wasn’t a good environment to fail my A-Levels in [grading system in England]. You study eight subjects—at fourteen you pick your eight subjects—there has to be English Language, English Literature, and math and you have to do two sciences and humanities and you do those and you study from fourteen to sixteen years old and however many of those you get then you get to determine whether or not you go to A-Levels and then you study three subjects from sixteen to eighteen and whatever you get in those then determines whether or not you go to University. I didn’t do very well and I was getting more and more depressed and it was getting really hard and my father was getting mad and it was just a bad scene and so I was like “Fuck this. I’m leaving.”

I went and I left and I went to stay with friends in London and they weren’t really friends they were just sort of somebody I could be with if I was not at home and there were two dudes and they were being gross. It was a premeditated idea because they brought it up and they started talking about cricket and cricket was two miles away and it was a big game between England and Australia and it’s a game that happens every year called the ashes—it’s like the Super Bowl of cricket and then there was this thing where they started talking about streakers and I was joking and I was like, “That’s what I’ll do today.” They were like, “Nooo.” They didn’t take it seriously. I was like, “Yeah, I think that’s what I’ll do today.” They were like, “Nooo” and they got kind of got more and more—as I committed to it they got smaller. I was like, “Yeah, I think that’s what I’m going to do today.” It was this place of feeling empowered and I wasn’t even ready to do it at that point, but I was experiencing this different power that happened where they were looking at me like I was this weird kind of—and I remember just going—that it became such a struggle that I was just like [claps hands] “That’s what I’m going to do! Fuck it! That’s what I’m going to do.”

We went down there and we got tickets and went inside and I knew it was going back on TV at 4:30 PM and so at 4:35 PM I was like “Fuck it.” It was like—I realize now when I look back that it was one of those things that if I had continued in the demise I was going to crack and I would’ve been a broken person or I would have moved towards drug abuse or self-harm or nothing healthy and it was not a good scene. Something in my brain just decided from that place to commit to that and I now see that it was really my first feminist action because it was really about destroying this tiny cage that I felt like I was in—I was supposed to create for myself and both my parents wanted me to be inside of because that’s what society expects you to be and none of it was working for me and I just wanted to completely destroy it. I did it at this place where it was this really traditional male bastion where no women were allowed in the pavilion—it was an upperclass sport and it’s a men’s sport—I mean women watch it, but it’s a very men’s sport. I know now that subconsciously I think I wanted to just destroy that reality and I was like, “Fuck you guys” and for thirty seconds—it was live on TV for 24 million people—I made 24 million people just stop for a second and laugh or their reality was super different, but at the same time when people see a naked women they immediately think sexuality and that was very hard to process because when it was over people thought had whored myself because I was naked. Late 80s Britain—it was tabloids, it was like “Boobs, Vagina” all this kind of bullshit [laughing]. Anthony Bridges wrote this entire page the next day in the DailyMail about my motivations and he didn’t call me and ask me—he just made all of these weird assumptions about my class and the schools that I went to and my parentage, but for years I think I carried that thing where I thought that—it was confusing I knew it wasn’t a sexual thing—and I realize that even though it was a public event, it was my action and I get to define that by myself and I get to define what that was and so I got to this place where I realize now that it was my first feminist action. I’m really comfortable with that knowledge. It was about destroying reality—utterly destroying reality for a moment.

GC: How did you feel in that moment?

SN: It was this entirely free, off the planet, just spacey—there was no strings attached to any reality for that period of time—anything and everything was real. Time stopped. On the front page of the tabloids there’s me at the end with the umpire being caught by the umpire and I’m standing still but I’m this far off the ground—it’s the weirdest thing, I even have pictures of it. It was the strangest thing. I know I’ll never do it again and it was one of those things that really— there’s a lot of conditions and variables that built that moment and now I’m extremely comfortable with it because it’s a beacon for me—it’s a beacon to make me go, “Oh, yeah. You really are that ballsy and you can take that ballsiness and throw that shit around because you got it.” So, now it’s a different experience for me, whereas before I was really struggling with the reality that a lot of other people put on it.

GC: What did your family say when you came out with music? How did they react?

SN: They really don’t care actually. Generally speaking, when I first was doing it they were like, “You know…” because it’s a hobby—it’s never going to be real in that way. It’s like I may as well have said, “Oh, I want to be a lion tamer.” [laughs]. But they’ve been a lot more supportive now. I mean they’re not really supportive like they don’t go, “Oh, I really want to hear about your new song” or “Will you sit down and play something?” they don’t do that at all. In fact, my mom has a pub and I keep trying to tell her that she should have live music, but she doesn’t want live music in the pub. It’s not like I can show up there and be like, “Hey, I want to play some songs for you guys” and people say, “Hey, that’s great!” It’s like, “Will you come behind the bar and pull pints?” My mom’s this daughter of a farmer and my dad works for a brewery and they are provincial folks and you don’t aspire to be a musician and that’s still prevalent, but I love them and they’re great and we get along fine now. I don’t expect anything from them in that way, which has also been a lesson that you need to be this person that goes, “Yeah, this is who I am and this is what I’m doing and I’m committed to who I am and I’m okay with that—I don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks.” That’s the thing that comes with age—one of the coolest things about being older is that not all of that shit falls back—nothing touches me now ever. So, old is the new young.

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GC: Talk to me a little bit about the spiritual location for your next gig and what it means to you.

SN: I’m not really willing to have religion have a monopoly over any of that kind of stuff, but this place is interesting because it does mix everything up—like this guy will talk about the Upanishads and bring in Rumi and then bring in the Qu’ran and he’ll bring in the torah. He’s just a really great orator. Meditate and find gratitude—if you can’t find gratitude just pull it out of your ass—find something to be grateful about. You’re breathing right now, find something to be grateful for—shut the fuck up, don’t be a victim and just be a positive presence on the planet right now because that’s what we need and that’s the ultimate political action—being able to stand up and be positive and even in these times be able to be somebody that actually has something to give. Be on the side of the givers and not the takers. I really appreciate that. I’m going to go sing a song there on the 18th, this new song that is out that I hope isn’t going to offend anyone. It’s going to be interesting doing it in a spiritual scene. There’s a complacency in a lot of spiritual communities and I’m not really up for it—this guy’s not that; he’s like speak out and just do it from a place of love—speak truth to power and I like that.

GC: You previously mentioned meditation. How long do you do it for?

SN: My meditation practice has become really important because I now find myself feeling so good after it. I try to practice in the morning and I try to practice in the evening. I try to do at least thirty minutes, but if you get an hour—it just changes your whole state of mind and way of approaching the day—it changes your whole perspective and individualism, it garners more gratitude and it’s easier to find more gratitude in things whereas before you might have been reactionary and you have more space to have a response. It’s just a really cool practice and I find that when I am in that place, my brain opens and I’ll make connections and sometimes I’ll try to carry those into the day.

The idea is that you are just trying to keep your mind still. If you close your eyes and just sit still for a second, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of thoughts in your head and 95% of the thoughts you’re going to have today will be the same as yesterday and those habitual thought processes occur that sort of run our lives a lot of the time and I think that if you just let them go—anybody can take advantage of that and anybody can sell you shit you don’t need or they can tell you stuff that isn’t real so being able to just have a way of creating a space between the spaces.

The first step is to stop and really watch how your mind works and if you start to try and keep your mind still—it’s very difficult because your brain will be like ego says, “What are you talking about? I’m always going to keep talking motherfucker” and it will just keep throwing shit at you. It keeps going and it’s trained to do that. So when you step back from that and you realize and you react to that—you decide to not react and not respond to that at all and just to watch the thoughts come in, acknowledge that they’re there, and let them float into the ether from which they came—but not to give them any power.

You keep practicing that and allowing your brain to rest, eventually you’ll get thirty seconds or even fifteen seconds of total stillness where there’s an emptiness and inside this emptiness is a vast, infinite experience that really only happens when the brain shuts up for a second and stops with the individual aspect of reality and there’s just something really different that is ancient, which buddhists have been talking about forever. There’s a whole other experience of being human that we don’t listen to because it doesn’t work in the linear, commercial, patriarchal, consumer world—it’s not convenient. God forbid you had that level of dominion over your mind. Then you can go much farther where there are these ten day Refa Na where they’re totally free—there’s one in the Mojave Desert and you meditate—you can’t talk for ten days, you can’t do yoga—you can’t do anything but meditate—that’s it.

GC: Have you done it?

SN: I’ve done it twice and it’s super ass-kicking, like massive ass-kicking. It’s super difficult because your brain will start to try to fuck with you and it will start throwing crazy, scary shit at you to try and distract you and you have to come back to your practice of being nonjudgmental and non-reactionary, but there are points after that where you really get into it and it becomes this—your physical boundaries dissolve and you are in this experience of the oneness of the universe. It’s really available and it’s really real—it’s hard to describe because I sound like a total looney unless you’ve really gone there, but there have been moments in my life, but there’s a deep peace there—there’s a place beyond the anxiety, beyond the worry. There’s a place that’s available to become grounded in and allows a person to go about their day in a totally new perspective that I think is a huge advantage to be honest. There’s no eating after noon, you have a breakfast and there’s no eating after that—slightly living like a monk. You feel really good afterwards.

GC: Did you ever do/go to any poetry readings at all?

SN: I used to go to that hip-hop poetry night that was a long time ago though. I used to just sing over beats, which was cool because it’s not easy to hold a melody when you don’t have a piano part behind it—or it’s harder, so I would do it to decontextualize my stuff for myself, but I haven’t done it for a long time. My inspiration comes from my world around me or what I see—the insatiable urge for me is about trying to connect the infinite and the finite—trying to make the personal and the universal the same—trying to really re-remind myself that this experience of individual is just a perception of this lifetime and it’s not really real and for whatever reason that motivates me to make that connection where we all have a level of responsibility, where we all—if you’re in pain then there’s a part of me that’s in pain and there’s a reflection because it’s all connected. There’s one dead forest that’s going to affect all of our grandchildren.

Sheila Nicholls latest album All of Nature is out now.

 

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