Terra Naomi is an award-winning singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles, CA. Winner of the inaugural YouTube Award for Best Music Video and the only new artist invited to perform at 2007’s Live Earth at Wembley Stadium, alongside artists like Madonna, The Black Eyed Peas, John Legend, David Gray, and and Foo Fighters, Naomi was recently called “the consummate singer-songwriter” by veteran music publisher Jon Rosner, and “the voice all women need right now” by Women In Rock.
“Machine Age,” the first single from her upcoming eponymous album, garnered praise from Billboard, Forbes, Popdust, INTO, Broadway World, and LA Music Blog. A meditation on the culture shock of post-election America, the dystopic anthem was named “the first truly great song to come at the expense of the world's collective sanity.” by Jubilant. Naomi recorded the forthcoming album with Grammy Award-winning producer Tom Schick (Wilco, Iron & Wine, Rufus Wainwright) and multi-instrumentalist Joe Adamik (Iron & Wine, Califone), at Wilco’s studio in Chicago, after crowdfunding one of the top music campaigns in IndieGoGo's history.
Florian DAVID : Hey Terra how have you been, long time no talk!
Terra NAOMI : Yes I know my gosh, ten years at least ?
DAVID: Yeah it might be twelve. I am glad we can talk, we are thrilled to have you !
NAOMI: Yes I am glad that we can do this. I blocked my morning to have this conversation with you!
DAVID: I remember the first time I went to hear you live. It was in London somewhere around Tottenham Court Road and I found your voice so extraordinary I felt compelled to shush a few rude people, which I would not normally do. [laughs]
NAOMI: I’m so glad you did that! [laughs]
DAVID: I will start with a tough one. In Will To Power Nietzsche wrote `We have art so as not to perish from truth’. And the other thing he wrote is ‘no artist tolerates reality’. We were interested to know your take on that?
NAOMI: Interesting ! Well I think that probably my opinions have changed a little bit on that. I definitely think that art is an escape of sorts, or can be. I used to think a bit that way even though for me art was more a way of coming to terms with reality. Art for me is a way of processing reality, because everything that I write is from my own experience and it is really my way of understanding what is happening at any given time, be it happening outside of myself or happening inside of myself. It’s my way of making sense of it and sharing it and communicating it with other people. And I think I have been less interested in escaping reality lately, to refer to your second quote ‘no artist tolerates reality’. I dont know how I feel about that. At one point I would have thought yes, yes it’s really escapist, it’s a way of getting outside and escaping reality. I think now I am more interested in reality. My personal journey has been, instead of trying to ignore and avoid and protect myself from reality - be it events of the past or events of the present, in my personal life or the world in general – to be now much more more interested in knowing exactly what is happening, and of course that’s all relative because there is not one experience of reality, everybody’s experience of reality is completely different, depending on what angle you are looking at it from, it is completely different, right ?
NAOMI: So there’s no such thing like truth with a capital T or reality with a capital R but I’m interested in honesty and in being fearless in my assessment of my own reality, you know? So that I can actually make the best decisions. And I think that instead of coming from a sort of reactionary place where something affects me and I see what’s going on and then I freak out and I make a quick decision - almost like a fight or flight response - I am now more interested in sitting back and thinking, like, ‘ok’. And in a way nothing can hurt me [any more], you know ? Obviously some things can [still] hurt me, but, understanding that what is happening around me is not gonna be the cause of anything that can hurt me is the key. It is only gonna help me make better decisions and with my art too, you know? I mean, I think there is a place for both. Obviously, I love realism, and I love the full expressionist side of things, and I love all the different kinds of art, up to modern art that might look like nothing! And same in music, from the most classical compositions up to sounds that you do not understand. I love everything and I think that there is a place for everything. Some art is more rooted in reality and some more rooted in fantasy, right?
DAVID: True. And when it comes to your songs there is an underlying melancholy, sadness even, nearly across the board I would say. I do not know if you would agree or disagree with that. But what strikes me most when I listen to lots of your songs is that fervour in your voice. To me nearly all your songs sound like prayers. Do you endorse that or does that surprise you?
NAOMI: … [Initial Silence. Thinking]. No I agree, I think that you are absolutely right! My music is very much an expression of my life and my reality, my experience and my truth and so there is a reflective longing and hopefulness in my music. There is a feeling of hope and of course the idea of hope contains in itself an unsatisfaction about the current state of things. And so I think that there is always this energy in a lot of what I do. The reason I hesitated is because at that point in my life I am happier than I have ever been. The world might be the most fucked up that it’s ever been – and in our country especially now things are really crazy - but the interesting contrast is that I am personally more happy and fulfilled in my personal life and optimistic that I have ever been, and hopeful. And yes, there are things that I would like to change. I think that my older music was more melancholic. It may also be a matter of age, when you are younger everything is so extreme, it’s all good or it’s all bad - at least it was that way for me, everything was very bipolar in that sense. And now I think as the years go by and I understand more about myself and about the world I kind of realized that everything is sort of like in the middle, and there isn’t just good and bad. There is a whole range happening ‘in between’. And so I think I am more moderate in my emotions [laughs]. This still feels intense, but I am less completely sad you know, there is more of an evenness in what I am writing now.
DAVID: I can see. Years back you also went through some much darker times – like everyone does – and you have emerged now towards the light. You do seem to be in a much nicer place in your life. And I would like to throw a bridge towards your childhood. Would you say that the place towards which you gravitate today is close to some of your childhood’s dreams, close to how you envisioned your life to unfold?
NAOMI: [Laughs] I have always had a very clear vision about everything that I wanted.
I always wanted to be a singer. When I was eight, ten, twelve, there wasn’t the concept of fame and celebrity that there is now because of social media. That wasn’t present back then when we were kids. I just knew I wanted to sing for people on a stage and record, all those things, perform. I did not have any concept of fame, that was not part of our culture. So yeah I knew I wanted to be a singer, I didn’t know I wanted to be a songwriter up until college, but growing up I wanted to be a singer! I had no idea what that truly meant, you know – what it actually looks like is so different! And up until very recently I had very specific ideas of exactly what I wanted, and if it didn’t look like what I had imagined then I didn’t want anything else. And that was actually responsible for most of the sadness and struggle that I experienced [in my life].
DAVID: Of Course!
'THE ABILITY TO ADAPT IS OUR GREATER ABILITY!
I THINK IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR HAPPINESS. OUR ABILITY TO ADAPT.'
NAOMI: Yes, the lack of flexibility. The ability to adapt is our greatest ability! I think it is the most important thing for happiness. Our ability to adapt. And I remember when I was just twenty and starting out as a songwriter, I really thought if I don’t achieve this and this and that by the time I am thirty, then I’d rather be dead, you know? [laughs] And that’s really what I used to think!!
DAVID: This is very enlightening. We are really interested in Buddhism, beyond religion or a movement, more in this work that you have got to do on yourself, and this is what Buddhism actually teaches you: there is suffering as soon as there are expectations, and attachment to outcomes. It seems that this is what you are saying. As soon as you let go off the expectations and the attachment to the outcome, you feel liberated!
NAOMI: Yes, this is so interesting. This really has been my journey these past ten years. You mentioned childhood and the things that I experienced in the first part of my life, and there were a lot of pretty intense things that happened but I can honestly say that the hardest years have been the last ten years. As a teenager and in my early twenties I struggled with drug addiction, and in fact it was not as painful as the later issues that I struggled with over the last ten years. When I was a drug addict it was really easy to say ‘all I have to do is stop doing drugs and everything else is going to fall into place’, you know ? You’re gonna go to rehab and you’re gonna stop doing drugs, your family is here to support you, and your whole life is in front of you and you can do whatever you want, you are twenty two years old and you can have anything.
DAVID: Yes, you thought once this problem is gone, every other problem will be gone. An easy culprit.
NAOMI: Exactly! And that’s funny because people thought that drug addiction and rehab was the hardest thing, and I tell them ‘Oh no this was not!’ The bigger question is stability and the real, deep, existential things. The things deep underneath are the really difficult things to solve, they are not clear cut.
DAVID: You mean our own inner emotional stability?
TERRA: Yes, and what you were talking about, the attachment, the expectations, because that really is responsible for all the misery.
DAVID: I agree. I look at myself and I realize that it is a cause of great suffering to put too much pressure on oneself. We are always trying to identify what may have triggered this way of being. Part could be education, partly you think this might be inherited in your DNA. It is hard to say really. Your father was a cosmetic surgeon and you mother a social worker, right?
NAOMI : Correct.
DAVID : To what extent do you think that the expectations that you felt originated from your education?
NAOMI : I think it’s a little of everything. It is cultural as well as inherited, in our DNA. I do believe firmly in inherited trauma, for instance. Are you familiar with the experiments that have been carried out on this with mices? Some mices were electro-shocked while immersed in the smell of cherry blossom and several generations later the descendents born from these mices are still freaked out when in the presence of that same odour.* (*Scientific work led by Brian Dias at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, see article in NewScientist.) So that inherited trauma thing has been scientifically demonstrated, that’s the real thing, and so I thought so much of all this makes sense! Look, we have so many different identities, right ? And one of mine is being a Jewish American. I look at my Jewish background and how one can identify with this archetype of the Neurotic East-Coast Jew like Woody Allen. You understand where that comes from if you really understand inherited trauma and the workings of our DNA and start wondering what were my relatives doing generations and generations ago? Well, they were running around Europe trying to stay alive, you know? And so I think there is some of that. And then I think there were some pressure in my education. My mum is the most unconditionally loving person, to the point where I would discredit any instance where my mum would give me credit for anything, as everything I do for her is the absolute best all the time! [laughs]. Dad, on the other hand is extremely perfectionist – and he has gotten a lot more mellow over the years. He is a surgeon, everything has its best version of what it could be, there is perfection in his world. And himself is actually a very conflicted person because while he is a reconstructive and cosmetic surgeon he has been extremely outspoken against a lot of the procedures going on in this field. And he was also into macrobiotics when I was a kid, so here is this person with a very different set of values : He is not a capitalist, he believes in socialised medicine. But I believe that the perfectionist side of him has affected me very much. And as an artist in this post capitalist America, if you are a sensitive person, one does not see how they fit in that system where most people are out there generating money for other people – which is what we are raised to do in this country (and every aspect of our culture in our country is directing us towards that) – we are constantly bombarded with images of what we should be. Because there is money to be made in making people feel bad about what they are not or have not. Instead of selling good food we are basically being sold junk food so we get ill and the pharmaceutical industry can keep selling us treatments. It is crazy. And growing up I just thought that every place was like that. I had nothing else to compare it to.
DAVID: When did you travel abroad for the first time ?
NAOMI: I was sixteen and I traveled with a choir of American teenagers. I was singing classical music at the time. I was a soloist and we were singing all over Europe in different cathedrals. But I did not have a lot of time to explore. And I was a child, so at that point I did not really understand the cultural differences. I started to realize things later after college. I remember being in Italy and going to a shop and the shop was closed most of the day, and it was only opened between 2 PM and 4 PM! [laughs]
NAOMI: You know? [laughs]. And I was like, how do they expect us to buy anything? And I was so upset thinking ‘what is happening here?’ Taking four hour long lunches?’ And that was when I realized really for the first time in my life that not every culture is completely focused around making money. Here, it is now changing a little bit because of the startup culture, where people now brag about working remotely and only four hours a week! [laughs]
DAVID: True, however that change is coming about not for the right reasons but because it has become much harder for startups and multinationals to attract and retain competent talent. Most people in America are unhappy in their current jobs, for what I gathered.
NAOMI: True. I think people are realizing that they get more productivity out of people when they let them enjoy their lives more!
DAVID: Right. We are talking here about a system that is increasingly being rejected by the people, across the world. You see it in France too. And so the underlying anger in America is not just about Donald Trump who truly is a merely a cog in the machine. People are demanding profound change, and while capitalism can work (it failed badly in 2008 though), to be accepted now it has to be reformed urgently. It must place the well-being of human beings at the heart of its operating system. We must also grant intrinsic value to a human being whether that person is economically profitable or not. The structure today, the system, is overpowering even those who are leading it. That is seriously faulty and dangerous for all. That needs reforming.
'I HAVE ALWAYS FELT THAT IN OUR CULTURE,
UNLESS YOU WERE GENERATING A LOT OF MONEY FOR SOMEBODY ELSE,
YOU WERE NOT DEEMED VALUABLE'
NAOMI: Yeah it is frustrating. In the US our education system has been created by leaders of industry who needed better factory workers. And so the emphasis truly was never on learning, merely on memorizing. We are not trained for critical thinking we are trained to be able to regurgitate back what someone taught us. With the aim of producing better cogs in the machine. Thinking about my growing up in the eighties and nineties, yeah surely people appreciated art, but really I have always felt that in our culture, unless you were generating a lot of money for somebody else, you were not deemed valuable. It is is like art in our society. Today art is considered successful when it is generating a lot of money. That is really the problem, because trying to monetize art within our capitalist structure we will get shitty art. That is what is actually happening. Art now is used to sell Coca Cola or whatever. To be succesful art is being marketed to the lowest common denominator. I hate to say that but McDonald’s is probably the most popular food and commercial art was turned into a reflection of that, pretty much. The most accessible stuff is the most meaningless crap. And let me be honest, I do like some of it. But when that becomes the center of our cultural world, then there is a problem. And this is reflective of the values of our society. And I love pop culture too, but I do not love what it is doing to people.
DAVID: I agree very much with what you are saying here. I do not think that you have to apologize about these views. We have got to be blunt that our generation and the younger ones do not want certain things anymore. Will not tolerate certain things. Same with regards to our critical views on capitalism. We have to stop apologizing. While we acknowledge some of the undeniable progress for mankind that the capitalist system has produced, and keeps producing under certain conditions – entrepreneurship is a fabulous adventure, work, courage and effort are to be praised, genuine competition does create emulation (but it does not produce innovation anymore, so clearly there is a problem) - it is also time to draw a line in the sand and denounce some of the perversions of the system. I think we have a duty to re-assess any system when it no longer serves the common, greater good. Or worst, when it hurts people, or kill people. And precisely for that reason we are not talking about bringing back communism or socialism! We have got to work together and build new ways, where the level of people’s happiness, their health and well-being matters.
I would like to come back to your upbringing. Were there no musicians at all in your family ?
NAOMI: Not really. A great grandmother was an opera singer and a great violonist.
DAVID: Did you know this as a child ?
NAOMI: No, I did not. I have no idea where my aspiration to become a singer came from. I was singing as a baby before I could talk! [laughs] People thought I was very weird, this was always in me.
DAVID: I remember that ten years ago you were not too interested by your actual Jewish roots. You have traveled to Israel since: Has that changed your self-perception and the way you embrace or not this heritage? I’m also interested to understand in what way that might have affected your creative process.
NAOMI: Oh my god! I have actually written an entire essay about this, which I have not published anywhere. But that trip to Israel. I have been to Israel once, in 2014. It was a real turning point for me, it was major. And I did not expect to be so moved and so changed by my trip to Israel. It changed me because growing up in the US as an American Jew there were all these stereotypes personality traits about Jews – the neurotic Woody Allen type - that I had integrated. There is even a word, ‘the self-hating Jew’. And so when I thought about Jews I thought funny, but weak. Same as with Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the type of Jews that were shown to us in media. Weak and wimpy, funny and smart, self deprecating you know, these stereotypes about what an American Jew is. And I always felt that this affected my understanding of myself even without knowing it, identifying more with the victim part of myself. I think that was definitely influenced by the cultural stereotypes of what Jews are expected to be like.
DAVID: Absolutely. And these stereotypes travel far.
NAOMI: Absolutely that is a real thing!
DAVID: I remember the first time I went to Israel. I made an improvised speech to a group of about ten young army girls who were visiting the Haganah Museum. I had realized that because they were born in Israel, it was for them a country like any other. They did not measure the historic responsibility that was theirs, in the larger scheme of things. So I felt compelled to let them know, as an outsider, that they should stand tall and proud of what their nation and their people had accomplished. That this Democracy in the Middle-East – the only one in this region of the world – might not be perfect surely, but that they could be proud to belong to this young vibrant nation of pioneers. Growing flowers and trees and gardens and cities in the desert is no small feat! These girls do their military service like the boys. They are fierce. Courageous. They were born in a country at war, a safe harbour for millions of Jewish people who survived the holocaust, and millions of others today from Russia, Ethiopia and all corners of the globe looking for a better life. And they still have to fight every day for their lives and for their freedom. Such strong character in the face of the permanent threat of total destruction deserves a lot of respect. Reading Nelson Mandela’s Long Road to Freedom recently it struck me that Mandela’s first job as a black man in a white law firm, right in the midst of the worst kind of regime, the Appartheid, had been offered to him by a Jewish white man, himself descendent from Lithuanian refugees, named Lazar Sidelsky. Lazar Sidelsky, sympathetic to the Black cause, later lent money to Nelson Mandela so he could set up his own law firm. And when Nelson Mandela had to travel incognito outside South-Africa to rally the assistance of other African States in his fight to end the ignominious Appartheid regime, the only airline that accepted to deliver him his ticket in spite of Mandela’s state travel ban had been the Israeli airline El Al.
NAOMI: Seeing these young strong and beautiful Israelis who speak their mind changed my perception of myself indeed. I had never seen Jews that way. The opposite of the self-deprecating, weak Jew, that had been conveyed to me through the American stereotypes. That gave me confidence. I connected with the side of myself that is powerful and does not take any nonsense and says what it has to say.
DAVID: How did your parents pick your name, ‘TERRA’, that is one powerful name!
NAOMI: Yes, that’s funny, I really did not like it when I was a kid. And neither did my younger brother Ezra like his. I thought why can’t we be named typical American names like Scott and Jennifer? [Laughs] My parents were just really into the earth and nature. My dad was into macrobiotics.
DAVID: They were pioneers!
NAOMI: Yes, they were not really hippies, but they were definitely into this ‘Back To The Earth’ movement.
DAVID: And were they believers in anything ? What was their form of spirituality and how was that passed onto you?
'YOGI BAHJAN SAYS, AND I AM PARAPHRASING, 'YOU ARE EXTREMELY POWERFUL PROVIDED YOU KNOW HOW POWERFUL YOU ARE''
NAOMI: My mother is really into Judaism and my dad is not at all religious but definitely spiritual. He really feels the energy forces of the universe, he does not really talk much about this but I know he does feel this connectedness between everything. I have personally never connected with any kind of structured worship or idea of god or what god is or what we would have to do or not do to go to heaven and all these sorts of stories which never resonated at all with me. I really do feel a larger connection to the forces of the universe, which I think are much more chaotic than purpose driven. Really, when I think about what Judaism actually is or any other spirituality, I think that if we were raised as kids with a more open sense of spirituality as I understand it now rather than that of structured religions, which are just so dogmatic, a lot more people would want to be in touch with the truth of the universe, which does include nature. The rule-based punishing god that tells you what to do and judges you does turn people off. I don’t believe the bible should be interpreted literally. To me these stories are metaphors. I am now really into a form of yoga that is really energetic in nature, which is tapping into this energetic spiritual realm. I wish I had been taught that as a kid, taught about my own inner power, and that I could quiet my mind through meditation. Yogi Bahjan says, and I am paraphrasing, `You are extremely powerful provided you know how powerful you are’. So yes, you are powerful, but you have to understand where that power comes from, and how to access that power. Had I been taught this as a child, to meditate and how to go inward, inside myself and look for answers and truths of who I am and connect with that power greater than myself – which is god and the universe – that I think would have been really helpful.
DAVID: That’s right. There is no verticality, or hierarchy I should say, in that approach. The incentive has got to come from within, it has to be pure, it is not about the fear of external retribution or to seek an external reward.
NAOMI: Exactly. And this is not polluted by laws that are so outdated, say about the type of food that can sit in your fridge, even if at the time it must have made sense for any given practical, legitimate say health reasons.
This goes back to what we were discussing earlier, the ability to adapt. Nothing is meant to stay stagnant. Rules that applied five thousand years ago do not apply now. It’s a different world. And I think that, had I been taught a more fluent spirituality, in that sense, then I would have been more spiritual much earlier, you know?
DAVID: Besides yoga do you have other forms of transcendental practice?
NAOMI: I try to meditate every morning. But in my current state of evolution I have stopped to be so extreme. If miss one day of yoga it is ok! [laughs]
DAVID: Let’s talk about that evolution. I picked three songs of yours, first an older one titled Close to your head. It has got some messianic lyrics and undertones that always resonated with me and to this very day. And two most recent works, Machine Age released in 2018 and Everything that you released this year.
NAOMI: You mention Close to your Head from the first album, and while I am not keen on the music that was forced around the lyrics at the time in the production process of this abum, I do love that song ! I wrote all the lyrics of all these songs and I still play Close to Your Head.
DAVID: I mention it because you were saying things in that song that were not really resonating with the times back in 2007, which now does seem like thirty years ago, right? But did resonate with me and my personal hopes about the world, our world, and what it could become. A new world. And today in spite of all the upheavals we are living through – or because of them – we do feel that a lot of things are in the midst of changing. People are thirsty for that change (The Me Too movement, Black Lives Matter, March For Our Lives, etc) and I like that you planted these seeds of hope so early on. From that song on, what has been the common thread in your creative process and how has that process evolved ? In what way is the work you are putting out in the world today different from, say, twelve years ago?
NAOMI: I largely write in the same sort of ways. There are two ways that I write : either I suddenly get inspired, I am not thinking about it and it’s pretty much writing itself - that is how Impossible came about, that is how Machine Age was written, in about thirty minutes, and a bunch of others. And I did not realize what I had written up until later once I had finished and listened to my improvised recording playing and singing. Or I sit down with more of a deliberate intent to write about a specific theme. I have not released a studio album since 2012 and that recently published song Everything I did in fact write several years ago. The main difference between what I was writing then and now – with the exception of these songs that ‘write themselves’ – is that I think more about the lyrics and the structure. And I have more of an an intention to uplift. I feel more responsibility now, if that makes sense? I want to help people feel good, which does not mean writing happy songs. Sometimes sad songs are what makes you feel the best. You connect to something within you that you were not able to access and then you hear the song and it connects you to this saddeness and helps you work through something and it feels amazing, right?
DAVID: Yes, sometimes it feels good to cry.
'RIGHT NOW IN THIS COUNTRY EVERYONE I KNOW IS EXHAUSTED.
WE DO NOT EVEN KNOW WHAT TO DO ANYMORE'.
NAOMI: I am soon releasing an acoustic version of Machine Age, and that song echoes what I was saying: I feel this need to put music out into the world that really helps people connect with something they care about. Right now in this country everyone I know is exhausted. We do not even know what to do anymore. We are being bombarded with politics, and white nationalism and people feel that they have to fight every day, there are horrible human rights violations happening every day in this country.
DAVID: Everyone we speak to in America these days feels like they are living in a nightmare.
NAOMI: Yes, it is a nightmare. And so I really want to release Machine Age to more people, its acoustic version is powerful. There have been some progress, there are more women and people of colour and different religions on in our government and that’s great. There’s definitely more diversity in our government now, but, on a day to day level nothing has changed, it has gotten worse. People are getting attacked every day, crazy stuff happening, and so I would like people to have something to connect to throughout this ordeal. That is what has changed in my creative process: I am more concerned with others. When I was a kid I used to have this grandiose vision that I could change the world with my music, that I had this responsibility, and I do not hold that grandiose vision anymore. I do not think that anyone alone is powerful enough. I think it is more important that we all connect to who we are and share that and whoever is affected by it is affected by it!
DAVID: We are all part of a living, connected organism. Like cells. Only by getting together are we able to attack the cancerous tumours. We might be ony small parts of this organism, but, connected parts of this organism. So I guess we are coming to the notion of a collective reality which is working its way through collective activism and it seems to me you are now seeing yourself today more as an activist through your creative process.
NAOMI: I think so. But really I don’t know. I also have less expectations. I am more dettached. There are still certain things that I want to happen and experience in this life but I feel more dettached from these expectations as well.
DAVID: I think there came a point when you were so overwhelmed by the pain of the world that your own expectations have turned outwards. You’d like good things to happen for the world not for you. You now express your empathy towards mankind. This is that moment where you want to tell the world ‘I love you’, ‘I understand you’, ‘I am with you’, ‘you are not alone’.
Look Terra, I am now going to throw a few words at you and you have to answer fast without thinking too much. OK?
NAOMI: OK! [laughs]
DAVID: If I say ‘It is magical times that we live in’ ?
NAOMI: Well the only thing I thought was hey these are my songs lyrics! [laughs]
DAVID: If I say ‘We are our worst ennemy’.
NAOMI: That is the absolute truth. We must start fighting for ourselves instead of against ourselves.
DAVID: If I say ‘God’?
NAOMI: Source. I just said what came to mind, and you know what that is? The source of energy.
NAOMI: Fake. Thats a flawed concept.
NAOMI: To Heal
DAVID: Do you like Francoise Hardy?
NAOMI: Of course! Have you heard the songs that I covered ? I covered two French songs for this movie ‘Five to Seven’.
DAVID: Ah yes, I listened to the one Le Ciel Dans Une Chambre (The Skies in a Bedroom).
NAOMI: Yes and the other is Le Temps de L’ Amour!
DAVID: Two amazing songs. You have a beautiful French accent [smile]. In one of her other songs, Message Personnel (Personal Message) Francoise Hardy has these lyrics: ‘When the disgust of life comes to you. When the laziness of life settles inside you. Think of Me’. Where do you go to find the strength and rebound when that disgust of life comes to you?
NAOMI: For me yoga and meditation has really been helpful in that. That’s where I really found a lot of clarity.
'GOING BACK TO BELIEVING IN YOURSELF, THEN YOU CAN DO ANYTHING, YOU KNOW? WE HOLD ALL THE ANSWERS.'
NAOMI: Yeah. Through yoga because it connects me with my self. I am going back to that line ‘you are incredibly powerful so long as you know how incredibly powerful you are’. If you can connect to your own sense of power and trust yourself. And think for yourself. And what we just said, if instead of fighting against yourself, start fighting for yourself. Really believe in yourself. Going back to believing in yourself, then you can do anything, you know? We hold all the answers. Not we in the little ego sense, but the universe has the answers and when we can tap into the power of everything around us beyond our little ego self, then we can figure out anything. In fact we don’t even have to figure anything, we just have to step out of the way and to let things happen and be led.
DAVID: It reminds me of a quote, I forgot who said - and I may misquote - ‘we are not afraid because we are powerless, we are afraid because we are powerful beyond measure’?
NAOMI: It’s Marianne Williamson! Yes it is a whole quote about not being afraid to shine. Not being afraid. Do not dim your light to make other people feel more comfortable. Rather, be the brightest reflection of yourself to make other people understand that they can be too. That is something that I have thought a lot about too, because there is a whole culture of not wanting to appear too sure of yourself. In England that’s called the tall poppy syndrome. You do not want to stand too tall because they cut you down. So there is that fear that a lot of us have of being too bright, but that in the end does not help anybody.
DAVID: Today you are happily married to acclaimed actor, world renowned speaker, activist Scott Turner Schofield. Scott was recently in the headlines as the first openly transgender actor in a daytime television series in America’s history (The Bold And The Beautiful). I listened to one of his TED Talks and I understand why you fell in love with someone like him who is so smart and so funny. How did you two meet?
NAOMI: We met at one of my shows. As you know he is a storyteller and an actor. He actually now tells a story about the night we met! [laughs] I was singing in a cabaret in downtown Los Angeles called ‘Un-Cabaret’ (but it is actually a cabaret!) I was the musical guest that night because it is essentially a comedians’ cabaret for storytellers. Scott had met the woman who runs this place just a couple days before as they were guests on a podcast together and she had invited him to come along. He really didn’t want to go, he was in a bad mood and had broken up with someone recently. He was very depressed. But he felt he had an obligation to go. When she saw Scott show up, the cabaret owner decided he had to sit right in the very front row! [Laughs]. I was on stage last, and when I walked on the stage his reaction was like ‘Oh no yet another white girl with a guitar!’ [Laughs]. At the end he said ‘hello, that was great !’ But then he came back later with a note on the back of his his credit card receipt that read ‘how about a date?’ So it was really cute, a bit like middle-school [laughs]. Then we went for coffe and then we had dinner and then the six-hour date, it was pretty great! And after the third date he basically came up to my appartment with a suitcase [laughs]. I thought well that’s presomptuous, but come on in! [Laughs]
DAVID: What is it you love most about Scott, out of all his qualities?
NAOMI: Oh, there is a lot to love about him. I am constantly amazed by his intelligence because he doesn’t take himself seriously. He is funny, light. He is a bit the opposite of me physically. I am dark-haired, dark eyes, darker skin, and he is this blond-haired blue-eyed person, the cliche you know about that person that has nothing to say, you know what I mean? [laughs] The absolute stupid stereotype, you know? [laughs] I always imagined that the more serious intelligent kind of person would look more… Like me! [Big laughs]. I know it sounds awful to say but there was this bias in my mind I guess, which is also a cultural stereotype. Scott is one of the smartest people I have ever met, and contrarily to the people I know who are really smart and have to let you know they are really smart, Scott does not put it in your face. Obviously he is one of the foremost experts in the world on gender, but he is equally cultured on such a wide variety of topics, I always think how do you know all this!? [laughs]. And the reason for this I guess, besides being smart, is that he grew up in a very marginalized way. As a child Scott knew that he was transgender but he was back then told by everybody around him that he was crazy, that this was not real. And so when Ellen (de Generes) came out as gay, that was the closest identity he could relate to, so he thought he must be a lesbian. So he then had to come out as a lesbian in the American South and at a time when it was not cool. He was basically trying to prove to himself that he was worthy and so I’d say there is definitely a queer over-achiever syndrome here, where people constantly do more and more trying to prove their worth, you know? Scott learned more and studied harder to prove his value. His kindness and ability to love is one of the best things, but the thing I am always kind of surprised by is his intelligence. [Smile]
DAVID: Yes, intelligence is a weapon. A weapon against ignorance, which is the worst of plagues. Scott is also very courageous. One must be courageous to want to take upon their shoulders a larger role in society and lead change. Speak up for the voiceless. It is very easy to witness the general level of ignorance as soon as you start bringing up these issues in conversations, which often lead to conversations about what is ‘normal’ or not, and you realize that people do not even know anything about the actual natural world out there, which is much more diverse than we have often be raised to believe within our four walls.
'THROUGHOUT HISTORY THERE HAS BEEN PEOPLE WHO DID NOT FIT INTO ONE SPECIFIC GENDER IDENTITY (...)
WHY DO WE THINK THAT SOMETHING IS THE WAY IT IS?
BECAUSE WE WERE TOLD THAT IT IS THE WAY IT IS, RIGHT?'
NAOMI: Yes! Few people know that in nature a seahorse can impregnate themselves for instance! Even regarding human’s chromosomes there are at least seventeen ways to be male or female. So these things are not so clear cut obviously. Coming back to our earlier conversation, our world is completely ruled by its necessity to be able to control people. In our capitalist system for instance, it is important to control people and put them into certain boxes, certain ‘demographics’ so they can easily be marketed products to. This goes really deep. Throughout history there has been people who did not fit into one specific ‘gender identity’. Native American called them two-spirits (what today we call transgender people). My mother actually got really inspired by what my husband is teaching in the world and she has been researching it too. She was very inspired and moved by him. She found all these scriptures in the bible in Judaism where rabbis actually discuss gender and the soul not having a gender. Why do we think that something is the way it is? It is just because we were told that it is the way it is, right?
DAVID: I do realize every single day how ignorant we are. As you feel you are becoming more and more connected to the universe, funnily that realization of our absolute ignorance of the way things actually are, or aren’t, emerges very strongly. As you get more atuned to the life that surrounds you, be it birds, or trees, all the actual cliches fall, all our pre-conceptions about the world fall appart, what we thought we knew collapses. You learn to unlearn. According to some studies there are still about eighty sevent percent of animal species that are still unknown to man (out of an 8.7 million estimated!) [laughs]. How much of the ocean have we actually explored ? So how much can we claim to really know about sex and sexual identity?
NAOMI: We know nothing! We know so little.
DAVID : Right.
NAOMI: It is interesting, I used to think in a much bigger way about the world, I used to think about the world in more of a macro way and now I have started to notice the tiniest things, that I used to take for granted. And it always shocks me. I remember the first time this happened to me, I was looking at the picture of a zebra thinking how did nature create these patterns that are so fascinating. And then I look at plants : I am growing succulents, and when you watch them grow they are so geometrically perfect, how does that happen? How does something unfold? How does something grow? [laughs].
DAVID: Thats’ right! You also have to read a fascinating article published lately in the New York Times by Ferris Jabr titled ‘How Beauty Is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution’ that shakes some of our beliefs regarding nature and beauty. We used to think that beauty in nature was mostly the result of a machiavelian plan to attract the opposite sex and reproduce, but it would seem that nature could actually have a conscience and simply deploy a gratuitous appreciation for beauty, as we humans do. That is revolutionary thinking. We think that humans are the pinnacle of evolution. Well I have got news for you, we are not! [laughs] I will actually make a confession here Terra, I more and more genuinely believe, in fact, that we are the dumbest specie on the face of the earth [laughs]. I mean it. When we say we have language, don’t dolphins have a language? Whales? Elephants? Gorillas? Birds?
NAOMI: Yes, human language is so limited even, because we have dissociated our thinking mind from our intuitive nature. Our way of communicating is mainly through the mind. To have to think and explain everything seems more of a hindrance than anything.
DAVID: I will not argue with the beauty of human poetry, but I do think that a symbiotic way of communicating with the world is so much more evolved than our human language. That is really turning things on their heads right? [laughs]. Coming back to Scott your husband, and rabbis discussing the sex of the soul or of the angels. I do believe in angels don’t you? [Smile].
NAOMI: Yes. We have to give ourselves the permission to be who we are. In our culture if someone is not fitting withing the mould we want to tear them appart.
DAVID: Yes. Hatred is a very prevalent feeling in our world. And I keep pondering on the origins of hatred. Where is that to be found?
NAOMI: I don’t know, this is such a good question.
DAVID: Yes. Why are transgender people the target of so many attacks?
NAOMI: I do not know, Scott [Turner Schofield] might have a lot to say about that.
DAVID: Why don’t we end our long conversation on something lighter? It is called a Proust questionnaire.
NAOMI: Let’s do it!
DAVID: What if you were a word, Terra?
DAVID: If you were a sound?
NAOMI: I guess a human singing voice.
DAVID: If you were a smell?
NAOMI: I guess that of earth.
DAVID: Earth after the rain?
DAVID: A Colour?
DAVID: An inspiring woman, dead or alive?
NAOMI: Oh My gosh, there are so many!
NAOMI: Aha! I do not want that burden, no thank you! [Laughs] I do not want the burden of being Eve, no!
DAVID: You would be guilty for everything bad that has happened to mankind [laughs]. Which leads me to: what if you were a guilty pleasure ?
NAOMI: I guess an amazing pop song [laughs]
DAVID: If you were a flower?
NAOMI: Oh, I would be a cactus flower! You wonder how these flowers grew out of such spiky things!
DAVID: And if you were a book?
NAOMI: I think The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen! [laughs] I’d love to be something different but the closest to the truth would be that one. The pure dysfunction of the American family! [laughs].
DAVID: An animal other than a human being?
NAOMI: I somehow feel very connected to bears. That’s more like an internal feeling.
DAVID: If God exists, what would you like to hear God tell you when you arrive up there?
NAOMI: I’d like God to explain to me what this was all about. What was this and why.
DAVID: Terra it has been a real pleasure. This is a platform honouring intelligence, talent and heart, and so we are really thrilled to have welcomed you today. Thank you for your grace.
NAOMI: It has been a wonderful conversation, thank you!