Mamiffer is untethered from musical convention.
That feeling you get when you meet people who’ve turned their beautiful dream into beautiful reality—it’s a complex cocktail of admiration and jealousy, wonder and skepticism. How did you arrive at this life? How do you maintain it?
I open my car door onto Faith Coloccia and Aaron Turner’s Vashon Island homestead and that feeling rushes in. A 20-minute ferry ride from West Seattle and a 10-minute drive from the ferry terminal, their two-story house in a cloistered clearing surrounded by acres of tangled second-growth forest is a miniature kingdom, Coloccia and Turner and their two Italian greyhounds its sole citizens.
All four greet me at the front door, Coloccia and Turner dressed head to toe in black. Spring sunshine warms the blossom-scented air. We stroll around back to their sizable, fenced-in garden. “Basically from May to October, something for two or three meals a day came out of here,” Turner says.
We cross the grass to their rehearsal space, a tidy outbuilding packed with musical instruments and lined floor-to-lofted-ceiling with records, inventory from the two labels Turner runs. Turner is best known as the guitarist and lead singer of Isis, an experimental metal band of immense underground stature that disbanded in 2010. He’s also the founder of Hydra Head Records, longtime home to many revered modern metal acts, now active only in reissues. These days he’s involved in a couple of touring bands but spends more time on the island. As we enter the house—shoes off, please—he radiates focused patience and thoughtfulness, an accomplished artist accustomed to explaining his esoteric pursuits.
Softer in speech and dreamier in temperament, Coloccia is the primary creative force behind Mamiffer, an ongoing musical exploration of brooding soundscapes mapped out via layers of minimalist piano, droning electronics, occasional guitar and her ethereal vocals. Starting with 2008’s Hirror Enniffer, Mamiffer has released a string of gorgeous recordings—LPs, EPs and cassettes, each featuring Coloccia in collaboration with a rotating cast of musicians. Last November’s Statu Nascendi unfolds over 37 minutes, expanding and contracting with the textured pressure of sound against negative space.
The music calls to mind celestial cycles, those inexorable transitions that, year after year, arrive like a revelation. Coloccia stitches together the album and song titles from stems of Latin terminology, her European matrilineal ancestry and her own euphonic sensibility.
“There’s a term I learned called the ‘disinhibiting factor,’” Coloccia says. “The function of sound or words to disrupt daily life and put you off autopilot so that you can feel things.” Later, she drops a term she learned from Philip K. Dick: “anamnesis,” the remembering of the divine knowledge lost at birth.
Coloccia came to music through visual art. Her first band, a duo called Everlovely Lightningheart, began as a performance art project while she was studying photography and painting at Los Angeles’ Otis College of Art and Design. She met Turner in 2004 in LA; in their separate creative projects, they each sought to transcend the standard performer/audience dynamic. Lightningheart, for instance, preferred art galleries and outdoor public spaces to concert venues.
“We both had independently evolved with that [experimental] mentality, so when we started to get to know each other it made perfect sense,” Turner says.
At the time, Coloccia was taking migraine medication that gave her hallucinations—which she perceived as information in the form of messages. “One of the messages was I needed to move north where there’s rain,” she says.
She split from Lightningheart, came to Seattle to work on her first Mamiffer record, and stayed. (For a time she roomed with Ben Verellen, currently of Constant Lovers) After reconnecting with Turner in 2008, the two launched SIGE Records to release Mamiffer’s debut. The two worked consistently with Randall Dunn, Seattle’s preeminent heavy-music producer, who a few years ago convinced them to check out Vashon. They’ve been here since, maybe the only place on Earth where a heavy-metal-leaning, record-label-running, rural-bohemian artist-entrepreneur-vegetarian couple can productively live and work.
Coloccia made the next Mamiffer album, coming this fall, in closer collaboration with Turner and Dunn, her most song-based and “normal” approach yet—which Coloccia says made it the most difficult for her to finish.
“I feel like the whole time I’ve been making music I’ve been learning how to make music,” she says. “Every record is like a question that I have to find the answer to.”