Rebecca and Nate Turbow are a sister and brother who have been making an impact on New York City’s cultural and nightlife scene for more than 15 years as designers (Rebecca), artists (Nate) and DJs (both). Zachary Lipez interviews them below.
New York City nightlife is not, historically speaking, conducive to the family unit. Staying out late, tripping the light fantastic/spastic, remembering all those names; it tends to result in a lot of missed calls from one’s loved ones. Also, New York City nightlife is not known for its long term partnerships. Collaboration can easily fall to the wayside in the face of jealousy and/or early death. With these truths acknowledged, the duo of Rebecca and Nate Turbow, both as family vs. world and as individual innovators in their respective fields, is frankly inspiring.
For almost as long as I can remember going out in the city, if there was something not boring happening, one or both of the Turbows were there. And not in the “guy who gets rolled in the rug and stepped on” forced decadent background way, but in the “oh, you need to meet Nate and/or Rebecca, they’re fascinating” way. For Rebecca it was her sly charm and iconic outfits worn by both her and her lucky and insuciently attractive coterie. For Nate, it was first… just being Nate (the Natest Nate one could imagine), making strangers feel welcome and friends feel like they were starring in a movie, and, later, in his documenting of his fellow denizens of the night, without contempt or pity, through pen and ink cartoons and painting. It’s not easy to not disappear in the big city, let alone stand out, but the Turbows perform the latter like it’s their calling. Obviously they both DJ.
Brother and sister were kind enough to meet up outside one of the few Williamsburg bars that’s also managed to survive the aughts, Teddy’s, on a rainy evening and talk about the comforts and perils of their individual work, and the overlapping concerns of being sibling artists in a town that puts no premium on non-transactional love and support.
CELL VISION: What do you do? Where were you born and raised?
NATE: I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m a cartoonist and I make sculptures and puppets and things related to that.
REBECCA: I’m from Cleveland, Ohio.
NATE: She didn’t live there the whole time.
REBECCA: Well, most of the time, I lived in Cleveland.
NATE: We kind of parted ways when you were like, twelve years old.
REBECCA: I left for like, one year. I lived in Boston. I’m from Cleveland, unfortunately. I’m just kidding.
NATE: What do you mean, “unfortunately?”
REBECCA: I’m just kidding!
NATE: What is wrong with you?
REBECCA: I am a fashion designer, and I just launched a line of belts, so now I’m a leather belt designer as well.
CELL VISION: What’s the belt line called?
REBECCA: It’s just my name right now, Rebecca Turbow. So far. I may change it, down the line.
CELL VISION: Let’s start with some of the early stuff. Rebecca, what is your earliest memory of your brother?
REBECCA: Um, I have a lot of them. It’s interesting, I feel like all of my memories, Nathan wasn’t there but I just think of him as there. I had this really big stroller, like an old-fashioned stroller, that my mom would push me in. I think we had just gone to the grocery store and there were groceries in the stroller, and I was in the stroller, and I think my mom and my brother were walking down the street.
CELL VISION: Did you always want to go into fashion?
REBECCA: Since I was, like, nineteen. I did art when I was in high school; I did painting and sculpture and drawing. Then I started making jewelry, which I’d always done since I was little. I thought that I was going to be a jewelry designer, actually, when I went to college. So I did take some jewelry classes, and I also took a surface design classes, which is painting on fabric. And then, I realized you could make clothing out of that, so that was how I discovered I wanted to be a fashion designer. And I had made clothing in high school, but it never occurred to me that I could major in fashion design, nobody ever told me that. You know, pre-internet. So I took a little bit of everything I did; surface design, and jewelry, and fashion, but ultimately fashion won out over everything.
CELL VISION: When did you move to New York?
CELL VISION: Did you guys move to New York together?
REBECCA: I moved here in 2003.
NATE: I moved here a year later. I was in Cleveland, she convinced me to come down…
REBECCA: Nate was still in Cleveland.
NATE: I had a personal tragedy and I didn’t have a great year and she convinced me to just leave Cleveland and come sleep on her couch in Williamsburg on North 9th and Wythe.
REBECCA: Like a block from where we are now, actually!
NATE: But it was nothing but cacti and tumbleweeds as far as the eye can see.
CELL VISION: What was your first memory of your sister?
NATE: Um, my first memory - there’s a lot of first memories of her actually being there, and my mom breastfeeding her. I remember when her umbilical cord fell off my mom was like, “Hey, Nate, can you go throw this away for me?”
NATE: I was like, two. Two and a half. But, I remember when my mom was pregnant with her, and we were sitting in the driveway - I actually had to be one-and-a-half, we were sitting in the driveway in our Pontiac, and mom was smoking a joint. I don’t remember - I didn’t really know that it was weed, I had no concept of that, but this is what I remember her saying to me, I was in the passenger seat and she was in the driver’s seat, and I remember her putting it out in the ashtray in the console in between the two seats, and being like, “That was my last joint!” And I was like, well, I don’t even know if I responded, I was probably just sitting there and she was having a conversation with me. I feel like I said something like, “Oh why, what’s going on?” but I probably just looked at her…
REBECCA: I’ve never heard that story before. He kept that one..
NATE: Well, I either just remembered it, or I just made it up. It’s hard to tell at that early age.
CELL VISION: So then you moved to the city because of your sister. Have you guys always looked out for each other? Taken care of each other?
NATE: Oh yeah.
NATE: Absolutely. When she was in school in Boston, I would go visit her a lot. And then I went for like, a month, and slept on her couch. And just hung out. And then we were here [New York City] for like ten years, and then - who moved to LA first?
REBECCA: Well, then we used to live together in the Lower East Side. He got an apartment in the Lower East Side, on Clinton and Delancey -
NATE: And then you moved in eventually -
REBECCA: Around 2005, maybe, and then I moved in there and we lived there together around five years, I think.
CELL VISION: Who ended up moving out to LA first?
REBECCA: Then I moved out to LA.
NATE: She went first.
REBECCA: I was having - I was down on New York. It was maybe 2013, or something. And I had a boyfriend who was from LA. It was 2014. I’ve been back (NYC) for three years. I was in LA for a year and a half.
CELL VISION: You had a fashion line at that point?
REBECCA: No, so I had my own line for eight years. But a lot of that, the beginning of it, was just me, by myself, like making and selling clothing. Then I had some investors - I had the line for a total of eight years. Already at the point of moving to LA, I stopped doing the line and I started working as a designer for other people. That’s what I did in LA.
CELL VISION: Have you always been doing stuff for musicians?
REBECCA: Yeah, I did a lot of that when I was younger, when I had my own line. I used to do all the costumes for Of Montreal, for Kevin Barnes, and I recently did something for MGMT.
NATE: No, when I moved to New York, I didn’t do anything for almost ten years. I was just bartending, and DJing, and having fun, and sleeping all day.
REBECCA: You were always doing some kind of work…
NATE: I was always doing something in my bedroom, like little doodles, so I started doodling on bar napkins while I was bartending. I got into the habit of doing that, and I was saving them. Then just around that time, Instagram came along, and it was the perfect medium for these little square, one panel drawings. So I started just scanning them, and putting them on instagram. Then I started started drawing cartoons specifically for instagram, and then I just kind of got a following from there. That’s when I decided to get back into art - which I always wanted to do, but I was just too busy growing up, or something like that, but it was also a huge encouragement for me because I was able to garner a fairly big following from that, and I got a lot of feedback, and I was able to monetize it, a little bit. And that led me into a bunch of other shit.
REBECCA: I never thought of him as not doing art. It’s interesting that he says that.
CELL VISION: What do you mean?
REBECCA: He just said, ‘I didn’t do art for ten years,’ and I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?!’ He was always doing art, but there was no instagram, and it’s hard to think about what life was like before Instagram, right?
CELL VISION: Is that what he’s talking about, with the napkin stuff?
REBECCA: Yeah, but that was a thing, you know. I don’t know what the outlet for that was - I don’t know, maybe Facebook, or Myspace. He wasn’t selling anything at that point but he would do things here and there. He had a little thing for a friend’s online magazine for awhile. He can tell you what it was, I don’t remember. Um, but he was always doing art, I don’t know why he said that. What people also don’t know is that Nate is actually a really good artist. He jokes that he’s not a good artist, but to do the comics that he does, you have to BE a really good artist. You know, when you look at them, they’re messy, three-finger… I don’t know, but he’s actually an extremely good artist, and he went to art school, and he did sculpture, and he can really draw - he’s amazing. People don’t know that because he always says he’s not very good, and he does these messy comics. He’s, you know, very talented.
CELL VISION: Did he influence you?
REBECCA: Oh yeah, we’re constantly influencing each other and feeding off of each other, just as creative people next to each other. It’s probably the best thing you could ask for, being close to a sibling who’s like a best friend, and somebody that is never actually going to go away. We hope!
CELL VISION: Do you critique each other’s work?
REBECCA: Ehh, it’s interesting, especially lately, I’ve been doing these belts - I mean, everything I do, I always consult my brother, and he always just has the answer. Which is, it’s weird, he just always, no matter what it is, any opinion he has is just very valued. He just knows me so well, and knows what’s cool, and knows what’s not. It’s very important for me to have him as a sounding board.
CELL VISION: How has Rebecca been an influence on your work?
NATE: Technically speaking, as for the work itself with materials and stuff, I do like having her around because a lot of times when I’m doing sculpture, especially if I’m doing puppets, it’s always nice to have a sewing machine handy. Having access to materials, and advice - I can always get from her, which is great. The other influence I get in my work from her is a work ethic, having a kind of a sidekick and partner in crime as far as art goes… like, when she’s doing something I’m very encouraged to be working as well. And as a unit, it just makes it that much cooler, and more fun. Also, as long as I’m an artist, I’m going to be very supportive of her being an artist, and as long as she is an artist, she’s going to be very encouraging of me being an artist. It works for us.
CELL VISION: Is there a downside to being two very close siblings who are both artists?
NATE: I would say as far as the art goes, no. I wouldn’t say there’s any negatives.
REBECCA: Yeah, as far as the art stuff goes, no….
NATE: I mean, it’s tough, we’re very close -
REBECCA: The life stuff, maybe….
NATE: But that’s normal because we’re very close and we see each other all the time.
CELL VISION: Yeah.
NATE: But even that, so many people in this city would kill for that. Some people don’t have any family here. You know, for so many of us, our friends are our family… so to actually have a family member…. it’s really cool.
You can find Rebecca Turbow and her new line of belts at rebeccaturbow.com or on her Instagram. Nate's artwork and cartoons can be found on his Instagram, and if you are in the New York City area you can see him perform "The Puppet Nate Halloween Special" at New York Night Train's Haunted Hop Halloween Spectacular at Knockdown Center (on Halloween, of course).