A New Reason to Sing in the Shower
Nashville soapmaker Rachel Turner’s wares pay homage to country music and the American South.
by Rebecca Lynn Aulph
Rachel Turner already had people singing with a country twang in the shower thanks to her Nashville-inspired Music City Suds soap line. Soon, she’ll have folks wanting to take a bite out of one her bars while they’re lathering up. With soap names like “Friends in Aloe Places” and “Stand By Your Mandarin,” Music City Suds offers “hit single” bars that come wrapped in a piece of reclaimed sheet music.
Friends in Aloe Places, named for Garth Brooks’ 1990 hit, “Friends in Low Places,” is the No. 1 seller, made with aloe vera oil extract and scented with spearmint essential oil. Other soaps include “He Stopped Buggin’ Her Today,” containing ingredients believed to be natural insect repellents, “I Walk the Lime,” with a light citrus scent, “Take This Mop and Scrub It,” formulated as shampoo bar, and “Tea-nnessee Waltz,” made with Southern brewed black tea. Three lip balms round out Music City Suds’ product offerings: Tanya Pucker, Loretta Lips and Kiss Kristofferson.
Turner has claimed that if it were not for the lye, people could eat her all-natural soaps over grits. Now, she’s creating a new line of luxury soaps named for her great-grandmother, Iola, that celebrates indigenous Southern ingredients like moonshine and chicory.
If the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach (or by how good they smell), then Turner is going to make her soap users fall deeper in love with the South. Her new soaps, debuting this fall, are each named after regional ingredients, such as heirloom tomatoes and buttermilk. Soap usually just washes away, but Rachel and her suds leave an impression on a person.
Intern Rebecca Lynn Aulph recently interviewed Turner about her new line, great-grandmother’s influence and love of country music. Scroll down to find out how to purchase – and win- a bar of your own.
RLA: In a press release you say, “The new line will be named after the first woman I ever knew to make her own soap, my great-grandmother Iola. She was one self-sufficient broad. She made her own soap, sewed her own quilts, caned her own chairs, and grew her own food. I don’t see anything wrong with taking a page from her playbook in creating this new line of soaps. Every bar will be an homage to the memory of her.” Why soap?
RT: I actually began making soap fairly late. One of my major regrets is that I never learned to make soap from my great-grandmother. I only became interested in it after a lifetime of suffering from eczema and skin allergies. I tried so many “sensitive skin” products before finally giving up and making my own. That’s why I won’t use any synthetic ingredients in any of my products. If I can’t use them, I won’t make them.
RLA: Why have you chosen to create two soap lines, one that honors your great-grandmother and one that honors Nashville?
RT: Music City Suds has been a labor of fun. When I first started making soap, I knew that I wanted to somehow pay homage to where I live. Since that place is Nashville, country music was an obvious choice. The line is quirky, a little rough-hewn, and never takes itself too seriously. I have had such a great time creating the line.
Iola is a labor of love. The more I learned about soapmaking, the more I wanted to experiment with local and also exotic ingredients. While every Music City Suds bar is, in my opinion, very well made, the new line will focus on more complicated formulations. I’m letting my imagination travel further abroad, and I’m spending a lot more time on the recipes. Luxurious ingredients that have been out of my financial reach with Music City Suds will be finding their way into the Iola line.
RLA: A lot of people grow up wanting to get away from their hometowns. What about the South, specifically where you grew up and where you live now, has kept you loyal to the region?
I was a deserter. I grew up in a small farming town near the border of Kentucky on a cattle farm. After graduating high school, I wanted to explore the world, so I took off and didn’t look back for well over a decade. I lived in San Francisco, spent a few years in Japan and traveled the world. While in Japan, I felt like I was as far away from that little farm in Tennesseeas I could possibly get. By then, I had lived so many different lives, but still didn’t feel like I’d found my place. That made me realize that everything I wanted out of life could be found right back where I started. I think that’s why I’m so loyal to this place now. I know what’s out there. And I’ve made my choice.
RA: What makes the South such a special place to you? How is it different from other places in your opinion?
RT: Being from here, I think, is what makes the South such a special place for me personally. After traveling the world, I’ve realized that there is a deep, soulful happiness that comes in walking the same fields and streets that my great-great grandparents did.
In addition to that personal connection, I feel like the American South is just so real. It’s real people living real lives with very few pretenses. I also feel that the supportive environment of Nashville, in particular, makes it so easy to follow your dreams. Whether you’re a musician, an artist, a restaurateur, or a soapmaker, I get the sense that the city wants you to succeed.
RLA: You’ve said your great-grandmother was a “self-sufficient broad.” It’s clear you admire her. You’ve also described her as a “Southern pioneer.” Did you grow up participating in these self-sufficient activities with her?
RT: As with so many things in my life, I feel like I missed a big part of my heritage by not paying attention when I was younger. I was so sure that I didn’t belong here, that I didn’t care about learning my grandmother’s recipes (food comes out of a can, right?) or caning chairs with my great-grandmother (just buy another one at the store). Only after a lifetime away did I realize that these pursuits were not only noble, but part of who I am.
Since returning to Tennessee, I have tried to pursue as many of my family’s skills as I can. I’ll be planting my first garden next year and just bought canning supplies for the first time.
RLA: What kind of role did your great-grandmother play in your life and what memories do you have of her?
RT: My great-grandmother lived in the same small town as I did when I was growing up. Her husband died before I was born, so I always knew her as a single woman. She lived alone til the day she died. For me, she has always been a role model for being an independent woman. She was a wonderful juxtaposition of style and thrift, as I try to be. She wore her mink stole to church and 20-year-old patched dresses around the house. She taught me that it’s all right to splurge on beautiful things that make you happy, as long as you get your bills paid.
I want to honor this memory of her with my new line. Many of the ingredients will be premium products from around the world, like Monoi oil from Tahiti, Shea butter from Ghana and jasmine wax from India. I want to blend those with local ingredients, like moonshine, Louisiana chicory and cornsilk, to create luxury soaps with Southern charm.
RLA: How did you choose the soap names for your Music City Suds line and for your Iola line?
RT: Music City Suds’ soap names came from everywhere. Once I chose the theme for the line, they just started spilling out of my head. Friends made suggestions, songs inspired me, and just wandering around Nashville helped me think of names.
For the Iola line, I want things to be simpler and more refined. The soap names for that line will just be a short list of the main ingredients. I believe that the ingredients are the stars of these soaps and should get full billing.
RLA: If you had to create a country music soundtrack for your life, what songs would be on it?
RT: The first song that comes to mind is “Smoky Mountain Memories.” There were countless nights when I lived in San Francisco that I was so homesick I could cry. I would lie in bed, listening to that song on repeat ’til I fell asleep.
I also have to give a shoutout to the songs that played in my house while I was growing up. My family listened to lots of bluegrass (“Blue Moon of Kentucky,” of course), traditional country (anything by Merle, Loretta, Willie or Patsy), and Sunday morning was always devoted to good ol’ fashioned gospel (“I’ll Fly Away”). Being back, I’ve grown to love early country, Americana, and bluegrass like never before.
RLA: Why did Music City Suds come before Iola? It seems as if you started with a narrow focus of the South and are expanding it.
RT: That’s exactly it! Music City Suds started out as just a small project. The soaps began as clever gifts for friends and family. I never imagined that it would take off like it has. So, when I began thinking of new recipes and formulations, I decided to create a new line instead of expanding Music City Suds that would give me the opportunity to draw inspiration from the whole of the South instead of just Nashville.
Music City Suds does incorporate local ingredients, like tomatoes and luffa, but the ingredients take a backseat to the soap names. Music City Suds pays homage toMusic City, while Iola will be a tribute to the whole of the American South.
Comment on this story telling us your favorite country music song and why, and we’ll enter you to win a bar of soap or some lip balm. Three winners will be chosen by May 30.
Rebecca Lynn Aulph is Deep South’s newest intern. She fell in love with her adopted hometown of Decatur, Georgia, upon moving there after graduating from Kalamazoo College in Michigan. Find out more about her in our Contributors section.