Spanning an extraordinarily inventive artist palette, David Turpin – often known in musical circles as ‘the late David Turpin’ – has undertakings that dabble in film and music, incorporating work on Netflix and singles featuring the work of drag artist Veda in her own words, set to Turpin’s music.
It’s a slow-paced world – Turpin’s art often takes years to emerge from its embryonic state – but the result feels incredibly carefully developed and makes a statement, one so bold that he’s abandoned the entire concept of playing live, preferring to let his recorded releases do the talking.
I caught up with Turpin to talk about his album ‘Romances’, as well as new single ‘Burn Everything’, the aforementioned Veda collaboration, and how life is panning out right now…
Let’s talk about Romances first. It seems to have a seriously complex musical arrangement on the original version. Did it take a lot of time to set up?
Romances, the album, took about four years to make, off and on. All told, there were about fifty musicians, co-producers and engineers who came and went at various stages. I met a lot of interesting people and made some new friends making the record.
I suppose the most obvious thing about it is the ten lead singers, all of whom are men. I did that because I was interested in the idea of reversing the polarity of ‘romance’, which is typically thought of as a genre pertaining mainly to women.
That’s nonsense, of course – and I think it’s another way for a chauvinist culture to ghettoise that which it perceives as feminine. In my own small way, I wanted to puncture that. Of course, working with a lot of different people means working with a lot of different schedules, approaches and idiosyncrasies. But that’s part of the joy of collaborating – you’re not shut inside yourself, the way you often can be as a ‘solo artist’.
How do you find reproducing the record live?
I don’t play live any more. I did for a few years, and I really enjoyed it, but for whatever reason I don’t feel that need any more. Perhaps it’s because, when I think honestly about my experiences as a music listener, all my most significant encounters with music have happened privately, between myself and recorded music.
People speak a lot about the intimacy of live performance – and I can see where they’re coming from – but to me there’s a different kind of intimacy in being alone with a recording. I’ve enjoyed live music, on both sides of the stage, for me the mere physical presence of the musicians doesn’t make the experience more immediate or more authentic. Sometimes it can be the other way around – the palaver around live performance can push you away from the music.
I understand you’ve released a toned-down version of Romances recently. How did that come about, and how do you feel about it compared to the original record?
I released an instrumental version of Romances a couple of weeks ago as a free download via Bandcamp. I just thought it would be nice to offer the songs in that way, because instrumental music can function in a very different way. It doesn’t dictate to us in the way that verbal music can; it doesn’t provide the same kind of definite focal point for the attention. You can float in it a little bit more, and now seemed to be a good time for that.
Can you tell me how your collaboration with Veda came about?
I first contacted Veda a few years ago, because I like her drag show, and I thought maybe we could do something musical together. She’s a friend now, and I always have a really good time making anything with her. So around the time I was making Romances, I asked her if she’d like to make a torch song with me.
I really liked the idea of doing a torch song, because that’s so much part of drag culture and yet, at the same time, people often associate records by drag artistes more with house music. It ended up being finished a little later than the album – and it also felt like it came from a slightly different place – so I kept it aside for a standalone release. It’s unusual for me because normally I write all the words on my records (except for covers), and on this occasion, Veda wrote most of the lyrics.
Do you foresee more collaborations like Veda’s, where you allow people to tell their own story over your music?
Never say never, but it’s hard for me to visualise that. I like to be the author of my own work, and one of the things that I find most exciting is writing for other singers – hearing my words translated through their bodies and voices in ways that are so different to anything of which my body and my voice are capable. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to being able to express myself free from the constraints of my own physical being. With Veda, it was a little different, because it was about us creating an environment and a characterisation, and then she verbalised that in her own vernacular.
What’s the story behind the name ‘the late’ David Turpin?
I had hypothermia in my twenties, and I experienced 28 seconds without a heartbeat. That’s not, strictly speaking, ‘clinical death’; but it’s long enough to count as some kind of ‘near-death experience’, and I guess it’s some kind of watershed in my life, though I can’t quite explain why.
Like a lot of people who’ve gone through an experience like that, it left me with a subconscious sense, always, of ‘Can people see that I’m different? Can they tell there’s something wrong with me?’ I thought the best way to deal with that subterranean feeling was to write it across my face, so to speak. Whether it actually was the right thing to do is probably open to question. But look, I’m stuck with it now, and that’s okay.
Goth, as a style, can be pretty difficult to break into for outsiders. Can you tell me a bit about how you connected with it, and how it makes you feel?
I never thought of myself as ‘goth’ until people started yelling it at me. I guess I have always been attracted to imagery surrounding the ‘gothic’ and the supernatural, and that’s always been a part of my aesthetic and my world.
As a child, whenever we went to the library, I used to love looking at the covers of Virginia Andrews books, and all those paperbacks with women fleeing castles in their nightgowns. Musically, I’m not really sure what constitutes ‘goth’, but I think of it as having had its purple patch in the 1980s – which is a decade I draw upon a lot in my own work. But honestly, when I think about the 1980s music I looked to while making Romances, it was as much Sade and Heaven 17 as Siouxsie or The Cure.
How did you source the samples on your record?
There actually aren’t that many samples on the album. I work a lot with a producer called Stephen Shannon, and have done for many years, and one of the processes that we use most is recording improvisational material from singers and instrumentalists, and then using that to create our own samples that we patchwork into the song. A lot of the playing on Romances started out as improvisations. The saxophone parts by Stephen O’Brien, for instance, are almost all first-take improvisations.
Can you tell me a little bit about your TV writing career?
I wrote a feature film called The Lodgers – a supernatural mystery – that came out in 2017, and we were then very fortunate in that it was bought by Netflix. My next film, The Winter Lake, was shot last spring. That starts Emma Mackey, who people might know from the television show Sex Education.
Since then I’ve been working on a lot of things for film and for television, and they’re all kind of ticking along at their own pace. Film and TV are very different to music, because there are typically a lot more people involved, everything is a lot more expensive, and so everything is a negotiation. But you hope that the more you do, the more you are able to make your voice heard, and create things that will be meaningful to yourself and to people who watch them.
I have very vivid memories of being a teenager, watching Channel 4 in the middle of the night, and occasionally seeing things that made me feel understood or perceived in a way I hadn’t anticipated. So, without wanting to sound too airy-fairy, I hope someday to be able to give that experience to others.
What are your plans for the future?
I have a lot of film work on at the moment, so all going well, some of that will be going into production next year. And I’m starting to think about maybe doing some more music, more for the pleasure of it than anything else. It’s obviously a weird time to be planning anything, but what can we do except travel hopefully?