“My music begins with me alone in my bedroom. It’s a square room in a high-ceilinged Victorian house. I work on a computer at a pine desk, programming and arranging until my fingers freeze (there’s no heating). When I’m not at the desk I lie on the floor, or I perch in an old cradle full of stuffed animals. I’ve spent a long time trying to find a way to neatly compact all the books and records I keep for inspiration and, occasionally, distraction. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that I will never attain perfect alphabetical order.
For a while I pinned a lot of my own drawings and paintings to the walls, but it started to feel like the inside of a maniac’s washing machine, so I stored them away. I keep one painting at a time out, propped between the window frame and a bookshelf – I rotate them depending on what type of song I’m working on.
One of the posters on the wall is for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which has been special to me since my early teens – though I’ve never been to a midnight screening. The Rocky… is a musical masterpiece, and a very misunderstood film. It’s just about a single gentleman trying to live his life. He’s a transvestite from outer space, but that’s okay.
Nowadays I compose songs directly onto the computer rather than on the piano, so I don’t really depend on an instrument. The most important things in the room are my stacks of crammed old notebooks, and all the images and objects I’ve collected over my life. I can’t pick anything out as particularly influential, but I leach inspiration from a lot of sources. Generally, I fixate on a couple of things at a time and then move on. In a purely pragmatic sense, I suppose the computer is the most important thing in the room, since everything gets drawn together in there. I’d rather say the headphones, though, because they let me keep everything secret.
The backbone of all my work – music, writing, drawing – gets made in the room, so I spend as much time there as I can. Sometimes I like to go out to the woods or to the coastline to gather ideas to bring back. So the room is my headquarters, and I make field trips.
I try to work myself as hard as possible. I can’t really schedule when the good ideas will come – but even if I’m having a dry afternoon, there are always little technical things to sew up. Often spending a day focusing on the technicalities of a song clears the way for more abstract ideas to start coming.
Making the overriding structure of a song alone is what comes most naturally to me. I work on the skeleton for ages and then I collaborate with other people to put some flesh on it. I prefer to record vocals and live instruments in a studio setting, but I try to have a very clear, concise sense of where a song needs to go first, so that I don’t disgrace myself by spouting gibberish when I take in to show others.
A lot of the songs I write are about (not necessarily negative) kinds of isolation, like introversion, reclusion, or imagination, so I thrive on a sense of secrecy. When people visit while I’m working on a song at home I often don’t hear them because I always use headphones. When I realize I’ve been caught I feel like I do when I’ve been talking to myself on the bus and looked up to see two schoolboys pointing at me and mouthing the word “nutcase”.
The way I feel about the room depends on how whatever I’m working on is going. Sometimes it’s a wonderful enchanted hermitage – other times I wish it would all fall in on top of me like the House of Usher. I’m always glad of the twelve-pane window, though. I can just about see the seaside from it. And I’m grateful that there’s enough floor-space to lie down on now. There hasn’t always been.”
David Turpin’s album The Sweet Used-To-Be is released in Ireland on April 4th, 2008, through Kabinet. Writing in The Irish Independent, Nick Kelly recently said it “already sounds like one of the albums of the year”. David launches the album with a gig on Thursday April 10th in the Sugar Club (where he will also play a full show on April 16th). He plays the Sunday Roast in Thomas Read’s this Sunday, April 6th. For more information, gig dates and tracks, visit Visit www.davidturpin.net or www.myspace.com/davidturpin.