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Collective Soul - Interview

  by Lisa Torem

published: 23 / 6 / 2012

Collective Soul - Interview


Lisa Torem speaks to Collective Soul bassist Will Turpin about the Georgia-based band's production history, creative challenges over the past two decades, and his exciting solo endeavours

“All your weight, it falls on me/It brings me down” (‘Heavy’, ‘Dosage’, 1999), and “Has our conscience shown?/Has all the kindness gone?” (‘The World I Know’, “Collective Soul”, 1995) – such lyrics from Atlanta-based Collective Soul’s discography suggest a pattern of emotional intensity. Certainly, they rock, but beyond the high-octane hooks and blasphemous bass lines, a portrait emerges of a cadre of talented musicians who, since the early 1990s (except for former guitar tech, Joel Kosche, who became second lead guitarist in 2001), have defied formula and worked relentlessly to construct legions of timeless, crowd-pleasing material. Their efforts paid off. They have been lauded for more than twenty music videos, seven hit singles and the explosive lyrics such as “Turn your head, baby, spit me out” on ‘December’, use of metaphors on ‘She Gathers Rain,’ and the melodic interventions/bass soliloquies that drenched 1999’s “Dosage”, but, initially, it was a demo recording that grabbed Atlantic Record Label’s attention. On it, ‘Shine,’ their spirited anthem, would go on to attract country songwriter Dolly Parton. That record would be featured on their first 1993 album: ‘Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid’, but because of its unfinished status (the band was unable to record it in the studio to their liking), it was their second album ‘Collective Soul’ that would, according to singer Ed Roland, be considered their true first. Back in the 1990s, drummer Shane Evans and singer/guitarist Ed Roland were performing in Marching Two-Step. Several years later Ross Childress, Ed’s brother Dean and Will Turpin joined forces. Hailing from Georgia, of course, means somehow contending with a litany of genius: Otis Redding, Little Richard, the Allman Brothers and James Brown, to mention a handful. When starting out, they had no idea they would also (by the end of the next decade) be honoured by the Georgia Hall of Fame. Will Turpin’s youth in Stockbridge was economically challenging. He was the son of Bill Turpin, a Vietnam war veteran, band member of Real People and the Real 2 Reel studio owner. Luckily the family ultimately brokered the hard-knocks of the industry, and eventually Will’s creative achievements would exceed his childhood expectations. Collective Soul’s singles have gone double and triple platinum. Most members have produced solo works. Their current North American touring schedule (ending in July) celebrates ‘Dosage’, one of their most well-rounded and prized albums, which includes: ‘Tremble For My Beloved’ which appeared on ‘The Twilight Saga Soundtracks, Vol. 1’. Collective Soul consists currently of Ed Roland (lead singer and guitarist), Dean Roland (rhythm guitar), Joel Kosche (lead guitarist) and Will Turpin (bass and keyboards). They have endured a few label and lineup changes since their onset, but the band’s exciting riffs and palpable lyrics continue to draw sold out houses. Will Turpin spoke to Pennyblackmusic about the band’s more than 20-year history and elaborated as well on his outside songwriting projects. PB: Your dad ran the Real 2 Reel recording studio in Georgia, while you were growing up. What was that like? WT: He was always real busy and his live bands were very popular. Back in the 1980s, you could actually make money playing in the local rooms. You would become the house band for the month and you would play Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and he would also run the studio. There were lots of different characters as you could imagine. The studio had everything from country to R & B to rock ‘n’ roll acts around, so you could see a large variety of styles, but I also tell people, a studio is not really a great business plan… He did a really good job raising a family, but he was really, really busy all of the time and, like I said, trying to get money from musicians – it’s not really a great business plan (Laughs). There were a lot of tense financial moments in our home, every now and then. They would hide it from the kids, but every now and then, we’d see through it. But, man, we came out good, me and my brothers, and my parents – they deserve a lot of credit. PB: Were you mystified by all of the gadgets? WT: I wasn’t mystified by it because it was just part of life. Hey, it’s a big 24-track machine. That’s a big mixer. I was definitely interested in it and I thought it was awesome, but I didn’t think it was rocket science or anything. I probably should have. (Laughs) PB: In 1994, Collective Soul performed at the Woodstock 25th Anniversary concert. Like the original one, back in 1969, it rained heavily and a lot of the original artists even came back to play.What was your impression? WT: That made a huge impression on me. It still does. When people ask, “What are some of your highlights over the last 18 years?” that one comes to mind. It was still in a great spot. It was a natural ampiththeatre, kind of like the original. It was all done in a natural spot, with grass and stuff like that. When we got there, on a Friday, we had officially only been with Atlantic Records for about seven months. That was the summer you couldn’t get ‘Shine’ off of the radio. I was 23. We were young, and full of confidence and desire, but when we got to Woodstock that day it was a little intimidating. One of the first bands I met that afternoon was King’s X and they were, if not my favourite band at the time, certainly one of my biggest influences; the way they would work Beatles harmonies with aggressive rock. That was really impressive, to me, and I knew every one of their songs. So I met them and all of these other bands of our time were also playing on that Friday night. All of these bands had just come out: Candlebox, Sheryl Crow, so a lot of them became our peers throughout the rest of the 90s. We took care of some interviews that afternoon and then when my responsibilities were done, I went side stage to watch King’s X, who was playing a couple of bands before us, which I had a hard time dealing with (Laughs), but I was side stage watching some of my musical heroes and then I looked at the crowd and there’s this sea of humanity, and I absolutely could not see where this ending was. The best estimate was a little over 300,000 people. Some people say half a million. Some people say maybe a little less. But on average everyone will agree that there were 300,000 people out there. So there I am watching my heroes, looking out at the audience and I’m going, “Wait a second!(Laughs). What’s going on here?” And then, of course, Friday night was a beautiful evening. There was no rain yet. The sunset was amazing that night. So we got on stage during that sunset. We had the greatest pop slot and, by all accounts, the crowd was loudest when we played ‘Shine.’ So we did our thing and I’ve since looked at footage. We did pretty good, but it was hilarious to look at a 23 year-old kid playing in front of 300,000 people. PB: How did you feel about your first album, “Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid,” being released in a demo state? Was that a little stunning? WT: It wasn’t really stunning, but we didn’t intend for it to be our first record. It was one of those things, like a snowball going downhill. It got bigger and bigger and there was no way to stop it. By the time we had sold 35,000 copies on an independent record, by the time we had done that and had success on commercial radio stations, the major labels were knocking on the door, so there wasn’t time to record what we thought would be our first Collective Soul record. It was signed on Atlantic Records and they stamped the independent label as an Atlantic Records release, and the snowball kept going downhill. PB: Collective Soul is touring in support of ‘Dosage’, on which there are certainly great moments: Beach Boys harmonies, grinding riffs, as in ‘Heavy,’ and the ballad, ‘Tremble For My Beloved,’ but other albums also rendered hits. Were these other albums in the running, or was ‘Dosage’ the first choice? WT: We knew that ‘Dosage’ was special to us personally. We kind of felt musically that was the first time we really felt we had done an entire piece from beginning to end. It was exactly where we wanted to be and what we wanted to sound like. That being said, we did toss around the idea of doing the second album, from beginning to end. Immediately, it was either ‘Dosage’ or the second record and we decided on “Dosage.” PB: Was the plan, once you had decided on ‘Dosage’, to replicate the album or do a “jam-band” approach? WT: We’ve always tried to ride the line. The answer is that it depends on both. We try not to set any boundaries, and when we start performing them live we come up with ideas and twists and turns and stuff. So it’s kind of both, it depends on the song. But we have some extended versions of certain songs. There are certain parts in every song that we’re going to perform exactly the way we recorded it, and there’s really not a lot of thought behind that except for the fact that that’s the way we want to hear it, too. PB: A lot of fans and the press look at our 2004 sixth album ‘Youth’ as a transitional point. Your then-drummer Shane Evans left and Ryan Hoyle took over. Ed’s vocal styles resembled Bowie. How do you feel about that point in the band’s career? WT: Yeah, that was a huge transition. Obviously, we took about a three-year hiatus before that CD was released. There was some inner turmoil going on with Ross, and Shane was going through some stuff, so there were mostly a lot of personal issues. It took us a while to get on our feet again, to feel solid and to go out there and finish recording. We had tried a lot of recording over that period of time and a lot of it didn’t really pan out. We weren’t struggling. It’s just that we knew we had to take the time to find our footing again, but a lot of people have pointed ‘Youth’ out as one of our better records. PB: It showed how versatile a band you could be. It was such a different sound than what came before and what you came up with later on. WT: We’ve always been eclectic and it’s always been hard to pigeonhole Collective Soul. We do have so many genres that we can cross over. PB: What are some of the bass lines that you love performing in front of a crowd? WT: ‘No More No Less’ from “Dosage.” That song started with a loop and a bass line and it kind of evolved from there, and that one, as a whole, I really like, and the Elton John guest appearance on ‘Perfect Day.’ I’m really proud of that bass line. I try to build bass lines that work for the song. I come from a melodic standpoint and, like I said, those stick out as good bass performances to me. But it depends on the song and I look at each one differently. I’m not really looking at songs as bass performances. When they’re completed I can say, “Oh, that’s a good bass performance.” I look at it as a song contributing to the rhythm section and to the melody. PB: Who are some of your favourite bass players? WT: Paul McCartney, Sting, and John Paul Jones. In the modern era, Adam Clayton, Robert DeLeo of STP - I love his bass lines. PB: What kind of a bass do you play? WT: I play mainly a Music Man bass. I play a lot of Fender basses, too. PB: The band played live with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra in 2006, which again speaks to your flexibility. Was that a difficult concert to pull off? WT: It was a huge production, for us. I can’t say it was difficult, but it was a lot of work. I had a music major and I had been in concert bands and orchestras my whole life, so I played the liason role between the orchestra and the rock band. It was a lot of work to make sure that everything was going to go off without a hitch. Those were great musicians and the charts were really well done, but it took a lot of communication. Two nights in the Atlanta Symphony Hall, and, there you go, you’ve got a DVD (‘Home (Live)’). PB: During the recording of ‘Rabbit’ in 2009, Dean Roland, Joel Koesche and you started contributing to the songwriting on tracks such as ‘You’ and ‘Understanding’). How did this affect the chemistry of the band? WT: I don’t really know if it did (Laughs). PB: Ed Roland had been the chief songwriter before that. Did this new arrangement bring you more together as a group or did you feel more competitive? WT: I think it’s kind of hard for Ed to open up. I think it’s hard for anybody to open up and allow for that vulnerability. Ed is the most extreme version of vulnerability that you could imagine, and it’s hard to explain to people who don’t understand, but to open yourself up you have to use your ears way more than you use your mouth and so it can be difficult, but it wasn’t really that difficult for us. To be honest with you, I think some of the songs we did in the past weren’t that much different in the way we created them. It was really natural. It was just really good to see that Ed was willing to open up a little more. PB: On your 2011 solo EP ‘The Lighthouse’ all of the tracks have strong messages, but ‘Her Name’ in particular comes to mind. The lines “Everybody knows her name/She comes around just to play the game” and “Her heart can’t take another disaster” seem to be about people who present a certain image. We all seem to have a public persona and maybe something quite different internally, which goes much deeper. Was that a personal song? WT: You could say the same about the Collective Soul songs – I might have a specific thing in mind, but I really try to make it to where almost anybody could use it for their own personal point or circumstances. There was somebody in mind, but I tried to make the song speak to more of a girl audience. Like you said, I think everybody can relate to that. If I’m thinking something specific, I try to put it down on paper in a way that almost anybody can use that story in their own life. PB: Does this relate to being in the public so much? You meet a fan and they think of you a certain way, but you know who you are. Is that a puzzling phenomenon? WT: Definitely. PB: ‘My Star’ is about your wife. Is it difficult to balance family life with road life? WT: It’s definitely difficult, but Donna and me have a very strong bond. She’s a very strong woman and she does really good when I’m working. We have three kids – three boys. It’s hard on her when I’m gone, but she does awesome. I think we have that trust, and it makes it a lot easier. PB: After hearing the strong messages in ‘The Lighthouse’, I’m wondering if you’ll work on another solo album. WT: I started about 13 songs when I recorded ‘the Lighthouse’. I’m thinking about releasing, as soon as possible - because some of those songs are over halfway finished - maybe a ‘Lighthouse Part Two’, and then another whole album. It’s almost written and I haven’t started recording it yet. I’d like to get out ‘the Lighthouse Part Two’, which would be the completion of all those songs I had started, and then right behind that I’d like to have another full CD. PB: Will that project also be keyboard-driven? WT: Yes, mainly piano and keyboard driven. Out of those five songs on ‘The Lighthouse’ there’s only one that came from guitar, and that’s ‘My Star’. There are a few acoustic songs on there, like I did on the first one, but you’re going to see about 80% on the piano. PB: Collective Soul toured with Van Halen and Aerosmith. Did you pick up any helpful touring hints from each other? WT: Yeah, I guess (Laughs). PB: Or things not to do? WT: Yeah, exactly. They’re all pretty complex individuals. I know I picked up some friends in Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar and Eddie Van Halen. Those guys are so personable and friendly and we hit it off. For the entire tour, we were really close. We’re still good friends today. Eddie Van Halen gave me a bass that I played on the first ‘Dosage’ tour. I retired it after that ‘Dosage’ tour and I brought it back out for this tour. I think through personal relationships you learn a little bit. With Aerosmith we learned a little bit about business and stuff, but it wasn’t quite as personal with those guys. Steven Tyler’s great, but he’s just out there. He was great and he was very accommodating, but it was different with Van Halen. They became our friends. It was all because they wanted to take us out to dinner. It was like big brother, little brother tour. PB: Some of your fans feel, according to comments on your website, that given Collective Soul’s artistic output and years of experience, you’re underrated. You have seven Number one hits, which achieved double and triple platinum status. Has Collective Soul been short changed? WT: I personally look inward. If I think there are shortcomings, I look at us and me first, and think about what we could have done differently. I don’t really spend a lot of time blaming the industry or blaming anything else. To use a common quote, it just is what it is. Somehow everyone know’s Collective Soul’s songs, but not everyone knows Collective Soul, the band, and it’s hard to point out exactly why, but there is something there - that our prolific success doesn’t really match our popularity, as far as the band name and the individuals go. I don’t know what it’s going to take to connect those dots. Maybe it’s because we didn’t move to L.A. and make some noise on the boulevard. That’s one thing I can look at, but there’s so many different attributes that you can analyze. Almost every band has a different path they take. I’m comfortable and quite happy with the path that Collective Soul has taken. PB: Where are you living now? WT: I live in metro Atlanta, basically. I live about 20 miles from Atlanta. PB: That decision may have kept you away from the insanity. WT: It is what it is. It’s what I feel works best for me and my life. PB: How would you like to be remembered ultimately, Will? WT: The same way as when we started. I want to be remembered for our music. PB: If each string on your bass represented a feeling, what would those feelings be? WT: (Laughs) The E string would be aggressiveness. The A string would be harmony. The D string would be more like, not humour, but happy. The G string is all love. PB: You have a busy touring schedule. Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans? WT: We have a special relationship with our fans; the people who do know who we are. I feel a great appreciation for them and a good relationship, so, hey, we’re going to keep doing our thing. We appreciate all the support we’ve been blessed with all of these years. And we’re doing a live show for HDNet, June 16th; live from the Rose Land Ballroom, in Portland, Oregon. PB: Thank you.

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Collective Soul - Interview

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