Interview with The Late David Turpin
The Late David Turpin has just released his new album Romances – a suite of twelve ‘romantically-fixated after-hours pop songs’ recorded in collaboration with no less than ten special guest vocalists, and a small army of musicians, producers and other collaborators. Here, he discusses the ideas behind the album, and the complex process of making it.
Why make an album with so many guest singers, after singing on your own music until now?
I think I wanted to explore life after being a singer-songwriter. Like everybody, I often feel very trapped by the limitations of my body, and especially by the limitations of my voice. One of the most liberating feelings I’ve ever experienced was passing a song of mine to another singer, and hearing them vocalise it in a way that I could not. I’d previously done that a little bit with Bear Worship and with Cathy Davey (on 2013’s We Belong Dead), and I wanted to follow that thread more.
Also, in the six years since I last released music, I’ve been working as a screenwriter [Turpin’s film The Lodgers was released worldwide in 2017; his next, The Winter Lake, is due for release next year]. So as I thought about coming back to music, I became interested in the idea of approaching a record as one might approach a film – writing it first, and then ‘casting’ the parts to different singers, as one would with actors.
Why are the singers all men?
I wanted to do a suite of songs about love, sex and romance – three subjects from which our society tends to insulate men, because they’re perceived as ‘feminine’. I’m very interested in the idea of a hierarchy of genre, where supposed ‘girly’ subjects are seen as beneath the assumed dignity of men. And the result is that men lack the vocabulary to deal with love, sex and romance in their own lives. They attach a lot of shame to it while revelling in images of crime, war and pornography – the genres that are coded specifically ‘male’. I thought it might be worthwhile to push men into what are typically constructed as ‘feminine’ dramatic positions of love and longing. It might be a good thing to hear, you know?
How did you choose the singers? And were the songs all written before they came aboard?
I wrote everything in advance, with the exception of the two cover songs on the record.
A lot of the singers were people I knew or had worked with already – Bear Worship and Conor O’Brien, for instance, had been part of my last album as well. Other people I came to know through a Fringe Festival performance I did back in 2015 – Elephant, Martin McCann and Samyel came to me through that. I’m very shy, so one of the nicest things about making a record this way is that it’s given me a way to meet new people and make new friends. Jaime Nanci, for instance, was somebody I first met when I was ‘casting’ singers for the album, and I now consider him a good friend.
One of the most exciting things about working with other singers is that I can tap into skills that I do not possess. Xona, for instance, has an extraordinarily powerful and elastic voice – whereas I have about half an octave. I also found it particularly rewarding to work with Samyel, who sings in both French and English. He helped me with the French translations on the album, and it was a real revelation to me – you have to listen to sound in a different way when you’re working with a language that is not your own.
Could you talk a little bit about the two covers on the album?
The song that Gar Cox sings – ‘What the Winter Brings’ – is one that he wrote himself, for solo voice and guitar, and I worked on the production and arrangement. Gar is an incredibly gifted folk musician and songwriter – he’s also been my boyfriend for six years, and this was one of the first songs that he played for me. I found it so moving for its simplicity and its depth.
The second cover, ‘Couldn’t Do Without’ – sung by Conor O’Brien – is a 1971 song by the American folk musician Michael Cohen, which I’ve reworked as a kind of synth-soul slow-jam. Michael was one of the first major label artists to sing specifically about being gay, and he’s sadly all but forgotten now. He died of AIDS in 1997. We’re at an interesting moment, where those generations who were lost in the AIDS crisis are beginning to pass out of living memory – and yet I see them, very clearly, as my cultural ancestors. I don’t have a lot of power, but whatever power I do have I’d like to use to make sure they aren’t forgotten.
Romances is now streaming. A physical version, including a limited-edition art book, is available exclusively from www.thelatedavidturpin.com