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The Late David Turpin: "I died for 28 seconds"

The Dublin musician speaks to us about how a near-death experience influenced his latest album.

I APPROACHED IT in a different way. It felt like a different thing to me and so I wanted to do it under a new name.

And I thought: Factually, what has happened to me in the intervening four years? One thing was I wrote my PhD.

The other thing was I had a near death experience…

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Musician David Turpin doesn’t want to say too much about his 28-seconds-long near-death experience, and it’s only natural that such an intensely personal event would remain private.

But on the rationale that no one wanted to listen to an album about his PhD, Turpin decided to use his near death experience to power some of his creativity for his latest album.

As he prepares to release his new record, it is clear that it has influenced him in a number of ways – not least that it prompted him to add ‘The Late’ to his performance name, while the record is called We Belong Dead.

“I was always fixated on ghosts and goblins and death”

There is a lot on the new record – which is synth-heavy, features Turpin’s measured, breathy voice and nods heavily towards 80s electronic pop – to do with the supernatural and with death, but Turpin says that his experience is not the only reason behind this.

“I made a record called Haunted in 2009,” he pointed out, before explaining:

I think that, you know, like all children I was always fixated on ghosts and goblins and death. Everyone grew out of it but I didn’t.

When asked to describe what it was like to have this experience, he said it is impossible – because in that moment he was absent.

“You’re briefly absent from life and then you come back. I wasn’t there in some sense,” he said.

But it did leave an impact on his future behaviour, making him realise that “there was no point in holding anything back for another day”, especially when it came to music.

“What it takes away from you is the assurance you’ll ever make another record,” he said.


Pleasure and entertainment

Turpin’s Dublin Fringe Festival debut in 2012 was with a sold-out show, and he is back again this year for a one-off theatrical concert at Smock Alley Theatre on September 15 that will officially launch We Belong Dead.

We Belong Dead was recorded over three years with collaborators including co-producers Stephen Shannon and Hunter-Gatherer, guitarists Conor J O’Brien (Villagers) and Colin Boylan (Bouts), violinist Cora Venus Lunny, and vocalist Cathy Davey, who, in true Turpin style, duets with a donkey on one song.

“I love working with other people, and I love that there’s parts on the record where I don’t sing the lead,” said Turpin.

His inspirations while making We Belong Dead included 20th-century choral pieces, vintage disco, trap music, Walt Disney scores pre-1967, and William Golding’s novel The Inheritors.

He imagines that there are two interwoven strands to the record (like a DNA strand), with one side being a pop record, “with all the pleasures and entertainment that the pop record should offer”, and the other a conceptual layer examining the end of human life, and the return of animals to take over the world.

“You create an imaginary world”

(DavidTurpinTV/YouTube)

He enjoys exploring these fantastical ideas on record, visualising things that people may not ordinarily think about. “You create an imaginary world when you make a record.”

He enjoys the abstract sense of music, giving people the space to imagine things using the aural clues he leaves for them.

Such clues incude the interesting vocals that feature in his music, and indeed a choir will occupy a large role in the Fringe live show. “I knew that I really wanted to do something with voices, something that centred on the voice.”

“As exotic as synths can be, as dramatic as all the strings on the record and all that kind of stuff, there’s nothing as beautiful and nothing as strange as the human voice.”


Irish culture

Being heavily immersed in the creative side of things, he is perfectly poised to give an insight into the Irish cultural landscape as it stands today.

While enthusing that there is brilliant music being made here, he added: “I think it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge that there’s a drain of creative people out of the country, who have to leave as life is being made impossible for them.”

He said that many of his friends have emigrated, not necessarily by choice, but because of circumstance.

Turpin explained that on a certain level “so much support has been taken away from people”, while “an inordinate amount of support has been taken away from artists”.

He also sees the grip of the recession as having influenced what sort of work is being created, and detects a “wildness in things that there wasn’t before”, due to the world becoming “more hostile”.

In response, people are making more work that’s wilder and ferocious and frightening – and I really like that. And I think that’s the best way to deal with difficulty.

As he freely admits he doesn’t know how to take a break, future plans for Turpin include writing for other people, production for other people, and writing a film score. “I think I’d be interested to do something instrumental,” he mused.

While there is life in him, he’ll keep on working.

We Belong Dead is released on CD and Digital Download on September 13.

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