Bass Lines with Will Turpin of Collective Soul

It seems like only yesterday a fresh sound out of Atlanta came into the nation’s conscious. Believe it or not it’s been 25 years that has seen seven number one singles, another 10 top 40 singles, five consecutive platinum albums and a gold album since Collective Soul caught everyone’s ear with “Shine”. The band was on the cutting edge of going independent when other acts opted for the safety of a major label and managed to maintain popularity. At the end of last year the band put out a live album showcasing some of the biggest songs of the modern rock era and all time. When one hears the name Collective Soul they immediately think Ed Roland, the band’s lead singer and principle songwriter. But Roland’s not the only one in the band that’s been there from the start. There’s brother Dean and Will Turpin on bass. Turpin has been keeping the rhythm section in check since 1993 and the band actually recorded their breakout debut at Will’s father’s recording studio, Real 2 Reel Studios. Not to be content with playing only in Collective Soul, Turpin put together a side project, Will Turpin and the Way, who recently released their first full-length album, Serengeti Drivers to stellar reviews. We recently caught up with Will to talk about the 25 years of Collective Soul and forging his own identity with his own project.

I got turned onto the band very early because we had a college rock station here that always stayed ahead of what was trending and had an uncanny knack of finding the next “big thing”.

College stations were playing us six months before everyone else.

The music and program director there always had a good ear for music and he put you guys in heavy rotation.

Yeah, those guys with the great ears are the ones that really started us. They weren’t restricted to somebody’s play list that came down from New York of L.A. The very first one we give credit to is the Atlanta station, WRAS. That’s the college station for Georgia State. Once a couple of stations added it, it started kicking butt as an independent record. “Shine” was kind of like the snowball going downhill. By the time the commercial stations added it, Atlantic Records decided they wanted to sign us, there was no time to do anything but press and put the Atlantic Records on the back of the record. It was already produced. Late ’93 we got some college station stuff, but by the time we got to spring of ’94 “Shine” was on every station in the nation, man.

What was it like being a local band back in that era? I was at Music Midtown in ’95 when you guys were playing the 99X stage at the festival’s original location along 10th and Peachtree and across the street from the stage was the original Cotton Club. There were people at the show as far as the eye could see and either you or Ed [Roland] got on the mic pointing to the Cotton Club said, “Where the hell were you guys when we were playing over there last year?”

(laughs) I remember that. Even the Cotton Club shows were packed. I think we were just being funny. (both laugh)

You hear stories were your hometown is the last to discover a band. There was an urban legend that the night the Black Crowes were signed by Def Jam only six people were at that particular show. Of course you’ll hear a thousand different people talking about being at that particular show.

I don’t know about that either. I knew some of those guys as a kid. My father’s in the music industry and when the Black Crowes played, they played under assumed names all the time before they were signed. I heard supposedly their last show was at the Cotton Club – that’s where everyone played back then before the record release. That place was packed, dude. The local rock scene knew who they were.

At what point did you guys realize you were more than a one-hit wonder? The ‘90s were famous for one-hit wonders, and “Shine” is everywhere and you guys really blew up. You guys were everywhere. You’re on MTV, VH-1, doing specials, your songs are on complication albums that everyone was putting out at the time. When did you know you guys could officially quit your “day job”?

Honestly, we were so young we didn’t think like that. To be honest with you we kept thinking about how much more music we wanted to create. We were definitely on the edge of your seats to see if people enjoyed what we released. I’ve got to tell you, our mentality because we were so young – and I don’t think we were arrogant at all – we were well-rounded musicians and there were a ton of well-rounded musicians out there that are better than us, but we were confident in the fact that our special thing we had together we thought it was worthy and everybody’s going to love it. We were on the edge of our seats seeing if MTV would add our video, but deep down we had a confidence of our chemistry and our friendship – and the songwriting that really kind of carried the day.

You guys might be the most successful band out of Atlanta. People talk about other musical artists like Usher and Black Crowes, but you guys have seven number one singles along with other top 20 and top 40 songs. There are legendary bands out there without even a number one single like KISS and the Grateful Dead. You guys are one of the bands that turned college/alternative rock into mainstream. Before that you could only hear bands like you left of the dial.

It was all L.A. crap. We were right there after that front edge. We were there right after Nirvana kind of blew up the seal righting songs about real things – not about partying and getting laid. No makeup – no hairspray; just a sweater. They kind of broke that seal two years before we came out, but we definitely were a part of it. The whole thing wasn’t about hair and makeup and singing about getting laid, it was about – it’s rock and roll – we’re edgy but we’re singing about real things that happen to people and happened to us as well. Ed’s songwriting has amazing depth but there was also depth in the musicality in the arrangements of the songs. I remember being a youngster and thinking – I grew up in a studio and I would think that the L.A. stuff was pretty basic stuff.

The demo that Atlantic released, Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid was recorded at you dad’s studio (Real 2 Reel Studios). What was it like being a young guy in an up and coming band recording in your dad’s studio?

My dad kind of let his little baby eagle fly out of the nest. He was there. Collective Soul doesn’t get together without my father’s studio. My father was even one of Ed’s mentors in songwriting. Once Atlantic got us I was on the phone with my dad and I’d be talking to him. It was like the big eagle letting the little ones out of the nest.

What was it like going back in your father’s studio to record an album for your band – Will Turpin and the Way, Serengeti Drivers?

It’s always comfortable for me. I live about 20 minutes away. It’s the most comfortable spot for me, for sure. That place has been there since 1980. It’s a home away from home for me.

You’re mostly known for playing bass in Collective Soul, but you also play keyboards and drums. How did you hone in on bass? Was it to fill a need for the band?

Yeah, it was literally all about. Here’s the best group of fans here and I’m the one from the outside. I was the one who was a music major in school and I would sing backup and play percussion for a while when Ii could make the gig. That way I wasn’t the bass player and they didn’t have to have me. And it was late summer ’93 and I decided I would commit to bass. The guy that was playing bass really wasn’t in our circle – I mean he was a friend of ours. Musically the originally five guys were not only on the same page, we were on the same line – like crazy. That guy was not really doing it for us and I told Ed before anything happened I played bass. My best friend was on drums and I knew the rhythm section, so I’ll sing backup and play bass. Ed was like, yeah. A couple of days later I was buying a bass at a local music store.

Being a music major how did everything you learned match up with or get destroyed playing in a touring band?

Especially with the music scene I was playing music over and over again in different ensembles – the personalities – playing drums with a jazz trio, playing vibraphone with a New Age ensemble – all that stuff becomes a part of your music DNA or whatever. I guess I was able to come in and be the most rounded but then I was able to focus in on being part of the rhythm section as well. I could sing the backups, I could do whatever as well. In the studio I was doing stuff as well, too. When you think about it, I grew up in a studio where I saw it all. I saw country artists, bluegrass artists, I saw R&B artists, I saw rock and roll artists. That’s all I did – music my whole life. I then went to college and majored in music. It’s all put into the pot and then you get me and my thoughts on music.

You listened to all these styles of music being recorded at your dad’s studio. What made you decide on rock and roll as the style you wanted to perform?

It’s just what we listened to – me and my friends. Growing up in the ‘80s like I said, we weren’t necessarily into the hair bands in L.A. We were listening to what was considered “alternative” back then like U2, R.E.M., INXS… Who did I see the other night? Oh yeah, Mike Mills from R.E.M. Who else did we listen to back then? Drivin’ N Cryin’. We were listening to what was considered “alternative”. And that’s what I liked. I was influenced by bluegrass; I was influenced by even classical. I loved classical music. Me and my friends, which included the original Collective Soul – we listened to rock and roll which was our thing.

You’ve had your own band a number of years. You put out an EP in 2011 and just put out a full length entitled Serengeti Drivers. Explain to me the songwriting process on your material compared to Collective Soul.

It’s probably less collaborative effort than Collective Soul. I sit down with a piano and you catch these ideas. There were three songs – the oldest ones on the record – maybe 2013 when we were doing some rehearsals with my band, The Way: “Belong”, “On and On” and “One and Done” – those definitely came out of a jam session where I had a drum set and a lead guitarist. So those came out of jam sessions, but then I took these ideas and wrote the melodies and lyrics.

How would you describe your band compared to other bands out there? You’ve obviously read what others have written about it, but how would Will describe the band?

All these guys in the band I’ve known for a long time. Some I’ve know since we were kids – the bass player Mark Wilson is a complete beast. The first time I saw him play he must have been 15 years old – and that’s 20 years ago. I would describe my band as a bunch of guys who are excellent musicians who are friends and enjoy playing with each other. Unfortunately I don’t play enough shows with Will and the Way because of the dates with Collective Soul. I really don’t get enough time to jam with those guys to be honest with you. We’ve got some more shows coming up this winter. It’s piano, electric guitar, bass and drums – that’s the cornerstone of it. The main difference with my stuff the Wurlitzer or piano are the main instrument on every song.

Has that helped keep Collective Soul fresh for you since it’s been around for 25 years now?

Yes. Being able to go outside of what’s the normal for decades and then create something else that’s a part of them – this sound and this vibe is a part of me too. It recharges your battery. It makes you more excited to go back into the Collective Soul thing. It kind of feeds the beast. You can say the same thing about Dean’s [Roland] side project or Ed’s. When you come back to the Collective Soul thing it makes it all stronger. That’s the way we think about it anyway.

Collective Soul has put out a live album within the last year and you guys continue to tour heavily. That being said is there a song in the catalog you look forward to playing or one you’re not so enthused about?

We haven’t played “Hollywood” in a while and I was getting sick of playing that. It’s the only one I ever got really sick of playing. It was just so poppy. That was the thought when we recorded it – we were going for pop, but I got tired of playing that one. The rest of them I don’t really get tired of playing at all. I’ve been having fun up there. The arrangements are basically the same but we don’t play the same stuff every night. We don’t have anything I don’t look forward to playing after we got “Hollywood” off the set list. It’s been at least three years since it’s been on the set list. I can probably come up with more songs that I’d like to play that we don’t play enough. A song called “Under Heaven’s Sky”, a song called “Maybe off of Disciplined Breakdown. I’d like to play more songs off the first record, “Goodnight, Good Guy”, “Breathe”. I’d like to play a lot more songs.

– Dave Weinthal