It seems like only yesterday that Collective Soul broke out and controlled everyone’s radio with songs like “Shine”, “Gel”, “December” and “Precious Declaration” just to name a very few. A long time hometown and crowd favorite it’s hard to believe (not actually) that they’ve had seven number one singles – four in a row at one point. All from a band that is non-assuming and a goodwill ambassador for the business. With precision-like skill they continue to put one good album and one good song out one after another. Unfortunately it seems at times they get overlooked for other “flavors of the month” but now celebrating 25 years together it’s time to give the band it’s proper due. We caught up with bassist Will Turpin, one of the three core members (along with brothers Ed and Dean Roland) who have been there from the very beginning on the eve of the end of their 25th anniversary tour that ends in their hometown of Atlanta, GA to talk about all things Collective Soul.
It’s hard to believe that Collective Soul’s been around for 25 years.
It’s very gratifying, but it’s also very hard – I don’t know what the word should be. It’s kind of hard to believe everything we’ve been through. And it even goes back further than that. Me, Ed and Dean [Roland] have known each other our entire lives. My entire memory I’ve known who they were.
It’s weird. Most musicians have been in a number of bands before they find the right one – if they ever do. When you guys started playing together as Collective Soul did you have a feeling at the beginning that you might be on to something more so than other bands?
Definitely. The chemistry of the original guys – let’s remember this: Ed was at my father’s studio. He was head engineer working on his songwriting craft while me, Dean, Ross [Childress] and Shane [Evans] were in high school. We were hanging out at my father’s studio. We were fans of what Ed was doing. The short version – as soon as we got out of high school Ed started asking Shane and Ross. I was kind of the pessimist. I went to music school. I was a performance major and eventually came back and started playing rock and roll with friends. It was a lot of respect for Ed’s songwriting. He would have been six and a half years older than Ross and Shane and seven and a half years older than me. The chemistry, as far as the friendships the chemistry we knew was off the charts. And we also musically, like I said, we had watched Ed for the past three or four years work on his music. Music was all we had done our whole lives – all of us. It was one of those things – not just friendships, but even the musical direction – it was all laser focus. There was never any – I don’t remember anybody say, “We should go this way or it should be this way”. We always knew what to do to make the song the best. And that’s one thing I remember us say over and over when we were younger. This was all about the songs and music. Let’s make these songs the best they can be.
With your dad being an engineer, what was his opinion of the band when Ed was originally in the studio working on stuff and then you guys got together?
Clearly he loved it. (laughs) He gave Ed – Ed even said on stage the other night – he’s getting real nostalgic now with us coming up on 25 years. Without my father in the studio, that was the fertile soil that was given to do what we wanted to do. Same thing with Ed. He wasn’t my father’s son; he was pretty dang close. They were as tight as could be. My father was one of his main mentors through the whole songwriting process. My dad gave him the green light to go in there and work on whatever he wanted to whenever a paying customer wasn’t there. Like he said, Ed was given the fertile ground to start what became Collective Soul.
You guys gave put out a ton of great music with lots of radio airplay. You guys have been playing a lot of these songs foe over 25 years, Is there either a particular that you roll your eyes because you have to play it again? I was reading an article where some bands have songs they hate to play and something like that.
Sometimes newer ones feel fresh and they’re exciting for us to play. We don’t do things cookie cutter the same way night to night. We’re always throwing in little things that probably we only understand and only we hear. And I’ve got a real bone to pick with people who are with bands who think they’re too cool to play the song that people have allowed to be part of their life. The reason they buy the tickets, the hits to them are more than hits. The hits are the soundtrack to their life and their memories. I’ve got a real sore spot actually for bands who think they’re too cool to play their hits. If you can’t find a way each night with a packed house and excited people singing your songs; if you can’t find a way to enjoy that I think you’re out-tricking yourself – you’re trying to be too cool for school and you’re missing the whole point. You’re absolutely missing the whole point. Are we dying to play “Shine” at soundcheck? No, we’re not gong to play it at soundcheck, but every night we perform that tune its exceptional energy and we embrace the hell out of it. We understand how fortunate we are. Again, people allowed us to be a part of their lives.
You were an actual music student. With your education in music what did you bring to the band as far as mentoring? I realize you’re one of the younger guys in the band, but you had to bring something to the table theoretically that might have helped with the success of the band.
My whole life all I’ve done is music – symphonies and concert bands, I’ve even played in some operas. All that stuff broadened my horizon. It gives you a different perspective. It also allows you different experiences that you can bring to rock and roll. I know what a Wagner opera sounds like. I know Beethoven’s Fifth. I understand the power and strength of a string quartet. In general as far as rock and roll goes, I picked up the bass. The bassist I was playing with – all the guys at that point weren’t quite fitting in. Before I even picked up a bass I told Ed: I called Ed first and told him I’d play bass. And for me it wasn’t what I could bring as an individual, it was more when you get these pieces together chemistry-wise/vibe-wise and musical direction-wise you’re not going to have a whole lot of questions. We’re all going to be able to take care of business. And like I said, I remember putting these songs together and everybody was 100 percent on the same page. We were oozing an unspoken language before we were an experienced band. We knew what to do to service these songs.
Being a bass player, most bass players and guitarists are very loyal to a certain make of guitar. Do you have a favorite bass that you play?
My favorites are the Leo Fender designs – the Fender Jazz, Fender Precision, the Ernie Ball Stingray. I played with an Ernie Ball Bongo Bass live. It has an exception tone up and down the neck. It’s a road warrior. Those are my favorites. I pull out all kinds of stuff in the studio. I enjoy trying to use a Rickenbacker when the song calls for it. Paul McCartney played one basically. There’s a PRS bass I own that’s on a lot of Collective Soul tracks. But for the most part my favorites are Leo Fender. You design that first one in the late ‘50s and it still today is probably – the Fender Jazz is a bass player’s number one pick.
You guys are based out of Atlanta and have always kind of been hometown heroes. You were accepted very early on and have enjoyed massive popularity – obviously worldwide but also in your city of Atlanta. What do you attribute the love that the band and city show towards each other?
Yeah, it is our hometown. We grew up there. We’ve got so many memories and we know so many people there. Again, my father was in the music industry and knew so many people from the older generation. Ed had worked at Reel2Reel all those years and worked with so many different bands, it wasn’t like we were rehearsing in our parent’s basement. Before we even hit we had a lot of friends in the industry and we had spent a lot of time – whether it was me at Georgia State School of Music, we had spent a lot of time around the scene, so to speak. We’re definitely homers from Atlanta. And again, I’ll point to Ed’s songwriting. I think the strength of the songwriting endears all our fans to us. The strength of the songwriting.
You guys are celebrating 25 years together and you’ve had the same core – Ed, Dean and yourself the whole time. What do you attribute to the fact; pardon the pun on one of your song titles, “gel”?
(laughs) I mean, that’s what that song’s written about. It’s written about coming together as humanity, really, even though we came together as a band. It’s personalities and the musical thing is open your ears first. I’m going to tip my hat to the current lineup. I met Johnny Rabb in 2011. It’s like new blood. Johnny Rabb’s our drummer. It’s like a blood infusion when you get when you get somebody that on a personal level – person to person become close friends quickly and on a musical level somebody we can learn from as much as he could learn from us. And he opens his ears. It’s all really about opening your ears, not how many notes you can play; what idea you have. It’s about opening your ears and letting those frequencies soak in. That’s been our extreme pleasure and Jesse Triplett started playing with us in 2013 I believe. Right now the current lineup – it’s our second record with the current lineup, I feel like we’ve done some of our best work in 25 years and I feel like on a personal level it’s just a complete joy to play music with these guys. You’ll notice it on stage. People say it all the time: “You guys still have fun on stage”. It like, well, I guess I should be thankful that but I don’t even think about it. We are just having fun. You can’t force that.
How much participation does the band as a whole have in putting together the songs? What I had read early on about the band – don’t quite me exactly; Ed wrote a lot for the first album that got everything going. How has he been able to delegate with you guys?
He’s not delegating…
I know – I probably mean collaboration than just handing you guys the song.
He has an idea – he’ll tell us an idea on a rhythm part. For the most part we come up with ideas and we talk amongst the band what we’re going to do here – this turnaround, this change. Arrangements and production – all of our style is on the arrangement and production. Ed’s a master with the lyrics, the melodies. Without everybody being able to put in a style without forcing it; like I said, it’s about making the right choices for the song. Our style’s in there. It turns out no one person sounds like Collective Soul. It’s been one of our strengths. Whenever you hear Collective Soul it’s like, oh, that’s Collective Soul – and that’s how we do it. Everybody get to be part of the sauce and we’re starting out with some badass melody and lyric ideas that Ed has.
That’s the one thing I noticed about Collective Soul. I could always tell it was a Collective Soul song – it doesn’t matter if it’s 1995, 2008 or 2016. It still sounds modern or doesn’t sound dated at all.
You can tell it’s us. I’ve heard that over and over on these interviews. I think that’s great. It’s freakin’ awesome.
We’re coming to a close on 25 years now. What are you guys looking forward from 25 years and moving forward?
I don’t know man. (both laugh) We did record Blood as part of a double record. The second half of the double record will come out early/late spring – maybe early summer. We’re at a spot now. We still work pretty hard but we can kind of sit back and make decision of when we want to work and how much we want to work. As I mentioned before and if you’re coming to the show in Atlanta you’ll see we clearly love playing live and don’t take it for granted. We don’t take anything for granted when people choose to spend their time and money to let us be a part of their life and memories.
– Dave Weinthal