Collective Soul

An Interview with Collective Soul Bassist Will Turpin
by Adam Benavides
July 2021

Collective Soul - photo by John Fulton

Collective Soul
photo by John Fulton

26 Years of Celebrating Life: An Interview with Collective Soul Bassist Will Turpin

A cornerstone of the timeless 90s rock era, Collective Soul remains one of the biggest jukebox hero legends today, with the songwriting and catalog to back it.

Ahead of their headlining set at this weekend’s Waukesha County Fair (8 p.m. Saturday, 7/22) Max Ink chatted live with Bassist and founding band member Will Turpin to discuss their upcoming album, the recording and songwriting process, what keeps them invigorated after nearly 30 years as artists and (finally) getting back on stage again.

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Max Ink: Thanks for taking the time to chat today, Will! Your latest full-length LP, Blood,  came in 2019, followed by the Half & Half EP in 2020. Blood’s lead single, “Right as Rain” could be one of my most favorite songs you’ve ever done and, collectively, the records seem to capture some of your most prolific songwriting to date. What can you tell us about the songwriting journey over those last two releases?
Will Turpin: Well, with Blood, we ended up recording an entirely new album, which will be out early next year.

We initially chatted about doing a double record when we first started Blood. Some of our heroes had double-albums: Yellow Brick Road; the White album. Ultimately decided a split album is just as cool.

I’d say our writing right now is really streamlined and our current line-up is really efficient. At this point, I think we’ve evolved past the mechanical, technical side of the recording process.

We’re able to dig into what’s important quickly and find the right vibe, right feel to get that emotion across to the listeners and our fans.

Blood felt really strong to all of us. And, you know, I just turned 50. We’re all right around that age and feel like we may be at the top of our game.

We’re really excited for everyone to hear this next record, too.

MI: The pandemic led to a lot of bands holding on to finished records or simply having a little more time than they were used to. Did you ever go back to the finished record and change things up or maybe try a different approach to some of the tracks?
WT: No, you know there’s really no reason to tinker at this point. We record our songs like they’re going to sound on the mix and we mostly have the complete vision, even when we start some of the early tracking.

I think when you’re looking for that final vision you can find the right tones right away or more quickly.

[Collective Soul lead singer] Ed (Roland) was head engineer at my dad’s studio and my dad owned the studio. We grew up in the studio and probably have a bit more of an experienced approach.

MI: Wow, I didn’t realize that. Very cool. As a musician and band that’s been recording and making music for going on 30 years, I’m curious what you think of today’s musical publishing landscape, where really the concept of an album and the art of sequencing tracks feels a bit dated or obsolete. Today, the emphasis is placed on releasing singles and maximizing streams.
WT: Yeah, I’m still a big believer in the album concept; it’s still very real. Like you said, there’s an art to the sequencing and those decisions were made for a reason by the band or artist.

I work with young musicians on my own label and I always start by asking “What did you write?” “Did you write a single or an album?” As a band, we still write albums. The album concept is 100% valid.

But, most artists who are concerned with singles are only concerned about writing singles. They’re not writing albums, they’re writing singles. And that’s great. They both can work. It’s not really either or.

MI: I really dig that. So, it doesn’t have to be so rigid and isn’t about forcing a certain fit. Let the music you create drive that decision or ultimately how it’s published.
WT: Exactly. If you don’t write an album, don’t release an album. If you have two killer singles; release two killer singles.

And if you write an album, you can still market the album with singles. John Mayer is just releasing a new record and he’s been releasing singles along the way.

I think at one point it did become a marketing trend but now it’s really just a preference.

I will say when artists try to release an album that they don’t have, that’s when you get a bunch of the filler, which you don’t want either. If you let the music drive it, you won’t be confined.

MI: It’s been so long since a lot of bands have been on the road. And you’re set to get back out there! Has the prep been more intense? (Laughs) You feeling a little more nerves kick in?
WT: Yeah, last year was the least amount of shows I’ve played since high school (laughs).

I’d say, I mean we’ve had a few extra rehearsals but we also don’t have to over do it at this point.

We get back in and can just roll. At this point in our career, we really just thrive on create music and art, and performing.

It still makes the hair stand up when I know a song is right. And performing is more about something that is a core part of us that we just had to get back to.

MI: That’s amazing. A lot of you guys have had successful side projects. And you recently released your solo album Serengeti Drivers, which you pretty much wrote entirely. What new creative elements do you find in your solo work? Do you carry that over to the band, maybe vice versa?
WT: With my solo stuff, it’s an entirely different space and creative area for me that I have to express, and that makes us stronger when we come back together as a group.

When we come back, we’re rejuvenated; and excited to work together as a group.

In Collective Soul, I have my parts to make these songs sound good. Really focused on making sure the rhythm section hits and sounds cool.

For solo stuff, it’s entirely different creatively because I’m not playing bass. I like to get more electric and create a different vibe. And some of my solo stuff has been co-written with Ed, so the band has always been super collaborative and supportive.

MI: As a musician who has experienced as much success as you, what keeps you excited? You’ve been just about as successful as a band could ever hope to be. What keeps you driven?
WT: Well, right now I feel like we’re at the top of our game. We have to do it; it’s part of our lives.

It’s not quite the urgency of we gotta prove something, we gotta show something like it was when we were young. But we thrive off of being creative.

It comes down to two things: we have to create, and we have to play live every now and then to get that energy going back and forth with the crowd and our amazing fans.

MI: There’s a great Petty book, Conversations with Tom Petty by Paul Zollo. It’s amazing. In it, Tom mentions how sometimes a song is floating out in the universe, and if you’re lucky enough to snatch it out of the air, you can just play it. It magically comes to you. Have you experienced that?
WT: Oh yeah. They’re floating around out there.

When you find it and connect it, all of a sudden you know the hook and the melody; it’s like a lightning bolt.

It’s a lightning bolt just how it moves and happens. Those are the best songs.

You can’t really dial it up. You know, you put yourself in a creative space and it feels like you have a good verse but the chorus doesn’t really pan out.

The moments you know when it did pan out, it’s super special. Even the ones that weren’t recorded.

You know, we probably have a solid 15 great songs that weren’t released. Songs that were good songs but never recorded.

MI: Oh, man! Have you ever thought of a deep-cut, B-side record?

WT: (Laughs) Yeah, I know our fans would love that! It’d be a lot of work to get them.

Just gotta keep the fans in mind, because we know they’d love it. 26 years later, our fans have allowed Collective Soul to be a part of their lives.

When songs are associated with their memories and what you do with and in your life, they become a major part of your life.

It all boils down to emotion. That’s what they gravitate toward. Not a specific guitar tone; they like the guitar tone because it makes them feel a certain way.

MI: Collective Soul was a staple in the 90s rock era. Do you feel like you’ve cemented a legacy?

WT: Well you realize you’re a different person. When we get on the bus together, we’re 22 years old again.

Now, we have families and different lifestyles and other businesses and things we’re into.

You mature a little bit but still have the same laughs when you get together. Do some of the exact same things you used to! And you have fun! We’re not just out there saying we have to do this to make money.

And I think you really see that transpires on the stage during our live shows. We’ve had a lot of people tell us that they can tell how much fun we’re having and the fact that we actually are is the best part.

MI: We hear a lot today about the “state of rock” and if it’s “alive and well.” What are your thoughts on some contemporary bands now? Any favorite newer, contemporary stuff you really dig?
WT: One of my biggest fears in life would be if one of my three sons had bad taste in music (laughs).

I have a 15-year-old who is up there listening to all the classics, all the 70s staples like Zeppelin, which is awesome.

But my other sons turned me on to a bunch of cool new music, like 21 Pilots. Some super cool sounds there, kind of Beatles influenced.

The Strokes kick ass!

My other son got me into the sound coming out of Australia right now with the Tame Impala crowd. Some very cool music is being made there.

Cage the Elephant is really good live!!!

Kings of Leon just came out with a new record; they’re a great younger band.

But the important thing is the interest is there in these kids. I see them at our shows, and that’s how it really keeps surviving.

MI: Well, Saturday’s show at the Waukesha Fair will be huge! Anything special in store for fans?

WT: We’ll be playing the classics and love playing the new stuff.

A few years back we started calling our live shows a “Celebration of Life.” And that’s really what it is. Get it out there and celebrate, and celebrate through music, together. That’s what we’ll be doing.

MI: I love that, man. Can’t wait for it. Anything else you’d like to add?

WT: I’d just add Madison and Wisconsin have always been so great to us. I remember going to the Civic Center in the early days and it being an amazing crowd; amazing atmosphere.

What a beautiful town. So here’s to y’all.

We’re excited to get back up there.

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Catch Collective Soul live this Saturday, July 24, at the Waukesha County Fair. 8 p.m. General Admission: $35.

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