I go back a long time with Jeremy Turner. It's hard to say how long exactly, but I remember we both participated in "Early Morning Strings," pre grade school, East Lansing, MI. The pre, meaning it took place before school–in the morning. Not like in the duration of years preceding grade school, though I could understand if that's what you initially thought. We both played cello.
These are little known facts about myself, with little known evidence. Whereas the evidence that Jeremy played cello there is very clear, and it's fair to say that one of us excelled in this program and one of us did not. For me I believe the early a.m. tutelage went on about a month or so. In Jeremy's case it went on like 30 years, and it's still going.
He is–or has been called–a classical cellist, a rock guitarist, pianist, and front man; writer; collaborator; conductor; and award winning composer for film; television; and commercials. He played with one the best orchestras in the world, dropping out of Juilliard at 21 to become one of the youngest members to ever join the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, where he played for fourteen years.
He then went on to play (and record) rock music with some of the greatest living legends in popular music. You might find him on any given day, composing the music for a commercial, or sitting in with a band (Dirty Projectors on Letterman, My Morning Jacket on SNL, Arcade Fire on the YouTube Music Awards), or recording a rock song for Low City, his new studio project. Or flying to conduct an orchestra, or meeting for a soundtrack in Los Angeles, where we recently caught up after all these years. Wherever you find him, chances are he has music on his mind. As well as a few other things.
JM: You moved from The Upper West Side (Julliard) to The Village. So, uptown vs. the bohemian village… What did the bohemian life teach that the classical education could not?
JT: As the Upper West Side changed, I felt more and more like I wasn’t with “my people." Broadway started to look like a mall in the Midwest. I was living in a high rise building with a doorman, and I found myself frequently heading downtown to escape it all. I was young and excited by the city and asked myself why I was taking all of these drunken cab rides home from the village every night if I could just live there. Of course the village changed, and so I moved to Williamsburg, which I love. And now that’s changing, but that’s the game. Artists go and find places where no one wants to live, make it cool, and then the money comes in and fucks it all up. That’s probably been happening for hundreds of years. If I learned anything from that initial move, I guess it’s that I need to be in a community where I’m surrounded by artists and creative energy. By people who are continually making things, not just buying them.
JM: When did you get entrepreneurial?
JT: It would be pretty difficult to be a musician or composer these days and not be entrepreneurial. There are so many talented people out there. It’s not enough to just think “Hey, I’m gifted. I’ll just keep doing my thing and eventually someone will notice and give me a career.” If you want to grow and develop, experience new things, you’ve got to get out there and hustle. Not only creatively, but on the business side as well. It’s like being a shark in a lot of ways. The moment you stop swimming you’ve got real problems.
JM: How did you begin to transition into working on your own?
JT: When I joined the orchestra, it was pretty much all that I had hoped and dreamed of. I was incredibly fortunate to start there, but for me, at the same time, it very quickly became Groundhog Day. Over the years, as I got more comfortable with the work, the only reasons to stay became reasons of security and safety, some of the most formidable enemies of creativity. Don’t get me wrong, there are people that would kill for that job, and I was grateful to have it, but in the end I needed to move on to new things and new challenges, to music I hadn't been studying my entire life. I also wanted to write and collaborate, create things on my own. My first crack was sitting in with a friend’s band. You’ll remember this Jon, because you were there. It was a band called Sea Ray with yet another member of the Michigan public schools, my friend Greg Zinman. Sea Ray was playing with a lot of great bands at the time, The National, Mogwai, Of Montreal, and kind of hit their head on the glass ceiling, but just never quite broke through. They had a cellist in their group who couldn’t make the gig so I went down to the East Village, a place called Brownie’s, and played a show with them. The first thing I remember, aside from drinking a beer onstage and wearing whatever I wanted, was how much fun the crowd was having. That’s not to say that classical audiences don’t have fun sometimes, but this was a different feeling. Next thing I knew I was playing with other bands whenever I could, going to hear Regina Spektor at Tonic, playing with Gordon Gano at the Mercury Lounge, or anything else that came up. I was also getting calls to play on film scores, commercials, albums in New York. Sessions with Howard Shore, Carter Burwell, David Byrne. The more I got immersed in these experiences, the more I began to realize that I could be writing and composing and creating my own path. The spark was lit. I started a band, built a studio, and began writing music for film.
JM: Who have you been lucky enough to work with since then? How has this influenced you?
JT: The best part about being a musician as far as I can tell is working with other musicians, and I’ve been fortunate to play with some great ones. My first rehearsal ever at the Met was with Pavarotti. I’ll always remember that. Having my eyes buried in my part, concentrating as hard as I could, and then this voice came from the stage. Unlike anything I’d ever heard and probably ever will. I've worked closely with Renee Fleming over the years, which has been amazing. My good friend and old roommate James Ehnes is one of the greatest violinists around. There are some really profound memories from my classical experiences, people so talented that I was just happy to be on earth at the same time, let alone on the same stage. I’ve also learned a lot from some musicians outside of the classical realm. Tabla players, jazz pianists, just finished working on the music for a Broadway play with James Murphy, I’ve played on Saturday Night Live with Paul McCartney, listened to Sufjan Stevens sing in the studio, played a show with Arcade Fire, all very unique and special experiences (with special people).
JM: When did you start writing your own music?
JT: I started writing songs in 2000. I always wanted to play guitar and so for Christmas my roommate and I did a gift swap. I gave him a Squire Telecaster and a cheap amp, and he got me a Yamaha acoustic. My Mom had passed away the previous summer and after the opera season ended I really just wanted some time to myself. So I grabbed the acoustic, borrowed my sister’s Jeep Cherokee, and drove around the country for about a month, just making up songs in my head as I drove. I just kept writing songs, some solo, some for a band, and then I eventually began writing for commercials. It was 2006 I think. A friend in the business gave me a shot and I’ll never forget it. It was for Preparation H. Pretty good stuff.
JM: I hear (and have witnessed), that you can put it under your eyes to sort out the bags and wrinkles, even if you are not a musician, though I have only personally seen musicians ever do this. For what's it worth. That's a fact by the way. Not a question.
JT: I’ve never tried that, but thanks for the tip.
JM: No Problem...
JM: So, who are your influences? Who was pivotal for you when you started making your own music?
JT: That's a hard one. I’ve been exposed to so much. My first band was pretty heavily influenced by Radiohead and Jeff Buckley. But I’ve written songs that sound like country tunes, scores that are inspired by operas and symphonies. It’s a really big melting pot. I wrote a piece last year for a chamber group called yMusic Ensemble, and my friend Gabe Kahane heard it for the first time and said “deep Mahler vibes”. I hadn’t thought of it, but that made perfect sense since I love Mahler and had been listening to a Wagner recording around the time I wrote it. But influences are everywhere, you just have to look and listen. Part of it is living in New York and being exposed to so much. Part of it is touring and traveling and hearing other kinds of music on the road. Sharing and experiencing with other musicians and artists. Every time I hear a concert, go see a movie, or a friend passes me a record, be it old or new, I can’t help but absorb it (good or bad).
JM: People often want to pigeon hole artists or put them in a box. Do you ever find that to be a problem since you seem to be comfortable wearing so many hats?
JT: Only in LA. (smiles)
JM: Take us through a day at the studio? Or a day in your head?
JT: Each day is pretty different depending on which studio I’m in and what I’m working on. Sometimes I’m over at Big Foote, writing for a commercial or working on side projects with my colleagues there. Other times I’m collaborating with friends at their studios, arranging or playing parts. If I’m at my home studio, I’m probably scoring a film or writing a piece for a chamber music group…. or maybe taking a nap. As for a day in my head? I don’t think anyone wants to be up there.
JM: What are some of your favorite moments from your career?
JT: Most are just things that I was a part of, not so much benchmarks in my own career per se, but performances from over the years. Playing Otello with Placido Domingo, a Verdi Requiem in Tokyo, performing with Renee for the opening of Zankel Hall, a Mahler 3 back in my Juilliard days. Let’s see, I scored a Google commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, um, got to see the first film score I wrote premiere at Sundance. Those were all pretty neat moments. A few years ago, I was conducting an orchestra for the first LACMA Art and Film gala (here in LA). As a conductor, your back is always to the audience, so it's impossible to really know who’s out there in the crowd. When we finished, I turned around and there was this line of people waiting to come and greet me: Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Uma Thurman. The whole thing was pretty surreal. Working with Mike Nichols this past fall on Betrayal was really special. Just to be in the theater and watch a legend like that in action. It doesn't get much better than that.