Monday 11 December 2017

Pierce Turner turns to church for new album

'I've never had any interest in superstardom,' Pierce tells me from his flat in Manhattan on a Wednesday morning. 'It's never been a goal of mine.'

For a musician who has brushed shoulders with the likes of Elton John and Philip Glass, and played in front of 60,000 people at Glastonbury, it's hard to believe that a life in entertainment hasn't gone to his head. However, when he tells me about his morning ritual - making a cup of tea for his wife before she gets up - it's clear that the Wexford-born singer-songwriter sees more to life than fame and fortune.

Being a talented musician and songwriter without the A-list celebrity status allows Pierce to focus on what he does best: make music. For him, the idea of having a huge following can be, for some musicians, restrictive.

'I knew Elton John quite well and I remember thinking once that he couldn't make any album that he wanted to make,' he said. 'He had to keep making Elton John albums. I can make any album I want.'

Pierce counts himself lucky for being able to play his own tune and be as creative as his mind allows. With his new album, 'Love Can't Always Be Articulate', he has done just that. In order to create this new collection of music, Pierce turned his back on the 'mundane' interiors of a recording studio and instead, took to Gustavus Aldolphus Lutheran church in the middle of Manhattan. Although it may a typical setting for recording an album, Pierce said its potential struck him right away.

'I did a benefit in the church two years ago and while I was there, I noticed that they had a grand piano, an organ and a harpsichord,' he explained. 'The acoustics were incredible and I just thought, "this would be interesting to record in".'

Of course, this wasn't the first time that Pierce had enjoyed a musical experience in a church. As a child in Wexford, he sang in his local church choir and the influence of hymn and chant singing has been evident throughout his musical career. 'I grew up loving Gregorian chant but went on to love rock music like every normal person,' laughed Pierce. 'But music in the church was a first influence and first influences don't go away.'

Following a performance in Bride Street Church in his hometown of Wexford, Pierce grew even more determined to achieve his goal. He set his sights on the Manhattan-based church once more and went about organising his sessions. Luckily for Pierce, securing the venue went more smoothly than he anticipated.

'There are beautiful people in the church. They were completely open to the idea immediately,' he said. 'I thought, wow. These people are letting me go in and use their church when they barely even know me. I have their key and I am using their electricity. They were incredibly kind about it.'

However, the process of making the album in a church was anything but straightforward, something which Pierce and his recording engineer and co-producer Roman Klun soon learned.

'First of all they don't book a church in same way as a recording studio. There's no messing around. If you book two days in recording studios, you have two days. In a church, it's not etched in stone,' he said. 'I was meant to record this in June. I ended up there in July, August, September and October, for a day here and two days there.'

Of course, the lack of a soundproofing was always going to be an issue. However, while Pierce had prepared himself for the regular creaks and whispers of a 150-year-old church, he never factored in the disruptions caused by Barack Obama and the Pope.

'Obama and the Pope were visiting New York and it led to even more traffic on the streets and sirens, loads of sirens. There were tons of sirens. When Obama goes along the street, it's just unreal,' he said. 'We also had the UN convening around the corner at one point.'

The noise didn't subside when the visits were over. The church was due to carry out renovations in the basement and Pierce was soon to find out the hard way.

'The people running the church didn't know much about recording. They didn't think renovations would have any impact but when you hit a hammer, it travels up through the pipes. We mic every inch of the church to capture the entire acoustic so you would pick up a mouse going across the floor,' laughed Pierce.

Money was another obstacle that Pierce faced, yet it was another he managed to overcome. Through crowdfunding on Pledgemusic, in addition to private donations, he eventually managed to raise €20,000.

With so many disruptions, setbacks and obstacles, Pierce never felt the urge to throw in the towel and record elsewhere. The ever-optimistic artist spent hours on end in the church until his work was complete. Although what he perceived to be a one month job took over three months, he feels that it was all worth it.

'All of that made it a very colourful experience,' he laughed.

'I did my last album in a recording studio near Greystones and I found that more stressful and painful. I had to drive up from Wexford and back every day. I felt my energy was low all of the time.'

'It's a mundane thing that goes on in a recording studio. It's not suited to musicians who like to do things differently. We like to be confidently irregular.'

The less restrictive environment of a church allowed Pierce to be less restrained with his own work. In fact, he said that the recording location had a huge influence on the music that he made.

'I found I was more inspired when I recorded in the church,' he explained.

'The church definitely influenced the writing. It gave me a direction. While the last album was several different songs all put together, there is a certain cohesiveness to this album.'

The acoustics in the church also helped to make the music, according to Pierce, who added that the organ was also a welcome addition

'People misunderstand the organ. When people think of the organ, people think of funerals and weddings but synths, for instance, imitate the organ,' he said. 'It all depends on how you play it. When I play it, I play it like an organ, not a church organ.'

Pierce hopes to reach a wider audience with his latest album, though he isn't unaware of the difficulties that face the music industry. Instead, he chooses to use the rise of the internet in his favour.

'The internet has been bad for musicians in many ways but there's no point complaining about it,' he said. 'You may as well try to think of how to make it work in your favour. I mean, look at Kanye West. At one time, if you had a new album, you would let radio, TV and press know about it first and then they would inform the public. It seems to me that the way to go now is to tell the general public about it through the net and let the media pick up on it.'

Along with reaching his audience through technical means, Pierce also has several concerts in the pipeline. On June 11, he will play a show in the Unitarian Church in Dublin, while he also hopes to confirm a gig on his home turf soon. At the moment, he is looking at playing St Iberius Church in Wexford on June 18.

In the meantime, Pierce has his sights set on his next album which he hopes to record in a church once again.

'I would like to do a series of albums in a church. This time I would know how to do it better. I know the politics of the church itself,' he said.

'This time, I would be looking out for things... like Obama and the Pope!'

'Love Can't Always Be Articulate' is available now through Pierce's website and on iTunes and various other outlets from March 12.

Wexford People

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