James J. Turner has been slowly building a following among fans of pagan and nature-themed music. His latest album, Spirit and Soul and a Handful of Mud, is built around themes of impermanence. (Download it here.)
James was kind enough to answer some questions via email for The God of the Hinge. Here’s our interview.
How do you describe your current religious/spiritual perspective? Can you briefly describe the journey that has led you to this viewpoint?
I’m a Bardic Druid. I feel I’ve always been a Bardic Druid – but didn’t know it existed until relatively recently! When I was younger I never wrote the usual kind of songs, I mean, I didn’t just write love songs or whatever. My songs tended to be about such things as concern for the environment or altered states of consciousness and often strayed a bit into the psychedelic. Music has always been my main passion; I’ve played music since I was a child, in fact I performed my first gig at the age of 9, and was writing and performing my own songs since the age of 15. I loved performing for people, it’s all about getting your message out and engaging with people. Alongside my music I’ve also always been interested in spirituality (whilst steering clear of mainstream religion) and read spiritual books avidly – everything from Buddhism to Magick – but about 8 years or so ago I felt especially drawn to Paganism, particularly Druidry. After lots of research and more reading I found the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), plus the British Druid Order (BDO) and signed up for their online courses. The more I became immersed in this, the more it all made sense with my music and songwriting.
Are there particular ceremonies, rituals, gatherings etc. you take part in as spiritual expression?
Every time I perform is a ceremony and involves ritual. In fact every time I pick the guitar up to play is a form of ceremony. I think that my guitar is a kind of antenna and I view every gig as a gathering that enables me to have spiritual expression. It’s not just about me standing up in front of people and singing. I feel it’s a two-way trip between me and the audience, like a kind of tryst. Of course, this ritual becomes much more intense and powerful when performing with and for like-minded Druids! Last year I attended the OBOD gatherings in Glastonbury which was very special. In fact, the last OBOD gathering I played was the Winter one and I was joined on stage by Dan Goodfellow on the cajon and djembe. Dan is a shamanic drummer as well as a Druid and I’m pleased to say we whipped up a storm!
How does your spirituality find expression in your music, if it does?
I hope I’ve answered this, above? Anyway, as I said, I think it always has, although in recent years this expression has been more overt. My first solo studio album The Believer had many songs that expressed my love for, and concern with, nature and the environment – including the title track. My second album How Could We Be Wrong? is a little more strident in this concern, although at this point (this album was released in 2012) I still hadn’t yet nailed my Pagan colours to the mast! My new album, Spirit, Soul & a Handful of Mud is more overtly Pagan in theme, reflecting the fact that I am more clear in my personal expression
Your website bio describes a long and varied career in music, but being an independent solo artist seems to be a relatively new thing. What do you find to be the pros and cons of this arrangement?
In actuality there’s not a lot of difference in being a solo artist to being in a band. I still need to work with other musicians when I go in the studio. I did record a solo four track EP last year, but I use other musicians for my studio albums and so the arrangement is the same as it ever was – in other words, I’m the songwriter and singer and have to work hard with the other musicians, trying to get the best out of them, trying to inspire them and be inspired, and striving to get the music as high as possible. Of course, it’s different when it comes to live performances – because right now it’s usually just me and my guitar! That’s been a challenge for me over the past few years – because previously I’ve always worked within a band. It’s a whole new discipline, and was quite daunting at first because it’s only me and basically if I stop playing then the music stops and there is silence! That’s obvious, of course, but it was quite a revelation to me at first when I was used to some sort of noise continuing regardless of what I did.
Are there songs by others you wish you had written? If so, what are a couple of examples?
Mind Games by John Lennon and The Times They Are A-Changin’ by Bob Dylan
What are some inspirations behind the songs on the new album, in particular the title track?
As a Bardic Druid I try to look at the human condition a lot in my songs and indeed do so in “Spirit, Soul & a Handful of Mud”. A great friend of mine – a recording engineer I had done a lot of work with – had an untimely death, and he was the “good friend who had to go away”; which reminded me about the impermanence not just of being alive but of everything and I guess that led on to me meditating upon the non linear and cyclic aspect of time. Of course, the “Handful of Mud” is relevant in life as a metaphor for our humanity and in fact just our existence. I think that putting a handful of mud together with the Spirit and Soul and trying to live in a more ethical way on a day to day basis is a big challenge for all of us. Anyway, I could probably go on all morning, ha ha!