MEET: Psych-folkster Jeremy Tuplin talks surrealism, lockdown and Italy

JEREMY TUPLIN is a London-based singer-songwriter who, after a clutch of self-released EPs, first hoved into the wider collective psychedelic-folk eye on the back of last year’s whimsical, introspective and occasionally wonderfully absurdist Pink Mirror long player.

Last week he released Violet Waves, a second LP, on which he’s schemed to turn it up a little in concert with his band, The Ultimate Power Assembly. We reviewed the album here, and found it a greatly satisfying and rather essential meander through a very English hinterland of neckerchiefs, psych, dream diaries, the mushroomy space magic of the everyday, oh – and the star-crossed love affairs of a porcupine and a chinchilla.

It’s playful, wondering, melodic; it’s lush, as we say in the wider South West.

And Backseat Mafia was lucky enough to catch up with Jeremy just ahead of the release of this empurpled clutch of crackers for a little interview.

BACKSEAT MAFIA: Just to satisfy my own geographic curiosity, as a nearish former neighbour, as it were; whereabouts in Somerset exactly do you hail from?

JEREMY TUPLIN: I’m from the very small village of Wanstrow, in between Frome and Bruton, if you’re familiar with either of those. Was once home to the smallest train station in the country, and it has a forest that you can literally get lost in.

What was your route into music initially? A household of great pink-rim Island records I possibly detect. Any slightly flawed first fondlings of the scene: an unrealised garage project/local covers outfit/failed Bristol collective?

Well, from my early years, from my parents’ collection, it was more cassettes that were in vogue at that point than records. I remember listening to Jim Croce, Roy Orbison, Tina Turner; [they] seem to all stick out in the memory. My Dad also played guitar, wrote songs, sang a lot of Bob Dylan, and my Mum taught piano. 

And then later I was in a band at school – I think I did actually just want to be one of The Strokes. We only played covers – Jimmy Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”; “There She Goes” by The La’s. We practised a lot, but only ever played live twice. So there’s a lot of early background noise, so to speak, even though I didn’t really start writing and performing more seriously until my mid-twenties.

So you took your first steps, at least according to Discogs, through the self-released CDR. Was this a positive move? Were you out gigging at this time?

OK, so the brief history of my discography actually stretches back to a couple of early EPs. They’re very, shall we say, inaccessible, and at the time very steep-curve learning processes in a production and musicality sense; but important for me for that reason. My website is the only place you can find them. And I Dreamt I Was An Astronaut was the first album I released on CD. [It] was initially released on Nottingham-based Folkwit Records, but they’ve since stopped trading so that’s possibly why it now says self-released. That’s actually an album that I’m still pretty proud of in the sense that I can still listen to most of the songs without a confused or pained expression across my face.

Then the first true majesty of Pink Mirror. You stepped up to vinyl. With this and the new one, is there a deeper coloration concept at work? 

There is an element of synaesthetic activity going on in the background in music creation or, from my perspective, the association of musical sounds or entire songs to colours; however, in this instance there isn’t a link between the two albums in terms of colour or in any other way, for that matter. 

Pink Mirror, in a nutshell: the rosiness of reflection we afford ourselves. And then the violet in Violet Waves, it’s more vague, partly to do with violet being at the end of the spectrum closest to ultraviolet, which is invisible to humans; I view it as a bright and beautiful colour but also slightly obscure, as if to say I’m giving something away – but not all of it. It’s an honest, personal record, but there’s still a lot left open to interpretation.

And now you’ve cranked up the volume. A conscious distancing from the former? An evolution?

I think it’s a really important thing in any type of artistic creation to follow your natural creative impulses, and whatever direction that takes you. Pink Mirror was pretty thematic across the record, almost a concept and largely observational, and on this one I knew I didn’t want to do that as much; each song on Violet Waves is kind of a world unto itself and I enjoyed writing with that freedom to follow any madcap idea I conceived to write a song about. 

And having played with my band, The Ultimate Power Assembly, for a couple of years, we were very in tune with each other, and I was aware of writing, sonically-speaking, to their very unique styles and attributes. But that’s more or less all there was in terms of conscious direction; I think it would become a problem, for example, if I started taking other people’s expectations into account when writing songs or music.

If you were to direct us to listen to anyone you think has been unfairly overlooked as a musician of the past or indeed contemporary, who would you cite?

Well, I’m admittedly biased, but the lead guitar player in my band, Samuel Nicholson, has his own second record coming out later in the year, which is amazing. I think in recent times, Jack Ladder, the Australian musician, has been criminally underappreciated. I could really provide you with a ridiculously long list: Catherine Rudie, Gabi Garbutt, Samatha Whates, George St Clair, are all brilliant artists with albums out that I know from the London music scene.

How has the lockdown treated you?

I’ve been in London during lockdown. I’ve been fortunate to have some outdoor space, non-music work and income, and just generally kept myself occupied with a range of activities: I’ve made music videos, branched into jingle creation, grown a beard for the first time. It hasn’t been too bad for me personally. 

A friend of mine was telling me about an experiment with rats and heroin that was conducted once, and I feel like it’s a good analogy for lockdown in a sense. They put rats alone in a cage with two bottles, one [containing] heroin and one just water, and all the rats drank the heroin and died. They therefore presumed heroin must be addictive. But then someone realised that perhaps it’s to do with their environment; what if we gave the rats a bigger space, room to exercise, a rat playground, other rats to mate with, and the same two bottles, then they’d only try the heroin once and be perfectly content with the water. 

People’s experience of lockdown would be very much dependent on their living conditions. It certainly explains the rise in alcohol consumption, which I have definitely contributed to.

You mention dream diaries. And some of your lyricism very much exists in the absurd, the surreal; although, of course, I find there’s a huge gap between the naffness of the comedy record, bar almost everyone, and a sense of the absurd. What is the place of the surreal and the absurd in the JT world?

For me I think it’s just part of trying to come up with an honest reflection of reality. I mean is existence in itself not completely absurd? That’s obviously a very pretentious and unbearable thing to say, but there is definitely something in it: balls of rock floating through space, life, conscious thought all stemming from that somehow. 

I think absurdity is also very much part of the world we live in, there’s perversity in many of the ideologies or systems we live by or exist within – and so I think that’s partly why I put it into my music. It’s hard to break down really, it just seems to be something that I’m drawn to lyrically that forms a more genuine reflection of how I see the world.

What’s the weirdest record in your collection?  

I don’t know if I have that many weird records – [US anti-folkster and former Moldy Peaches member] Adam Green’s Minor Love, I guess, in the sense that it takes surrealism to the next level. I really like it, but I have no idea what he’s talking about. He sings about flatulence a lot.

Your high point so far?

I think in terms of experience, our little nine-date tour of Italy last summer was two of the best weeks of my life. On one hand we had some great shows, which is always an unknown going to any new town or city, and it was an amazing way to see a beautiful country.

Life on the road, and the surreal. What’s been one (one or more) of your most surreal moments out on the circuit? 

We played at Vallo della Lucania in southern Italy as part of that trip. Experiencing that south-Italy world and hospitality was such an alien experience in itself; as a musician coming from the UK, or more specifically London, in recent years, I feel that being cared for the way that Italians care for you is a very surreal experience.

When do we get to come see you?

I really don’t know, is the answer to that question. I’ll happily travel to anywhere and everywhere once the situation allows; it’s just a case of having to see how things all pan out, and hopefully get some balls rolling behind the scenes in the meantime.

Jeremy: thank you.

Jeremy Tuplin’s Violet Waves is out now on digital and vinyl formats on Trapped Animal; there’s even a tote bundle. To secure yours, visit his Bandcamp page, here.

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