“I was lucky I had older siblings,” says Oliver Cole, as he begins to recount his personal journey as a musician growing up in Kells. “My eldest sister Ger was a massive music fan. I had a brother, who had a heavy metal band & they used to rehearse in the garage above our house, so I was always around music. From an early age I was trying to play music, I was always of the mindset ‘I can do better than that’. As soon as I started picking out notes on the piano I was writing songs, I wasn’t trying to learn anyone else’s songs.
I got a bass off my parents for Christmas when I was nine or ten. Then one of my neighbours gave me an old acoustic guitar. On my first day I must have written about ten songs, even though I didn’t know how to play the thing, it was just terrible. Some people just want to watch the magic but from the moment I heard music I wanted to do it."
“I see it with my students,” says Cole, who is currently passing on his musical knowledge as a tutor in BIMM. “They are really accomplished musicians. They just learn everything off Youtube. I knew nobody. There was the guitar player in my brother’s band but he didn’t really share. I used to think he was a guitar genius, but now I’m older I realise he wasn’t. I didn’t have a chord book, so once someone showed me a few chords that was it, I just figured everything out.”
"I remember coming to Dublin with my first band, Swamp Shack, there was loads of bands like Pet Lamb & Mexican Pets that commented ‘Why do you play a G or an A like that?’ because I’d be using every finger to play. I’d try to play the way they were saying and it just didn’t sound the same. That’s why a lot of the Turn stuff like In Position, You Got Style or Antisocial is quite unusual. It wasn’t because I was an amazing guitar player who knew how to do unusual things, it was because I was a shit guitar player who taught himself and that was the style I developed.
I played bass in a local covers band for a while when I was young. I think my first real job playing guitar in Swamp Shack changed everything. John Mulvaney (bass) was much older than I was. He had gone to college in NCAD in Dublin, I was in Kells and into Guns N’ Roses, Soundgarden, the Chili Peppers, but John came home from Dublin and saw me singing and said to me ‘you’re a really good singer, I want to start a band.’"
He introduced me to Pavement, Pixies, Sonic Youth all in the space of a week. I thought it was music from another planet, when I first heard it. I will honestly say I did not like it. I was used to hearing what comes out of the radio, everything rhymes and all of a sudden I was immersed in his music library which was super alternative. Nirvana just made everything make sense because they sounded a bit like all those bands but they also had that FM radio touch. Then everything else made sense, I loved those bands and the fact that me, John and Ian Melady (drums) would rehearse in a mobile home inside a garage, be so loud and could make this music we loved quite easily."
"John was the chief curator, I wrote the vocal melodies and lyrics but wasn’t very good. John used to come in with a bass line, we would just join in and I'd start singing. He very much directed me. Then I fell in love with PJ Harvey and I came into rehearsals having written Beeswax. That was the day that everything changed in that band because it was immediately better than anything else we'd wrote.
As bad as I was at music, I was learning and I was able to come in & direct what they played. That was the first song I wrote for that band, but that was the start of me becoming the main writer & also the end of the band. There were other songs, Plan and Truth, which ended up on Turn's first release, ‘Check My Ears’."
We tried them with Swamp Shack, and they weren't working and Ian said ‘let's go into a studio and record those songs.’ We did it without John and it sounded amazing so I guess we were starting to move in that direction. Ian thought we were on to something and organised a meeting with this manager in town and we played those three songs. Around that time we met Gavin Fox. He was in another band and when he heard Beeswax he was like ‘Can I be in your band?’ We became Turn."
"I have a Gibson SG, that I still play, and a Fender Telecaster that I got off U2. As well as being stoners and wasters, we worked in this rehearsal space that really professional bands rehearsed, like David Bowie, U2 & Elvis Costello. U2 were rehearsing for ‘Pop’ and we were there for months, I was literally picking up cigarette butts and rolling up guitar leads but I got on really well with them. They knew we were musicians one of the roadies gave me this 1971 original American Telecaster and said it was from the boys, which was pretty amazing. Nathan from Snow Patrol is minding it.
I've a Martin D35 acoustic, it's an incredibly beautiful sounding guitar. Every guitar is tuned down a step. I'm not sure how it started. Maybe it's because I've small hands. If I play certain songs without a capo, I can't reach the notes. By capoing it, the frets are narrower and it's easier to reach."
Weird story about the SG, we played a series of gigs around the UK with Seafood & Wilt near to when Antisocial had just come out and we finished up in London. It was great; big venue, last night of the tour and Elliott Smith was playing a gig somewhere else in town. I knew that my gig was over at a certain point & I was gonna make it to see him but the road manager came up to me and went ‘someone's after stealing your guitar’. I thought this was someone playing a practical joke but he was serious. Over the years, I forgot about it and I'd gotten a few new SG's. Turn, were doing well, but none of them were as good as the original one. So I was always like ‘I wish I had that guitar’ especially recording."
Then I got this email from this guy who says ‘Hi, you don't know me but I'm after being at a party in Orange County in California and I heard this guy bragging about stealing a guitar from your show in London 4 years ago. He's an asshole. This is his number and his e-mail. Best of luck.’ I was looking at it for ages going, that's weird. So then I emailed ‘Hi, I'm the manager of a band called Turn. It's come to our attention that you stole a guitar from their show at this venue, this date. We've got CCTV footage of you leaving the venue with the guitar clearly on your person.’ I was just making shit up at this point. ‘You've got 50 days to get the guitar back to us or we're notifying the authorities.’ Immediately I got an email back going ‘I'm really sorry, I've got the guitar, it's still perfect, I'm gonna get it back to you.’ About six months after that I was in California and he sent it down with a friend of his."
The End of Turn
“I'm really bad at affecting change so I set about destroying the whole thing to get what I wanted instead of being brave enough. I was always pretty shit at believing in myself and Gavin believed in me about 50 times more than I ever could, which was enough to make me believe in me. When he left, I sort of, lost my support. He loved the band it was infectious to play music with him. He was the engine in the whole thing, and then he left to join Idlewild. I probably would have quit at that point but there was something in my gut because I'd written Forward, and I knew it was really good. I thought I'm gonna make him want to come back cause we're gonna be so fuckin' amazing."
We made 'Forward' and the whole time Gavin was phoning me, crying from the road going ‘I'm so unhappy, I really miss this band.’ We'd got replacements on bass but it wasn't the band it should have been. At that point, I told Gavin to’ come back and stop being a gobshite.’ He loved songs off that last record but we made the biggest mistake ever by recording those songs without him. He was coming back after he finished his tour but the studio was booked, and we recorded that last record with a combination of Kieran Kavanagh and me playing bass. It's a good sounding record but it's a too clean and poppy sounding, which I just don't think works if you're a guitar band. I got anal trying to make it perfect and adding loads of harmonies, nice arrangements. The last song is one of my favourites I've ever written but I think I overdid it on the production.”
I didn't predict that getting Gavin back would make Ian unhappy. I thought it was the best band ever but he wasn't happy for whatever reason and it sort of disintegrated from there. People would say ‘that last record is your first solo record.’ I'd stopped writing with anyone else, my song-writing was developing in a different direction quite quickly."
“Turn rehearsed for hours every day. I'd always be writing stuff at home, I would never finish a single idea. I'd have a melody, a hand full of words, an idea for a chorus and some chords and just go in a jam it for hours and hours until it turned into something. When I think about all my favourite Turn songs like Heart Attack, all I had was the opening chords. I started it as a piano ballad and it went another direction.
Nowadays I will collect ideas in bundles, like over here probably a hundred country/odd folk type songs that are always there, and weirdly something keeps stopping me making that record. Another part of me that wants to make noise rock, so there's always quite a lot of that in another pile, and there's a more experimental, un-categorized type of music over here. I'd need to see at least ten or twelve songs in the pile before I go that's the record I want to make.”
I will come up with an idea I like on the ukulele, piano or guitar and just jam it. I learned this trick off someone and it's been a real key thing in how I write, if I really like a melody, a hook or I've got a lyric, I take out my iPhone or Zoom recorder and I make myself play that idea for twenty minutes straight without stopping. I set a timer, it has to be twenty minutes. If I find myself start to repeat too often, I try and change it the timing or hit the octave above the note you're singing and see what happens.”
"It can be amazing, that moment of inspiration is never as pure and honest as when the song first comes, so you have to record as much as you can. There's all these different theories about left and right brain activity in creativity, never try and use both sides at the same time. You need to let it flow fast, uninterrupted, unfiltered, unprocessed, don't even think whether it's going to be a song or not. You record the twenty minutes and because you don't stop, you end up saying all sorts of crazy shit. When you listen back, the whole song is in there. Now you need to use your left brain, spill it all out, have a look at it and that's the hard bit.
That's where being a songwriter actually is a job. Sometimes there can be amazing stuff in there. I remember with my song Moth's Wing I was writing on piano, doing my twenty minutes and when I listened back to it, in the lyrics I caught ‘Although my heart's weakened, it's like a moth's wing on a window pane, still beating.’ I was literally stopped in my tracks, I didn't know that I'd said that. It was quite a poetic thing to say, how amazing is your own mind if you just let it? It's some sort of astral dreaming, I'm awake but I'm allowing myself dream. I wouldn't say I'm able to do it all the time.”
“Everything is one take, even guitars. When I was recording the vocal for Ah Ooh Ooh or Helium Heart, I would make sure I was in the right headspace, allow myself to think about what the lyric was about, and imagine saying it to that person. It was very important that it had to mean something first and have that intent in your voice. It sounds simple but it's really hard to do when recording. I remember singing a song about my wife, Claire, and going ‘I want you to be in the room.’ It was going to be hard for me to say some of these things but I wanted to sing them to her. I did it on the song Year Of The Bird and it really works.
I always start by putting up a click track in my headphones and the very first thing I do is get the acoustic guitar and sing the whole song from beginning to end, not worrying about the arrangement or structure yet. I will sing it and play it as beautifully as I can, then sit back in the room and listen to it and start to move stuff around.”
"Then I get a good microphone and I make sure the acoustic sounds amazing and play along to the guide, one take to try nail the guitar, then double track it, pan that to one side and play on top of it. I'll then spend time on lyrics, a lot of the imagery is already there, it just needs fleshing out or twisting. It's great that I don't have a producer looking over my shoulder because if I want to spend the next six hours looking at that screen, thinking what the next line is gonna be, I can. Next, I'll nail a vocal, listen back and start messing with drums then bass to see what works. Sometimes it works or I'll leave it as it is.
I have this old Fender amp, it has pre-programmed effects and I put a vocal mic through it and, with my headphones on playing the two guitars & voice, I just start making noises. If anyone seen me they'd think I was deranged. I'll just make little noises, quiet whispery noises that become an atmosphere for the song to live in. They're not that loud in the mix. There's a song called I'll Be Your Shelter and it's all noise from phaser & reverb and doesn't sound like human voice anymore. I'm coming to the point now where I'm kind of able to make a record sound close to what I want it to sound like.”
“In Turn, it was always the Telecaster, the SG and a Hi-Watt 200 watt head that used to be Phil Lynott's bass amp. I used to have 4 Bluesdriver distortion pedals on the same pedal board in different settings, everyone used to just laugh at it cause that's all that was on it.
I'd sometimes have a delay pedal but nowadays I've a really complicated set up where I'd take my acoustic guitar, which goes in to a splitter box. One side goes to my tuner and a Holy Grail pedal, which is always on to a DI box. The other splitter goes through to an amp, which is turned on by a footswitch. If I'm playing or fingerpicking and it reaches a heavy bit at the end then I'll hit that on. It's set to a quite bassy and filthy distorted sound. That's what I've been using this year."
I've now got Kieran Kavanagh on guitar and Gavin plays bass, and Binzer (The Frames/Little Matador) on drums. They make a pretty substantial noise when you want them to. It's not as predictable as Turn, which was very much the quiet/loud formula, this is more like using the other elements in a more subtle way, more to make a texture than to take the head off you."
“I'm doing a series of gigs with a choir. The first one is the 18th of December in the Unitarian Church. I have to arrange everything for vocals, which will be interesting, especially in the context of the ambient vocals as background noise.
I really want every gig to be something different. I've already started to think that the one after this will be 50 acoustic guitar players and really orchestrate it out - Playing the songs in unusual places, with unusual arrangements and instrumentation to keep it interesting for me and other people.”