Award-winning songwriting/producing professional based in the UK, co-founder of The Music Aviary Songwriting Hub in 2012. Graham has collaborated with “Grammy and Emmy Winners” and had songs from his catalog played on television and radio, most notably when he was selected as one of the top 12 songwriters of the year on Sky TV’s Tin Pan Alley and as one of the top 40 songs by Nashville Songwriters Association members. Additionally, a trilogy of Smiley’s Friends albums that feature a whole Glitterati of British Rock and Pop singers and musicians featured his songs. Graham is currently releasing some of his solo projects and working on some film tracks. Check out the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how you got started?
GRAHAM TURNER: I’m originally from London, England. I was a boot of a late starter; picking up the guitar at age 39 , as a nod to my Dad, who died, and had started to teach himself guitar through a long illness.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
GRAHAM TURNER: Mostly self taught but I have had some formal training and learned mostly from watching and being around other musicians
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘GRAHAM TURNER’?
GRAHAM TURNER: very difficult question; I grew up in the days of Bowie, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and all those great songwriters from the early 70’s and 80’s. Lyrically, I’d have to say Stevie Wonder, Bowie and Bernie Taupin, but musically, like most people, my taste changes depending on my mood. Certainly those above, plus Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, The Stones, Through the Disco era, the New Wave and punk days – we were very lucky to have so many music pioneers, but I love today’s writers too – there are lots of great artists and writers out there at the moment.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
GRAHAM TURNER: I wouldn’t say I have a ‘sound” I wrote in many different Genre, but overall, I guess I do lean towards pop , popRock, and Dance. I suppose the thing that would resonate most, is my ability to capture emotional or situational conflict within a song.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment?
GRAHAM TURNER: I think it’s purely an individual and subjective thing. If you’re angry about something, maybe you want to hear a protest song, but if you’re in Love you want to listen to songs that make you relive the moment of that first kiss I guess. There are only 7 lyrical themes , and each generation has there own way of expressing those themes. The music that supports the words, will hook you in if it’s sympathetic and catchy enough, but the lyrics will add the power to stay with you forever. Personally , I write what I think is important to me at that moment, unless I’m writing for someone else, but I always try to make it as universal as possible, so it doesn’t just resonate with me.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfilment as the amount of work you are putting into it, or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
GRAHAM TURNER: Absolutely ! It’s like my limbs or my senses: I have no idea how I managed before I started writing or how I’d manage without it in the future – It’s very much a part of who I am; regardless of any commercial success.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
GRAHAM TURNER: If I’m writing formulaically, I’ll try to start with a title, chorus lyrics, verses, then middle 8 but mostly these days, I’ll start with a clear vision of what type of song I want to create, so I’ll make a beat first and start adding layers and sections until I have the basic sound that I want. This can be the longest part of the process for me because I know what’s in my head, but it takes a while to find exactly the right sound I’m hearing in my mind.
It can also depend on who I’m writing with or what I’m writing for.
Is it for me, or another artist? Is it male, female, slow, fast, political, break up, love song etc – there are so many factors that can decide the direction the song needs to take. The important thing for me is, I never try to get too fixated on an idea, because I think it can stifle creativity and also stop you from making decisions that are best for the song. It could be a great line, but if it doesn’t work in this song, or a section of music sounds great but too out of wack for the rest of the song, then I’ll try to use that in a different song , rather than shoe horn it into this one.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
GRAHAM TURNER: Wow ! I’ve had a fantastic life: lots of highs, and lows. Like most people, losing a loved one is particularly hard- losing one suddenly, is harder still – especially when you have the regret of not having said the things you wanted to say.
I’ve had Cancer, been through divorce, estranged Children, that was difficult, but I guess my biggest challenge to my music career was going blind and having to endure 4 lots of major surgery to get my sight back. You kinda cant help thinking: “what now!” and also cant help asking yourself why you went through all that learning and rejection and disappointment, and extra practice, only for it to be taken away by forces outside your control.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
GRAHAM TURNER: So many ! too many in fact. I’m proud of my Children and my close relationships mostly. They have to be number one.
I think musically, despite being a late starter, and despite so many people telling me I couldn’t or shouldn’t, there have been a handful of people who’ve said “why not” and actually, your work is pretty good. So for me to even be playing an instrument, writing and producing songs to a professional standard, is a testament to the people who stood by me, and, I guess, to my own tenacity, hard work and dedication.
I’m proud of all the songs I’ve written or produced. Some have been on TV and Radio, several dozen have featured on other artists albums or as singles. I’ve been in televised competition finals, travelled to places to write songs in the US and Europe, with Emmy Winners and Grammy Winners.
Even the bad songs or not so collaborative co-writes have a place on my journey… and my learning.
They say you need to put in 10,000 hours to get good at something. I’d say, and I know, I’ve had to put in double that at least, if I was ever going to get people to look beyond my age and I was certainly never going to allow the Naysayers to dictate my terms.