Originally published for The Skinny July 2017 issue.
Scottish producer Turtle tells us about embracing the symbolism of his namesake and finding the light on new album Human
When artists talk about music as therapy, it can often feel a bit clichéd, but for Jon Cooper, aka Turtle, the process of making his new album Human has taken him on a spiritual journey even he didn’t expect.
“I’m getting attuned as a Reiki practitioner so I’m researching frequencies,” says Cooper. “I really want to try and integrate that into some kind of musical healing, not just to heal myself but to heal other people and imprint some love into the sound.”
Human came into existence during a time when Cooper was attempting to confront a dark period in his life. From the opening track Time, the album feels like a rebirth; a washing away of any negativity and a step forward into a new chapter of Cooper’s life. “I was just really trying to find my place in the world and struggling with self-identity so I was using the music as a kind of healing method for myself, which ultimately let the light in,” he says. “It was a cathartic experience, just struggling with personal issues that anybody can relate to.”
But getting to this stage hasn’t been easy. Cooper has been working on the album for nearly two years and it’s gone through various incarnations along the way. A lot of this seems to stem from Cooper’s meticulous attention to detail and his desire to get everything sounding exactly the way he wants. “I’ve had to retrain myself to leave an idea as it is because once you start processing it and using plug-ins, you almost start to sound like 90% of the people out there who are using the same software,” he says.
Following the release of his last two EPs, 2014’s Who Knows and 2015’s Colours, Cooper found the project going down a path he hadn’t envisioned. “I got swept away a bit with the playing live thing,” he says. “It’s very difficult to play the stuff live when you’re just standing with a laptop and tweaking a few filters. It just didn’t feel right, so I called it a day with playing live.”
Initially, Cooper created Turtle as a stepping stone: a means of furthering his way into the sync world, with the final goal being to score music for film. This is something Cooper has been working towards for several years, writing music for various production libraries under his own name. However, with a change of direction in mind, he decided to go by the pseudonym Turtle, he says “so it was less about me and more about the music.
“Somebody gave me the name because I didn’t want to use my own name and I just went with it,” he explains. “Then I started researching the symbolism behind the turtle, what it represents in different cultures and traditions, and it kind of aligned itself with everything I was trying to say in the music.”
There is a distinct film-like quality to Cooper’s work as Turtle: it’s vast, vivid and incredibly emotive. Naturally, this is a result of Cooper’s interest in film, particularly independent, foreign and experimental cinema. “I always sway towards the cinematic. I love atmosphere and it needs to have atmosphere for it to be alive in my personal opinion,” he says. “It’s nice to be able to marry the two and bring the atmospheric, cinematic side into the electronic realm.”
Although based just outside of Glasgow in Clydebank, Cooper says he’s not particularly influenced by the Glasgow music scene, nor does he participate in it much. “I’ve never really followed scenes,” he says. “I can appreciate them wholeheartedly and I can get where they’re coming from but I just kind of did my own thing.”
Instead, he is more influenced by European and American music, which he feels is more in line with his own musical interests. “I’ve just always resonated with European stuff. I think because it’s so far away and it literally does feel foreign,” he says. “When I’m listening to stuff from Scotland, it just doesn’t resonate.”
Now that Cooper has finally found some peace in his life, he is in no rush to jump straight into another project. Rather, he is going to take some time to clear his head and focus on his newly discovered interest in Reiki: a Japanese healing art, which focuses on stress reduction and relaxation.
“It’s been nice to step back and focus on my Reiki stuff, get in that zone and focus on helping others, rather than just helping myself,” he says. “I feel with the album, I helped myself but I really want to help others as well in any way I can so, even though it’s not music-related, that’s really where my head’s at right now.”
In mythology, the turtle symbolises tranquillity, and through the making of Human, it seems Cooper has finally begun to embrace the qualities of his namesake.