Musicians cursed with composer's block might do well to emulate Einstein Savage's formula for creation. Shoveling goat excrement has fueled the fire for one of the most creative CDs that will hit Fort Wayne, not to mention one of the most creative musicians around.
Savage, also known as Mark Turney, has startlingly vivid blue eyes, and a shaved head, giving him a Jesse Ventura-as-goth-musician look. A one-man band, Savage uses modern technology, a wide variety of instruments and a little help from his friends on his forthcoming CD, Tales From The Obsolete Library. It should be released within a few weeks.
It's hard enough for original bands to get gigs in Fort Wayne; in Turney's case, it's nearly impossible. He has played at medieval fairs, feasts and bard circles. But is Fort Wayne ready for a man whose music Jon Gillespie, owner of Monastic Chambers, describes as Nine Inch Nails plus Dead Can Dance, plus Danny Elfman with occasional touches by the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Primus? Probably not, and that's a shame. Turney's music is literally nothing you've ever heard before. It's darkly brilliant, thick with variety and quality musicianship. One of the catchiest songs on the album is "Tin Man," a song about a gentleman wanting romance but who's constantly getting it screwed up. The lyrics were written by Turney's brother, Darren.
"Everything is based on stuff that actually happened to him," says Turney. Such as spilling spaghetti on his pants when with the woman of his dreams and backing the car into a tree before leaving to go to the prom.
"It's one of the happy songs on the album," says Turney. Despite the subject matter, it's insanely catchy, and reminiscent of "Hell," the Squirrel Nut Zippers hit song.
He's had two labels request the CD, which Turney has worked on for three years at Monastic Chambers. Studio time, as musicians know, isn't cheap. In Turney's case, it's phenomenal. The intricate depth of work on the CD means nothing can be rushed. And sacrifices have been made. Turney no longer owns a car, preferring to put maintenance and car payments towards his masterpiece in progress.
The son of a trombone-playing surgeon, he took up the instrument in grade school, but in Turney's words, "I sucked. I hated it."
His father didn't push him to follow in his footsteps. Raised on classical music and a smattering of Spike Jones, Turney started playing the organ and from there, the synthesizer. As he got older, he played in churches, doing Jewish and calypso folk music. That stopped, as he didn't feel he fit in with what he describes as "turbochristians," his word for people who shove their beliefs down other's throats.
"I don't think God likes to be peddled," says Turney.
Not that one can't be spiritual and produce good music at the same time. Turney believes whatever beliefs a musician has, his or her music will reflect that. In Turney's case, anything and everything can become a theme for his music. Orangutans, the singles scene, breakups, romance and a science-fiction book written several years ago become creative fodder. Combined with an interest in middle eastern music, medieval music, techno and instruments such as the bodhran, didjeridoo and penny-whistle, Turney's forthcoming CD is like no other. His synthesizer helps bring it all together, with some self-imposed limitations.
"I don't want to get too heavy into synthesizer; it all begins to sound the same," he says.
Turney probably couldn't be stuck if he wanted to. He also plays harp, an instrument that has a few advantages.
"My harp cost me around $300," he says. "You can't get a decent guitar for $300. With a guitar, you have to know how to contort your hand, press down, strum and then you have to be good before anyone notices. With a harp, you pluck and you're done. I can play (the theme from) åX Files' or åMary had a little Lamb,' and women cry. It's a no brainer."
Along with his brother Darren's lyrics on "Tin Man," Turney's had a lot of help from some local musicians, including J. R. Dahman, Dave Trevino, Mark Peckinpaugh, Jon Gillespie, Brian Carpenter, Beth Lemon, Kirk McKinley and Janet Koorsmeyer.
When Tales From The Obsolete Library is released, listeners will get an earful of variety. There's "Fly," a Tim Burton-ish sounding 3/4 time tune based on "The Mothman Prophecies"; "Nevermore," flavored by farfisa organ; "Twa Corbies," an old Scottish border ballad about two ravens discussing where to eat and ending up dining on the remains of a fallen knight; a middle eastern version of "Kumbaya"; and "The Succubus Club."
Through your headphones, your left ear gets quotes from Carl Jung, while the right ear is injected with samples of what people say in clubs. Also included are samples of an orangutan's "long call," used to establish his territory and frighten strangers away. There are several other songs, one about lemmings and salmon; "Octoberlay," in the style of a border ballad; and "Frodo Lives," from Lord of the Rings. The latter features a heartbeat throughout the song. "Highwayman" is what Turney calls "a normal song." It's completely appropriate to listen to this while driving down a highway in the middle of a moonlit night. Just don't fall asleep. Better yet, let someone else do the driving, so you can let the song gently lull you to sleep. The echoey guitar is softly hypnotic.
And that is why Turney's music defies description. Other local bands can boast they sound like a particular band, but Turney can't. And doesn't really want to.
"People ask me, åso are you like a Dave Matthews?'" says Turney. "I say no, I'm an Einstein Savage."