Name: Max Turnbull aka Badge Epoch
Occupation: Producer, songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist
Current release: The new Badge Epoch album Scroll is out August 20th 2021 via Telephone Explosion.
Recommendations: Nature, Man & Woman by Alan Watts (book). Akelarre Sorta by William S. Fischer (album).
If you enjoyed this interview with Max Turnbull / Badge Epoch and would like to hear more of his work, visit the Badge Epoch bandcamp store. He is also on Twitter, Instagram and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing and home recording music in high school. I was attracted to the notion of producing music as a way of being directly expressive. I figured out that you didn’t have to be proficient on an instrument to produce DIY recordings, and this notion was very appealing to me, approaching music as I was from a strictly aesthetic vantage with no formal training.
I was initially drawn to emulating glammy songwriters like Bowie and Lou Reed, but quickly developed an interest in the aura of records themselves. I found myself attracted to albums with distinct life-force baked into their production; early fixations of which were the first Suicide and Wu Tang albums.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I was never very studious in my approach with instruments, so all of my formative learning came from listening to music, and emulating aspects that appealed to me as best I could. My practice-averse temperament, combined with obsessive listening habits led me to develop a kind of Eno-school non-musicians approach to making music; a combination of aesthetic curation, naiveté and happenstance that I think has served me well in the longterm as a composer.
Not having mastered anything, and consequently being in a constant state of discovery has given me a voice from which to write from.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I don’t know that I can separate those structures. Living is creation, and how one goes about that process identifies them. I find it best to attempt a broad and fluid view over what constitutes identity.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Leaving out of my process a desire for approbation through the work has been an early and abiding challenge which lessens as I get older.
A temperamental frustration with my inability to yield to formal, structured development has been another challenge, though the longer it persists the more I acknowledge that it is probably the quality which lends me my voice.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Growing up in the dying gasps of the rock era I began with guitar as it felt like the tool closest to hand. GarageBand was my next ‘tool’, and from there I started experimenting with sampling. These initial choices were mostly made out of necessity, as I was primarily making music by myself. I started to use keyboards at some point, and now I shuffle through all these approaches, always mediated through the use of a DAW.
Over time there has been a migration from the performative side of things to more and more of an arrangement and production mentality. The commonality in all of this is my ear. Whatever pleases the ear I follow.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Incorporating a wah-wah pedal into my sound years ago (on guitar and keys) was a total epiphany. Suddenly I had new dimensions of expressiveness and tonality available to me, without having to become particularly more prodigious on the instrument.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I love to instigate compositions, then largely turn them over to great instrumentalists and later manipulate the weave of ideas that is captured on recording. Collaboration is a kind of mysticism – I like to see an idea I identify myself with dissolve into a new resemblance through the imagination of others.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I’m pretty domestically inclined, and always have been. So beyond keeping a nice house my day is largely composed of reading, listening to music and watching films. These activities cycle themselves into conversation with my wife and my friends which in turn provides a compost for the growth of new work to emerge from.
Blessedly my schedule is unfixed. I try to touch something work related every day for an hour or two at least which generally means tinkering with a mix, or a keyboard for a little while. I think about music more than I apply myself to making it.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Retiring my work as Slim Twig – shying away from a directly performative role and embracing more of a production and composition based approach has been my biggest breakthrough. I pursue exactly the projects I want to hear without carrying as much water for other sets of desires since then.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think a calm, absent-mindedness is ideal, combined with patience. Not holding any dogma while following the breadcrumbs of curiosity about how certain sounds, melodies or structures develop supports this. Quiet and space seem to be the primary necessities.
The existence of the internet is a major distraction from true creativity in my opinion; mitigating the self-consciousness and policing endless distraction are key.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I try to maintain an awareness that sound is a primary vessel for consciousness. In this way its effects are infinite. I find I am healed by music when I invest my whole sense of self into its sound, allowing music to dominate and my self-awareness to recede.
I think the challenge today is lending music that power. De-commodifying it; narrowing one’s concentration until an exclusive receptivity kicks in and works its magic.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Music is predicated on copying. As with all language, copying is baked into the viability of its transmission. It is vital and necessary to celebrate music in its initial context, but I’m uncertain how that is emphasized in a globalized, internet dominated mono-culture other than to say if you have love for a certain context, you can probably smell if the intention is right. The cat is out of the bag, and much of music now is re-situating old ideas in novel contexts.
As it has ever been I think powerful encounters with music point beyond worldly circumstance to universal sensations – opportunities to divest from individual specificity.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I think all senses relate back to a higher unified sensation of ‘is-ness’, which is cosmic observation. I think living is at its fullest when the feeling of distinction among senses dissolves, forming this one true sense, this presence. Music - both playing and listening to it – can be a reliable way to tap into this.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My approach is to compress the sense of living my life, and my sense of being an artist into one. To accept living and creating as a compulsion which can’t be denied.
Being creative requires an intuition about knowing when to employ critical thinking, and when to retreat back into sensation; both states have an equal importance. I think about being an artist in the same terms as being a human – it is a maintenance of, and a trust in one’s own curiosity.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Everything. Music begins in the world of forms, but escapes it and ascends to a higher dimension of feeling. Nothing that is vital to the spirit can be communicated through words alone – even poetry only points towards feelings which must then be evoked by association within the self.
Music is an immersion of mood and feeling that is unparalleled in its immediacy.