On an Indian Summer day in Manhattan over the weekend, I hooked up with Pierce Turner and talked about the summer sun.
“It was a very good summer in Wexford, with weather astoundingly good,” he says of his time in Ireland (he splits his time between New York and the auld sod). “You rarely get perfection; summer days with sunshine are like myths.”
He played the Kilkenny Arts Festival and produced a musical group of Wexford natives.
“You always learn these things, even though it is so time consuming and it deviates you from your own stuff. It’s not an easy job. You have to tell people the lyrics are no good or they are singing off key,” Turner said.
“I definitely learned that art isn’t always produced from a happy environment. It was also interesting that since technology makes it so easy for anyone to make music, most people skip producers.
“Perhaps some musicians that produce themselves like me should bring in some outside musicians once in a while to help make decisions on what is good and what is not.”
For American audiences who missed Pierce, they had to settle for seeing him on the big screen. He was in the pivotal scene in The Other Guys, the blockbuster summer flick with Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg. He sung on a song in a bar scene called "Ugly Sunday" which was an hilarious send up of the cliché Irish tragedy song about British occupation and the cruel treatment thereof.
“There were these amazingly powerful Irish Americans in the room who were definitely in touch with their culture,” says Turner.
“I was thinking that if Ireland did a better job at playing its cultural connections to these people, they might be able to pump money into the economy and get out of the mess they’re in. Ireland only needs $5 billion to get out of their trouble. Irish schools never supported arts, and I think the Irish government have no idea how much money our culture brings in.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Turner says of the movie. “When I got the call, I thought this was a contrived shamrock-y thing. But I got a new appreciation for Irish culture in doing it.”
Turner spent the summer looking behind and looking forward. He recently performed his classic 3 Minute World in its entirety in Ireland while in Wexford, and he was pleasantly surprised at how well it went down. He has been recording an audio book of stories he’s told in between songs over the years, and has been working on a new album but is hesitant in getting it out.
“I’m not sure what to do with a record nowadays,” he said.
“I read an interesting article about the Grateful Dead, and everyone thinks they were these aimless drug addicts. They actually operated at the time the way musicians have to operate now. They only sold 50,000 records with Warner, and what they did was put club meetings together with fans and formed this cooperative with fans that made them much bigger as a live act.
“They almost ignored the music industry, and I think that’s where we’re all at now. A record company will no longer build a turnpike for your record, so you have to dig your own path.”
You’ll be able to see Turner dig his path on October 23, when he returns to the stage of Joe’s Pub in New York. He’ll show up at 7 p.m. with the Scorchio String Quartet behind him.
“I sometimes grow weary of string quartets, because it was limiting,” he says. “I worked with this group at the Tibet House benefit at Carnegie Hall. I used them for ‘Wicklow Hills’ that night at Carnegie and it was great.
“I did Joe’s Pub with them last time and they were tight. They really loved my songs because they are cutting edge and liked fitting their instruments into pop and rock.
“Classical musicians can be snobby and jaded, but not this crew. It’s expensive and risky to bring them onstage, but it’s worth it. You have to do these risky things in your own artistic pursuits.”
I have seen Turner with a string quartet before, and it is stuff of legend indeed. For more information, log onto PierceTurner.com or contact the Joe’s Pub box office (425 Lafayette Street; 212-539-8777).