Lyrical Craft: Inky Interview with musician Jonathan Tarplee: by Deborah Edgeley

JT Liverpool


Your album Attachment Theories. Love the title. Does it set the theme, if you like, for the rest of your songs on the album? Or is your album a mixture of allsorts?

Well, both! There are songs on there about love, lust, warmongering leaders, wanting to escape from things, about nature, all kinds of things. I thought if one thing connects them all it’s the idea of Attachment; to people, nature, relationships between the powerful and their underlings and so on, but I made it plural because the album is not really a cohesive whole, conceptually. It’s as if each song has a different tone, theme or is a different ‘theory’ if you like. I’m glad you like the title, thanks!

As a songwriter, what do you care about most? What themes keep cropping up in your work?

   I think you have to write about what you care about for it to work and for you to be happy with your work in the long run, or I do anyway. I’ve sometimes tried to sort of craft a song in a more contrived way but it never really works. For me at least, it has to come from the heart and the guts, or I’m just not happy with it. Simon, the bassist in my band pointed out that water is a recurrent theme in my songs. I do love rivers, the sea, the rain. All seem full of endless bounty and mystery to me.

Could you give us a couple of examples of your own favourite lyrics?

I think that song lyrics are not really like poetry, they don’t really work on their own, they are at one with the music and don’t really make sense without it. Now that my excuse is out of the way though, I’m pretty pleased with the second verse of my song ‘Galleries’. It goes;

             Now the air is moving, as slowly as the night.

             The moonlight swims and the angels swing from star to satellite.

              Now I am a-gliding, to where the sun will rise,

             The bluebird calls, a feather falls, the hills are hypnotised.

You live on a barge and recently experimented with home recording in your Boat Saloon. How important is your creative space and has it influenced your work? Do you get inspired more being surrounded by water and nature?

Yes, this is an ongoing experiment with home-recording and I’m hoping to be able to release another album of songs later this year if it goes well. I love living on my boat, and love living with the seasons and being close to nature, but I’m not sure how important it is in terms of how my music turns out. If I lived in a city-centre flat, would my music be much different? I’m not really sure. Music making, and listening, is a very internal experience for me, something often done in the middle of the night, alone. Having said that, as someone who is influenced at least as much by American music as by British music, I’ve noticed that a lot of music from the States feels much more spacious, like the country itself, compared to the often small-town, kitchen-sink stuff of say UK Indie bands, and I love both types,  but I suppose that must mean your surroundings make a difference!

Do you like poetry?

I love poetry and think it can move you on a simultaneously intellectual and spiritual way like no other art form. I really should read more though, I’m a dabbler and not knowledgeable in poetry. The last time I read a great deal of poetry was when I saw my Mum’s copy of The Rattle Bag. I borrowed it and really devoured the poetry in there and nearly all of it really inspired me, immensely. I feel a lot of the time though that life is a race against time and I must get my music out there while I’m young enough to spend many hours working on music, practicing guitar and rehearsing and writing songs, as well as travelling from stage to stage. So reading more books, poetry, watching more films and stuff are things I think I can do when I’m too told to move as much! I know I am wrong, but I am still going about my life in this way… a lot of things are on hold!

How important are lyrics in music? Are they always necessary? Does music stand alone or does the listener need a suggestion through lyrics of what the song is about?

I sometimes think the best, purest music would surely not need any words. I think music is pure emotional energy; to me it is not a thing or a product or a piece of art that represents feelings, music IS the feelings, it is spirituality, it is the voice of the Cosmos. It’s the feelings or energy of the music and words together that count. I love songs though, I love lyrics. I went to see Simon Armitage and he was asked about song lyrics, and he came up with the best answer to this I’ve heard. He said something about a lyric, it might have been from a Morrissey song or something as I remember, but the important thing he said was that the lyric on it’s own was clichéd and crass, but when listened to together with the music in that song, it created an incredible epiphany that would not have been possible without both the words and music.

Which authors inspire you and why?

 A book which really inspired me greatly is called ‘Pip Pip: A Sideways look at Time’ by Jay Griffiths. I don’t believe in the concept of ‘genius’ but if I’m wrong then Jay Griffiths is the closest thing to genius that I have come across. You really need to read it a few times and it’s hard to explain how multi-layered it is, but I suppose it’s a kind of frenzied intellectual/spiritual essay on contested ideas of time. It is deeply pro-nature and deeply feminist among other things, but so much more as well.

I’m also slightly embarrassed that I’ve got into reading all Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne novels. I definitely never saw myself as a reader of detective books, but I was intrigued as I knew of the author, as a comedy-lover, as a stand-up comedian. The first book of his I read was free so I just read it out of curiosity because I love comedy so much! These books are very much in-genre and clichéd if you like, but his character development is superb. Thorne is a sort of broken man but one you can really identify with, he as much a victim of modern bureaucracy and business-speak as he is of the people trying to kill him. There’s also a kind of earthy repugnance to these stories too which remind me of great horror films. I really enjoy the roller-coaster ride they take you on!

When composing a new song, do you think of melody first and then lyrics, or is it vice versa? Or does it just depend?!

It just depends. Some start with a riff, a whole tune, a lyric, sometimes it all just comes out in one go and I think those tend to be the best ones.

Your band The Blue Yellows have a song called ‘No Tobacco, no Jesus’. Quirky! What are the ideas behind the title?

That goes back to Jay Griffiths again! I think it was in a travel book she wrote. She was writing about how some of the Christian missionaries would travel to remote areas and ‘convert’ the locals with the help of gifts of cigarettes and other things. One of the tribal chiefs was quoted, on being asked about whether they had really given up thousands of years of their beliefs in forest spirits and so on, saying something like ‘well put it this way, “no tobacco, no hallelujah!” . Of course, I mis-remembered the quote and turned it into a silly song!

 Share with us one of your favourite memories of performing your work.

There’s nothing that beats rocking out with your band and completely losing yourself, forgetting who you are and what you are and just being at one with the music. Some of the funniest times are at festivals though, there are often little toddlers and they will dance their little socks off. They don’t care whether you’re cool or not, they just react to the music. I remember playing a festival in the pouring rain and there was this tiny toddler sat right in front of us, cross-legged on the grass under a transparent umbrella in the streaming rain, just staring at us, enthralled and amazed at what we were doing. Hilarious!


Blueyellows recordings:

”Idiosyncratic yet highly articulate lyrics married with welcoming guitar melodies”, The Musician.

“Passionate, humorous, communal sounding expressions.. engaging”, Oliver Arditi.

“Mesmerizing guitar skills”, WillsImmusic Blog.

“Powerful voice”, Here Comes The Flood.

“Beautifully crafted songs with bite and edge”, Mind, Body & Boogie festival.

“Full of Melody & Honesty”, Nigel Stonier.




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