From Rochester to Hawaii and back

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Musician Dave Turner got to experience a “paradise” in Hawaii. He was successfully working full time at his passion, the weather was bright and sunny, he even got 11 lines as a villain in an episode of the recent “Hawaii Five-0” TV series.

Since returning to his hometown Rochester, however, he finds himself with a newfound appreciation for the winter chill.

“When I walked out of my door and got hit in the face with all this cold air, dressed up with all this stuff like I’m about to go skiing, I felt like, ‘Damn.’ But now that I’m here, it’s great. It’s uncomfortable in the moment, but it’s worth it after all,” Turner says.

“I think there’s something about having a season like this that makes you appreciate summer so much. I appreciate summers here better than I ever did any other good weather in Hawaii,” he continues. “I’ve found there’s a need for balance. It shouldn’t be all one way all the time.” 

Since his return to the area two years ago, Turner has carved out a role in the local music scene primarily playing real time looped guitar, but also harmonica and piano. He performs regularly at several venues, and at private events and festivals. He thinks the transition from balmy shores to bitter snowdrifts has made him more deliberate and creative with music. 

The Brighton native spent 11 years in the Pacific, first attending the University of Hawaii, then working at hotel and restaurant music gigs and playing bars or clubs on the weekend. It was also where Turner perfected his version of live looping, a technique he learned from other artists like Joanna Gerolaga and Jason Laeha.

While some musicians may use loop pedals at certain times in songs, during a solo, for example, this style of real-time looping builds a song from scratch. It starts with a beatbox sequence, which loops together as a base level rhythm. From there, Turner adds in guitar and vocals, which can further be harmonized with to create a fuller sound to the song.

“By the end of the song, it really sounds like there’s eight people up there with me,” he says of the technique.

Live looping also allows for experimentation and flexibility. Turner will drop certain sections at times to emphasize the vocals or the percussion over guitar melody. Each song can be a blend of playful improvisation and musical choices made in the moment. From his nearly 500-song strong repertoire of possible cover song requests he will sometimes switch styles, like reimagining rock classic “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” as a reggae song.

“Sometimes it’s a way to stay sharp and surprise yourself. Sometimes it’s an active mission to make something cool,” says Turner, who admits he’s fumbled at these attempts sometimes. “I still get good reactions, though. I think that’s part of the beauty of live music–those imperfections are what makes it special.”

During performances, Turner has an easier but a purposeful way to explain his process. After warming up with a few standards, he will introduce himself, usually with at least a few audience members paying attention.

“Hi, my name is Dave and I make music with live loops. If you don’t know what a live loop is…” he then switches his voice into a live loop.  “…this is a loop. This is a loop. This is a loop. This is a loop,” then echoes out while he sits back and can’t help but grin when people start to notice. He’ll keep the loop going just long enough to be slightly annoying before ending it.

“And now everyone knows,” he concludes with a smile.

The introduction was honed from years of practice in a way intended to be playful and humorous, a good summary for his stage presence.

Dave Turner

With Hawaii’s heavy reliance on tourism, musicians and entertainers are in constant demand, meaning Turner had consistent residencies throughout the year. In Rochester, that is not the case. While summer months are filled with events like the Jazz and Lilac festivals, Turner says things slow down a lot during the winter season.

However, he feels like this scenario has actually pushed him to become even better. Turner still loves his former home and returns to play with old friends or at Blue Note Hawaii, but he admits parts of that life made him complacent.

“I spent a lot of time feeling like, ‘Sweet, I can just spend an entire afternoon at the beach.’ It was a comfortable life, but not a lot that made me feel like I had to keep the hustle up,” Turner says. “It could feel sometimes like, ‘Where’s the tension?’

“(In Rochester), you need to go to venues for a chance to meet face-to-face. You need to prove that you’re reliable. It pushes you, but when you do, the support does come out, I will say that.”

Turner points to his regular venues like Faircraft Brauhaus, which commit to live music on off-nights, as ways Rochester supports musicians without a large following. In addition, he finds a unique strength for Rochester in its youth education institutions like ROC Star Academy (which is led by Daughtry-collaborator Elvio Fernandes and is where Turner teaches), the Hochstein School and the School of the Arts.

Rochester has also caused Turner to return to original songs, which he hopes to release soon. Part of that has been finding a songwriting process, something he never seriously developed before.

“For about 10 years, I figured, ‘I guess it will just come to me.’ Paul McCartney wrote ‘Yesterday’ in his dreams, right? So, I better dream really hard and then I’ll wake up and write the next big hit,” Turner says, adding that collaboration with a writing partner has been key to that process.

Whether it is at a brewery, festival, music lesson, or nursing home, his greatest love is being able to perform for a crowd. Bonding together over a shared experience is unlike anything else for Turner.

“I love when people dance at my shows. It’s this pure emotion of joy you can’t find anywhere else,” he says. “You go back to the cradle of life, voices were the first instrument. Our lizard brains developed this concept when we sang together, ‘This is the big reward. This is community.’ That’s what music is basically. It’s community.”

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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