When you listen to the latest single from Jamie Turner, aka Hēran Soun (say: hee-ran soon), the first thing to strike you is its myriad delicate sounds. Nuance is in surplus on both of his current tracks, ‘I Offer’ and the debut ‘Barricade’, both of which feature on his just-released debut EP, Cambridge. For a classically trained musician, this approach would be nothing new, but Turner has a more complex history with music.

At birth, his hearing was severely below average, slipping until it eventually left him completely deaf before the age of 10. Through a series of surgeries and speech therapy, Turner gained full hearing—and began his obsession with sound. Now he lives in a studio in Oakland, working on his music throughout the night; how he got there is a story made up of amusing anecdotes, which he told me during our interview below.

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I wanted to start with your moniker, Hēran Soun, is it intentionally punny or is there a reference in there? 

I actually never intended for it to be a pun. It’s from old Germanic, old English. “Hēran” basically means “to hear” and “soun” means, well, it’s not just “sound,” it’s understanding. So, “hēran soun” means to hear and understand sound rather than the mechanics of just hearing. People are going to take whichever meaning it is for them at the end of the day. Hopefully it starts to be more related to the music and what that sounds like rather than the words itself. I’ve always loved Nirvana for that – “nirvana,” as in the state of euphoria, lost its meaning long ago. It’s powerful what music and musicians can do to a word in popular culture. I guess anything in the public eye. You know, “trump” in English just used to mean “farting,” but now it means something far more dangerous. [laughs]

Do you worry about mispronunciations or misinterpretations at all? 

No, because I always mispronounce it myself. I’m terrible with pronouncing any words. My Oxford speech therapist would probably hate the way I pronounce a lot of words. And I’ve been in America for a long time so my a’s are losing their prominence. My t’s and d’s are getting confused.

I had a French teacher in high school who learned English from a Briton, and she would always correct us our pronunciation of words in English. We would always remind her that she was there to teach us French, not English. It’s just so funny how people who learned British English are so attached to their a’s. [laughs]

They are! I enjoy those kind of teachers across the board—they have their subject but they take it upon themselves to try and educate you on other things. I had this terrifying music teacher at one point. He was a maniac, but an absolute genius. I remember we were listening to a piece of music one day in class, I think it was Beethoven, and someone was talking over it. So he turned the stereo off, grabbed one of his paintings off the wall, threw it on the floor, and screamed with his booming voice for the kid to go and stand on that painting. The kid looked completely terrified, he didn’t know what to do; he wanted to obey this monstrous voice but he also knew that he shouldn’t stand on a painting, so he was stuck. So the instructor goes, “If you’re going to talk over this music, then you’re going to stand on that painting.” And I really liked that.

[laughs] That’s passion. 

Exactly. I understood his methodology but he terrified people including all the other teachers, which is probably why he got fired. And now he’s a poet. He just sent me his poetry book and I’ve just been reading that. I sent him some music and so we’re kind of getting back in contact.

That’s adorable. Would you say he had a big impact on you wanting to create music? 

He was an enabler. He was this heroin dealer who would give you a little fix. He gave me a saxophone, he gave me a double bass, and also the keys to the music studio during lunchtimes and after school.

Sounds similar to the free rein at the studio you have now. 

Yeah, this has happened so many times around the world. A friend asked me to help him move from Paris to Berlin so we loaded up this huge truck with everything he owned—he’s part of a more acceptable part of society so he had pots and pans and chopping boards and an apron, for fuck’s sake—and we drove. When we turned up and were unloading in the new apartment, the building manager mentioned he had a recording studio that was not being used in Woltersdorf, which is just to the east of Berlin. You have to take this hundred-year-old tram to get there, it’s so cool. With just my one rucksack, he offered me to move into that studio and I ended up staying in Berlin for eight or nine months. 

It’s pretty incredible that these situations continue to fall into your lap. 

Yeah, I guess I’ve just always been open to whatever happens. When I turned up here in California I just went out and I played an open mic because it was at a venue called the Starry Plow in Berkeley, which I had heard Jeff Buckley had played at one point. I dunno why, I always like to play on stages where I know that other people have been, it’s a nice reflection. Same reason I ended up in Cambridge, because of Nick Drake. The owner and the manager of the studio here saw me playing and asked to hear something I’d recorded but I didn’t have anything, so he invited me along. He gave me the keys and the alarm code to this, it’s a ridiculous place. I’m sitting right now in the control room talking to you, and there’s a half-a-million dollar desk, which my glass of whiskey is sat on and probably shouldn’t be. They’ve got a big parking lot out front, and so I bought an RV and decided to stay and move in. I’ve been here for about three years.

That sounds like a dream, if that’s what you want out of life. Why just visit the studio when you can live at the studio? 

It’s like if you fall in love with someone, then you spend the next four, five months by their side. That’s devotion. That’s music to me, and now I’m fully into this world of recording which I’d never done. And I love it, it’s so much fun.

Do you experience burnout? 

I burnout for a minute. I went through this really weird patch of just like falling asleep at the base of a mic stand in one of the iso rooms. Just because it’s so quiet, and you’re left to your own devices and your own vices. So a few times I just drunk myself into a stupor and didn’t actually achieve anything that night. But that’s the beauty of not having to pay a thousand bucks a day to be in the studio. I see people come in and they get so stressed about every minute. That must be hell! I think that changes the mentality of what you create and how deep you go into the recording process. 

I have another funny story, looking at the iso rooms now. I overslept one morning and got woken up by the doorbell. The main engineer wasn’t in yet so I went to open the door and there was this brilliant white light, the first sun of morning completely filling the door and absolutely blinding me. All I see is shiny white shoes, white pants, white jacket, white hat. It was very godly. He shakes my hand and says, “Hey, I’m Carl,” and I thought, “you’re not Carl, you’re Carlos!” It was a starched, crisp Carlos Santana just coming in for a session. That was a fun morning. I retreated to my RV and hid from that one. 

I read that after your surgeries, you “retreated into solitude.” That seems to continue into today.

Yeah, it wasn’t intentional. [laughs] I spent so much time in my own head and I wasn’t really going to school, being in hospital for that amount of time. I didn’t like the other kids, which kind of continued. I just got very comfortable in my own head and enjoyed that. I dunno, have you ever been to a country where you don’t speak the language? 

No. The only time I left the country was when I went to the Bahamas, which doesn’t count as leaving the country because I was living in Florida at the time. 

Hm, I’ve never been to Florida. I’ve heard terrible things.

They’re all true. [laughs] I think it would be hard to be somewhere I didn’t speak the language—very isolating. 

Yeah, but you still join in. You’re still present, you nod when everyone else nods, smile when everyone smiles. You’re still part of the conversation. You can sit at a dinner table and not say a word all night but you can still be part of it. I do the same thing in English; when with groups of people, I am happy just partaking in the conversation without voicing any opinion or anything like that. It’s just entertainment. It seems to make people worry to some degree. But this whole experience [doing interviews] has been really cool. I’d never released music before, and so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. There’s a guy, a playlist-er, in Brazil who put a song of mine on a Rainy Days playlist which is pretty cool. Then some people from Brazil reached out to me on Facebook and I ended up spending an entire day sending voice messages back and forth with this person, learning so much about her life. It was this great connection. We spent the whole day exchanging life philosophies, history, what we’re doing, where we are, what we’re thinking about, and maybe some artwork. Some people complain that I don’t do social media very well, but I think that’s pretty fucking social.

It’s interesting that you love solitude, and yet the music you make connects you with people. 

I love it. Would I have ever met this person in Brazil or been able to imagine what their life is like? What I’ve found is that it’s how you put yourself forward. I put out music now—I say it like I’m an old pro, I’ve put out two songs [laughs]—so that how people are connecting with me. But I was selling an old microphone on Craigslist the other day and these horrible people were messaging me, being really short, and demanding ridiculous things from me, like to give it to them for pennies and drive it to Sacramento. Sometimes they don’t respond and when you ask if they are still interested, they say, “no, I found a cheaper one on Amazon,” and then I send them a John Oliver piece about how Amazon treats its workers. I’m getting more involved than I should. 

You’re talking about very different roles in society, even. How each interacts with society.  

With the world. I was walking by a stoplight earlier today and someone rolls down their window and just throws all this garbage out of their window. That’s how they’re interacting with this world, that’s what message they’re putting out. And so shit is gonna come back to them. It’s not karma or anything, that’s what they’re putting out there, so that’s gonna return. I may have picked it up and given it back to them. It was very literal; karma didn’t have a moment to come into play.

[laughs] I love how militant you are. 

A lot of people don’t! 

Well, sure. A lot of people love being assholes. 

All the time! It’s astounding. But that’s the thing—I spend a lot of time in the studio, and you don’t get a lot of people being assholes because everyone is here for a similar purpose. You’re completely isolated, everyone is cut off from all of the horrific scenes happening out in the street. Literally horrific—someone broke into someone’s car window and stole a bag, which only had manuscript paper with music on it, the only copy the person had. I got tasked with looking at the security camera footage on this old, arcane system, which had fucked up and the key frames were not recorded properly. So all we have, and I posted this to Instagram because I thought it was quite beautiful, is this datamoshed moment with a grey background and all you can see is this guy walking through the parking lot up to the car, smashing the window, and then running back to his car. We are so isolated in here; whether that’s a good thing or not, I’m not sure. You meet a lot of like-minded people in here when you feel healthy enough to shake Carlos Santana’s hand and not run away.

I can imagine the dissonance: as you said, horrific things are happening, but you aren’t aware because of the privilege you have in the studio to create, uninterrupted. 

Yeah, and it is a complete privilege. I am privileged to live in an RV in a parking lot in downtown Oakland. It’s bizarre, but yeah. I’ve been extremely blessed throughout everything. I’ve always had the privilege of being in a place that could offer healthcare that wouldn’t bankrupt us and could get me all the operations and speech therapy and then going around schools, being at schools with teachers like Peter Dale who would give me instruments. 

One thing I wish he had actually taught me was how to read music. But I think I was a bit of an anomaly for him so he just let me learn by sound alone. It makes it so hard to play with people. I’ve got some really good string players though, because they let me sing to them as they score down everything that I’m singing and then they play it back note-for-note, perfectly. And I make stupid hand gestures at them whilst they’re recording. 

That’s some intuition, to read your cues like that.

Oh yeah, it’s learning how to communicate with people. And I’m jealous that those guys get to just sit there and talk amongst themselves; they can communicate on a whole ‘nother level, talking about theory. I’m asking them to do something and they’re coming up with these Italian or Greek or Latin names for what I’m asking them to do. It’s really entertaining. We were recording this very long track which I don’t think we’ll release, where the strings are meant to repeat. I really wanted the violinist to lift out of the dirge so when it kept rolling around to the start of the measure, I would try and find a signal that would tell her, ‘go free.’ Every time it happened, it didn’t work, she kept doing what she was doing, and then finally I linked my thumbs together and made the sign of a bird flying away, and you could just see she understood in that moment. We finally figured out how to communicate and she just ventured off and it was the most beautiful moment. 

But you’re not going to release that song? 

I’m not the best with that. The person I was renting an apartment from in Paris told me, “you have to play this to my friend, Benji, he works at [French label] Because Music.” When I got in touch with Benji, he invited me down to LA where they were setting up a US office. I had brought a CD from the studio here, and he went, “What the fuck is this? What fucking year is this? Do you have an mp3 or something?” When I emailed him a song—it was actually ‘I Offer’—he put it on and looked completely bored. Thirty seconds in, he sat up and went, “Oh, this is real! I thought I was just doing a favor for a friend.” And the conversation completely changed. In the end I signed to them and they have been instrumental. He introduced me to Vince, my now-manager. I am not the one to say what or when to release. I never thought to release this, I just thought to create it.

Hēran Soun's Cambridge EP is out now.