Watching Color TV
Flipturn’s escape from the ordinary through music
By Taylor Col and Khushi Ramlogun
Like most great bands, Flipturn started in a garage. On the sleepy tourist haven of Amelia Island, the salty smell of the sea wafts into a crowded garage where a few close high school friends have gathered to jam.
Their sounds were eclectic at first, each member bringing their own musical backgrounds and preferences, but as Madeline Jarman, Flipturn’s bassist, put it, “It all kind of just clicked one day.”
Madeline grew up listening to indie and alternative music. Adrian Walker, drummer, prefers electronic rock. Tristan Duncan, lead guitar, is more of a jazz guy. Taylor Allen, who lays down the synth keys, brings punk and indie sounds to the table. Dillon Basse, rhythm guitarist and lead singer, infuses the band with his passion for folk and singer/songwriter styles.
These influences were poured into the melting pot of Madeline’s garage and simmered until they became the sound that consistently sells out shows in Gainesville and rocked Okeechobee Fest last spring. Although their flavor of indie rock has changed over the years, they agree that their newer music is more consistent.
“Our sound is maturing, and we’re excited about it,” Taylor said.
Their name came from the maneuver that swimmers perform to change direction in a pool once they reach the end of their lane. If done correctly, it’s a graceful motion that appears to take no effort at all. If you listen to Dillon’s lush vocals or the band’s silky smooth transitions between motifs in their songs, you understand why the name fits.
When Flipturn’s music started to gain traction, the members either dropped out or switched their classes to online in order to spend as much time as possible on their music. Every member has made sacrifices, and they are dedicated to bringing Flipturn’s sound to new stages and fresh faces as far as their tour van will take them.
On the same page
One thing I gathered from my conversation with Flipturn is that they seem to genuinely enjoy what they’re doing. There were a lot of laughs and a few inside jokes traded among members. When they’re not practicing, they’re still hanging out. Together as friends, they play video games, go out to eat and watch Star Wars (but not the prequels).
Taylor explained to me that because they spend so much time outside of the band together, they are all on the same page when it comes time to make music. They have two EPs, a summer tour and a performance on the main stage at one of the largest music festivals in Florida under their belt. Through all of the riffs and rhythm changes in the songs they play, none of Flipturn’s six members ever seem to miss a beat.
You might think that band practice is strict and repetitive to avoid mistakes. It’s efficient, but the members definitely take time to enjoy themselves. In between songs, Adrian will sometimes lay down a catchy beat to a song by another artist and they’ll all jam out to it.
Dillon made sure to add that they also like to play music from the TV show SpongeBob SquarePants. It’s hard to imagine how an indie rock rendition of “Nautical Nonsense” would sound, but maybe, just maybe, they’ll decide to play a SpongeBob song at one of their shows.
Flipturn’s base of operations is now in Gainesville. After graduating high school, the musicians found themselves scattered throughout the state, enrolled at different universities and making long drives on the weekends to practice together. Now that they’re all in Gainesville, enrolled in mostly online classes at UF and Santa Fe, practice is part of the daily routine.
Dillon and Madeline are both telecommunications students. Taylor studies public relations, while Tristan is working on a degree in computer science. When Adrian isn’t banging the drums, he’s studying radiology.
On a typical weekday, the band meets to practice at Dillon’s house around noon. After practicing for four hours, they take a break to work out, finish up school work or cook dinner together. Later in the evening, Dillon and Tristan meet up to produce new sounds, along with working on more technical aspects of songs, such as backing tracks.
Although they’re university students, being part of the band is a full-time occupation, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We have to know what to prioritize, and ultimately, music comes first for me,” Dillon said.
Dillon told me about a time when he finished a school project thirty minutes before going onstage to play a show. The balancing act can be tricky, but to them, it’s worth it. So far, it seems to be paying dividends.
Flipturn continues to grow as a recognizable name at UF and throughout Gainesville. On campus, students can be overheard talking about the band’s next show dates. Sometimes students approach the band members to compliment their music or try to learn more about them.
It can be an uphill battle for the band members to convince others that Flipturn is more than just a hobby.
“At times, it can be frustrating when people don’t take our work seriously,” Dillon said.
Listen to the lyrics
For someone who is new to Flipturn’s music, Dillon recommends listening to the lyrics first. Each song tells a unique story, some optimistic and others poignant, but they all are relatable, especially for Flipturn’s college-age peers.
I tried this approach with “Vanilla”, a song with an catchy melody that stuck in my head for days after I first heard it. The melody, which only appears at the end of the song, seemed whimsical and carefree. It was a contrast to the more forceful chords that made up most of the song. The purpose of the melody became clear as I delved into one of the metaphors in the song’s lyrics.
To the singer, living a normal life is the same as being colorblind. One way he depicts his mindset is by saying “my brain’s been bleached…but I thought my brain was pink.” Through the course of the song, he struggles to reach California, where “they sell color TV.” Once he gets there at the end, the whimsical melody is introduced.
Once you decipher the lyrics of a Flipturn song, the musical composition suddenly makes more sense. Several songs start with a steady buildup in volume. The drums and the strumming get louder as the lyrics dance around the central theme of the song, then everything drops out, leaving Dillon’s voice alone to sing the song’s thesis statement. After a slight pause to let the words sink in, the music comes back with a vengeance.
“My job is to perform, and it’s what I love to do,” Dylan said.
His resolve is shared by the rest of the band, and the result is the sort of professionalism usually found in bands that are much more experienced. But they’re gaining experience fast, and it shows.
An early highlight in Flipturn’s rise was the first time they sold out a venue. On Jan. 26, 2018, the band sold out The Atlantic in Gainesville as the headlining act. They played that night with other local bands, including Arrows in Action, a pop-punk band, and The Forum, an indie rock group.
“When we sold out The Atlantic, we felt so proud,” Madeline said. “We’re always in disbelief when we learn we’ve sold out a show. I’m so thankful for these opportunities and for everyone who has gotten us to where we are now.”
Throughout their success, the musicians of Flipturn have stayed humble. Even if you never get the chance to talk to them, you can hear it for yourself in their songs. Just be sure to listen to the words first.
Listening to their albums online wasn’t enough. I had to go see them perform live. It was another sold out show downtown at the Wooly, a venue across the street from the venue of the first show they sold out.
The place was as full as I’ve ever seen it. I’ve seen big touring bands and Fest shows there, but it was way more packed that night. The venue reached capacity over an hour before Flipturn took the stage.
The crowd was mostly college kids with a few older exceptions. The Forum was playing with them again, along with a band called The Hails that played soulful love ballads to screaming fans.
During the break between The Hails’ set and Flipturn’s, I managed to get somewhat close to the stage. They started their set off with “Churches”, one of their more high-energy songs, and everyone went nuts.
Halfway through the show, I was covered in sweat. I sometimes locked eyes with complete strangers as we sang along to a catchy portion of a song. When Flipturn stopped playing, they were inundated with requests for an encore and came out again to play “Chicago”.
During their set, one of the microphones was giving ear-splitting feedback. Every time the mic acted up, they just grinned at each other and played through it. I’ve seen bands lose their tempers on stage because of equipment malfunctions, but they all maintained a positive attitude.
The next day, I caught up with a few people I danced with in the crowd. Noah Cagle, an anthropology student at the University of North Florida, told me he tries to go to every Flipturn show within around two hours of Jacksonville. The night before was most likely his sixth time seeing them in concert, but he wasn’t entirely sure.
“The members are all really nice and always thank me for driving out for them,” Noah said. “Having a bunch of people sing my favorite songs with me is an awesome feeling.”
Most of the people around me sang along to every word of the songs Flipturn played that had already been released. They played some unreleased songs during their set, including “Ramona Flowers”. Everyone was watching Dillon to learn the words so they could sing along next time.
Kayla Elliott, a pre-nursing student at UF, told me after the show that she enjoys Flipturn’s live performances more than their recordings. It’s easy to see why. The songs were played with the same precision live, but with even more enthusiasm as they fed off the energy of the crowd.
“Go all out at shows and jump and sing as much as you can because it's more fun for everyone,” was Noah’s advice for someone seeing Flipturn live for the first time.
I second his opinion.
Escape through subspace
On Amelia Island, there’s a bike path from end to end connecting two state parks, an old Civil War fort in the north and a wilderness preserve in the south. Beachgoers walk with their heads down, scanning the sand for shark teeth and watching out for sea turtle nests. Most of them are retired residents or tourists. There’s only one high school, and it’s not very large.
It’s no wonder this is the birthplace of such a close-knit group of artists. They all shared the same experiences growing up. While the island may be paradise for tourists drawn to the fair weather and coastal vibes, it can also be a prison for a group of kids trying to find their place in the world.
“Must be nice to travel the land, with your feet on the ground and a guitar in your hand,” Dillon muses soulfully in “Churches.” For many of us, music is an escape from the rigors of our everyday lives. For them, music is a way to escape the island they grew up on, a place where nothing ever happens.
Flipturn’s songs touch on common experiences that everyone feels growing up, Dillon explains. The desire to get out, see new places and meet new people is a theme in “Chicago”, among others. In the song, he expresses a nagging fear of forgetting his dreams and staying in the same place, married with three kids.
In “Vanilla”, he describes being forced to “walk a straight and narrow line.” Flipturn has given themselves the power to draw their own lines to walk through their music.
A new concept Flipturn has been working on is writing a song about a fictional character. Ramona Flowers, a ninja delivery girl from the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, seemed to be the perfect muse for a Flipturn song. Ramona’s greatest fear is being stuck, which is already a theme in several Flipturn songs. She likes to dye her hair different colors, a habit some of the members share.
Ramona’s superpower is the ability to travel through subspace. She can travel faster than humanly possible, and Flipturn reached the masses just as quickly. Selling out shows is a regular occurrence, they have over a million streams online and they’re not slowing down anytime soon. In the next month, they say to “expect some big announcements.”
A Message to the Stakeholders
The members of Flipturn made sure to emphasize that they were “so thankful for these opportunities and for everyone” who has shown them love. One of the main reasons they keep gaining new fans is their infectious positivity, conveyed through upbeat music and abundant energy onstage. Their message to their fans is one of resounding gratitude.
“It’s crazy how people have identified with our music,” Madeline told me amid murmurs of approval from the other band members.
Like Han Solo, the hero of the Star Wars movies they watch together, this time they have amazed even themselves.
If you put on one of their songs, you just might be amazed, too.