Melbourne-born, US-based singer, songwriter and musician Mark Tulk’s music has been described as ‘varied, complex, subtle and satisfying’. Last May, Mark survived one of America’s worst rail disasters, and the haunting, ethereal sound of his latest album Embers is no coincidence, he tells Jen Vuk.
When did you move from Melbourne to New York? And what has the move meant for you both personally and professionally?
My wife Nicky and I moved from Melbourne to the US in 2009 and we were originally based in Athens, Georgia, down south, which was a crazily different experience from Melbourne. In 2012 we moved to the New York city area where I worked with some cool producers like Loris Holland who plays keys in Mariah Carey’s band, and has worked with Loren Hill, Jeff Buckley, Aretha Franklyn and he totally really pushed my work to another level.
One of the best things about moving to New York is that it’s so full-on, intense and competitive that you’re taken out of your comfort zone.
On the evening of 12 May last year you were involved in the Amtrak 188 rail disaster. Can you recall for me the moments before and after that incident?
I was coming home after being in Philadelphia for the day recording my latest album, Embers. So I’d gotten into the ‘quiet car’ which has a no-talking rule where people can sit and read. I was just settling in and hoping to get some rest as the day had been very long.
Suddenly I was woken up by a rapid release of speed and I sat up in my seat. The train barrelled on and, before I knew it, went into a sharp left-hand curve and then began to shake violently. Women around me began screaming and then I remember thinking that the train was going to derail.
The last thing I remember was the train shuddering and bucking to the right and flipping over, and then there was this feeling of weightlessness.
When I woke up everything was still. The carriage had turned upside down and it was completely dark. It was a really warm evening and the warm air was coming through the broken windows and the carriage was covered in dust. I grabbed my phone and called my wife to tell her what happened but that I was okay, although I was in an amazing state of shock. In the distance I could hear the sirens coming and then someone was cutting into the carriage.
I remember looking at a women sitting opposite and she had blood running down her face and I said to her that I can’t believe we just survived it. The carriage was completely quiet. The train had smashed into a large pylon and that pylon had penetrated the carriage, which was only a few metres away from where I was. Eight people died and many more had severe spinal injuries and were left paraplegic. I knew I’d been injured but felt terribly lucky to be alive.
You suffered from a collapsed lung, multiple fractures and a badly crushed right hand and went through months of therapy. Can you tell me about this?
I didn’t need any surgeries, although my hand injury has proven to be the most difficult thing to get back to normal. What I didn’t realise was that because they put my hand in a splint and it stayed in that fixed position before I could make it to a hand surgeon, I couldn’t move my hand. My hand is still not back to normal.
Such a significant incident must have impacted you in other ways too. Can you tell me what this did to your faith?
I’ve been suffering from PTSD since the accident and have had a lot of therapy. So the event has really sharpened the thought that life is really precious and that we have to live it to the full. I know I was meant to survive that. I do see a spiritual purpose in my surviving.
You’re back with your third album Embers. What does this album mean to you?
Embers came very close to never being made. Surviving the accident gave me a greater sense of wanting to finish it, and it was a big part of the process of healing and bringing a sense of normalcy back to my life. The songs were written before the accident, but the album will be forever in my mind tied to the event. In a lot of ways the accident has reframed the album.
For more on Mark Tulk or to listen to his album go to www.marktulk.com.