Fancore


Interview: Frank Turner

After embarking on a successful run of shows supporting Flogging Molly in the States, it seems that Frank Turner, one of the UK’s worst kept secrets has finally outgrown his home-grown appeal. With his third album, Poetry Of The Deed released last year to much fanfare across the world, many hardcore fans feel dejected that their little clandestine is gaining the success he deserves. Luckily, the punk spirit is alive and well with Frank’s response being a massive middle finger to anyone who dislikes his particular brand of folk-punk. FANCORE caught up with the man of the moment to talk about incredibly strange side-projects, traditional English songs and still being punk at 28.


You’ve had a pretty good run of fortune recently, with most of your shows selling out and the announcement of your biggest ever headline show later this year. Did you ever think your career would reach these heights?

I wouldn’t say that I ever expected it but hoped would be a word I’d use, but for a long time I didn’t think it would actually happen. I’m really careful with my choice of words, on the one hand I don’t want it to sound like “yes, this is how it is” but at the same I’m not militantly underground. I’m an ambitious person, I like playing big crowds and I want to succeed. I’m very happy that it’s happening but it is pretty surreal. I spend my entire life waiting for the reality police to burst through the door and go “there’s been a terrible mistake!” And take me back to The Swan in Tottenham and make me play to 20 people. Which I wouldn’t particularly mind, I’d still keep playing.

So when you were starting out did you have a point in your mind, where if you hadn’t made it by then you would quit?

Yes, but it wasn’t related to size of venues or anything like that. If I reach the point where I feel like I’m going through the motions and feel like I’m not putting on good shows and writing good song then I’ll stop. And I hope that there are people out there, friends of mine that will be good enough to tell me when I’ve reached that point in my life. But I don’t think I’ve reached that point yet, which is good.

Do you have the people in place to keep you in check?

I have a number of friends who have been more than happy to kick me in the nuts and tell me that I’m useless, so I’m counting on them.

Your latest album, Poetry Of The Deed came out last year, six months on from the release, how do you now view it?

I’m generally quite self-critical, particularly about things I did recently. I’ve just about decided that I liked the first Million Dead album now [laughs]. It’s worse for my solo stuff as well because it’s much more my kind of project. I’m proud of all the records that I’ve made, I’m proud of Poetry Of The Deed but I’ve got a list of things that I want to do differently next time. But that’s been the case with every record that I’ve done. I’m pleased with how it came together and its been my most commercially successful album so that’s nothing to complain about. The record came out 6 months ago but we finished recording last year in May so I’ve had a long time to pick holes in it. It’s a good feeling to have faults that give you ideas for how to correct them next time round. Next time around I’ll be in a different time and place so who knows, but I do have lots of new songs on the way.

So would you say that this is your most commercially viable album to date?

I’d say it was more commercially successful than viable, it wasn’t written with record sales in mind. I wouldn’t really know how to do that as I make a real point when I’m writing of trying to ignore context and just not think about anything like venue size or radio play or any of that shit. What I’ve always tried to do is to write what I think is a good song, because to me the definition of ‘selling out’, which is a much-overused word, is writing songs for an audience other than yourself. Anybody that tells you that they write songs for the fans is either a liar or a fraud essentially, because what could be more dishonest than writing for anyone other than yourself? You are your own audience. I listen to loads of music and have very strong opinions on what I like so when I write something I try to write what I think is a really good song and the minute that I stop doing that is the minute that I really need to stop.

Selling out to me is writing songs for ‘the fans’ ‘the record label’, the radio play list or your girlfriend; if you’re trying to please someone else then you’re doing it wrong in my opinion.

You worked much more with your band on the last album, do you ever get criticised for using the band on and off stage?

There are some people who say ‘I preferred when you play solo’ or ‘I prefer the other albums’, all of which is perfectly fine as people are more than welcome to think that. Particularly when people say they prefer the earlier stuff it’s like cool go and listen to them, it’s not like I came into your record collection and took them away. At the end of the day I have to do what is best for me musically, otherwise I’m dishonest and right at this moment in time I love playing with my band and I think that we make great music together. Actually, having said that…I talk a lot [laughs] you may have noticed. One of my criticisms with POTD is that I may have got a tiny bit carried away about having the band on the album; I think there could have been one more solo song on that record. I think that for the next album I will rein the band back a little bit on one or two songs, but I’m still just writing so we’ll see.

Is there any timeline in place for this new album?

Yes, I have an ambition to get into the studio before the end of this year so we can get the album out in the first half of next year. My manager thinks I’m completely out of my mind, given the tour schedule that we already have between now and February next year, but I think that he is soft and weak and I will prove him wrong [laughs]. I’m also going to try and put out an album of traditional English songs at some point this year as well.

That sounds like an interesting project, can you elaborate a bit more on that?

I got interested in traditional English music, partly because I’m a history buff and it’s cool combining my two loves in life. But also because I’ve had this cultural awakening in the past few years that’s entirely personal, I’m English at the end of the day and not British. I don’t hold anything against anyone from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland but I’m English and that is my culture and heritage. I just get very bored of people saying there isn’t such a thing as English culture because there is, they just choose to ignore it or don’t know about it. That applies both on a musical level, there’s a lot of English folk music that isn’t particularly well known and also on a political level in the sense that people are incredible blasé when it comes to political thought that England has made. And the ideas of native liberty and common law I think are extremely important and wonderful and brilliant, but we’ve been losing them for the past fifty years which is an absolute fucking disaster.

But anyway, I went off started researching [traditional music] and found all these amazing songs. And it’s not just this big ideological crusade, they’re really good songs and they’re funny and they’re heartbreaking and sad and catchy. I like the idea that these songs that my forebears would have known and would have sung and that’s a beautiful idea. In the modern industrial world the folk song is more in danger than it has been and the thing is there is a tradition in community in the UK and traditional songs but they’re really insular and defensive. They seem to think that they’re the monks on Mt Athos protecting the sacred flame. But most of the people who come to my shows don’t know about traditional English music, as opposed to people who go to Seth Lakeman shows for example, and I think it would be quite cool if I [could] spread those songs over a lot of new people.

After you’ve done that are there any other projects you’d like to do that you perhaps can’t accomplish a solo artist?

Well I’m writing a book at the moment so that’s underway. I’m also vaguely scoping out the plans for making 2012 the year of the side project. I’ve got all these different side projects I want to do and at the moment [there’s] just no time to do them so I’m thinking maybe do another album, do the traditional album and get the book out of the way and then not take a break as such but just stop for a while. For example, there’s an electronica DJ called Beardy Man, he’s amazing but completely utterly different from what I do. He just does weird, squelchy, odd kind of Aphex Twin noisy electronica. We ended up hanging out together last summer and we said ‘we should do a record together; it would be hilarious and weird as hell.’ I have a taste in weird electronica personally, although I’m terrible at making it, I’ve tried and it was terrible. But I reckon as long as he does the drum machine bit [laughs] I can do a bit of singing and playing guitar and we can make a really messed up twisted ‘dance folk-tronica’ fucked up record.

And are there any other potential projects in the pipeline?

Well, I’ll tell you about this as everyone involved in this wants this to happen but the likelihood of it ever actually happening is extremely low because of our schedules. First of all there’s a punk band called Hot Snakes, from Florida who me and few others think are the best punk band there ever was fucking ever. They kind of became Rocket From The Crypt afterwards and weren’t quite as good. But anyway, the band would be Ben from Million Dead on the drums, Jim from At The Drive In on the bass, Jim from Jimmy Eat World on guitar and vocals and me on guitar and vocals too. It happened because basically me and Jim and Jim ended up in a bar in Arizona in November and you know you have those conversations where everyone is drunk and just agreeing with each other loudly? Well, that’s the plan but as I say I’ve just got no idea when that would ever happen but it would be pretty funny.
With many seeing punk as a youth movement, do you ever feel pressured as an artist to stay angry and cynical?

Punk is a youth movement and that’s one of its strengths, I don’t think that’s a criticism of punk as there’s a certain type of anger you have as a kid, which punk harnesses in a beautiful way. I think it is possible to retain a sort of punk-related attitude as you get older but I don’t have any problem at all with people telling me I’m too old to be punk…well actually, maybe not just yet. But at some point if someone turned around and said it then it would be fine. Punk’s not supposed to be about these old farts who used to be in the Sex Pistols in leather jackets, sitting around and talking about ‘how it was in my day’. Punk is supposed to be about kids meeting up in bathrooms and pubs and smashing the shit out of each other and playing wild and eclectic and adventurous insane heavy music. In terms of me having a pressure to stay angry? Not really, just because I do my level best not to give a fuck about what everyone thinks I should be. I know some people wish I was still in Million Dead and some people wish I still wrote songs like ‘Thatcher Fucked The Kids’ but I’m not going to.

Even though you’re very self critical, do you ever worry that one day you will just make the ultimate Frank Turner album and have nothing else to say and nowhere to go?

There will always be a case of that, as the world is still full of people who think ‘Greetings From Asbury Park’ is the best Bruce Springsteen album, I mean they’re wrong. I think the nature of music is such and the nature of fandom if you like, is such that people will attach themselves to a time and place that they get into something and also to their perceived ownership of something. I think that’s unavoidable to a degree but again what I have to do for my own sanity and dignity and creative responsibility is to do the best record that I can at the time…and whether or not you think that my first album is the best thing I’ll ever do, fine that’s an opinion that people are allowed to have.

Do you think that with your success any current artists are ripping off your sound as a fast-track to fame?

I haven’t really thought about it very much to be honest. I’d be terribly entertained if they were, I’d find it very funny. I think the problem is that ever since I started having any kind of success in music I sort of twigged; I remember having a conversation with Cahir the lead singer for Fighting With Wire years ago. He was like ‘the problem is man, me and you are the kind of people who are going to be in bands who blaze the trail and don’t make the money.’ There’s just something about our personality and approach to music that means we’re always going to be those people. I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody started ripping me off and doing much better than me. But I can’t say that I give that much of a shit to be honest.

Finally, you’ve already said you’re doing 2000 Tree and T in the park this summer, any other UK festivals to be announced?

We’re headlining Wood Festival, which is a folk festival down in Oxfordshire which is going to be really good. There’s loads of others that we’re doing that we’re about to announce any day now but I’m not sure I’m allowed to talk about and I don’t want to get us into trouble.

Announced within a few days? Is the fact that the Download Festival announcement is coming up in a few days a coincidence?

I’m not doing Download, I can tell you that much.

Reading Festival then?

Erm, well I can’t really say [laughs].

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Frank Turner nails down album release date

frank-turner

Bad Motherfolker Frank Turner has announced the release date for upcoming album “Poetry For The Dead” The former Million Dead frontman’s first Epitaph-released opus is set to drop on 7th September.

Frank took time out to talk to Fancore recently, you will be able to read the interview in our first issue available soon online and in selected UK outlets.