Ewan Atkinson sits down with Frank Turner before his headline show at Alexandra Palace to talk touring, ex-girlfriends and grindcore.
I am led to a surprisingly dull pressroom in the otherwise impressive Alexandra Palace to have a chat with Frank Turner. Frank is a punk/folk singer-songwriter from Hampshire who started out in hardcore bands before taking up the acoustic guitar. He recently released his sixth studio album ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’, an album I recommend you all check out!
Ewan(E) – When you were playing dives in hardcore bands could you ever see yourself playing arenas as a folk singer?
Frank Turner (F) – Hahaha no. I would’ve been pretty outraged when I was in Kneejerk because we were militant DIY anarchist types. Everyone daydreams about success when you’re a musician but there’s a difference between fantasizing and realistically expecting it. My success has been and still is pleasantly surprising. I’m playing fucking ally pally tonight!!
E- Has your writing process changed as you’ve got older and more experienced?
F- Yeah it has… I’m weary of using the term ‘process’ to describe it as it always felt far more haphazard to me. I find it hard to remember what it was like in Million Dead ‘cos it was a very collective experience. We were always very militant about that. I didn’t think about ‘song-writing’ as a thing until I was playing solo and I’d like to think I’ve got better at it. I want to keep changing it up, I don’t like the idea of it staying the same.
E-You often write very personal songs about both yourself and the people in your life. Do you ever get surprised by their reactions to your songs? Any awkward moments with ex’s?
F- Yeah… that happened quite recently actually…
E- oooh do tell!
F- When the new record came out I got a text message from a certain somebody demanding an explanation to the song ‘Mittens’. The thing about it is, unless you know me personally you wouldn’t be able to identify who that song was about. But obviously she heard it and was like “FUCK YOU!”
I do try and be quite careful about it, as I’m aware that, although it’s my right to get up and spill my guts on stage in front of whoever I want, it’s not really my right to spill the details about other peoples lives.
E- Tape Deck Heart was largely a break up album about your ex. I hear you two are friends again, what did she make of the album?
F- We have studiously not discussed it. It would be a bad idea to get into the details… It was all a huge deal for me as it was the biggest relationship of my life. We went out for four years and then it fell apart slowly but surely. The fact we can hang out and have dinner again is due to the fact we’ve agreed not to discuss the album. It’s sort of like a demilitarized zone. What was really difficult for me was that someone sent her the song ‘Anymore’ before she’d heard the rest of the album, and that’s the low point of the album in terms of it not being very nice about her. The rest of the record is mostly about how I’m a fucking prick and she’s amazing – which she is – and how I was an idiot about the whole thing.
E- How much does touring make having relationships, both platonic and romantic, difficult?
F- It does… but after a while it’s pretty self-selecting. On the friendship front I don’t really have too many friends who can’t handle being friends with a touring person anymore because I’ve been touring so long – the others fell by the wayside. Relationship wise I feel there is a degree to which I can’t really have a relationship with someone unless they are of a particular character. I’ve had false starts in relationships with people who were fine until I went on tour and then they were just like “WTF?!”. It’s not just being away a lot, it’s also the fact I’m standing on a stage with lots of people looking at me every day. That can be quite hard for people, especially if they don’t do any kind of performance for a living. It takes a certain type of character but it’s doable.
E- What is your favourite thing and least favourite thing about being on tour?
F- My favourite thing about being on tour is that it makes life seem longer. When I look back on the first day of this tour, which was about 3 weeks ago, it feels like 10 years ago, which is a good feeling. It means life is taking its sweet time going by. If you do the same thing every day, in the same place, life is going to slip by pretty quickly.
My least favourite thing… The intrusion on my personal life gets pretty fucking old. I’ve done everything I can in my career to be accessible and to not hold myself above my audience, but the problem is there are weirdos in this world and they start fucking around with you as an individual after shows and that’s not fun. It’s a tiny, vanishing minority of people who come to my shows. Most people who come are awesome and I’ve made loads of friends, but unfortunately those kinds of weirdos do exist.
E- What three songs of yours sum up you as an artist?
F- One song I always pick, because it remains one of my favourite songs that I’ve written, is ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’. It’s a manifesto which involves living by the skin of your teeth, being skint, getting drunk and being kicked out of bars at closing time. It’s put way better in the song than how I just put it. ‘Get Better’ is probably another just because I’m really happy with the way that came out. I’m now going to throw in a curve ball and pick the song ‘King Fisher Blues’.
E- Apart from your latest album, which is your favourite?
F- The problem with that question is, if you pass comment on your own material people attach their own meaning and significance to it. In fact that’s one of the reasons art is interesting, the artist loses ownership of their piece when they release it and that’s how it should be. I think it’s really lame when I see bands or any artist trying to dictate what people think about their art, that’s bullshit, it means whatever people want it to mean. When I had to rank my records for VICE I ended up putting ‘Poetry of the Deed’ in last place. That’s not because I hate the record, it’s just if I have to rank them it goes in last place. I was then inundated with people being really pissed off. However, I do think ‘England Keep My Bones’ is my favourite album.
E- So many classic venues have closed down in recent years, where will underground guitar music go now?
F- Any underground music requires a space to happen in. Folk music has an easier ride with this because you can do it in people’s houses or anywhere really, but something like Grindcore less so…. Finding those spaces is arguably the most difficult thing for those scenes. I’ve recently started going to some house shows down in Peckham and they’ve got a great scene going down there. I’m not a pessimist about it, but I do think there has been a receding of the tide in recent years due to changes in planning laws etc. London as a city is being hollowed out at the moment. When I first got into the music industry you went to Soho, now no one goes anywhere fucking near Soho. The other day I found a load of old Kerrang magazines in storage unit from when I was thirteen and it made me realize that there is far more live music happening now then ever before. There were so few bands on tour back then and a lot less venues! I think people sometimes forget how much going to gigs is part of our culture now than it was twenty or thirty years ago. So in the long term I am definitely an optimist.