Frank Turner is a man on a mission – a mission to be a modern day Springsteen and change the world through his music – and as he pulled into Liverpool on his non-stop tour, he found a ready listener in Getintothis’ Matthew Eland.
Each morning I’m woken by my brother’s wireless blaring through the wall. Sometimes all I can discern, if I’m really unlucky, is Chris Moyles‘ matey banalities, so it was a pleasant surprise a few days ago when I could hear Frank Turner‘s re-released Reasons Not To Be An Idiot single.
He’s come a long way since kick starting the never ending tour of everywhere back in 2005, and Getintothis caught up with him at his 565th show in Liverpool, rescheduled from the end of his tour last year.
Getintothis: So, Frank, welcome back to Liverpool – what happened last year, I heard you had food poisoning…
Frank Turner: Yeah, I had extreme food poisoning, viral gastroenteritis, which I’ve since learnt how to spell (laughs). It was really horrible, we were in Nottingham, on Halloween, and I wasn’t feeling 100% before the show, but we did it anyway, and two thirds of the way through the set I came out of a long, high note, and the drum tech said you could just see, that was me done for the night, and I had to run off stage and be hideously sick, spent the next week being incredibly feverish and ill.
I hate cancelling shows more than anything in the entire world, and it didn’t pan out very well…initially we cancelled the Liverpool show because it was the next day, the tour manager said we should just cancel the whole lot and I said no, we might be able to do some of them…so we just had to dribble out cancellations which was annoying.
Getintothis: So a bad end to a good year, then – you’ve mentioned that this could be a high watermark of your career…is this something you’re worried about?
FT: I wouldn’t say worried, I’d say I do my best to be realistic. Thousands and thousands of bands have reached the point where I’m at now and gotten no further in their careers. Partly its self-protection – I don’t want to spend half my time thinking about success because it’s a waste of time, I’m going to just be realistic and grateful for what I have, there’s a thousand people who’d kill to be where I am now.
Frank Turner: Reasons Not To Be An Idiot
Getintothis: Is it odd to go from just that six track CDR to having this massive back catalogue? I was looking at the track listing for the deluxe Love Ire and Song release, it’s huge.
FT: It’s funny because when I was in Million Dead we wrote songs very slowly because we were so rigorously democratic, and also, in retrospect I was squeezing the last and best of my ability to write hardcore music. I feel like I stumbled across my niche, and yeah, I’ve churned out a hell of a lot out of the last three years.
Getintothis: Where does that niche extend to? Just as an example, would you ever release, say, an instrumental?
FT: I have thought about it… Probably not any time soon, although from having gone from hardcore to solo acoustic, I’ve learnt to not rule anything out. But the essential paradigm of Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan, one person with a guitar, speaking truth’s power or however you want to put it, that’s always going to be at the core of what I do.
I’m touring with a band and the next record is going to be more band-orientated, but that central axis of one person, one instrument is still very important to me. Who knows, I have a sideline in my musical tastes of weird electronica, so maybe something along those lines.
And people think I’m joking when I say this, but when I’m really old I’d like to be making music like Chet Baker Sings, or even like, the Rat Pack – listening back to that stuff, it’s awesome – but at the same time, I saw Neil Young play the other day and he’s 70 odd, and there was something awesome about seeing him walk on stage, there was this wave of reverence in the room. First of all I’d be grateful to still be playing music at that age, but who knows.
Frank Turner: I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous
Getintothis: So the next album, that must be coming up soon…
FT: Yep, touring Europe until mid march then we’re doing SXSW, that’s going to be absolutely insane, we’re playing in Riga one day then Austin the next. Then more over America, then the studio.
Basically on the first two albums I wrote the songs, got the drum parts down then layer everything around that, but we’ve been touring for quite a while now, and we have a new keys player who’s the final piece of the puzzle musically speaking.
A lot of the songs sound better to me live than they do on record because they’re such great musicians, I mean I’m a passable bass player but Tarrant‘s an amazing bass player, so this time around I should use that.
I also quite like the idea of some rawer sounding production, a little more representative of the live show, and also, this is going to sound like I’m enormously pretentious, so I’m going to have to couch this…(long pause)…in, erm, caveats, or whatever….but not so much in terms of sound but in ethos….I’d like to make a record that sounds like Born To Run.
I’m not saying for a minute…I mean it would be nice to be as successful as Bruce Springsteen, but I’m not going to redefine British popular culture with the record, but there’s a very visionary ethos to that record and I’d like to make something that feels a little like that.
So yeah, we’re recording in May, and my label says it needs to be on their desk by the first of June. Then we have the warped tour, radio single in July/August and another big tour after that.
Getintothis: Can we expect any new songs tonight?
FT: We’ve got one definitely in the set, although it’s interesting, in the recording diary we only have about five days actually recording, the rest is all rehearsal time and pre-production, but the songs are all written, in my brain. It’s at times like this when I get really paranoid about getting hit by a bus, and then when the album is finished its like, phew, bring on the buses!
Getintothis: Does the album have any overarching lyrical themes, in the way that L,I&S did, or even the second Million Dead record?
FT: It’s not going to be monothematic, or a concept album, but something I spend a lot of time thinking about, and again I’m going to reference Springsteen here is growing old…in a good way.
Our culture is so predicated to youth being a positive value. I’m 27 and not old by anyone’s standards, but I love watching someone like Springsteen get old and get better, and I’m so sick of an indie scene that’ll just ditch a band once they hit 25.
And also I’m in that time of my life when everyone starts thinking about jobs and marriages and kids, and it’s about trying to do all that stuff without giving up on the things you believed in in the first place, I don’t mean just politically – one of my favourite songwriters at the moment, Tim Barrett, put it very well, “living first and working last.”
I had a conversation with my friend Jay, who plays as Beans on Toast – we had a discussion that bordered on an argument about ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’.
Because it’s about how we’re not going to be doing this forever, which I believed when I wrote the song and I still think is very likely. And he was saying “Oh, I’m 29, I’m a club promoter, what am I going to do with my life”, and that almost laid down the gauntlet for me in that conversation. Why can’t we find a way to keep doing what we love for a long time, rather than just have this cool stuff we did when we were kids?
Getintothis: You briefly mentioned politics there, a word that’s followed you throughout your career; do you ever censor yourself these days, think, ‘Well, I’m not going to write about that’…where do you stand now on political songwriting?
FT: Depends on what day of the week you ask me; I don’t want to be a political songwriter, I’ve said that a million times before, but I do have political opinions.
One of the things that annoys me is that if you talk about politics and play guitar and sing everyone assumes you are a socialist, I couldn’t despise socialism more if I tried.
I describe myself as a libertarian, I believe in the individual against the state, and a more organic community against a structured community, and I’m very passionate about that.
But it annoys me when you get people who espouse communism, y’know, the hammer and the sickle, I mean, cool, well that’s about as offensive as a swastika if you ask me, wear that on your fucking t-shirt you arsehole!
Or people in Che Guevara t-shirts, it’s just like, fuck, read a book or something!
So anyway! Where were we – but yeah, there’s definitely going to be one song on the new record that’s overtly political, it’s about civil liberty and the thing that’s really bothering me at the moment, the growth of the database state, which is happening a lot quicker here than it is anywhere else.
It’s deeply ironic considering that English liberty is such a deeply historic tradition, y’know, the speeches of Richard Overton which basically are the American constitution, things like the Peasants Revolt, and England was always the country of liberty rather than the more autocratic states like France and Germany.
It’s something I think about a lot – Chris TT put it very well, being able to love your country without being a dick about – it’s got nothing to do with racism or far right politics or any of that shit.
I think that we’ve lost a lot of our traditions and a lot of them were very good and were about the protection of the self. The English political culture used to understand why privacy was a good thing, whereas now people will say that old chestnut, “if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear”, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
If you’ve got something to hide there are existing law enforcement methods already to make sure you’ve got something to fear. It’s the people with nothing to hide who’ll suffer. I’m passionate about that kind of thing; I’m going to get ‘No to ID’ on the next tour.
Frank Turner: Long Live The Queen
Getintothis: I’d like to talk about ‘Long Live the Queen‘; is it difficult to have such a personal song get so well known?
FT: I think that whenever you play a song, particularly if you’re a touring musician, you have to detach yourself, you just couldn’t put yourself through that every single night. And there are songs when playing that song is…challenging.
It’s not even that sometimes there are certain people around, there are some days when I’m just missing my friend, and I got worried about achieving success on the back of a song about my friend’s passing.
I got worried if it was appropriate, but then I had a chat with a mutual friend and we decided that Lex was such a cheerleader for what I do, she would find it endlessly hilarious that I’d achieved that level of success with a song about her – that made me feel better about it.
Getintothis: Finally, you spend so much time on the road, is it difficult to have much of a life off it?
FT: It’s quite all emcompassing. Bottom line is, I could stop doing this tomorrow, get an office job…I earn fuck all money doing this, so logically complaining about it is retarded, if you don’t like it don’t fucking do it!
I can’t – well I don’t know actually, in the past I’ve always trickled out the line “I can’t be doing this forever”, but I find it inspiring looking at The Levellers who haven’t really stopped touring since ’89. So who knows…I have a semblance of life outside touring, but…
Getintothis: More highs than lows at the moment? It’s getting easier?
FT: Yeah. Well, it’s always easy to turn up and do a sold out show, it’s not an uphill struggle. Having said that I’m going to Europe and the States where no-one has a fucking clue who I am!
Getintothis: Is that like going back to ground zero?
FT: Yeah, particularly in the States, but quite often ex-pats show up, and the locals are like; “who the fuck is this guy?” It’s nice because there are charms and attractions to doing this hand to mouth.
I have the best of both worlds, do these gruelling massive tours and just when all optimism has been worn away you come back to the UK and then. It’s fucking nice to walk out in from of 500 people who’ve paid to see you play.
And the amphitheatre bit of the Liverpool Barfly is indeed sold out. Turner starts the show alone, with his acoustic, strumming ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends‘, joined immediately afterward for a run through of Reasons Not To Be An Idiot It’s one of the most cohesive sets I’ve ever seen him play, songs segueing neatly into one another, and a perfect balance between the acoustic and more band orientated tunes.
Reading back over the interview, new song Live Fast Die Old seems very indicative of where his head is at the moment, and the Springsteen comparison is apt.
He runs through Long Live the Queen and everyone sings along – Frank needn’t have worried, rather than cashing in on his grief it’s a celebration more than anything.
I’ve seen many times over the years, especially in Liverpool. I was at the Million Dead shows he always complains about having been half empty (they weren’t that bad) and the infamous Magnet set where he got impressively drunk and was seen, post-set, rolling around on the sofas at the side.
He’s never less than massively entertaining, but tonight him and his band are on top form. Looking forward to the album already.