Interview :: Frank Turner

Ahead of his show at Manchester’s Academy 2, we decided to drop in on Frank Turner and have a bit of a chat. We talk about touring with The Offspring, fighting Fern & Reggie and  our mutual love of Henry Rollins.

FrankTurnerHaving already toured the states twice, with The Offspring and, more recently, The Gaslight Anthem, Frank Turner has embarked on his biggest UK tour to date. His new, critically acclaimed, album, Poetry Of The Deed, got him into the charts and it seems that nothing can go wrong for the, Winchester-born, singer/songwriter. You had better believe that 2009 is Frank Turner’s year. Just one question. I Turner. Do You?

Anthony Barlow: So, hello Frank Turner.

Frank Turner: Hello, how are you?

AB: I’m good, thanks for letting me in here, I feel like a fraud.

FT: *laughs* Well, ok, I’m sure we can have a nice chat anyway.

AB: That we can. So, 2009, a big, big year for you.

FT: Yeah. It’s been fantastic actually, i’m having a wonderful time.

Ian Critchley: Have you been home yet?

FT: You know what, yeah, yeah, I have, I have. I think I went home in August. Once. It’s been a while. We’re playing a show in Winchester on this tour, but i’m not actually going to stay at home because we’ve got a sleeper bus, but I am going to go home and have a bath. I have decided.

AB: Speaking of that bus, isn’t it Spandau Ballet’s bus?

FT: Yes, I think we have got Spandau Ballet’s bus. Basically, we paid for a cheap shitty tour bus. There is a point where it becomes more economical to get a tour bus rather than using a van and sleeping in hotels and, it’s pretty comfortable as well, that’s got to be said. So we paid for the cheap bus and then, basically, due to a scheduling mix up, that had something to do with Spandau Ballet, i’m not 100 percent sure what, we ended up getting a very, very nice tour bus, so we’re all living in the lap of luxury at the moment, which is nice.

AB: Like you said, 2009 has been a big year. Surely, part of that is down to the backing of Radio 1?

FT: Definitely, they’ve been really awesome. They’ve played my records a lot and they’re very enthusiastic.

IC: They let you do Take That covers

FT: *laughs* yeah. The thing about that is, the rules of the Live Lounge are you, they were like, “you’ve got to play the single and you’ve got to play a cover” and I was like, “fine, I know a ton of covers” but they were like no, the cover has got to be something that’s currently in the top 40. I was like, I don’t know what’s in the fucking top 40. We did it in January, so we got told in December, and I was on The Levellers tour, so me and the tour manager sat down on the Sunday and listened to Fern and Reggie for however long their show takes, like three hours or something. I wanted to fucking kill someone by the end of that. I was just like, “I’m gonna beat those two up if I ever meet them”. “Just shut up”. But, anyway, we listened to the whole thing and we, literally, got to number two and I was like “there is nothing here that I want to cover, it’s all pap” and then the number one was Take That and I was like “we can do something with this”. It was fun to do.

AB: Could you not have done another Dizzee Rascal cover?

FT: Oh no, fucking hell mate, if I could delete things from YouTube, my goodness.

IC: YouTube’s great *laughs*

FT: Yeah, yeah it’s alright. You know what, I’m a big Dizzee Rascal fan, I think he’s great. I think he’s a really talented rapper, but i’m not sure if I wanted to actually commit that. Actually, do you know Tom Williams And The Boat?

AB: Yeah

FT: Well he did a cover of Bonkers recently. He did like a country cover of Bonkers, it’s amazing it’s like (At this point Frank serenaded us with a country version of ‘Bonkers’, complete with knee slapping). It’s fucking great.

AB: So, this is your biggest UK tour to date, but you’ve just come off a US tour with The Gaslight Anthem. How was that?

FT: It was great, Gaslight are friends and they’re an amazing band as well and it was a great, sort of, opportunity for me because they play to big crowds in The States and, you know, I think I made a lot of new friends on that tour and that kind of thing. Also, it has to be said that I spent most of the tour constantly flabbergasted, because, at every show, there was a ton of people who knew who I was and knew the words and owned the CD’s and stuff. Like, we were in Vancouver, i’ve never been to Vancouver before and I came on stage and there was a big ol’ banner that said “Welcome To Vancouver Frank” that popped up in the crowd, like ten meters across or something. I was just like, “What the fuck, how the fuck do you know who I am?”. So, yeah it was really cool. It was a good tour. I could’ve possibly done with a few more days off between that tour and this one, but such is life.

AB: You went on tour with The Offspring in July as well

FT: Yeah, we went out and did the arenas with those guys.

AB: And you did the video blog for the NME as well.

FT: Yeah, you know John Berna?

AB: Yeah

FT: He’s here *knocks on table* he’s tour manager for Fake Problems on this tour, so, you know how he did that whole words of wisdom thing? Well, I’m trying to get him to do a words of wisdom in my set tonight. I want to get him up on stage to do ‘John Berna’s Words Of Wisdom’.

AB: Big venues or small venues, which do you prefer?

FT: You know, I don’t have a hard and fast rule about it. For me, what makes a good show, aside from, obviously, trying to play well, is, that completely unquantifiable thing, atmosphere. You know what I mean? It’s as much to do with the crowd as it is what we do. I went to see Springsteen play in Hyde Park, there was an incredible atmosphere and i’ve been to gigs in tiny clubs where there’s no atmosphere at all, so yeah, it depends. It’s kind of easier to get a rapport in small venues I suppose, there’s more of a skill to getting an atmosphere in a larger place and obviously Springsteen is one of the masters at doing that. I don’t know, at this level I’m at right now you still get a really good feeling. We were in Glasgow last night and we had a fucking great show, it just felt really good, everyone was on their feet. We had a good time.

AB: If you were asked to play a living room, like Jonah [Matranga] played a living room, would you play a living room?

FT: I’m not opposed to playing anywhere really. Living rooms, bars, whatever. The question is more whether I’ve got the time. The thing is, I so love playing, but when I’m finished playing I just want to chill out, rather than go straight out and play another gig. Call me a sell out, but I like a little while to just kind of relax. Some people, they look down my gig list and see that there’s one day that I’m not playing a show and it’s like “come and play a show on this day”. Just one day, not gigging, would be nice. Same thing, I don’t like going to gigs on days off on tour, because I do this every day, I’d rather go to the fucking cinema or something.

AB: Just chill out

FT: Yeah

AB: You seem to know the number of every show

FT: That’s because I’ve got a list

AB: Ah, right, you’ve got a list.

FT: I do actually have a numbered list

AB: So, it’s not like some crazy Derren Brown shit then?

FT: No, not at all

AB: Just out of curiosity, what number show is this [Manchester] then?

FT: I think we’re on about 712. Which is cool. Y’know, I grew up being obsessed with Black Flag and I read about their crazy tour schedules and wanting to, kind of, emulate that. Recently, i’ve just been thinking more about BB King and all the old blues men. BB King has been doing 300 shows a year for the last 50 years and he never talks about it. It’s not really an issue. The point is, that’s his job, he’s a working musician and if he’s not playing gigs then he’s not being a musician. I really like that mindset, that approach he’s coming from. I consider myself to be an entertainer much more than anything else. It’s like, “it’s my job”. I might create art, in finer analysis, but people can discuss that when I stop making music or I’m dead. Now, my job is to get up on stage and make sure that the people who paid money to see my shows have a good time.

IC: 700 plus gigs, do you still shit your pants before you go on?

FT: Not really, because before I started doing solo shows, I did a whole pile of shows before this with other bands and you get kind of an adrenaline boost. Like, there’s 900 people coming tonight [Friday] you get a ‘buzz’ I suppose standing backstage before you go on. The only time i’ve been nervous recently was at the Offspring shows. That was because I didn’t know what to expect. That was the thing that made me nervous. Tonight, it’s a big crowd but, I think I’ve got a reasonably good idea about what the crowd’s gonna be like. That’s fine, I know what it’s gonna be like. The Offspring shows were big shows, I just didn’t know. I didn’t know whether people were gonna hate it or love it or whatever, so then I was a bit nervous, but, other than that, I’m generally unfazed at my shows. We’re doing the Academy 1 in March next year, so that’s gonna be good.

AB: Yeah, we’ve already got tickets.

FT: Really? Fuckin A, nice.

AB: Yeah, I was there, 9 o’clock in the morning. I’m actually going to pay for a ticket this time.

FT: *laughs*

AB: That reminds me, I also owe you thirteen quid. I did say that.

FT: *laughs*

AB: So, ‘Poetry Of The Deed’. Very, very well received.

FT: Yeah, we even, ridiculously enough, got in the fucking charts. It’s just kind of outside my frame of reference. I was never bothered about charts when I was a kid. I just find it really funny that we got in the charts and, arguably, we would’ve done better if the fucking Beatles hadn’t decided to release their entire fucking catalog. But, anyway, Scouse gits.

AB: *laughs*

FT: Yeah, it’s gone down well, which is always cool because there’s always that limbo period between when you’ve finished a record and before it gets released which is always a bit weird anyway. This time around there’s just a ton more people who’re expecting it than with any release i’ve had before so, it was quite a nerve wracking time, in a way, because I’d wake up at night and go “we need to remix the album” or something like that, which is something we couldn’t do anyway. So, yeah, it was all quite nerve wracking but, you know, it came good in the end.

AB: This is the first album with the band as well

FT: Yeah, it was good. Part of the logic behind that was that i’d been touring with them off the back of ‘Love Ire & Song’ and ‘Sleep Is For The Week’ actually and we reached a point where, in my opinion, the live version of every song was better than the recorded version because they’re all great musicians and better than me and the rest of it, so it just seemed to me it’d be madness not to use this asset as it where. I also wanted it to sound more kinda live and, I guess, like a live show in a way. Live shows are important to me so I wanted to try and capture some of that energy.

AB: Speaking of live stuff, I was listening to the live sessions for Zane Lowe last night and the night before [Wednesday & Thursday] and ‘The Queen Is Dead’ sounds really different, but it’s still really good.

FT: Cool. I’m glad, people seem to like it. We’ve been playing it on this tour and I was a bit nervous about it actually, before the Dublin show, because there’s something about messing with one of my biggest songs. It was a bit risky, messing with those kinds of songs, because people will get pissy about it basically. So when we launched into it in Dublin, one of my concerns was that I wondered if people would know what song it was. So when we launched into it in Dublin, the crowd went “yeah” and I thought “Yeah. You get it. Alright. Good going”

AB: Well that’s great. Obviously, with having a new album comes a lot of promotion and you’re on Epitaph [in the US] now as well as Xtra Mile in the UK. How’ve Epitaph been about the whole thing?

FT: Great. Really good. I mean, obviously I was really chuffed to sign with them because of their history and what they represent and day to day they’re really great. They work really hard for their artists and they’ve got a lot of clout, I suppose is the word. So, yeah, they’ve really been moving stuff along which is great. I’ve started doing stuff, like, I did a press day in Germany. I’ve never done a press day before and, literally, I flew to Berlin, I did about 20 interviews and flew home again so, I was like, “ok”.

IC: And they paid for that? A free day out

FT: *laughs* Yeah, obviously, in the long run, i’ll be paying them back with album sales and stuff, but, yeah, it was pretty surreal. It was fun, fucking hell, Berlin is a nice city.

AB: You got on CNN as well.

FT: *laughs* The lovely Peter Grumbine. He is an enthusiastic man is Peter Grumbine

AB & IC: *laughs*

FT: You know, that all came out of left field, but, cool. Fuckin A. It was very weird, like loads of people were calling me and saying stuff like “my dad saw you on CNN. I thought “what’s going on?”. Obviously, it’s helped spread the word a lot so it was good.

AB: Something that me and Ian thought was a little surreal was that ‘Reasons…’ was used in a Sky movies advert. How’d that come about?

FT: Generally speaking, your publisher sells songs, or tries to sell songs, for adverts and TV and movies and all that kind of shit. That kind of stuff, I don’t really give a shit. It doesn’t interfere, the song’s already written and recorded. The creative process is, sort of, sacrosanct to me, but the creative process is finished and done by that point in time. So, if someone wants to pay me a bunch of money to have my song in the background of an advert and, literally, I’m just gonna get paid to say “yes” in an email. I’m just like “fuckin alright, bring it on”. Who wouldn’t?

IC: Do you have Sky?

FT: Fuck no.

AB & IC: *laughs*

FT: I never really watch TV. I watch movies and stuff, but I don’t really watch telly. I had some songs in that show Countryfile as well. I thought that was pretty boss actually. Countryfile.

IC: Sounds better than it is

FT: Oh, it’s awesome.

IC: We’ve got a good question for you.

FT: Ok

IC: Well, I think it’s a good question. We need the quote, because I don’t remember it and I want it word for word. Right, you did that big blog about piracy.

FT: Yeah

IC: About downloading music and all that. Well, I found a quote from Henry Rollins because I know you’re a massive fan of Black Flag. Right, the quote is: “When kids download your shit for free off the internet and they tell you about it, you don’t get mad at ’em. My party line is “pal, I’d rather be heard than paid”. So, if you want to steal my stuff you do what record labels have been doing to me for years. Am I gonna come after you like Lars Ulrich, demanding my 35 cents? Nah man, if you can’t afford to listen to my music and you’ve gotta get it off the Internet then do it”

FT: Ok, well, I mean, Henry Rollins experience of record labels and mine is quite different. For a start, Xtra Mile are good people so I can’t really say i’ve been fucked by the industry particularly, but i’ve never been on a major [record label] so who knows? The thing about it, because I did that blog and everything, which is fucking gonna haunt me for the rest of my life.

AB & IC: *laughs*

FT: You know, something that I said in the blog that people, sort of, missed is that things are changing. I actually, if you want my opinion, think that within about 10 years or so all recorded music will be free. I don’t really see how you can stop that happening. I’m not even sure that it’s a bad thing. The problem is, if you change that if you change that part of the economy of being a musician then you have to change other bits of it as well because it isn’t free to make records and it isn’t free to have instruments and all that kind of thing. This is the thing, a re-calibration needs to take place. My whole point in that blog was that, basically, at the moment people are expecting to change one part of it without changing anything else. Do you know what I mean? That leaves me in the lurch and, basically, I’m protecting my economic interests. I work really fucking hard. I do not and nor do I expect to get paid very much for what I do, but to make a living for working my arse off for 350 days a year, that’s not really much to ask I don’t think. To be able to just pay some bills here and there and that kinda shit. The thing is, with the way things stand at the moment, because, like I say, no other part of the industry is being re-calibrated. It’s difficult to do that if people just download music for free all the time, because it’s breaking the current economic model and that’s my problem. I wanna eat, I wanna pay rent you know what I mean?

IC: The argument about Lars Ulrich, boo hoo. The guy can’t wipe his arse with gold toilet paper.

FT: Lars Ulrich is a cock.

AB & IC: *laughs*

FT: I don’t want to come across like that guy or whatever, but, I mean, this is the thing. Again, one of the things I think maybe didn’t come across strongly enough is I’m trying to talk from the position of the small, independent, working people within the industry. This is my job. I’m a working person, this is my job. In any other industry, if you had a situation whereby people were stealing stuff and the people affected by it were the people at the bottom then everyone would be up in arms about it, but because it’s the music industry no one gives a shit. So, I guess, that was just my beef. I love Henry Rollins to bits, so i’m not gonna disagree with him *laughs*. What he said.

AB: Alright man

IC: It was a pleasure

FT: Sorry that was a bit short.

IC: It was great.

FT: I’ll see you later on?

AB: Of Course, see you tonight. Cheers Frank

FT: No Worries

Buy Poetry Of The Deed