Frank Turner Interview: The Poetic Punk Talks Playing 2000 Shows, His Own Festival, and a New Sound for 2017

By Kieran Bowie and Wes Bowie
Images courtesy of Rockets are Red, Ben Morse, Nicole C. Kibert and Lotte Shrander

With this week’s announcement of Frank Turner’s Lost Evening’s four-day event at the London Roundhouse, his documentary ‘Get Better’ due for a special one-night screening on December 13th, and as we discovered in our interview, not one, but two potential albums on the horizon, the future’s looking bright for one of the hardest working punks in the business. We caught up with him before his show in Scunthorpe, to talk life of touring and what’s in store for 2017.


You have just this morning announced Lost Evenings in Camden in May, It’s basically your own little Ozzfest, Frankfest so to speak.

Originally we were talking about doing a festival in a field and, firstly I feel like that’s kind of been done quite a lot, there’s a lot of festivals now. I feel like The Levellers have Beautiful Days, and I don’t really want to compete with that. I mean I’ve played there and I think I’m playing there again next year and I love The Levellers and all the rest of it. Also financially it’s a lot riskier setting up an outdoor festival, and I think I mentioned it in the announcement, I’m kind of an adopted son of North London, I feel very strongly about the music community there. I mean the Roundhouse is an amazing place so we called them up like “Can we get some dates” and they were like “Fuck yeah”. So it’s gonna be like a festival, we’re gonna have two, maybe three stages in the Roundhouse, we’re gonna have workshops throughout the day, I’m taking over four or five bars around the Roundhouse where we’re going to have side events going on. There’s loads more information to come, the line-up for a start. I’m gonna be playing a different set every night, we’ve got four fucking mental main supports which I can’t tell you about (laughs). If it goes well, then we might do it next year in London, Manchester and Glasgow, or maybe Boston and New York, or maybe Cologne and Berlin, it’s a portable concept. It’s actually quite a simple way of putting it on, from a logistical point of view, we’re just doing four shows in the same venue, which actually makes my crew’s life easier, we don’t have to install toilets or track or anything. I’m really excited about it, we’ve been planning it for a good six months or so and I’m excited the news is out.

It sounds like you’ve got a night for everyone?

I’m glad you think so, that’s the idea, kicking off with the greatest hits thing, it’s the 10th anniversary of Sleep is for the Week around then, which makes me feel old. Then another night and an Xtra Mile night which will be fun.

How do you decide a specific set list for each of your shows?

With a lot of thought, I spend a depressing amount of my day thinking about set lists. Generally speaking, the set lists evolve over time, it’s a bit like seeing the same photograph of someone over a period of time. Sometimes I worry we’re repeating ourselves, but like our sound guy on this tour was away for a few months, he hasn’t been with us since February and the first night of the tour he was like “That was a 100% different set to what you were doing in February” and I was like “Was it! Oh, that’s a relief”. We have pillars in the set, and there’s so much to think about, I want to play something off every record, keep every constituency happy, but you’ve gotta start in a certain way and finish in a certain way and tell the story. I take requests from emails, about a quarter to a third of the set is made up of requests every night. In all honesty when someone requests a song I was gonna play anyway I’m like “Yesss” because it kills two birds with one stone. That does happen quite a lot, but I want to play some more obscure stuff and I know there’s some people that come to a lot of different shows and I don’t want to play the same show every night for them. So yeah, it evolves.

Speaking of one of your recent shows, in Doncaster you played a cover of a Counting Crows track. You mentioned your sister was a massive influence, are there any other albums from that era that influenced you?

I got into thrash essentially, metal and thrash, and that got me into my brief sojourn in grunge, that got me into punk and hardcore. Throughout all of this my older sister was this lone, tempering voice on my taste of music, Levellers – Levelling the Land, actually she got me into Tori Amos and I think Radiohead – The Bends maybe? But that was the only non-thrash stuff I was listening to for a good decade. She does also listen to an awful lot of toss, I remember she got the 4 Non Blondes single, you know that What’s Up song and she quite literally played the cassette till it broke. To this day that sound brings me out in hives.

image

What was the last album you bought or downloaded?

I buy all my music on ITunes generally speaking, I’d love to be a vinyl guy but I live out of this (pats his suitcase) and there’s no way I’m carrying a vinyl collection around in that, it’d make my back worse than it is. I think the last record I last bought was the new Jamie T record, Jamie’s an old pal, haven’t seen him in fucking years, but we started in a similar sort of area, I think he’s hugely talented. Just this morning I was listening to the new AJJ record, Andrew Jackson Jihad, their new album’s called The Bible 2, it’s fucking amazing. Their singer Shaun is a good friend of mine, they always crash at mine, in London when they’re on tour, we’ve toured together in the past, he’s one of the most original lyric writers I’ve ever heard in my life.

You’ve got your 2000th show on the horizon, you’ve had a book out recently and a film coming out soon. How far do you think you can go? Do you see show 3000?

I mean, 3000 is pretty likely. It’s funny, people keep asking “How many shows do you think you’ll do in total”, which is kind of a morbid question, it’s either asking me how long I think I’m gonna live, or by extension how long I think I can sustain a career in music, neither of which are questions I’m enormously keen to address head on (laughs). But it’s funny because I started to think about it, ”Ooo I wonder if I’ll ever get to six figures, 10,000”, and it’s extremely unlikely actually if you do the maths of shows per year and how long I’m likely to live and indeed, how many shows a year I’m going to want to do because you can do 250 shows a year when you’re in your 20’s and I’m 34 now and we’re gonna end up 196 this year and it’s been a fucking hard year. Hold on, that’s 200 a year, if every year was this hard (does the maths in his head) that’s like 40 years of touring without a break, it doesn’t seem likely. I mean I’d love to say yeah, fuck yeah.

Now we’ve got the festival, film, book, blah blah blah, I do feel like I’ve been trying to diversify what I do, partly because it’s fun and it’s interesting and all the rest of it, but also because I think that it’s self-interested, in the sense that if I wish to continue to make a living in this world I think you can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. I mean the film isn’t really my piece of art it’s Ben Morse’s film, I mean it’s about me, obviously, and it makes me want to crawl inside a duvet and die watching it. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, it just means it’s a film about me which is like “What the fuck”. Like the book, I really enjoyed writing a book and I actually want to write a book about something other than myself, because that book required zero research, it’s just “Here’s what I remember from the last decade”, piece of piss. I’d like to do a book I’d actually have to do some research to work on.

Talking about the book, it was based on the first 1000 shows, how did you pick which particular shows you were going to write about?

Well, I just tried to pick the ones that were interesting. One of the things about writing a book was that I was struck by a moment of hubris in the sense that I was just like “Ahhh it can’t be that difficult to write a book”, it entirely can, it’s really hard, writing books is hard. I enjoyed the experience and I learned a lot but it was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. First thing I did was line out all the shows and put a little note next to all the ones I thought I could remember an interesting story from, once I actually started getting into it I started trying to theme, like if there were certain points I was trying to make, it was like you make that point with that story and that point with that story. Another thing is people ask if I’ll ever do another book about the same thing, I doubt it is the short answer. I mean never say never, but the interesting point to me about the book was it was about how you get from playing fuck all no one in a bar to playing an arena show. The story of how you continue to be a sort of mid-level reasonably successful artist and sort of doing O2 Academies quite a lot is not as interesting, I mean there’s still a bunch of anecdotes I could tell sure, but it’s like, there was a degree of functionality to the book in the sense that I wanted people who don’t know about touring who are interested in it to read it and understand what it’s about, or at least how you do it.

At your Wembley gig, just before Four Simple Words you mentioned you’d love the crowd to spontaneously burst into a dance routine. Did you know someone is planning one for your 2000th show?

I was not aware (laughs)

I have seen the dance routine it’s by a girl called Sophie Hocking. What’s your main response to that?

I think it’s cool as fuck. I’ll be impressed if it comes off simply because as many people as are planning to do that that’s a song that generally gets the kind of the mosh pits just bleargh so I feel like people who try and line up and do moves are gonna get cleared out, like sandcastles on a beach.

I think they’re planning it just for the intro but I’ve noticed you’re not really playing that

I don’t want to disappoint, although I have to say, what we were talking about set lists earlier, for the 2000th I’m not taking any requests because it’s my fucking show. But also we’re filming for DVD that will be out sometime next year. The last DVD was 2012. I don’t watch my own stuff regularly but I watched part of the Wembley show the other day and, with all due respect to it, it was a very special show I was watching thinking, goddamn, we’re a better live band now than we were then. You’d hope so, over four years and 800 odd shows, you get better at what you do. I really want to document what we’re doing right now as a band. My favourite live DVD is Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre by The Weakerthans. They made that and then two years later The Weakerthans broke up, they didn’t do anything special or weird for the DVD it’s just like “This is who we were”. I’m not trying to imply that I’m going to stop or we’re break up as a band or anything like that, but it’s kind of cool to have those moments when it’s like “that’s what we were doing then” so that in 30 years’ time we can go “There I was”. Touch wood.

You’re playing the Agganis Arena in Boston next year, it’s understandable that your music resonates in the UK but did you expect it to do so well across the pond?

imageNot when I first went over, I was a bit nervous before I first went over to the States actually thinking like “Here’s a bunch of songs about me being sarcastic about suburbia in England, why would anyone give a toss on this side of the Atlantic?” But I think two things I hadn’t taken into account with that, one of which is that American’s, and particularly American punks, have a very strong strain of anglophilia, like Joe Strummer is God in America in a way that he isn’t over here, and I mean I’m a big Joe Strummer fan, don’t get me wrong, but he’s Sainted there, you can’t say a bad word about Joe Strummer in the States. I mean like so many of my American’s friend like Cock Sparrer as their favourite band and I’m just like “Cock Sparrer?!” I mean I like Cock Sparrer they’re alright, but like… “Cock Sparrer?” Like Laura Jane Grace, for example, favourite band, of all time, Cock Sparrer. I was like “Ok… Really?” I mean to be slightly less mercenary about it, I think there is actually more that unites people than divides them and if you write about human events and experiences then they tend to resonate with, humans (laugh).

The other thing, Boston in particular, we’ve toured with the Dropkick Murphy’s a lot, and wonderful, wonderful, wonderful people they are too, an amazing band. Once you’ve done Boston with the Dropkick’s a few times, which we have, it’s kind of like being handed the keys to the city, you’re alright with Boston then. That’s our first ever headline show in an arena outside the UK and I’m really excited about that, but there’s a bar called McGreevy’s in Boston which is run by Ken from the Dropkick’s, and everyone’s like “Are you going to do the off show there” and it’s like “No, because it’s going to be fucking rammed full of people”, everyone thinks we’re going there, I’m almost keen for people to keep thinking that’s the case, as much as I like hanging out with people and stuff, it’s the end of the American cycle for this album and I kind of want to just go and have a chill with my American crew and have a beer. So maybe not at McGreevy’s.

When you’re on tour, what brings you back down to reality, or who?

imageWell, the who question is easy, my girlfriend, she’s constantly knocking me back down to size (laughs). It depends on what you mean by reality really, I’m being slightly contrarian by answering your question in this way. I try very hard not being self-important in what I do and in that role my crew are very good at that. I probably do the least work out of anyone on the crew and I’m painfully aware of how hard they work and the main thing I do with my day is trying to stay the fuck out of their way and trying to make their job easier by doing things like getting the set list in early so my lighting guy can program what he’s doing or something. It’s funny, like every now and then when someone takes time out of their day to be angry with me on the internet, which happens, they go “Well you don’t understand us, because you don’t live a normal life” and I’m kind of like “It’s normal to me, this is what I’ve done since I was 16 years old, this is fucking normal to me”. I understand their point but what fucks me off is that they’re so self-important that they haven’t realised what they do isn’t normal to someone that lives in Somalia or Venezuela. In fact, I don’t think there are masses of use or mileage in self-declared normality. It’s like “What I do is the median and therefore I’m going to judge the rest of the world by it” is a bullshit thing to say regardless of who you are, so this is normal to me and I know it’s not normal to that many people. It’s a minor gripe of mine, but I think it takes a fair bit of narcissism to declare yourself the midpoint of human existence.

Is there a song idea you’ve had for a long time that you haven’t quite been able to get right but you’re still determined to finish?

Yeah loads, fucking loads. Some songs come fast, the example I was thinking of with that If Ever I Stray I straight up wrote that in 30 minutes, it started me dicking around at the start of the sound check and then we didn’t really do much of a sound check because we spent the rest of it shouting “Shut up, shut up” and writing stuff down and then we had a song which was cool. Probably the most tinkered with song I have is The Way I Tend To Be, I wrote that song long before it came out and there’s about 900 different versions of it, and I’m still not 100% convinced the version we released is the right one, for the record. On The Third Three Years, there’s a piano and vocal version of that song which I suspect might be a better version than the one that’s on the album. I had the name Christa Mcauliffe in a notepad for a good five years before I finally figured out how to come at that song (Silent Key) in a way that made sense. Shit, loads, is the short answer to the question. My favourite songwriter Loudon Wainwright the Third, has been touring since like 61, and he’s like, the greatest songwriter of them all, I actually own his old guitar and it’s the greatest thing I own. But he has an amazing tune that he always plays second last in the set, called Tip That Waitress because he generally plays bars that have table service, and it’s just brilliant, the songs like “She’s been up on her feet half the fucking night, make sure you tip that waitress” and it’s great, means he’s popular in every bar he plays in. I’ve got an ode to the bar stuff that I’ve been working on for a while, it’s partly because most of my friends work in bars and I respect what they do and I’m always that prick that turns up five minutes before closing and tries to buy a round for like 20 people and they’re like “Fuck you” and they’re like “Can we have a lock in” and they’re like “No I have to do things tomorrow, go away” so I wanted to write an ode to the bar staff and it’s nearlyyy done, so maybe that’ll be on the next record.

That leads us nicely on to the next question, songs for the next album. We’re guessing you’ve started, how much progress have you made?

imageWell, I’m in a dilemma at the minute. This is a sort of mildly exclusive piece of information, I just wrote a concept album, I wasn’t intending to write one, I wrote two or three songs that were in the same vein and then it all sort of made sense. It’s 8 women in history who’ve been forgotten by the historical record and I’ve written 15/16 songs in that vein, and then I suddenly went “wait a minute”, I’m not ditching those songs, they will get released, but I’m not sure if that’s the next album I’m going to do. I feel like the world in 2016 is demanding a rather more contemporary comment, and it’s funny because I have strayed away from trying to be any kind of current affairs songwriter, like deliberately for a long time, but it’s sort of hard to. I mean the world is going to shit and I strongly don’t believe music will save the world because its artist commentary and commentary is entirely valid but, people who think Bob Dylan caused the civil rights movement really need to read some books. I do think it’s difficult to be a human and not say something about it, there’s something kind of ostrich-like about, at this moment in time, releasing a record about women in history. I’ve got about five or six songs in pile two, but I was actually writing last night and I didn’t get to sleep because I was writing, so you know, we’ll see. The project for next year for me, aside from everything else going on, is to write another record, but exactly what form it will take has yet to be decided.

So if it’s not the concept album, will we see a huge shift in tone?

Definitely, in fact, there was a feeling I had when we were creating Positive Songs (For Negative People) that I was emptying a particular creative cupboard. In fact, correlative with that is, I don’t really have any criticisms of Positive Songs and whenever that happens, which is rarely for me, that to me is a signal that I need to do something radically different, because I’ve done “that”, whatever “that” was, there’s no more tinkering to be done. For example, I always feel Love Ire & Song was a sort of attempt number two at Sleep is for the Week. The songs are about roughly the same thing but they’re better presented but when Love Ire and Song was done I was like, ‘Cool, done, now move onto something else.’ I feel I need to justify my continued existence as an artist. There are a lot of new bands coming out, album seven by anyone isn’t inherently an interesting thing, so I’m quite into the idea of trying to do something radically different actually, what exactly that entails I don’t know.

Trying to take yourself out of your comfort zone?

imageYeah absolutely. The practical side of all that is that there are various producers I’m trying to work with. Some producers will turn up and put a microphone in front of you and let you do what you want to do, which is what Butch Walker did, which is what I wanted. I want somebody who is going to fucking deconstruct me as a human, do you know what I mean? I mean I’d love to make a record with Brian Eno, I’m not sure I could afford to, but something along those lines, with someone who is going to tear me apart and make me rethink everything I do. It’s funny because it’s difficult to explain because that doesn’t mean the producer is writing the songs, that’s not what I’m talking about, it’s more about someone who is going to challenge you and rearrange you as a person and then put you in front of the microphone again and you go ‘Oh my God’.

Someone who is going to push you?

Yeah definitely and Rich Costey did a fair amount of that for us on Tape Deck Heart but I’d like to go harder again down that road and if we end up making a fucking techno drum and bass record then so be it, but it’s unlikely.

If you had to pick an all-star band to be a part of who would be in it?

I can make this very easy and pick The Band (Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison). You watch The Last Waltz, it’s the greatest fucking rock and roll band in history, every single version of the songs they did on The Last Waltz pisses on the original, it’s remarkable. The version of Helpless is so much better than the original it’s kind of embarrassing. Not least because Neil Young is so high when he comes out he can’t remember the chords and there’s only three of them, and yet they still nail that song into the fucking floor.

Considering the way 2016 has gone who is one person you would keep in a protective bubble? Because we have lost a lot this year.

We have, it’s funny I have different opinions on them. The most keenly felt loss for me in terms of the impact they had on my life was Leonard Cohen. But at the same time, he was an old and ill man and had a long and very fruitful life. I feel like Prince and Bowie perhaps had rather more left to give.


Big thanks to Frank for getting involved with Intertainment Magazine, you check out all his upcoming tour dates here and a list of where you can catch one off screenings of the documentary ‘Get Better’ here.

Oh and if you’re a fan of the artwork at the top of the page check out Rockets are Red. They’re band art veterans and we’ll be releasing a Q+A piece with them in 2017.

This interview and others like it will be featured in our third issue releasing at the end of the month. In the meantime, feel free to check out our November issue here and give our Facebook and Twitter pages a like and follow for music info, without the fluff pieces.

kieranbowie

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