I won tickets on my local radio station. The DJ asked me “Do you like Frank Turner?” I had no idea who he was. The DJ laughed. “He’s a folk/punk singer from England that the ladies love.” I had visions of a young Tom Jones type that would cause women to remove clothing upon walking into the room. This might be a good night. I wanted to research Frank and buy some of his music before the show. I bought the new album, Positive Songs For Negative People. The first listen made me think this is good. After a few more listens my attitude went from like to love. I bought some of his old stuff, including both of his albums from his old band, Million Dead, and bought his new book, The Road Beneath My Feet. Million Dead was a post-hardcore band with a much harder edge. The band broke up and Frank set out alone. He went from selling out large venues to having a handful of people at his show. An endless non-stop touring schedule began. The show I was at was number 1841. So 1841 shows in roughly 10 years. So roughly a show every other day for 10 years, not including travel time(speaking of travel, after the show Frank was leaving Waterloo well after midnight and had a show at 7pm in Thunder Bay, 1500 km away, during a Canadian winter!!!!). This is a post about the interview I did with Frank, so I won’t get too deep into the music, or his live shows, but I do strongly suggest you check him out. I can give no bigger recommendation than the Assistant Program Director at my local radio station. He saw me at the show, and he came up to me wide eyed. He said he doesn’t really go nuts for famous rock stars the way he did for Frank. Frank was one of the only people he has ever cared enough to watch do a sound check. We both agreed that his new album took a few listens, but when you “get it”, it hooks you in. I will only say about the show that it was the best experience I have ever witnessed with a solo musician and a guitar. The audience yelled along with every song. Considering he has sold out Wembley Stadium, O2 Arena, and performed at the Olympics, the small bar I saw him at was a real treat.
What was the first concert you ever attended?
I went to see a band called Snug at the Joiners Arms in Southampton. Probably 1995.
What do you do to get yourself psyched up before a show?
Not much usually, I’ve been doing this long enough. That said, if I need to get in the mood I usually listen to Converge.
Do you change up the setlist, and if so, how do you decide what to play and where?
I do a little, though I usually have a working structure on any given tour, which will have trade in spots. I spend forever thinking about setlist choices – it’s all to do with which album, which key, which mood, how the whole thing flows.. It’s a well-considered thing.
Tell me a little about the big venues. Wembley, O2, Olympics. Was it surreal? Explain your feelings.
Playing bigger venues is a little weird at first, though like all things you get used to it. It’s more of a challenge to get a show across in that kind of environment, but if you succeed it feels fantastic. The Olympics was altogether different, it was more like a video shoot, there were no people anywhere near us. Still fun to do though, different.
Is the prep, the feelings, the everything the same if you are at a small club compared to those large shows?
Not really; there are a lot more people around, a lot more technical shit going on at the larger shows. There’s more room backstage and so on. But I suppose the basics remain the same. You’re still hitting a stage to try and engage an audience with your songs.
I know you have progressed to being a huge star, but do you ever feel like sofa crashing or playing in the parking lot for the fans like the old days?
I still do from time to time. It’s not quite the same though, the way people react to me in public is different now. And I’m not 23 any more, which makes a big difference. Shit starts hurting when you get older.
How did you choose the songs for Last Minutes & Lost Evenings? What songs from Positive Thoughts For Negative People would have made that album?
LMLE was basically a live primer from the early records that Epitaph wanted to release outside the UK, so it was based on common setlist choices from preceeding tours. I guess if PSFNP material was going on there, the consideration would be the same. It’s arguably a little too early to say on that score really, the material from the new record is still bedding down with people.
Can you describe the song writing process briefly? Is it one person, a collaboration?
I write on my own, and then take the songs to the band (The Sleeping Souls) for arrangement. The writing process has no hard and fast rules, it’s always different, and it’s something I try not to examine in any great detail as I don’t want to fuck with the mechanism. The arrangement process is more methodical, we work through different presentations of the song, it’s quite gruelling actually, we work hard.
Is there one Producer, Engineer etc. that you would love to work with?
I actually loved working with Butch Walker last time around and am keen to do so again.
The same for an artist.
What music are you currently listening to? Possibly someone we may not know about.
I did a show with a guy called Uri Sade lately, he was stunning. https://soundcloud.com/uri-music/
Explain to me the feelings you have for the new album. Do you feel it is far and away better than your previous work or an extension of the previous?
That’s a difficult question for me now. In the past I might have been able to answer it about any given record, but I have too much material under my belt now. It’s virtually impossible for me to make a meaningful qualitative comparison between PSFNP and Love Ire & Song, for example. They come from such different places, times, contexts, that I can’t really think about it like that. I do love the new record, I’m super happy with it even now (which is unusual for me, I’m usually tearing things apart this long after release). I think it achieves what it sets out to do.
Has getting more popular, famous etc. and reaching a higher plateau elevated your work? If so, is there a fear the next album will be held up to too high of a standard.
I don’t think that the level of my public regard has much impact on the quality of my work. I suppose I felt a little pressure around Poetry Of The Deed, and then learned pretty fast that it’s meaningless. I put quite enough pressure on myself anyway!
There are different chapters in your book. As the reader, the book so far has been a list of interesting stories, mostly about life on the road and road gigs. Why the different chapters, and for you, what separates one from the other? Is there a significance, as in progressing forward as a musician etc.?
The book is structured around individual shows, so I just went through and picked out the ones that I felt were significant, furthered the narrative, or were entertaining to recall.
Regarding your Dad. If this is too raw still, I understand. Was that the last time you saw him? If not have you and he patched things up? If he asked you to, would you take the song(Father’s Day) off your setlist?
I have no contact with my father.
A previous venue was not as full as you had hoped, and it seemed like you may have almost came to a crossroad of staying with music or quitting and “adulthood nagging at my sleeve”. Describe the feeling and how (or what) helped you soldier on with music.
I think anyone doing anything like what I do for a living is, to some degree, driven by a large dose of self-belief. You have to have some kind of inner motor to drive yourself through that kind of thing, it happens often enough. I suppose part of it is belief in the music you’re making, your need to communicate or whatever. But it’s a type of faith on some level. Everyone tries to be a realist, and I don’t want to be undignified, clinging to something long after it’s gone. I’m glad I soldiered through those times, and continue to do so.
Has your definition of hitting the big time differed from the night you were able to afford a night in the Manchester Travelodge?
Haha, yeah I suppose so. “The big time”, “success”, “making it” and so on, these are all pretty vacuous terms. From a distance it looks like a singular destination; from up close you realise it’s different for everyone, it’s not like there’s a finish line you’re heading for. For the time being my career is on solid foundations logistically, economically, whatever. So my preoccupations and challenges are more purely artistic, which I actually think is a healthier state of affairs. Success for me now is more purely about writing songs that are up to scratch.
First off. Sorry for your friend Lexie. She sounds like she was an awesome person. Can you describe her. Are there things that remind you of her? Describe what is like for us to have to perform a show full of emotions. Have they ever gotten the best of you on stage?
Lexie was a wonderful soul, the life of every party, someone relentlessly adventurous, even to the end. It’s kind of delightful that one of my solo songs has commemorated her (Long Live The Queen), and been a big part of my career taking off; she was much more a Million Dead fan. I think she’d find it funny. There’s a necessary degree of distancing that goes on when performing emotionally laden material, no one can directly relive everything night on night, that’s just not human. There are nights when it’s harder than others, sure. (Note: Alexa Burrows or Lex, was a fan right from the early Million Dead days. She started Lexapalooza, a one day musical festival to raise awareness and funds for Breast Cancer, the disease that ultimately took her life. Once again I say FYC)
Do you have a favourite tattoo? Can you tell us a story like the on you did on John Berna, or the one you got of Texas.
It’s hard to pick just one. I have many. I’m a big fan of the backs of my hands, a fox and a crow, a nod to Mewithoutyou; that record blew my mind and changed my career a lot when I heard it.
In your book you mentioned you don’t drive. Do you still not have a license?
Nope, haven’t had the opportunity to learn, I’ve been busy.
In the book you mention that you had to front your own money because you wanted to have the rest of the band on tour with you. I assume that has changed. Is the decision to go solo or bring the band your decision?
It hasn’t totally changed, no. I make money in some parts of the world and lose it elsewhere. The decision is mine. I’m fine with the idea of UK tours essentially funding tours in Eastern Europe or whatever. Playing is more important to me than money.
In the book you mentioned underwear are called American Briefs here in Canada (I’ve never heard this term before so I wonder where you got that info)
From an American.
(The following questions were provided from fellow blogger James at Keepsmealive
Can you describe how you feel about the Weakerthans, your tattoo of the cat named Virtute, and Joel Plaskett ?
I love the Weakerthans, they’re one of my favourite bands. The tattoo is to do with that. Joel is awesome, I’d not heard of him before we toured together back in 2012 but it made a fan out of me. He’s an amazing writer and a wonderful guy.
I have heard you try and fit in a song from a local act(or other Canadian band). Do you still do that? How did that start? Do you have any favourites?
I did that for a tour back in 2013, it was a lot of fun, and a good discipline for me as a writer and performer. I haven’t been doing it lately, but I might again sometime. It was cool learning stuff like Jimmy Buffet, and it was cool to play an SNFU song in Edmonton one time.
What do you make of your popularity among recently retired pro wrestlers? Daniel Bryan is a fan and they talked about working together, and CM Punk was in the video for The Next Storm https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4IZbCl6iR4
Uh, it’s cool? I don’t really know anything about wrestling but Daniel and Punk are both good people.
Your song I Still Believe was released for Rock Band to herald the announcement of Rock Band 4 – what do you think of games like that, etc.?
I’ve never played one, but people seem to like ’em.
When I saw you perform in Calgary a few years ago, you were touring with Koo Koo Kanga Roo – having a kids’ act for an opener is not a thing most bands would do – how did that come about, why did you make that call, etc. ?
I played a festival with KKKR in Minneapolis years ago and just loved them. I think they’re an amazing live band, really fun, and I like the way they’re resolutely unhip, they’re not arch or ironic or anything, it’s just pure fun. Having them on tour was amazing, it really made the shows more energetic for me. I enjoyed watching crowds go from total confusion to surrender.
Thank you so much Frank for taking the time to answer our questions.