Turner's debut Love, Ire and Song is being re-released in North America by Epitaph Records. Meanwhile, its followup, Poetry of the Deed is due on the same label in September.
So, solo Frank Turner started about four years ago?
Yeah. The funny thing is Iím not convinced I thought that I would still be doing this. Basically, I didnít want to be in a band again. I didnít want to have to ask everybody elseís fucking permission. Also, we sort of went professional with Million Dead about six months before we broke up. I was pretty cool with not having a day job and being on tour the whole fucking time. So, I was like, ďI wanna to stay on tour, I donít wanna fucking be in a band. I guess Iíll do some shows on my own.Ē There are only certain types of music you can play when itís just you and the guitar. Iím a big lyrics person. The lyrics I used to be obsessed with when I was in Million Dead [were] like, do you know Chris Leo from The Van Pelt and The Lapse, from Chicago? This is like í96-í97. They did a reunion show at SXSW this year. I actually cried.
I was pretty drunk. [Laughter] They finished with ďSpeeding TrainĒ and I thought I was gonna die. So, he was this really complex, intellectual lyricist. [However] I had this massive kind of revelation coming across, in particular, Townes Van Zandt. He was a Texas singer-songwriter out of the í70ís. He was a classic kind of tragic fuck-up alcoholic country singer. [So, I was] obsessed with lyrics [like] The Van Pelt singing, ďLetís make a list so it feels like weíre accomplishing something.Ē Itís wordy and dense and sort of slightly overbearing. Then Townes Van Zandt picks up a guitar and sings, ďThere isnít much I havenít tried, fast living, slow suicide.Ē Itís short and simple. It rhymes and itís perfect. Iím actually planning on getting this tattooed on my forearmsÖ This is the fucking lyric that sums of my view of life, itís a Bob Dylan lyric [where] he says, ďIím leaving tomorrow, but I could leave today.Ē Thatís from ďSong To Woodie.Ē What a fucking statement. So, I just got so much more obsessed with poetry, which instead of kind of bamboozling you with fucking imagery and information and words, it just takes the simplest thing. Another big one for me, do you know John K. Samson? He sings for The Weakerthans. That guyÖ motherfucker. I gotta meet that guy and buy him a beer. It was through listening to him that I realized what it was I liked about lyrics, when you take something small and personal and make it large and universal. That right there is what good lyrics are. He says stuff like, ďMemory will rust and erode into lists of [all] the things that you gave me: [a blanket, some matches], this pain in my chest, the best parts of lonely.Ē Itís just like, ďI have no fucking idea what youíre talking about, but I totally do know what youíre talking about.Ē Iím the first person to say that Iím still [trying to get] what I am in writing this kind of music - Iím practicing. The fact is that basically, I really hope Iím right in doing this. I feel like Iíve kind of stumbled into my mojo. All the sudden it was just like, (Turner exhales,) ďI really like this.Ē Not only do I like it, but around the UK, when I started touring, people liked it, too. I mean, slowly, but they did. My next line of headline shows in the UK are sold out [Laughter], which is crazy. The only reason I say that is itís just like, people are into it, people are paying attention. Yeah, so I guess that was the thing, itís just that something that was initially an experiment and partly a kind of necessity then became a reality of like, ďWow, I can keep doing this,Ē right up to the fucking Roseland Ballroom (the New York City venue where the interview took place after his opening slot for an Offspring show.)
Itís definitely an incredible feat.
I would love to be a misanthrope, but this is the thing I get from Springsteen, who I really shouldíve talked about more, because I think heís the greatest singer-songwriter ever Ė all time, ever.
Your cover of "Thunder Road" is really good by the way.
Thanks. Springsteen perfectly straddles the vibe between not being overly arrogant, but just stating the fact that you know what, you can be what you wanna be if youíre prepared to put the work in. One of the most imprisoning things that human society has come up with is low expectations. What I love about Springsteen and what I feel blessed to have come to experience in my life and what Iíd love to share with other people [is that] if you love it enough to put the work inÖ If you wanna be a vet, be a vet, if you wanna write a bookÖ If you wanna be the manager of a fucking water utility company, you can fucking do it. For the egalitarian in me itís so important to say that I donít regard myself as particularly talented. When I first started singing in a band I couldnít sing to save my fucking life. I just practiced, pushed myself, practiced, practiced, practiced. I did my first recording when I was 12 years old. Itís piss awful and every single person who has a copy will get killed. I wasnít fucking Jimi Hendrix with a guitar, and I wasnít fucking Jeff Buckley and Iím not Craig Finn who sat down and wrote the best fucking lyrics of all of history, ever. My God, I love The Hold Steady so fucking much. (He gets up to show me a lyric from a Hold Steady song tattooed on his back.)
Incredible. He comes from the same background as you, no? He used to play in hardcore bands.
I first heard about / saw you on the Revival Tour. That was basically your first legit tour in the States, no?
Iíd done some tours here and there. Mostly it was all UK, but Iíd done some American dates before. I owe Chuck (Ragan) a beer. I can pretty much trace the Epitaph deal happening back to Chuck. He started the conversations that ended in me signing a deal with Epitaph. I love Chuck anyway because Iím a huge Hot Water Music fan and, to be honest, Iím actually a bigger fan of his solo stuff and heís a super nice guy. Iím sounding totally gay for him right here Ė which I totally am!
That works out well then.
[Laughter] Heís helped me so much [and] Iíll tell you what, Iíll say this without mentioning any names or being down about anybody, but this whole thing thatís happened over the last few years of punk guys playing acoustic musicÖ Well, the thing is there are some people who are basically just playing pop punk without a drum kit. I mean, itís kind of okay, but to me itís pretty fucking boring. What I particularly love about Chuck is heís got his punk rock background, but heís not just playing punk songs. Heís really fucking engaged in traditional music as a concept. I have so much fucking respect for that. Heís refuses to patronize the style. Heís taking it seriously. Yeah, so I did four or five shows on the Revival Tour last year, which [were] just the most fun. The whole thing with the way the Revival Tour is structured, [the] not so clear sets, everyone on stage in the beginning, not this whole fucking ego bullshit, that really taps into a lot of things that I think about. Basically, after doing my short run on the Revival Tour last year I saw Chuck at the end of it and he was just like, ďYou are so in tune with what weíre trying to do here.Ē I was like, ďYes, I fucking am!Ē And he was like, ďI canít believe you only did this many shows. I wish you did more shows on the tour.Ē And he said, ďWell, next year.Ē You know, everybody fucking says ďnext yearĒ and nothing happens and then he fucking calls me up and heís like, ďYeah, alright, here are the dates.Ē I was like, ďFucking A, man.Ē So, I think the Revival Tour is excellent and I canít fucking wait to do it again [this] year.
So, have you accomplished a lot of the things you set out to when you started playing music as a gung-ho teenager?
Iíve checked a lot of boxes that I made out when I was a kid. I always wanted to play The Garage. I played Brixton Academy solo, which is crazy. Iím going to be headlining Brixton in March next year, which is insane. The worldís gone mad, itís official. So, I mean, Iím still an ambitious person. Iím still hungry. There are still things I want, [but] itís important to say that if I broke my vocal chords tomorrow, broke all my fingers, got told by the CIA that I could never play a show again, however you want to think about it, Iíd be happy with the things that Iíve done so far. Itís so important to me to stress that I remain a fucking wide-eyed starry little kid. Itís just important to me to keep being shocked by the things that happen to me. I think the minute you stop being shocked, you turn into Bono, and no one wants that. [Laughter] Bono is the archetypal guy who isnít bothered about shit.
So, whatís the opposite end of the spectrum from Bono then?
I donít know, Henry Rollins?! Henry Rollins is a god for me.
Have you ever met him?
No, but heís played one of my songs on his radio show, like, more than once - ďBack In The Day,Ē heís played it twice. That was on Indie 103 in LA. I think itís folding now, but this was last year when it was [still] going strong. I know one of the DJís [there], so I actually wrote a letter to Rollins, handwritten, and I told him to leave it on Rollinsí desk. It was just like, ďDude, I donít fucking expect a replyÖ Youíre a fucking hero to me.Ē Joe Strummer, Henry Rollins, Bruce Springsteen Ė thatís my trinity.