Frank Turner

Frank Turner recently dropped his fourth album, England Keep My Bones. He's successfully transitioned from post-hardcore singer to folk-punk balladeer in just a few years and was recently featured on Last Call with Carson Daly. PunkNews interviewer Brandon Campbell caught up with the English native via long distance phone call to talk about Turner's new album, an intensely scheduled two-country tour and his tentative plans to dabble in electronic music.

You just got back from the United States doing a few shows here. Can you give me an update on how things went out here as compared to how things are back home?
Yeah. I’ve always had kind of a disjointedness with the level of where things are at in the U.K. versus where things are at elsewhere like in the States, which sometimes can be quite nice because it gives me a variety of experiences with the types of shows I’m playing.

But this trip to the U.S., it was just me and my guitar; I didn’t have my band with me. So, I did shows in New York and D.C. and then Chicago and Bamboozle Festival and stuff like that. It was great. It was exciting. All the shows had sold out before I got there.

For the first time for me it felt like in the States people were really starting to gear up and get stoked about what I’m doing, particularly about the new record. And then coming back here I had a total of 12 hours off between landing in the U.K. and the first show of the U.K. tour, because I’m a masochist.

The tour I’m doing in the U.K. right now, we’re deliberately doing a longer run of smaller venues, but the whole tour sold out in one day. So, the pitch is slightly more feverish over here. I mean, it’s all good. I’m putting out my fourth record and even in the U.K. it sounds like people are still excited about what I’m doing and that’s something I’m grateful for.

It sounds like you got a positive reception while you were out here, too.
Yeah, definitely. People often say getting anywhere with music in America is a bit like steering a ship tanker. You have to put in a lot of effort quite early on and things take a long time to turn around, but they kind of do eventually.

I’ve been coming over to the U.S. here and there for quite a long time now and it finally feels like people are really starting to get it, understand what I do, and that makes you feel good.

Definitely, and even beyond your tour you’ve been getting a decent amount of exposure over here. You were recently on Carson Daly and that’s some big exposure. Can you tell me what that experience was like?
It was cool. It wasn’t quite my American TV debut, because I did a thing in Tucson, Arizona at the end of last year. I have to say I don’t watch a lot of English TV, let alone American TV, so I can’t say I was familiar with Carson Daly before the show came up. But I mentioned it to some friends and everyone said it was a great thing to do and they were very nice. I didn’t meet Mr. Daly himself, but everyone was nice and I thought it came out well.

Moving on to the new record [England Keep My Bones], is there anything on it that you’re particularly proud of?
OK, here’s the thing. I didn’t want to take any radical stylistic left-hand turns and make a spoken-word-drum-and-bass record, or anything like that. I think I wanted to push myself to go further towards the edges of the little sort of field that I’m in, if that makes any sense at all. I wanted the loud bits to be louder and the quiet bits to be quieter and just stretch out in to all of the stylistic territories that I’m inhabiting right now and enjoy it just a little bit more.

I feel really great about the record. It’s more diverse. The thing about Poetry of the Deed for me is it was quite by design a meat and two veg kind of rock record. We set up in a room and we played as a band and we made a rock album. It was fun to do, but for this one I wanted to be more ambitious and have more dynamic range, is what I think I’m trying to say.

Franz Nicolay is on this album, right?
In fact, he’s currently on tour with me in the U.K. I see him walking towards me on the other side of the road right now. There he goes, looking very nice.

We met when he opened for me at a show in San Francisco in March 2010. I’m a huge Hold Steady Fan and he’d just quit the band and started doing his solo stuff again. I thought it was going to be some sappy solo guitar type stuff. I know that sounds a bit rich coming from me. But he absolutely blew me away. His whole punk rock vaudeville is incredibly unique, amazing, incredible and exciting. It’s important.

He played accordion on a few songs on the new record. It just so happened he was doing a U.K. tour in January while I was recording. After his London show he ended up crashing at the place I usually crash in London. I woke up in the morning and sort of forced him to come up to the studio with me and lay down some accordion songs.

I assume recording went well.
I did something that I’ve never really done before this time out. We did a shit ton of preproduction on this one. I made the band kind of demo the entire record three times; it’s something that’s pretty fucking boring. But looking back on it now I’m really glad that we did it, because it pulled the record together in a way that it wouldn’t have otherwise.

Mixing took an absolute fucking lifetime. And me and Tristan, the guy producing the record, we had some long dark nights in the studio. But in the end we got there and I was happy with it.

You mentioned not wanting to take any left-hand turns with this album. But have you ever thought about that with your sound? Have you thought about making a drastic change and releasing something totally out of left field?
I’m not one for rules. If the moment seizes me to make a spoken-word-drum-and-bass record, then I’ll do it. I will say that I suspect if that does seize me, I might well do it under a different title. I do have a vague kind of plan to take a year off to do some side projects. I’ve got some ideas.

I’ve got a friend now who’s an electronica DJ and we were talking about making a kind of Aphex Twin-y but dirty-pop with weird beats kind of record. I’d do the pop bits and he’d do the weird beats and it would be great, but we’d probably call it something else. Not that I would try to hide what I’m doing from anyone, but I think it would make sense to present it differently.

No, I think it makes sense, too. I mean, you’ve kind of established yourself with the name Frank Turner. There’s a little bit of an expectation of what to expect from a Frank Turner album.
You’re right. I don’t particularly believe in paying attention to what other people think that I should do with my music. I’m wary of saying that anything I do is designed to live up to anybody else’s expectations. To be honest, fuck other people’s expectations. I couldn’t give a shit.

But at the same time, as much as I love touring with my band, there’s a sort of troubadour backbone to what I’m doing now. Just kind of me and my guitar playing a show anywhere, and if I start making records full of electronic bleeps and blips, or something like that, it seems to me that that wouldn’t really fit in with my ability to grab a six-string acoustic guitar and just play gigs.

You’ve been working with Epitaph here in the states for a few years now. How’s that relationship holding up?
It’s great. I grew up listening to records that came out on Epitaph and they still have a sound that’s suitable to my taste. So, there was that initial kind of excitement. But once that initial buzz goes away you’re left with the fact that they’re a good bunch of people who know how to do what a record label’s supposed to do. And since working with them my popularity in America and Europe has gone from essentially nothing to something really good.

A lot of your songs seem to deal with universal human issues like loneliness, heartbreak and even growing older, but you seem to approach them with fearlessness. Where does that come from?
(laughs) I’ll take that as a compliment, whether intended or not. There’s fearlessness a lot of the time, but there’s fearfulness as well. The reason to get up and sing on the stage is to get up and engage with other people about the things in life that are prying, and awful and terrible. And it’s by sharing our experience we can ameliorate it and everyone wins. That kind of thing.

If I had to sum up my life philosophy in one sentence I’d say: Life is nasty, brutish, short and essentially pointless. But let’s all reach out and try and accept that fact. Let’s laugh in the face of the bad news and have fun nonetheless.

You played The Fest 9 last year and I heard your show got moved out in to a parking lot. What was the story behind that?
I was supposed to have been playing a show in the hotel lobby of the Holiday Inn later that night. I had been telling everybody on stage about it. But I wasn’t supposed to tell everyone about it. They were worried too many people were going to show up, so it got canceled. So, I made a split-second decision and said "Fuck it, man. I’ve got some more songs and if people want to hear I might as well go stand in the car park outside." That was a pretty magical moment, because I made 200 people sit around and listen, and some were even stage diving out of a tree, to an unamplified acoustic guitar. I thought it was a pretty rock and roll moment.

I was playing blink 182 covers and stuff like that. It was a pretty good time. Then someone said the cops were coming. No one wants to get arrested. And me, not being an American citizen, if I get arrested once at any point in the U.S. then they won’t let me back in the country. Then the cop came up and I was shitting my pants and he goes, "Hey, man. I love your music. I’m really sorry I had to break this up, but I’m a really big fan." And I ended up playing a show in the hotel later that night anyway. So, it was a really good time.

Speaking of international travel, you were born in Muharraq. Has having that on your passport caused you any travel problems here in the U.S.?
An Arabic sounding word written on a passport is kind of lick catnip to an American border official. They go crazy for it. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in small back rooms being asked extra questions. It’s fine. I’ll get over it.

I’ve got to be honest. I’ve only come in to contact with your music recently within the past two years. One of my favorite songs of yours is "Photosynthesis". Could you tell me where you got the inspiration to write that song? It seems to do a good job of summing your life philosophy.
Thanks for the kind words. But here’s the thing. I quite often feel a bit like a schizophrenic who’s just come in to a room full of dead bodies while holding a bloody knife. It’s kind of like, I know that I did this but I don’t remember doing it.

Quite often songs are just one day there and the next their not. And the exact mechanism by which they came together seems to kind of escaped me. To be honest with you, "Photosynthesis" is a song I’m very proud of. It’s a manifesto type song, I suppose. It was just something I was feeling strongly at the time.

Thanks for your time, Frank.
My pleasure, man.