It’s here, the long-awaited second part of Elliott Homer’s mammoth interview with Frank Turner, folk-rocker extraordinaire! Last time we discussed the Reading and Leeds Festival and touring his latest album Tape Deck Heart, now let’s get Frank’s thoughts on crap crowds, making time for his side-project Möngöl Hörde and why the Scots don’t like him quite as much as we do…
Read part one here
Read on for part two!
These last three or four years have seen a massive commercial breakthrough for you. Do you think, for some audiences, especially in America, you’re last record (2011’s England Keep My Bones) was a bit too English?
There was a moment in time when I worried about that and then, I’m pleased to say, immediately slapped myself because if you start thinking like that when you’re in the middle of the creative process that’s what selling out means. So I don’t. Actually in America, I think it’s been fine because there’s a really strong Anglophile streak particularly in the American punk scene where Joe Strummer is God. Way more than he is over here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Clash fan but the regard in which he is held in America is bizarre. I definitely think it’s affected my career in Scotland and Ireland! (Laughs) Negatively, that is. When we do a U.K. tour we’ll always do a slightly smaller venue in Scotland and I do think a big part of that is that I released an album with “England” in the title. All I get is (adopts poor Scottish accent) “Fuck you man!” Alright, I can’t do a Scottish accent! But it was never supposed be any kind of jingoistic statement in any way, it was an examination of where I’m from, love it or loathe it, you know what I mean? It’s nice now we’re on the cycle for Tape Deck Heart because there was a moment on the last tour when all I heard was: “You’re the guy who writes songs about England” and it was like, yeah, now, but I’m not going to do that for every fucking song I write for the rest of my life.
Do you have a bucket list? Are you ticking off things you want to achieve in life?
I did have one when I started out. I’ve ticked most of all of that off now. For example, the Astoria, which is now gone sadly was the pinnacle of my ambition performing live. But Wembley is six times bigger than the Astoria and we’ve done that! (Laughs) I’ve met people I admire: NOFX, Counting Crows, The Weakerthans, The Hold Steady… There are some bucket list-type things that I want to do, but I just find my position in life right now so fundamentally unlikely and ridiculous that I’m keen to try everything because it just might work! I mean, I never thought I’d get this far! If the opportunity comes along to an arena tour, for example, my general reaction is: “Fuck it! Why not?” Why limit yourself?
Would you say that working with a mainstream producer, Rich Costey on your latest album is an example of you pushing yourself?
Pushing oneself is a good thing to do in life, certainly creatively. Every time I put out a new record and I hear “It’s not the same as the last one!” I say “That’s the fucking point! I’m not trying to release the same album twice in a row.” Working with Rich was interesting. I’ve never worked with a producer of that level before and one of the main things he did was really slave drive me and the Sleeping Souls into finding new depths of effort in the studio. I think it’s important to say that if this is the crest of a wave and if my career was to settle back down to playing to 500 people a night and I could make a living, I wouldn’t complain. It would be a privilege to be able to exist in that way. But if there’s the opportunity to change, to do things differently and to try out new things, I’ll take it.
There’s a much richer, fuller sound to this record, really using your full band, the Sleeping Souls.
Yeah, I always wanted to have a band playing with me. I love the paradigm of one person with an acoustic guitar but it’s quite sonically limiting. Also, I always wanted it to be the same band. There are two rival models. On one hand, you’ve got Ryan Adams who always seems to playing with a bunch of people he met in the car park five minutes ago and on the other, you’ve got the E-Street Band. I wanted it to be more like the E-Street Band. The Sleeping Souls are my band and they are the band that I want to play with. I’m not going to be playing with anyone else anytime soon. They’re amazing at what they do. We’ve been touring together for five years now and we’ve really grown together as a band. To me, it’s interesting to listen to Poetry of the Deed, the first record we did as a band. I like that record but there are a lot of personalities clashing in the arrangements. Now, we’ve reached a point where I think everyone knows how to fit in with each other and make the song work. This record has a bigger sound and Rich is partly to do with that and I’m happy with it.
This album has also been described as more personal.
In terms of the lyrics being more personal, like I say, I didn’t want to repeat myself doing another record about England and death. Also, England Keep My Bones is a really loftily themed record I feel which is fine to a degree but if you go too far down that road then you’ll turn into Muse or Rush, you know what I mean? Good luck and no offence to those bands but it does become a bit grandiose and that’s not really to my taste personally. Plus, I kind of knew there’d be a big push on the label side of things so I thought it’d be counterintuitive to write something more personal at a time when things were going to get bigger.
Does it help, having a hardcore side-project like Möngöl Hörde to vent your anger?
Yes and no. Most of the writing for Tape Deck Heart had been and gone by the time Möngöl Hörde was around. It is a liberating project for me. The main thing I’ve taken from that is the value of spontaneity because with my “day job” I agonise over everything: every lyric, every chord change, guitar part etc. With Möngöl Hörde, we wrote five songs in our first rehearsal! It’s very much a case of going “Sounds great, move on.” Some of the stuff we have is, I think, fucking brilliant, some of the best music I’ve been involved in and some of it may not be. (Laughs) It’s the value of essentially not tying yourself into knots endlessly and occasionally cutting loose. It also made me realise I’m no longer 21 years old or in shape at all! (Laughs) We’re working on a new Möngöl Hörde album at the minute which we’re gonna hopefully get out in January but don’t hold me to that!
In an interview with the Evening Standard you said “…at 31, my ethics and approach to music are the same as when I was 15”.
Certainly that’s what the song Four Simple Words is about.
Could you have written a song like your new single Losing Days at 15?
No and I probably would have thought it was a bit, (Pauses), let me phrase this correctly, soft for my tastes when I was 15, shall we say? (Laughs) I reserve the right to expand my musical horizons a little. I do think that’s what Four Simple Words is about, is that intellectually interesting idea that I feel like I pinned my colours to a certain mast, joined a certain club or tribe when I was a teenager but I’m not carrying a banner for it. It’s more that, if I find myself at a truck stop in America and there’s somebody with skinny black jeans, sleeve tattoos and an Against Me! T-shirt, I’ll go and say “Hi” because we probably know some of the same people! That’s just nice.
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As a final thought, in my research, I came across one or two of your more colourful sobriquets. The best I thought I’d share with you was “metal’s answer to Billy Bragg”. How does that sound?
(Laughs) That’s brilliant. I’ll tell you a little story. Metal was the first music I ever fell in love with. I went to see The Postal Service the other day. Love The Postal Service, they’re a great band. It was a very indie, chin-stroking crowd. Including me, of course! It did make me laugh that there were 5000 people listening to dance music and not dancing! I started having a bit of a groove at one point and the person next to me just glared at me and started tutting! It’s a fucking dance band for fuck’s sake! Anyway, I was on the tube on the way home and it was full of people who’d been to the gig, as it generally is, but there’d been a metal gig somewhere too. There was this, I reckon, 16-year-old kid wearing a sleeveless denim jacket with home-sewn-on patches, stone wash jeans and a Venom T-shirt. He had long hair and he was listening to a Walkman. I looked at him and I thought “Good for you, man.” The word “cool” is supposed to be about not giving a fuck what the rest of the world thinks about you but if you really want to see someone who doesn’t care what anyone thinks, it’s that kid. I just wanted to shake his hand.
What is it about metal that you love?
It is so impervious to fashion. I feel that my love for metal comes through hopefully a little bit in the music I make. I’ve been criticised roundly in the press for being unironic which strikes me as fucking stupid. Irony has its place but I don’t want to hear “Ugh, this guy means what he says!” What a terrible criticism! Yeah, it’s not ironic; it’s what I do so fuck you! There is a little bit of the metalhead still in me so, yeah, I am metal’s answer to Billy Bragg! Longest yes ever!
Thanks for talking to Gigslutz, Frank!
Thanks, man. That was fun!
Frank’s latest album Tape Deck Heart is out now.
The latest single Losing Days is out September 1st.
For more information on upcoming tour dates head to frank-turner.com