An Interview with Frank Turner

Frank Turner shares 2000th show at Nottingham's Rock City in full

This week, we are continuing our new series of interviews with artists and people of interest throughout the community and industry with a very special treat! I am proud to present my “sit down” with the absolutely wonderful singer/songwriter, Frank Turner. For me, this is a very special interview, as Frank Turner’s music has long been near and dear to my heart. We all have bands and artists that are constants for us. We may not always listen to them on a weekly basis (or perhaps we do), but just knowing they’re there is comforting. Frank’s music has been with me over the long haul, and has steadied the ship for me in times of trouble, and rode happily beside me for the good times as well. It’s not very often in life that we get to “meet” our heroes, let alone personally thank them for the impact they’ve had on our life in general, so it goes without saying that this one means a great deal to me.

All praise and poetry aside, Frank Turner has been, and still is, making some of the most authentic, earnest and honest music you’ll find today. His enduring Punk spirit has always been meaningful to me. Maybe it will be for you as well. If you are unfamiliar with his work, there is no time like the present to change that! Remember, music has the power to both change your life, and save your life. Frank Turner’s music has without a doubt done that for me. If you want to learn more about Frank Turner and his music, you can head over to Frank’s website here. And so, with that, let’s get on with it. I hope you enjoy getting to know Frank Turner as much as I did.

Andrew:
Frank, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us! Tell us about your back story. How did you start playing music? What was your musical gateway sort of speak?

Frank:
My pleasure. I got into music properly when I was about 10 and discovered Metal (through the medium of Iron Maiden) and rock music (via the Freddie Mercury tribute concert from Wembley). I spent my teenage years immersed in Punk, Metal and a dash of Ondie, and played in various bands, some of which started touring.

Andrew:
You began your career as the vocalist of the Hardcore band, Million Dead. How did you get started with them? What influenced your choice to leave the band and make a go of a solo career?

Frank:
I was in a band at school called Kneejerk with my friend Ben. That broke up as we left, and Ben started a new thing when we both moved to London, with some people I didn’t know. They were lacking a vocalist and Ben asked me down to a practice, and it all fell into place. We toured for four and a half years, it was a lovely time, for the most part. I didn’t leave the band to go solo; the band broke up (due to internal politics, differences, failure to get along, however you want to describe it). I started thinking about what to do next. I wanted to do something different, and something independent, where I wasn’t going to have to rely on other people to get it moving. I tried a few shows with just me and an acoustic guitar, it felt good, and I went from there.

Andrew:
I’ve been a fan of your solo output since the beginning, and I have to say- it’s fantastic. I’ve always loved the blending of Folk with Punk. What made you decide to incorporate more Folk into your solo work?

Frank:
Thank you. Mostly it was just a question of taste; I was listening to a lot more Folk, Country, “roots” music (whatever the hell that is). I was more interested in songwriting as a discipline than I had been before. I wanted to do something that was different for me, and quite raw, not hiding behind noise or weird time signatures. And there was an ideological aspect to it as well; I wanted my music to be for everyone, not just some shadowy elite of scenesters. And of course, it made sense with the fact I wanted to do it on my own, at least initially.

Frank Turner interview: 'The world has changed in a way that I feel demands  comment' | The Independent | The Independent

Andrew:
Let’s go back a little. You were born in Bahrain, but mostly grew up in Winchester and Meonstoke, right? What was the music scene like for you growing up? Did you attend a lot of shows?

Frank:
I grew up in Hampshire, yes, but I was shipped off on a scholarship to boarding school pretty young, and absolutely hated it. Punk became my escape route, so I figured out how to jump the train to London and start going to shows. The UKHC scene in the late 90s was my formative experience, Household Name Records and all that. It was a wonderful time to be going to shows, such energy and great bands. There wasn’t any of that back home, let alone at school, so neither of those held much attraction for me. I went to as many shows as I possibly could, and saw a lot of great music.

Andrew:
A long time ago, I read that the first genre you fell in love with was Metal, and that the first album you ever owned was Killers by Iron Maiden. Is that true? What was it about Metal that drew you in early on? How has Metal influenced your work as you’ve moved through you career?

Frank:
Yep, as noted. My parents are not into modern music at all, so Maiden was my first real exposure to volume, guitars, drums, the lot. It just blew me away (and still does). It’d be hard to say metal has a huge influence over what I do now specifically, but I always liked the fact that it’s a scene that is (mostly) impervious to fashion. It’s just people who love a thing, getting on with it, and damn everyone else, and that’s still how I think about what I do. I’m not seeking any kind of “mainstream” acceptance.

Andrew:
You’ve had the opportunity to tour with Chuck Regan, Green Day, The Gaslight Anthem, The Offspring and more! What’s it been like touring with so many incredible and legendary artists?

Frank:
It’s amazing, on a few different levels. Firstly, I grew up with a lot of this music (Green Day, Offspring, Social D and so on) so getting to meet those people and share a stage with them, to be considered in the same bracket even a little, remains a huge deal for me. Secondly, I feel that supporting bigger artists is a great way to hone your craft, and winning over a hostile (or at least disinterested) audience is a good skill to learn. I like to think it’s something I’ve got pretty good at over the years.

Frank Turner shines light on homelessness in Manchester Street Noise gig |  The Big Issue

Andrew:
Being from the tri-state area (NJ, NY, CT), I’m am of course a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen, in particular his album, Nebraska. My understanding is that album had a huge influence on you as well. Can you tell us more about that?

Frank:
That record was influential to me, though it was one of a few that hit me at a certain time. The others included stuff like the Johnny Cash American Recordings series, Regina Spektor, Josh Rouse and so on. It was the realization that you could be intense, be heavy, without having to have pounding guitars and drums and be screaming at the crowd with your shirt off. That was new information for me.

Andrew:
I often get the feeling that many of your lyrics could be very personal. Songs like ‘The Way I Tend to Be,’ ‘The Real Damage’ and ‘Get Better’ have an almost autobiographical way about them. I know that often times, artists will create stories with characters that they have no personal connection with at all, and other times the lyrics are intensely personal. Which is it for you?

Frank:
Oh, it’s very much autobiography. I’m not that good at fiction, or at least haven’t been. One of the motivations behind writing No Man’s Land was an attempt to engage with a songwriting style that wasn’t autobiographical.

Andrew:
In my opinion, your songwriting is honest, earnest and has a positive light that sort of seeps through. Is that intentional, or does that way of writing just come naturally to you?

Frank:
I guess I’d say that my own taste in music tends towards the viscerally honest, so I naturally follow that instinct as a writer. Generally speaking, I try to write in an unadorned way, not to over-intellectualize it, just to let what comes come, and to see how it feels, keep it pure. The positivity thing is a funny one for me; I don’t consider myself a particularly optimistic person, but that side of me (such as it is) tends to come out in my songwriting, I guess maybe because I don’t see the point in only focusing on the negatives in my art. Who knows? I suppose I’m an incorrigible optimist.

Frank Turner's Moving Tribute To Late Frightened Rabbit Singer Scott  Hutchison: 'He Was My Friend and I Was Inspired by Him' | Billboard

Andrew:
In 2017, you started your own festival called The Lost Evenings Festival, with the idea of celebrating live music, and community. Community is important in general, and given the state of things, it’s probably even more so now. What inspired you to start the Lost Evenings Festival?

Frank:
Lots of people had contacted me to see about doing a festival of some kind, a traditional setup in a field, and that didn’t really appeal to me; there’s already far too many of those in the UK. Doing something multiple nights in a venue in a city seemed more interesting, not least because it makes the concept portable. We started in London, we’ve done Boston, and we were supposed to do Berlin this year (but 2020 got in the way). It’s a wonderful weekend – a lot of great music, a sense of community gathering. A friend of mine said I was just trying to recreate the idealized Punk scene I’d imagined in my youth, and that’s probably a fair cop.

Andrew:
You firmly straddle the line of Folk and Punk, and your music is often characterized as “Folk Punk.” How do you feel about that label? What are your thoughts on the ideas of genres in general?

Frank:
I’m not sure I care about genre tags very much; they often feel like a parlour game for music journalists. I don’t think I sound much like a lot of the bands that get called “Folk Punk,” but then I’ve been at it longer than most of them, and both of those things are elements in what I do. But there’s a lot of Indie, Country, and other stuff besides in there. People can listen and make up their own minds.

Andrew:
I’ve always felt that “Punk” is more of a mindset than anything. A Folk or Jazz musician can be just as “Punk” as an artist wearing leather and chains. Would you agree? What are your thoughts on that, and the idea of labels in general?

Frank:
Historically, punk is both a sound and an ideology, though it’s important to note that no one can really agree on what that ideology is. Maybe it’s an attitude, but even that can be contentious – most modern punks would despise the Sex Pistols if they were a new band now, which is intriguing to me. I have an instinctive love for ‘Punk,’ whatever it might be, because it was defining for me when I was growing up. I’m slightly contrarian about it, in truth – I’ll defend Punk to the end when I’m around people who aren’t associated with it, but nothing puts me off it like a room full of ‘Punks.’ Maybe that is in itself quite Punk, haha.

Frank Turner @ O2 Academy Sheffield - Exposed Magazine

Andrew:
In 2019, you released the album No Man’s Land, which for our readers that haven’t heard it, is a concept album celebrating various women throughout history. I am sure you know this, but women are vastly under-represented in both the music industry, and the vinyl community. What was your inspiration in creating No Man’s Land
?

Frank:
I started off trying to write songs that weren’t about me, as noted. I’m also a huge history buff, so I thought the idea of writing historical songs could be cool. Then I decided it’d be more worthwhile writing about lesser-known historical characters. After I had a few in the bag, I realised they were all about women (so far). There’s an implicit politics to that, but I found it interesting and pursued it. I copped a fair amount of flak for making the record as a man, which was tediously predictable, but it begs the question; what else am I, as a man, supposed to do about the imbalance that you note? I wrote about women and worked with an all-female cast on the album, and tried my best to start (or contribute to) an honest discussion about all of this. It didn’t change the world, it was never going to, but I have ended up having some fascinating and useful conversations on the topic the world over since, and that seems useful to me.

Andrew:
Do you collect vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? If so, what are some albums that mean the most to you? Where do you like to shop for music?

Frank:
I have a mountain of CDs, that was my main thing growing up, but to be honest, I’m mostly digital these days. I buy particularly special records on vinyl. Mostly I shop online, but I do like to flick through the racks at a store when I can. Albums that mean the most, ha, we’ll be here all day!

Andrew:
We know you love music, so this may be a tough question, but what are some of your very favorite bands, and artists?

Frank:
Briefly, I suppose I should mention Black Flag, NOFX, Descendents, Counting Crows, The Weakerthans, The Hold Steady, Townes Van Zandt, Regina Spektor, Nina Simone, Bill Withers and Pedro The Lion. But God knows there’s more.

Andrew:
You’ve already had a long career, with hopefully a long way to go! Looking back, what are some of your favorite memories so far?

Frank:
I’ve been doing the solo thing since 2005, and did my first tour in 1998, so I have a lot to look back on at this point. There are many great memories – playing big shows and festivals, touring with and befriending some of my childhood heroes, hearing my music in unusual places, traveling the world, finishing songs I can be proud of. Actually, the thing that means the most to me is that I’m still standing. Every single step of the way, most people have doubted my ability to succeed or sustain, and yet here I am. That feels good.

Andrew:
Last question. Do you feel the musical landscape has changed for the better or worse? Do you have any words of wisdom for young artists just getting their start?

Frank:
I’m not sure there’s much value in sweeping judgements about the musical landscape – it is what it is. Some people think ‘music’ was ‘better’ in the 90s (or whenever), but that just begs the question – so what? One of the punkest lines I know is from Against Me! – “We can be the bands that we want to hear.” If music isn’t doing it for you right now, do something about it. Make more, make it better. For young bands, well, love what you do and be your own harshest critic. That’s about it.

Interview with Frank Turner: Old-Fashioned Punk Rock Provocation - Atwood  Magazine

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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