Intervju med Frank Turner

Den engelske sangeren og låtskriveren Frank Turner ga i fjor ut sitt åttende studioalbum No Man’s Land. Han er kjent for å være ekstremt produktiv og hardtarbeidende, og nærmer seg 2500 spilte konserter siden han startet på sin solokarriere i 2005. 
Vi tok en prat med ham før han varmet opp for Dropkick Murphys i Oslo Spektrum.

Radio Rox: You’re on tour with Dropkick Murphys, and you’ve done that before. How is it to go back to being support? After all, you’ve had major tours and solo shows. 

Frank Turner: Sure, being support is kind of nice in a way, in the sense that we usually finish by 9 p.m. every day and I don’t have to worry too much about ticket sales and all of that kind of nonsense. But The Dropkicks are old friends of ours and they have done us favours in the past and it’s really fun. We’re playing to a lot more people than we would be playing to if these were headline shows. It’s good for me on that level and it’s just a nice atmosphere. The band and their crew are all really lovely people and old friends, so it’s a nice way to start the year.

RR: Does it feel like a homecoming?

FT: Yeah, a little bit, it’s definitely familiar territory.

RR: Do you prepare differently for a support act show than a headline show?

FT: There’s little changes. The way that we write a setlist is slightly different and in a way it’s a challenge that I really enjoy. You walk out on a stage and obviously at these shows there’s a fair few people who know who I am. The majority perhaps don’t, and I have an hour in which to make them care. It’s visibly satisfying in the sense that at the beginning you get a polite round of applause and hopefully by the end you get a big cheer, and you can see it visibly when the crowd starts moving. So yeah, it feels good.

RR: Do you still enjoy being support or is it a necessary thing you just have to do as a musician?

FT: I enjoy it, it’s nice to switch it up. If you just did one thing all the time then that would get boring. I always think that Paul McCartney must get bored of live shows because – and I say that with respect – everywhere he plays, he’s the headliner and there’s nine million people there. Whereas sometimes I do solo shows, sometimes support shows, sometimes headline shows, sometimes club shows, sometimes arena shows and just that difference all of the time really keeps me on my toes. 

RR: I wanted to talk a bit about your latest album, No Man’s Land. I think I’ve heard that you never wanted to do a concept album and then this happened?

FT: Haha, yeah, there’s an argument to be had if you were bored and had nothing else to talk about, about whether or not it strictly is a concept album, but I probably made some stupid flippant youthful comments in the past about how I wouldn’t do a concept record. It’s conceptual, I guess. It’s not one story told over 13 songs, but it’s got a theme, should we say?

RR: Yes, and I really enjoyed it because it has a very different approach from any other album I’ve actually heard. It draws in historical aspects, feminist aspects. Was that the starting point or was that something that happened while you started working on it?

FT: I think the starting point for me was just that in the past I’ve always written autobiographically and it struck me as an interesting thing to leave that behind for one record. And I love history and there’s a lot of great history folk songs, old traditional folk songs that tell historical stories, so I thought I’d have a go at writing that. My other directive came in as I wanted to tell stories that people, including myself, wouldn’t really know. I don’t really see the need to tell or retell a story that everybody knows. Those were my governing objectives at the beginning. I got about four or five songs into the project and realized that every song that I had written so far was about a female figure and that struck me as interesting. There is an obvious bit of politics to that, if you’re trying to tell stories that haven’t been told enough: “Oh, wow, what a surprise!” It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but it is interesting to me that it came out that way. So then, I decided to follow that, it struck me as an interesting idea, and I couldn’t think of anyone else who’d done it and I thought I’d give it a go. It’s important to say as well that, obviously, I recognize that I was straying into potentially controversial territory by doing it, and I did try hard to think about that and to not mishandle this subject matter. I spoke to my wife, my sisters and my mom about this a lot. And particularly my wife was great. There were one or two moments where she was like “Don’t say it like that” and I was like “Oh, really?” and she was like “Yeah, that’s a really male way of putting that.” Some of the songs are just third person reportage and some of them are second person, few of them are first person, which again is yet more challenging for some people, but in some of them, if I really wanted to emotionally inhabit the material that I was writing about that that was the best way to it. I’ll stand by all of it. I’m very proud of it. It also constitutes an experiment for me and a risk, and I’m glad I took it. Because there is nothing more boring than artists who repeat themselves.

RR: I would definitely agree on that and I felt it was an album, at that time, that someone had to do in a way. It was just about time?

FT: Definitely! The other thing are people who sort of said “Why is it you doing this?” and I can see that on some levels, but the opposers, first of all, I’m not aware of anybody else writing songs about Huda Sha’arawi right now. Secondly, I was always gonna make an eighth record. It could be about men from history, if you like, or more songs of me complaining about my personal life. But it just struck me as a better use of my time.

RR: Yes, I enjoyed it and I also enjoyed the podcast [Tales from No Man’s Land] you did. It was very educational and interesting. A lot of stories you could really get into much deeper than what a song normally would give you.

FT: Yeah, that was the thing, I knew that there had to be some kind of extra information with the record. Because if I was gonna write the songs in such a way that you could get all the information from just the song then they would be really simple and boring. But if they are complex, lyrical analogies and all the rest of it, you need to have a way of telling people what it is you’re talking about. I thought about having the longest liner notes in the world and that didn’t seem like a good idea. We did have some conversation with some TV people but that just took forever and was really annoying. Podcasting is cool, because it’s still kind of like the Wild West. No one really knows what the rules are. So I had a meeting with a podcast company and just pitched them my idea and they said “Okay!” That was literally it and I was “Oh, ok, cool.” We can start recording in two weeks and that never happens. That was really, really fun. If you’re gonna try tell a whole life story in three minutes, that obviously is what I’m trying to do on some levels, but it just seems that if you wanna get into the story properly and pay the people involved the respect that they are due, then you need to actually dig in some more.

RR: It’s twelve definitely historical women and there’s one song about your mom, which I thought was really sweet. Was that the plan all the way or did that come in addition to what you already had?

FT: It was an addition to it. The songs started coming and a lot of the time I don’t really have any control over what songs or what ideas arrive and I had it coming. It seemed like a nice way to finish the album. It’s obviously the odd one out in its way. I don’t know if you heard the podcast episode with my mom? She was surprisingly open in talking about what the song was about. Even when we were recording it, she surprised me with some of the things that she said. I’m grateful for that and it was emotional in its way, here and there. It was a cool song to put on that.

RR: Lost Evenings [Frank Turners egen festival] is coming up again. You’ve had it for three times?

FT: Yes, this will be number four coming up now.

RR: You started in London and then you had it in Boston, and now Berlin?

FT: Yes, the idea for the format was always that it would be mobile. You just need the right kind of room and then you’re away. It’s obviously a much harder thing to organize than that sentence made it sound. We did it in London. The first year was an experiment and nobody knew if it was gonna work or it was gonna be a shambles or a disaster or whatever. The first year was actually really great and we all kind of went “Wow!” So for the second year we decided to do it in the same place again just to kind of consolidate the lessons, because none of us had ever put on anything like that before. Just stuff like wristbands and ticketing – no one thought about it the first year until the beginning of the first day. Suddenly there was this huge panic: “We don’t have wristbands!” and somebody ran to this store and bought 4000 wristbands. There were lessons to learn. It was funny when we announced the third year in Boston, lots of people in London got really pissed off. Cause they were like “Why is it not in London and is it gonna be in London as well?!” I think all of us would die of heart attacks if we tried to do it twice in one year. The Boston one was the best one yet and this year we’re moving it again. I think people now understand that it is a thing that moves. We have plans for five, which will be in 2021. That’s lined up already, I can’t tell you more about it. But it’s really fun going to Berlin. I love Berlin.

RR: It’s my hometown!

FT: Fantastic! Do you know Treptow Arena?

RR: Yeah, I don’t want to be too negative…

FT: You know what, I’m gonna answer your point that you’re gonna make.

RR: It’s the sound.

FT: Yes! We’re taking care of that. We are effectively building another room inside the room for sonic and acoustic reasons. We’re not the first people to do it and I went to see some people do it and it sounded great! But obviously that’s something that I’m worried about, you know, I’m a musician. It does matter. I think it’s gonna be really really cool and I’m really really proud of the lineup. We have Henry fucking Rollins, that’s pretty cool. And Catfish [and The Bottlemen] is gonna be amazing, and KT Tunstall. It was also important to me to have some European bands there as well. I didn’t just want to show up and just have English bands and American bands, so I’m really happy we have Turbostaat, Fortuna Ehrenfeld and Tim Vantol, and there’s a whole bunch of others. We haven’t announced the second stage yet. It’s been really cool. It’s gonna be wild. One of the nice things is and this is obviously part of my long time plan, is that a lot of people in America didn’t get it when we were going to America until they came, because they hadn’t seen it before and a lot of people come if it’s your first time and you go “Alright, ok, I understand now.” So it’s cool, because lots of English people came to the American one and lots of English and American people come to the Berlin one. Hopefully, as we go around the world and show people what it is, then one by one, people in different regions will start following it.

RR: Have you already worked on your setlist for tonight? Or how far in advance are you doing that?

FT: The thing is that when we get into a tour, we tend to end up playing a reasonably similar setlist every night after the first sort of two or three shows. It’s a difficult thing for me, because on some levels you wanna write completely fresh every day, but some things work and some things don’t and some songs land with certain audiences and some don’t. We have a setlist ready for tonight, I might tweak one or two songs tonight because this is day four of the tour.

RR: Between the Dropkick tour now and Lost Evenings. What are your plans?

FT: Oh, I’m so busy! It’s ridiculous.

RR: Yes, because you are the most busy man in music.

FT: Well, I’m less busy than I used to be. I used to not live anywhere and part of the reason I go on tour all the time is because my friends would get tired of me sleeping in their sofas. I’m not even kidding. And then it was, I’d better go on tour again. But now, you know, I’m married, I have a house and the people in my band have kids, so we’re busy. We’re not as busy as we used to be but I have a solo tour in the UK, which will be fun, and we’re doing a Southern Hemisphere tour in april. We’re doing New Zealand, Australia, South America and South Africa. I’m not gonna sleep for an entire month, it’s gonna be awful, but I’m looking forward to it. I’ve never been to South America before, so I’m really looking forward to that!

RR: Coming back to being busy, you were actually awarded “Hardest Working Artist”-award [AIM Awards 2011], and you do blogs, podcasts, books. It’s a lot!

FT: The thing about that award is that it’s a slightly double edged sword and at the same award ceremony, it was the Independent Music Awards, I also got the “Best Live Act”-award and that made me happy. Because it would be possible to work really hard and not be any good, you know what I mean? Quantity does not equal quality, so to get a qualitative award as well was really a relief for me. I’m grateful for it, but I know other bands who work this hard, and I also know a lot people who work in less glamorous jobs. Who work their asses off, who don’t get awards and they deserve them more than I do. I enjoy my job, it’s not like it’s a pain in the ass for me to play shows.

RR: So even with the eighth album, you won’t retire and settle down?

FT: No, I’m working on album nine right now. Just some demos for album nine but they’re coming together.

Frankt Turner kommer tilbake til hovedstaden og spiller på Punk in Drublic i Oslo Spektrum 6. juni. Lost Evenings IV avholdes 21. til 24. mai i Berlin.

– Linda Holzerland

Coverbilde: fuckinclairphotos.


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