Frank TurnerInterscope Records
By Pete Bataillon on October 7th, 2013 at The Waiting Room - Omaha, NE
As he embarked on his first North American tour in support of his major label debut, Tape Deck Heart, Frank Turner took some time from his busy schedule to discuss the tour, his back injury and his plans for his new hardcore side project, Mongol Horde.
You’re about four days into this tour now?
Yeah, this is day number four of this tour. Although the thing this you know we just did a month in Europe and we had a week between the two tours in which I was busy everyday with stuff and did two shows. So I feel kind of like I’ve been on tour since August. But fuck it, I’m not complaining. But yes, I will enjoy tomorrow as a day off. I will sleep with panache in a star shape in a hotel bed. It’ll be rad. It’ll be good.
How have the shows been going so far?
Pretty good. I mean this is the biggest U.S. tour that we’ve ever embarked on. All in it’s 48 shows, which is a lot of shows, and we’re covering pretty much every corner of this landmass apart from Arizona. I’m sorry Arizona! It’s nothing against Arizona. I love Arizona. But we’re covering a lot of ground. For example, you look at the back of the tour t-shirts, which have all the dates on them, and it’s like, “Man, we are there, and we’ve got to get all the way down to there.” Which can be a little daunting, but so far everything is going great.
It’s been reported a lot lately that you’ve had some back problems. How are things going with that?
Slow and steady. I’m lucky and fortunate in life that I have a record label who want me to be standing up right, so I have some really really good people working me over. People that I would not be able to afford otherwise should we say. But I have two hours of physiotherapy a day. Which is really fucking boring, but it is making a difference. I’m basically not allowed to play the guitar during the actual shows right now. So we have a guy named Cahir, who is usually our guitar tech, has taken over. It is kind of an interesting thing. In the beginning when I was playing shows and not playing guitar, I was a bit uncomfortable about it and I didn’t really know what to do with my hands. I’m kind of getting into it now and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens at the moment when I am fit enough to go back to playing guitar again. Part of me thinks that I might stick without the guitar for at least some of the set going forward because it is kind of cool. It’s just kind of fun.
I was going to ask you about that because in Million Dead you were the front man and now you’re getting to go back to doing that again.
It’s different from Million Dead in a lot of ways in the sense that it’s much less aggressive music or whatever. But I feel that on this tour I’ve been engaging with the crowd more you know, and that’s obviously something I like doing and it’s just kind of like I’m singing at people and it’s getting more down and involved and in some ways it makes for a better show. So yeah, it’s given me pause for thought; and its kind of fun to run around and point at people.
How different does it feel? Because these are songs that you have written and you’re used to playing and singing and now you have somebody else taking over guitar duties.
From a singing point of view, in a way, it’s better because I get to concentrate on just the singing and it’s enabled me to be a bit more kind of adventurous with little variations of melody and rhythm and stuff like that because I’m not concentrating on playing guitar at the same time. The guitar thing is weird. I’ve always held myself to be an average, at best, guitar player. I really don’t consider myself to be a particularly good guitarist. But it’s been quite interesting, this whole thing. I’m not saying I’m a good guitar player, but I’m certainly an idiosyncratic guitar player because there are a couple of little bits where I’m just like, “Oh yeah, and then you just do this and this, it’s easy.” Cahir is a really fucking good guitar player, and he’s just like, “What?” and I’m like, “Yeah, just do that; like you do,” and he’s like, “How the fuck do you do that?” Like I say, it’s not by any means the whole set or every song or whatever. There’s one or two little flourishes that I do that to me are simple as shit, but apparently they’re weird. It’s been quite interesting to discover which bits of my guitar playing are weird and which are normal. So that’s been kind of philosophically interesting I suppose.
Reading and Leeds were the first two shows we did. We did a warm up show the day before Reading as well. Cahir had 5 days to learn 25 songs kind of thing. He’s been our guitar tech so he knows the songs, he’s heard them, and he knows the general outline of the sets we usually do. But nevertheless that’s a lot of things to do. Plus, almost as a point of ideology, but I use pretty simple chords in all my songs. I always wanted for my solo stuff to have songs that are easy to play from the point of view of the chords and stuff. But what that of course means is that there is an awful lot of him kind of going, “OK right, so this song is the one that goes G,C,D, and this is the one G,D,C, and this is the one that goes D,C,G and like OH MY GOD!” kind of thing. But he’s getting there. He’s getting there. He’s up to speed now.
Good good. How have things been overall; reception wise, being on the road, and with the record going from Epitaph to Interscope?
Well, there’s a big question. I always say this first as a kind of a disclaimer, and it may sound offensive, but I do think it’s important. I remain signed to Xtra Mile Recordings, which is the indie label in London that I’ve been with since day one and there’s a grand total of three people that work there, and there always has been, and they’re my friends, and my family at this point. But of course, yes, in the past we’ve licensed stuff to Epitaph and this time around we licensed to Interscope. Making that decision was in some ways a quite big decision because I came up in the D.I.Y. scene and then of course the independent label scene. There’s an awful lot of demonology about major labels in that world and in some ways that’s kind of soaked into the wood grain of me. Do you know what I mean? At the same time, quite early on, and I’m not going to name any names in this, but a band that I was in got REALLY badly screwed by an indie label. Which gave me an indication that perhaps that just plain old, “Indie is good, majors are bad” thing wasn’t as cut and dry as people make it out to be. In the end I think the reason we went with it is that, particularly in the UK, we walked into the office with the label, and it was like, “Look, you know what, I’ve done four records. England Keep My Bones has done 100,000 copies and we can sell out arenas in this country. I’m really not here to lick your fucking boots and be told what to do like a 21-year-old kid who’s desperate for stardom or whatever.” You know, I’m an ambitious person. I want to be successful in my endeavors in life. It was kinda cool. It was more like a conversation between equals, essentially I think is my point. Since starting working with them I’m now…oh my god I’m actually going to answer the question that you asked. (Chuckles) Since starting to work with them, I think because of my upbringing with the music I grew up, I think I’m always pretty cautious. I’m kind of guarded, and I’m sort of fucking ready for them to try fucking with me, do you know what I mean? And thus far, I think we had one dispute about a choice of video director. They wanted me to work with this one guy, and I…didn’t; and it got slightly tense on e-mail for a day or two. But two things about that; first of all I got my own way in the end, and secondly, that’s not nearly as important as the music, the songwriting, the production, that kind of thing. A video is a marketing tool. The thing I care about being sacrosanctus is the sound, the music. That’s the art. So that was a long way of saying, it’s all good!
Before the record came out, you were playing songs like “Tattoos” live. Was there any specific reason why those didn’t make the album cut, and they were bonus tracks?
Well, the whole business of picking what’s going to go on the album proper is agonizing and I don’t by any stretch of the imagination think I always get it right. For example, “Balthazar, Impresario” should have been on England Keep My Bones and it fucking bothers me that I called that one wrong. Goddammit. But the song is out there, but it still makes a difference what’s on the album proper. But I believe in albums as being a contiguous work of art, you know what I mean and forty-five minutes of music or whatever. But then of course we usually do the deluxe thing because at the same time I don’t believe in sitting on songs and holding them back for future releases because it’s kind of a period of time where these songs belong together. Part of it is just trying to pick what I think makes a good record, what tells a story, fits together, covers all the bases I want to cover within one record. For example, when it came down to whether “Anymore” or “Where for Art Though Gene Simmons” was going to go on the record, I felt like I didn’t need both of them on the album proper, because to me they occupy a reasonably similar emotional and sonic space. There you go; there’s a statement for you. But one of the other things as well, and this is a higlyh philosophical statement in a way; the thing about a song like “Tattoos” is that “Tattoos” is a crowd pleaser. I know that if I play that song to the kind of people who come to my shows anyway, they’re probably going to dig it because it’s a fun song, it’s a jaunty little number. It’s sort of in the ballpark of shit that I usually do, particularly the older stuff I do and it’s about tattoos and people like tattoos and that’s fine and that’s a good song to play out live as a song that people don’t know. However, all of that is in a way somehow a little too easy to me, and in a way I’m more interested in a song like “Fisher King Blues” or “Oh Brother” or something like that because it’s a bit more challenging both to me and I think to the audience. Basically I just don’t want to play it safe. I’m not really that interested in playing it safe.
It’s interesting that you bring up the sonic side of things. I was going to ask you about “Broken Piano”. You’ve shown progression throughout your records, but “Broken Piano” seemed like it was definitely a progression and something new.
Thanks. I’m glad you think so. I’ve got a really big corner of my musical taste thrown over to post-rock stuff. I’ve always sort of wanted to try stuff in that vein, but I’ve always been nervous about it because I feel like it’s a genre that’s easy to do…badly; and obviously I don’t want to make bad music. But it took a lot of working around to get that song in the right place. But I’m really proud of it. I’m not saying it’s the best I’ve ever written or anything like that. But it’s just very different from what I usually do. It made me feel quite good about my abilities as a songwriter, that I could turn my hand to that. If that’s not to arrogant of a thing to say. It was just kind of like, “Oh yeah, alright, yeah, that worked! That was cool.” It’s been really fun. It’s in the set right now, which is really cool as well. The interesting thing is when that song first came out; I go off on tangents the whole time, forgive me for that. When the album first came out an awful lot of people kind of really didn’t like that song. I had a lot of people going, “What the fuck is this bullshit song at the end of the record?” Particularly people going, “Oh it sounds like Coldplay.” It was like, “Wait a fucking minute man, it’s got a bit of falsetto in it so you think sounds like Coldplay.” I think the fact that Chris Martin is the only person that you’ve ever heard sing falsetto says more about the breadth in your taste in music than it does about my influences. But anyway, a lot of more old school leather jacket mohawk punk people were like, “Fuck this song. I hate this song”, and a lot of people certainly don’t get it. But the sort of thing that’s been really gratifying since this tour started has been loads of people have been saying to me, “I get that song now. Like I didn’t get it until I saw it live.” And that makes me feel good, because it’s just like (jokingly), “I fucking told you dammit”. But yeah, we’ve been kind of winning people over on that tune I guess.
Another thing, as a more general comment, not just about that song; but every time I put out a new record I’m surprised all over again at how conservative music fans can be. Because essentially every single time I put out a new record there’s a substantial body of people who send me a shitty e-mail going, “It doesn’t sound like the last album,” to which the answer is, “I know, that’s the fucking point,” do you know what I mean? I know I’m not like David Bowie or something. It’s not like I’m completely re-inventing myself with every record and I also don’t make radically original music and I’m fine with that as an idea. But always try and push your toes out a little bit at the edges, you know, everytime, and people go “Oh my god it doesn’t sound like Love, Ire, and Song” and it’s like, “I know, that’s cause I already did that record and I don’t want to do it again,” and if you prefer that album, fuckin’ A, I’m still glad you like any of my records. Go listen to that one. It’s not like we don’t play songs off that record live. But yeah, people just go, “Oh my god, it’s not exactly the same as what you did before.” Exactly. Fuck. Anyway.
I know you did the flag transfer in the UK. Did you do that across Europe to?
No we didn’t. We just did the U.K and now we’re doing it here. This is the thing, almost in a way, it’s kind of awesome that it kind of takes the whole idea a step further that actually we didn’t instigate it for this tour. Some other people did. In all honesty because I think everyone kind of forgot about it, like we were really planning to do it and then nobody organized it and it was a bit like, “Oh shit, OK never mind. We’ll do it another time.” Then the first day of tour a bunch of people came up and were like, “We got the flag!”
Did they get the original flag or is it a new one?
It’s a new one. The last one we auctioned off for charity. Which was cool, although in the future I think we’re going to try and rather than auctioning it, do a raffle kind of thing. Because the problem with the auction is that the amounts getting bid on it very quickly cut everybody out of the equation. If you do a raffle then everybody can bid and somebody wins it. But yeah, it’s around. It’s coming tonight. It was there last night and hopefully it will be at all 48 shows.
Do you try and keep tabs on it or do you just wait to see if it shows up?
I’m interested to know where it’s going to be, although part of the rules of the game are that I’m not allowed to help it. I think The Smith Street Band took it on one of the drives and I’d imagine that Smith Street and Koo Koo Kanga Roo are going to be helping out because there are a couple of drives where I just can’t imagine that anybody’s going to be going to that and that show kind of thing. But you never know. People seem to think that it’s going to get to Denver, which is a long way from here, in 2 days time. But like I said, I’m not allowed to help out. That’s cheating.
Obviously this tour is the main focus right now, and there’s quite a bit ahead of you, but is there anything down the road with Mongol Horde?
Well, there’s a couple of things. First of all, we were trying to put the record out in January. The music is done. The vocals are not done and we had one week off at one point where I was going to do the vocals, and this was before I fucked my back up, but it was in between tours and I just had a sore throat and I didn’t want to do a crappy, half-assed job. I wanted it to sound really good. But we’ve got time off over Christmas, so we’re going to finish the album then and get it out as soon as we can after that which I’m excited about. We’re working on new stuff right now.
I’m sort of in two minds about it, or indeed three minds. Part of me wants to just kind of let it happen and just see what’s what. Part of me wants to take fucking six months off and go work in a bar in Belize or something and just kind of do some normal shit for a while. Then a part of me wants to kind of hammer it out and do it quickly. A lot of the new material we’ve got is quite kind of raw and kind of loose and sort of energetic and fast and punky kind of thing. I like that feel. I like it.
Every single time I put out a record, about six months after it’s out I start hating everything about that record. Which I think is just a natural part of the creative process and it’s fine. Then a couple years later I get over myself and start kind of seeing the records for what they are. Tape Deck Heart to me; I like the record but it’s very kind of meticulous. It’s very polished in a way. I like the idea of making a record that’s a bit more kind like spitting teeth; a bit more kind of fucked up and dirty.
In all honestly the two bands I’ve been listening to a lot lately are Andrew Jackson Jihad and Two Cow Garage. The singer Micah’s girlfriend is a friend of mine, so I know the dude and he’s a nice guy, and he sent me an advance copy of their new record. It just sounds really exciting. It’s fizzy and it’s punk and it’s raw and it’s fucked up around the edges and I just kind of want to do a bit more of that kind of thing. Their new record is really really fucking good.
To be honest it’s all kind of primitive to be talking about all of this in a way because I don’t actually know what’s going to happen. Maybe the songs won’t be right or whatever. Maybe I’ll completely change my mind. But yeah, definitely working on new stuff.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Come to a show, come say hi. Hang out. Have a good time. Always make sure you catch the supporting bands. Not just for my tour, just in life.
Thank you man, that was fun.