By Steven Farkas on September 13th, 2014 at Salisbury, UK
Ahead of his show in Salisbury, UK acoustic punk favourite (and all round very nice chap) Frank Turner was kind enough to sit down with us, during his pre show meal no less, to talk about his latest tour, writing new material, his upcoming book of tour diaries and a shared love of two W’s – Winnipeg and UK rock band The Wildhearts. Plus word games!
Check out the interview below.
SF: So thanks very much for taking the time out to speak to us, really appreciate it!
FT: My pleasure man
SF: So you’re 3 shows into the tour, how’s it been so far??
FT: Yeah good, summer’s been a bit weird because with festivals you’re on for 3 days and then off for 3, so you never really hit your rhythm, if you know what I mean. Then we had like 3 weeks off, where I played a couple of gigs, but basically that’s a long time off the road by my standards shall we say. Then there’s always that first gig of the tour thing and you get up on stage and think ‘oh my god, I’ve forgotten how to do this!’ Mostly it’s about energy levels, you get about 4 songs in at the first gig and go and look down and see there’s 20 more songs and you’re like ‘kill me now’, but it’s all going well now, last night (in Leicester on Sept 12th) was really great and fantastic show.
SF: I even heard there was a marriage proposal at that show?
FT: Yeah, not planned! Occasionally people ask me to propose on stage and stuff and I say no, mostly because it went badly once.
SF: By ‘went badly’ do you mean it was a No?
FT: It was a ‘we need to talk about this’, which is a no really [laughs] The other thing, and I need to find a way of saying this without sounding really egocentric, but to me people buy tickets to see a show, and there’s something about imposing your private moment on other people. Like If I go and see a band, I didn’t buy a ticket to see anything other than see that band play you know what I mean? But in this case, they got engaged in the crowd and Ben (Lloyd – guitarist in The Sleeping Souls) spotted them and we pointed it out and it was great, a really lovely moment and they seemed very happy.
SF: Well that’s a bit more impromptu than asking you to do something at least!
FT: Right, and that’s the thing, I feel like there’s a line between us acting as a kind of master of ceremonies on stage and something happening in the crowd that we pick up on.
SF: How did the link up with Gig Buddy happen, was it proposed to you or were you actively thinking about new ways to engage with fans for this tour?
FT: They approached me and it just sort of seemed to be a regimented way of doing things that I like doing anyway. Stuff like putting up set lists, photos that kind of thing, I mean I like doing that kind of shit anyway, and it came through the label and makes the label happy so that’s good as well. Need to keep them onside!
SF: Is your t-shirt (Frank was wearing a Mineral T-Shirt when the interview took place) a souvenir of your recent trip to NY (where he saw the band play 3 shows and actually played at 1 of them)
FT: Yes it is yeah, well spotted. It was quite a weekend. I went to 3 shows, they added a 4th but I already booked my flight back. Are you familiar with them?
SF: No, not at all, I did look them up after I saw you talk about them, but I did not know them before.
FT: I kind of wonder how into them I would be if I heard them for the first time today, but then at the same time they’re one of my foundational bands in terms of my music taste and I’m not ashamed to say I cried at the third show, but I was really hung over as well so that may have had something to do with it [laughs]!
SF: Has the FTHC flag made it to Salisbury yet?
FT: I haven’t seen it yet today. So, the rule of the game is that I’m not allowed to be involved in the logistics. As far as I’m aware, there’s a spreadsheet or something out there to manage it. I mean the first time we did the flag thing (and I didn‘t come up with the idea, someone else did) but I was like, yeah that’s cool and then kind of forgot about it. Then on the first day of that tour, I remember it was a really stressful day, I think I was talking about it saying its never going to fucking work, someone’s gonna nick it or people aren’t gonna do it or it’ll be left in a ditch somewhere and then in the event it worked really well and I feel like I kind of pranked myself. The point of it is that people can be cool to strangers and just generally be nice to each other kind of thing.
SF: After your UK arena tour earlier this year, did you find that the approach changes depending on the venue size or do you just go out and do your thing no matter what size the venue is?
FT: You know there are superficial changes, we certainly did a fair amount of planning for the arena shows to make sure they translated. We spent a lot of time thinking about the set list to make sure it was right, but actually once you get past all of it, that’s the stuff I spend more time thinking about, that’s because everything else is more automatic. The actual kind of meat in the sandwich of the show is really not that different at all. I was thinking about this yesterday with the Foo Fighter’s doing their mini shows (in the UK) now and I feel like they probably do something reasonably similar to what they do at the big shows, trimmings may change, but basically you get up and try and play your songs well [laughs]!
SF: Considering that you tour so relentlessly, and never seem to have any downtime, how does the writing process fit into that? I also saw that you’re reading WG Sebald’s ‘Rings of Saturn’ at the moment as well?
FT: Well just briefly on that book; whenever I’m reading or doing anything cultural, I have a reading list which I make notes on, and I often forget where those notes come from. So I was reading the WG Sebald book and I spent the first 20 pages going ‘what the fuck is this book?’ I’d sort of forgotten if it was a novel or a travel book or what.
SF: That’s his thing though isn’t it, it’s a bit of fiction, it’s a bit of fact all wrapped so you’re not really sure where he’s coming from?
FT: Right, I sort of got into the rhythm of it and now I’m totally in love with it, its an amazing book and I’m really into travel writing, it’s a big thing for me. Songwriting for me, it’s something I’ve done on the road for years as that’s all I’ve really done you know what I mean? I know some bands have writing periods, which to me is a kind of an odd concept.
SF: Like treating it like a 9-5 job or something?
FT: Yeah, I mean having said that there’s the whole Nick Cave style who writes in a secluded room from 9-5 and I’m kind of intrigued to see what would happen if I tried that. Who knows it might take things in an interesting direction! It’s not just the question of wandering around and lying on a chaise lounge and being hit by inspiration and writing out full stop. There is of course a fair amount of sitting down with pens and paper with guitars and hammering through shit but it sort of comes and goes in its own measure for me. I’ll go through fallow periods for weeks or more without writing anything and then you get 3 days where you finish 3 songs.
SF: On that point then, when can we expect to see some new music from you potentially? Tape deck’s been out for 18 months now?
FT: We are playing a lot of new material on this tour and that is kind of part of the point of this tour for me, road testing new material. That said, I think you can get too wrapped up trusting crowd reaction to new material. If that’s all you paid attention to, you’d end up turning in Dropkick Murphy’s records, and I say that with no disrespect to the Dropkicks at all, they’re an incredible band, but its sort…
SF: Well it’s kind of the same record over and over (which is a good thing as we love the dropkicks also!)
FT: Yeah, but you know, like rabble rousing is not the entirety of what I do is what I’m trying to say. Even on this tour there’s a couple of songs that we played more tha once they’re developed in that time and we spend our sound checks kicking ideas around kind of come up with different ideas.
SF: I’ve read you are planning a book of tour diaries with headline publishing due next spring? Can you share any new details about that? And did you get the bug after writing a chapter for Chuck Ragan’s book ‘The Road Most Travelled’ back in 2012?
FT: Yeah, well if I hit my deadlines [laughs]! Actually the guy who published the Chuck Ragan book was the guy who originally came up with the idea for me, and he asked me if I’d be interested and initially I said no. You know that 26 year old footballer writes an autobiography thing and you’re like, fucking really? So I didn’t really want to do that, but then he pointed out that I read Henry Rollins’ books pretty religiously and I had and I guess I don’t really think of my life of being all that worthy of interest and he was like people would actually care to know what you’ve been doing for the last 10 years!
SF: …and you’ve spent so much of your life on the road its certainly relevant!
FT: Right, so the next thing is, to defer to your craft, writing is a lot harder than I had given it credit for! I had sort of gotten into it and I tend to go in spurts and stops, ie I’ll write a whole chunk and feel really happy with myself and then do nothing for a week and then think shit! the deadline is coming up! Well, for the first draft I should say and I’m terrified I’m going to send in the first draft and the editor’s going to rip the whole thing to shreds.
SF: But that’s the whole point of having an editor though!
FT: Well of course, but ive never been through the process before so you know, I have no idea if he’s going to turn around and say ‘yeah, its fucking great, carry on’ or not!
SF: The chapter you did for the Chuck Ragan book was basically about don’t be a dick to people on the road, as you will need these people next tour around. If you come across someone living that rock and roll cliche do you ever feel like pulling them aside and saying, ‘calm yourself down, you’re going to meet these people again’, or is it best to let them make, and learn from, their own mistakes?
FT: It depends whether I give a fuck about the people in question. I’m not going name names, but there have been one or two occasions! I don’t sit all that comfortably with the elder statesmen role[laughs], but you know it’s funny, I’m 32 now and I’ve been touring for one way or another since I was 16 and every now and again I’ll meet a young band who give me the wise old man treatment and then it’s a new thing for me and I’m like ‘fuck you, I’m not old!’ But to answer the question, yeah if there’s some wisdom to be imparted, and I care to impart it, I will. It never ceases to amaze me, in some ways, it’s a revelation of character, I think that in part, one of the misconceptions is that the road has radically different social rules, which of course it doesn’t and yeah you may be doing something different with your time but that doesn’t mean you get to treat people any differently and if you’re a cunt to people on the road, then you’re probably a dickhead to people in real life as well. Or at the very least you’re straining at the bonds of civility.
SF: The album you produced for Billy the Kid has just recently been released, is that something you’d like to do more of?
FT: Yeah, I also produced a record for Beans on Toast a few years ago, which wasn’t the most challenging thing I’d ever done in my life as it’s mostly vocals and guitar. We put some extra instrumentation in there, some banjo and got some good sound, but it was really interesting, creative, intellectual kind of thing to do for me, because you’re not the songwriter, you get to kind of think about how to realise songs which is slightly different territory. It gave me some more sympathy for the producers that I’ve worked for, I’ll say that [laughs]. But yeah it was cool, and then Billie got involved with Xtra mile and Charlie (Caplowe, who runs Xtra Mile) asked me if I wanted to be involved knowing that the answer would be yes and yeah it was it fun. I think it’s a great record, and here’s the other weird thing, I feel proud of it and I’m not sure if that’s legitimate or not.
SF: But you certainly had a hand in the final sound!
FT: This is true, and I played bass on the record so, and mandolin actually so yeah I think it’s a really good record and Billie is justly proud of it and I hope it does a lot for her.
SF: So a bit of a selfish question if I may, but personally I’m a huge fan of The Wildhearts and I know you played Ginger’s (vocalist and guitarist) birthday bash last year, how did you get involved in that? Had you known him for a while?
FT: [Laughs] There’s a story in this! Ok, first of all, I’m also a huge Wildhearts fan, fucking adore that man.
SF: Totally, great band!
FT: I actually queued up to buy P.H.U.Q in the special velvet furry case!
SF: I totally wanted that! But I was still living in Canada at the time and couldn’t get my hands on one.
FT: Whereabouts in Canada are you from?
FT: Amazing, my god we can talk about this for days! I love it, I took my photo on Albert Street last time I was there.
SF: Yeah it’s a shame the legendary (Royal) Albert (venue space) isn’t there anymore!
FT: Yeah, but there’s a spectre haunting albert street (lyrics from Pamphleteer by The Weakerthans). Anyway, loved the Wildhearts as a kid and you know Chris McCormack from 3 Colours Red?
SF: Yeah, another great band!
FT: So he promotes in Camden (London) these days, and my circle of friends is the kind of the people who run/manage bars in the area and everybody knows Chris McCormack. We were at a Christmas party for the bar managers in Camden and I was like ‘It’s bloody Chris McCormack’ and my friends were like, ‘oh that’s just Chris’. I was like, Chris, from 3 Colours Red? And they responded with ‘Yeah, he used to be in some band’ and I was like ‘fuck all of you’!
SF: They’re not just ‘some band’!
FT: Yeah, so then me and Chris became firm friends and then Ginger became aware of my presence from there and invited me to his birthday bash and me and him hang out quite a lot these days. I had lunch with him about 4 days ago. Lovely human being, really good guy. He’s also been bugging me about trying to write some songs, which I am into but I need to get my next record in the bag first.
SF: So last question, totally random. After winning Celebrity Mastermind with Iron Maiden as your specialist subject, can we expect to see you on any other UK daytime game shows anytime soon. Countdown perhaps?
FT: [laughs], Countdown would be amazing!
SF: Ok, so in preparation, I’ve got an Iron Maiden themed conundrum (basically a 9 letter anagram) for you.
*The anagram I showed to Frank is to the right, in case you want to have a go. The answer is at the end of the interview.*
FT: Ok – hit me! But I’m really bad at these. I will get it though!
SF: I’ll give you a hint – it’s on Seventh Son of a Seventh Son:
FT: Ok (starts counting out the tracks)…———! Fucking hell, only got that with the tip. Nice work!
SF: Thanks! And again, thanks so much for your time, really appreciate it!
FT: Fucking A – thanks man.
Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls are on tour now in the UK, with the final date being Tuesday September 30th in Oxford. Tape Deck Heart is out now via Xtra Mile Recordings.
**Anagram answer – ‘Moonchild’