Frank Turner is one of those artists that you can count on to have a beer with anytime he’s playing a show. He usually sticks around afterwards and he’s such an open, unpretentious and normal guy that you feel you’ve just gained a new friend after two minutes of talking to him.
His music is both rooted in folk and in punk – but always retaining identity with his homeland in the UK. He can play a solo show one day, and the next he’ll be playing full band, gigging with bands ranging from Social Distortion to The Weakerthans. Last April, he played his 1000th show, and in early 2012 he will be headlining Wembley arena. Just 4 years ago, as chronicled on his first DVD “All About The Destination“, he was taking the train to get himself to the next gig and sleeping on floors. Needless to say, this is a man who is not only very passionate about what he does, but knows what it’s like to work for it.
His 4th album, “England Keep My Bones” was released earlier this year on Xtra Mile/Epitaph Records, and was his most succesful album to date, charting at Number 12 in its first week on the UK charts.
When I first saw him, just 2 years ago here in Montreal, he was playing Divan Orange to a crowd of maybe 30-40 people. Next saturday, October 29, Frank Turner is headlining the Corona Theater here in Montreal (2190 Rue Notre-Dame Est) to a crowd that will probably be 10 times bigger than his first outing here. It will be his first show in Montreal playing full band, with his backing group dubbed The Sleeping Souls.
I was able to interview him for a few words prior to his upcoming show, which I have to say, I’m very much looking forward to.
TBM: There is a growing sense of confidence in your identity through your songwriting. At the same time, in the last few years, you’ve toured places in the world few artists have. Do you find this has influenced your way of writing?
Frank Turner: Absolutely. As far as my songs about Englishness go, I think it’s the fact that I don’t spend too much time there anymore, which drives me to consider my national identity more clearly, and to comment about it. More often than not I’m the only Englishman in a crowded room, and that gives you time to think about what it is that distinguishes you, for better or worse, from those around you.
4 years ago, you were touring by taking the train from gig to gig and now you’ll be doing a show at Wembley arena. Is it easy to adapt to such a major change in status as an artist?
There are moments of surrealism, and I’m not sure that any musician has ever emerged totally ready to play an arena show. I’m pretty nervous about that gig – while I’ve played to bigger crowds, it’s never been as the headliner. It’s a strange position to be in. But then I think life is short so you should live it wide, and I try to take everything in my stride and enjoy it as much as I can.
Your new album “England Keep My Bones” has a sound unlike your other albums. What was your approach in the making of the album?
On some levels it was the same as the others, in the sense that I put my head down and tried to write and record the best album I could, regardless of any outside interference. I think it’s important to write for yourself as your primary audience – that’s the only honest way to write. That said, there were a few things this time that were different – working with Tristan all the way through the project, having the band in the studio but not playing live… Technical details. I also try not to repeat myself, creatively, so hopefully each record is at least a little separated from its brothers and sisters.
You’ve now written what is probably (to my knowledge) the first atheist Gospel song, and called it “Glory Hallellujah”! That’s quite an accomplishment. What drove you to write that song?
Well, the chorus kind of showed up a while ago as a playful, slightly provocative idea that didn’t go much further. But my friend Jay (Beans On Toast) heard me play it and pushed me to finish the whole song. It made me have to sit down and think about what I had to say on the subject very carefully. It’s not my intention to needlessly offend, but I did feel like it was a subject worth addressing.
Many of the songs indeed deal with this idea of a “Eulogy” – what will happen with you after death, and how you will be remembered. Are you afraid to be forgotten after your death?
Ha! Well, I feel a little uncomfortable putting it that bluntly, but then it would seem that that’s true from the lyrics I’ve been writing of late, haha! It’s something I find interesting, and it’s related to my personal view of a godless universe. If there’s no hereafter, then what does become of all of our actions once we shuffle off this mortal coil, and does it actually matter? Interesting questions.
I had heard rumors that you were working on a more “electronic” project. Any news on this?
That’s something I have some ideas for but it’s very theoretical at this stage. I have some people who are better versed in that world who are friends whom I’d like to collaborate with. But nothing is set in stone yet and I’m pretty busy as it is!
You’ve written and released such a vast amount of material in such a short amount of time. Very few artists do that nowadays. What keeps you writing as passionately and as much?
Well, the tap is still flowing. I don’t feel the need to stop writing, or to sit on new material. If it’s there, get it out. I’ll keep doing that until the seam runs dry I guess.
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls play Corona Theatre on Saturday, October 29th 2011. Supporting acts are Andrew Jackson Jihad and Into It. Over It. Tickets are 23.65$ and can be purchased online through www.admission.com