I was able to sit down for a few minutes before the Ottobar show last Friday to talk with Frank Turner. I found him to be just as his songs portray him: funny, outspoken, passionate, and sincere. His good taste in music and his lack of pretention about it was something I found particularly endearing and refreshing, as well. Among other things, we discuss some of his favorite bands, his bringing Lucero to the U.K., and what it’s like to play increasingly larger venues. Oh, and guess what, y’all? He totally gets what it’s like to be a fan. He’s even got a band tattoo himself.
So you’ve been playing some older stuff on this tour?
Yeah, it’s not going to be like the entirety of the new album [England Keep My Bones] or whatever. The first record I did, Sleep Is for the Week, hasn’t really been properly released in this country, so I don’t feel as bad only playing a few songs off that record. That seems legitimate to me. We’re playing a fair amount of stuff from Love, Ire & Song forward. It occurred to me during sound check we haven’t been playing a lot off Poetry of the Deed, so we’re playing more of those songs too.
This is your second tour in the United States, first headlining?
Well, I’ve been to the States many times. This is probably my 10th or 11th time or something like that. I did quite a few tours where I was just driving around in cars and stuff. This is the third time we’ve been over as a band, and this is our first tour headlining. So this is sort of like the first proper “my” U.S. tour. It’s great. The shows have been selling out, and people know the words and clap at the end of songs. It’s great, definitely.
Any favorite cities you’re re-visiting on this tour, or any new ones you’ve not been to but are excited about visiting?
There’s not really many places on this tour where we’re going where we haven’t been before. The only place on this tour I haven’t been is Oklahoma City, personally, and so that’s cool. That’s a state I’ve not played in before, so that’s good. There are lots of favorite spots, though. We all love Austin. We all love Asbury, though we’re not going there on this tour. Florida is always fun. This is going to sound like a cop-out answer to your question, but I really enjoy touring in America, and most places are cool.
You mentioned in your blog that you really like the southern part of the U.S.
Definitely. I’m really looking forward to the Atlanta show and stuff like that. The Northeast of the U.S.A. is more sort of European in its feel, which is fine. There’s nothing wrong with that, but once you get into the South and into Texas, that’s when, from my point of view, it’s a lot more clearly different from where we’re from, and a lot more kind of American American, which is great, because we all love that. And we’ve got friends in most places of the U.S. now, so it’s good.
One of the things I appreciate most about England Keep My Bones is its pervasive theme of coming to terms with yourself and your life so far. Is that something you thought about before you started writing for the album?
Well, I generally don’t try to write in a way that purposefully goes in one direction. I try to just close my eyes, and let things happen as they are, and then you can kind of group things together and carve out themes and directions kind of after the event. One of the things that’s really nice is that there are a lot of clichés about what recording a first record’s like, and there’s even more clichés about what making a second record is like, and there’s some about a third record, but I sort of feel like making a fourth record is less covered by rock ‘n roll mythology, because not many people make it to make a fourth record. Also, this is a fourth record whilst the number of people who give a shit about what I do is still on the increase, which again, seems like a kind of a slightly weird position to be in, but in a really, really good way. It was kind of just really nice.
I did feel like around the time of Poetry of the Deed, I did kind of pressure myself. I kind of thought, “This has to be the fucking record to fucking kill everybody,” and this time around, it was just really nice. It was sort of like, “It’s going to be what it’s going to be,” and I didn’t feel like I had to go in a specific direction. The other thing as well with previous records, like with Love, Ire & Song, I was definitely thinking about heartbreak, and with Poetry of the Deed, I was definitely thinking about Born to Run.
What was really good about this record was I really wasn’t thinking about anything. It was just like, “These are my songs, and I think they sound like ‘me.’” I guess that either means I’ve just been up my own ass [laughs], or that I’ve just sort of discovered a way of writing that sounds like me.
Also, as well, one of the other things I think was cool about this record was that as a unit—as a group of people, as a band, The Sleeping Souls—everyone’s kind of like a lot more comfortable playing together. Not that we were uncomfortable before. It’s just we’ve been playing together a lot and for a while, and if we want to achieve a certain affect, it takes a quarter of the amount of time to sync and mesh with each other than it did before. That was really good, and it continues to get better.
I wanted to talk to you about “Redemption.” It’s a very personal song.
It was a tough song to write. It took me a little while, and uh…. [trails off] Well, I finished off writing that song at 2 a.m. at Sydney Airport, and I was on a stopover flying from Perth to Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand, and my time zones were all fucked, and I didn’t know where I was, and I ended up making a phone call I shouldn’t have made, if you know what I mean, and I was having a beer in a bar, which was a really terrible idea, because it made it even more uncoordinated and just… lost. But ya know, moments like that, if you’ve kind of already got something that’s kind of already coming together, in a way, the bits and pieces just kind of fit together, and I dunno. It’s kind of funny. Obviously, it’s about something in my personal life.
Absolutely. Enough said, though that does bring me to my next point—I always think it’s uncanny when artists write about things they’re going through at the same time I happen to be going through something similar. It’s just like, “How do they know?”
[laughs] I definitely know what you mean. I felt like that about Boys and Girls in America by The Hold Steady. Actually, the other record like that for me which really fucking, like, made me wonder if he was kind of, like, following me around was the first Streets record, Original Pirate Material. That to me is one of the best British albums ever made He’s easily one of the best lyricists to come out of the U.K., and that record’s about being young, broke, and on drugs in London, and it came out when I was young, broke, and on drugs in London, and he’s just got a unique voice. It was just like, when it came out, “Holy shit, that’s our life. How did he do that?”
So who are some of your all-time favorite/go-to musicians?
[laughs] Yeah, “go-to,” that’s a good word for that… Springsteen to a degree, although that’s only for certain, specific moods. Springsteen’s kind of bold, and ya know, he’s not a very fragile artist, and there’s a lot of times when I love Springsteen, but he’s not one for kind of the broken-hearted, for me, personally, although there are bits on Nebraska.
One of my all-time favorite bands who I probably listen to more than any other band is The Weakerthans. I just adore that band, and they’re one of those bands where I still feel like I’m discovering moments in records that I know inside and out, like just another song you didn’t quite appreciate before. The one about where he’s packing up at the end of a gig is just heartbreakingly awesome.
I recently kind of got to make friends with John K., and I was definitely a little like “woooo.” [laughs] Definitely. Wainright III is a go-to for me. The Band is another. Every time I listen to “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” I wonder if another rock band will ever write a song as good as that. The arrangement and the vocal harmony on that is just off-the-fucking-wall. If I could make me and The Sleeping Souls sound like any band, it would be The Band. The way they played with each other is breath-taking to listen to. They just had such a fucking buzz about them. It’s just puzzling to me. Ya know what, Tim Barry as well, particularly Manchester. I think that record is seriously incredible. So, yeah, those are some of my go-to bands.
Manchester is the one I listen to most by him, and often. You’re one of my go-tos as well, not to blow smoke up your ass, as is Jen Buxton these days, and Lucero.
I go through a Lucero phase every few months. 1372 [Overton Park] is just fucking awesome. I recently sent Ben an email saying, “Man, if I ever write a record as good as 1372, I’d be happy.” I was actually playing around with “Smoke” during sound check earlier today. [smiles]
Ben Nichols said in his interview with me that he wouldn’t be surprised if Lucero would be opening for you one day.
[laughs] Oh, man. But yeah, he is coming to the U.K. with me. That is happening. I’m going to make that happen. Lucero are a lot less well-known in the U.K. than they are in this country, and they haven’t been over in years. I fucking love ‘em. I wanna bring ‘em over. The other thing is, right now—the way they’re playing right now with Todd [Beene] and Nahshon [Benford]—is off-the-fucking-chain good. It’s just fucking great.
You’re getting bigger, fast. Is “mainstream” on the menu?
Our last record went to the top 10 in the U.K. Is that mainstream? I dunno. [laughs] You know what, it’s funny. I still kind of feel like kind of a cult thing in the U.K. You know what, though? I’m an entertainer, and I should be fucking grateful for any kind of attention, because you know what? This world is full of people who are more talented than me who don’t get to do what they want to do creatively. I get slightly frustrated by those musicians who are like, “Yeah, I don’t want those kinds of people coming to my shows,” and it’s like, “Fuck you, man, anyone should come to your show.”
Anybody is welcome at my shows. I don’t give a shit what kind of people they are. But, yeah, it can occasionally get kind of weird going from playing medium-sized shows like this to going home and playing larger shows. And ya know what, you have to slightly kind of re-jig your brain, but it’s fine, because, actually, it’s just playing. Obviously, there’s some different nuance to it, but we’re still playing the same songs. We’re still playing the same sets.
I guess there are some people who get weirded out or Kurt Cobain-ed about getting bigger, but for me, though, it’s kind of easy to play a good show filled with 5,000 people. It’s just like, “Sweet, everyone knows this, great,” but on the other hand, playing opening slots where maybe no one knows you is more of a challenge. I can be like, “I’m going to make you care about what I do,” and that’s kind of cool. We got to do that opening for Social D and Lucero. It keeps you on your toes a lot more. I kind of wonder what it must be like to be U2 and to always be the ultra-headline act. I’d imagine you’d have to have a fair degree of self-discipline to keep yourself fresh.
Funny you say that. I’ve been made fun of relentlessly for liking U2. I’m a big fan of Boy and Joshua Tree.
They’re a great band. They’ve produced some great records.
You have some very passionate fans. I can’t imagine what that feels like. Care to share? [laughs]
It’s cool. It feels, like, surreal to me, but at the same time, it’s fucking fantastic. I feel that way about bands myself, particularly The Hold Steady and The Weakerthans, bands like that. I made a complete cock out of myself when I met Craig Finn. Like, really. I’m kind of, like, hoping that he didn’t know that it was me, if ya see what I mean. [laughs] I just fucking adore his whole vision, ya know, and I have a Hold Steady tattoo, and I fucking adore that band, so I get it. I totally get that emotion. I just do my best to be cool with people about it, but I also don’t want to be like, “Yeah. Fine. This is normal,” or like this is completely standard for me, because that seems slightly bullshit as well. It’s a funny one.
Photos by Clayton Carlson