Alter The Press!


Interview: Frank Turner

Prior to his sold out headline show at the O2 Academy in Birmingham, Frank Turner kindly found time to speak with Alter the Press in between his jam packed day. We had a chance to ask Frank about his preparations for his upcoming headline show at Wembley Arena in London as well as plans for 2012, including the promise of a hardcore band.

Alter The Press: Congratulations on the Wembley show. The preparations for the show are most likely beginning, do you have any surprises in store?
Frank Turner: Some, one of the main things for me is putting together the bill, because we're going to have a lot of other people playing, for instance Billy Bragg's confirmed now and we've got a bunch of people who are sort of confirmed that I'm not allowed to talk about yet. But we're going to have two stages and I think we're going to have about 7 acts playing. But in terms of the production side of things, we're getting this tour out of the way and then we'll start thinking about that kind of thing. But it's a big show and it's going to take a lot of work to get ready for it, so we'll be digging into that pretty soon.

ATP: You reference acts like Bob Dylan, Freddie Mercury and Bruce Springsteen in your songs. Out of everyone, living or dead, who would you like to work with the most?
Frank: Good question, I'd probably say Springsteen. Dylan, I have the utmost respect for Dylan, I don't love everything that he does. I respect his searching to do something else but that doesn't mean I necessarily like it, he just strikes me as a sticky character. Freddie would be great but I think he's the kind of person who wouldn't have been the best collaborator. With Springsteen, it would be fun, and he is also still alive so there's still hope yet.

ATP: You use several themes during "England Keep My Bones" such as rivers, patriotism and death. Was this a conscious thing?
Frank: I kind of try not to come up with ideas and then write towards them, to me the idea is to sit down and shut my eyes and try to write what I think is a good song about what feels good to write about and then it is what it is. And then afterwards, both you and I can sit down and pick out the things the things that I'm obviously preoccupied with at the moment and get involved in some armchair psycho analysis but it's kind of important to me to not be too conceptual about writing, it just seems kind of forced to me. Theoretically, if I were to sit down and write a concept album, that'd be a different thing but I don't want to be sat down going "I want to write this kind of song", I just want to write what feels good.

ATP: What has the overall reaction been to "Glory Hallelujah"?
Frank: [laughs] Generally it's been good, I spent a really really long time on that particular song because, I wrote the chorus ages ago and then put it to one side thinking that it was too provocative and I wasn't going to do anything with it, but then my friend Jay from Beans on Toast heard it and was like "you've got to finish that song" and the thing about that meant that I had to think quite carefully about what message I was trying to get across if I was making that statement and it's important to me. Some people turn around to me and are like "yeah, you should make a video and get Richard Dawkins in it", but I'm not really on that bandwagon, I'm not trying to destroy religion, I'm not trying to call anybody an arsehole for not agreeing with me. I just want it to be like a hymn, if you're a Christian you go to church and you sing a hymn and that's a statement of belief and that's great, I just wanted to do the same thing for myself. I'm fully recognizing that a lot of people aren't going to be in to it and I hope they just take it in the spirit that it's meant, I spent a long time making sure that the lyrics weren't cruel or finger pointing or anything like that. It's funny, I was really nervous about playing that song in America for the American tour but, you know what? America was fine, I've had way more aggro from English people. If I go to a Christening or a funeral, I'll stand in church and sing the hymns, as they're written, because it's just polite, I don't believe a word of "Onward Christian soldiers" but I'll sing it. I'm not asking people to sing along if they don't believe in it but I don't think I can be accused of being rude, that seems a little strong to me.

ATP: At Reading Festival, you announced that you were starting a hardcore band, has there been any progress towards it since?
Frank: It's gonna happen, we've got a lineup, we've got an idea, we don't have a name yet. I'm so used to be being a solo artist and therefore in total control of what's happening and I had a name for the project but some people weren't into it and I forgot I couldn't just overrule everyone all of the time. The main thing is it's going to be a side project, it's going to be in downtime from what I'm doing now and I don't know when the next time I'm going to have downtime is. As soon as I do, we'll get cracking on it. Hopefully we're going to put out a record next year.

ATP: On "The Second Three Years" you cover a traditional song, "Barbara Allen", what made you chose to cover one of the oldest songs ever known and what was the starting point for you delving into traditional folk music?
Frank: I'm really interested in traditional music, my two passions in life are music and history. My first exposure to folk was American stuff and American folk is much less preoccupied with tradition mainly because theirs is a much shorter tradition, there's a lot more original songwriting in American folk. I started using the word folk to describe what I do and then I started to get kind of castigated here and there by English folkers saying "you're not folk because you don't sing traditional songs" which kind of peaked my interest in it because I didn't grow up with folk music, I'm not nearly as knowledgeable about it as I am with say...punk-rock. On getting that criticism, I decided to find out what traditional folk really is about and started just listening to a lot of Martin Carthy and Eliza Cathy records and from that worked back into field recordings of Alan Lomax and just some really crazy old stuff

ATP: Despite being a b-side, "Sailors Boots" is being promoted in the same vein as a single. What led you to this decision?
Frank: Yeah, kind of. Well we were just in the middle of the video shoot for "If I Ever Stray" and the guy was like "could you play that song" and I did and the next thing I know, the record label are releasing a music video. I like it, it really looks good. The funny thing with that song is that, I was desperately trying to finish it for "England Keep My Bones" because it was nearly done but, there reaches a point where you can't push and I didn't want to come together with some crappy lyrics and put it on the record and so, I left it and then, predictably enough, the minute we finished making the record, I clicked and finished the song. To me, it belongs with that body of work so I'm cool that it's being attached to that, I didn't really want to release it on the next record.

ATP: You're playing a couple new songs on this tour?
Frank: Yeah, there's quite a few new ones floating around. I've got quite a lot of new material finished now. But that's the thing, we finished "England Keep My Bones" way back in February and, to me, that seems like quite a long time ago and I write all the time so there's a whole pile of new stuff that's come together.

ATP: What are your plans for the next year, besides seeing Bruce?
Frank: Obviously seeing Bruce! My tour schedule runs through until May next year already anyway. Hopefully doing this hardcore thing, I'm still working on this book of tour diaries, it's taken me over a year and I still haven't finished it. I'm hoping that I'll be in the studio next year to make another record, I'm not going to push it for the sake of it.

George Gadd

Alter The Press!