Alison Lee catches up with folkie Brit Frank Turner to talk about homelessness, patriotism and his online adventures
Frank Turner initially received recognition as a member of hardcore-punk group Million Dead, but upon going solo he made a U-turn down the long and winding road of folk music. Million Dead broke up pretty acrimoniously and as he explains to Otwo: “I just needed to do something different for a while.” “I remember at the time it all made perfect sense. It’s funny because now, looking back, it actually seems a lot weirder to me.” However, he modestly adds that “it’s worked out.”
Talk about an understatement. Turner’s career has most definitely “worked out”: the singer-songwriter has supported the likes of Biffy Clyro and The Offspring, he’s been nominated for two Shockwave NME awards and has four albums under his belt to boot. This couldn’t have happened without the support of various music industry big shots who heard Turner’s music and offered to help him out. Not bad considering Turner didn’t have a typical rock n’ roll start to life; born into a privileged upper-class family, Turner was educated at Eton and even shared classes with Prince William. However Turner is taking to life as a wandering folk singer like a duck to water, describing the experience as being “entirely surreal but good. I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently just pinching myself.” Vinnie of Less Than Jake, Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion and Grammy-nominated producer Alex Newport are just some of those who gave Turner a hand up the first few rungs of the music industry ladder.
BBC Radio One was also instrumental in bringing Turner into the spotlight. He admits “the role of radio has changed, originally it was a way to disseminate new music, but today if someone mentions a band name to you, you can go online and listen to a song by that band in thirty seconds. Radio is more like a pathfinder… because there’s so much music out there.” Turner is adept at using modern media to reach his audience – in fact “Best Band Blog Or Twitter” was one of the NME awards he was nominated for. He admits that the Internet has, thanks to illegal downloading, had a negative impact on the music industry, although he embraces the chance to communicate with fans. “I’ve never been a believer in the mythology of rock and roll, the idea that musicians are this separate species of weirdoes from another planet, I think that’s nonsense.” Turner believes that by blogging “you can break down barriers between people who make music and people who listen to music.”
This desire to involve his fans is evident from Turner’s video for the track ‘The Road’, taken from his album Poetry of the Deed. This video sees Turner playing 24 shows in 24 hours – many in houses and back gardens of fans keen to lend a hand. “I’m glad I did it and it’s a good video but I’m never doing it again” laughs Turner when asked about the experience. ‘The Road’ is a song characteristic of Turner’s rollicking, sea-shanty, sing-song style, reminiscent of The Counting Crows and Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. It also perfectly sums up his lifestyle, which is dominated by his intense touring schedule. “I haven’t actually lived anywhere for about six years now,” says Turner. “I don’t have a specific house or room that I think of as home.”
This brings us to Turner’s new album, England Keep My Bones. “My internal conception of what constitutes home is more abstract and just becomes England generally,” he explains. However, he is keen to point out his wariness “of using the word ‘patriotism’, because I’m not some sort of flag-waving cheerleader for England… the bits I love are the inert bits like the landscape and the coastline, and quite often the people in England depress the hell out of me. It’s not going to be my central theme for the rest of my song-writing career. I’ve made my statement about England and I’ll write about something else next.”
This highlights Turner’s desire to develop as a musician. “Some people seem to be incensed that I’m not just replicating my old style again and again, but as a human being I want to change all the time.” He believes his style has indeed changed since going solo: “I think I’ve just gotten better at writing songs.” he laughs. His backing band, The Sleeping Souls, have also made a difference: “I always wrote for it to be more than just a voice and an acoustic guitar, but now that I’m writing with the Sleeping Souls in mind rather than just a theoretical band… that’s changed the way that I write.”
It seems that the only way is up for Frank Turner. If you made it to his gig at Whelan’s, you will no doubt understand what all the fuss is about. If not, you won’t have to wait long before Turner returns. This singer-songwriter is unlikely to be taking a break anytime soon.