Written by: Liam Eales
He has been called the hardest working musician in the world. With over 7 albums 4 complication records (With an abundance of originals and covers), 2 books and numerous other side projects including hardcore band Mongol horde, Frank Turner has established himself as one of the most relentless artists of our time.
The closest England has come to producing their own Bruce Springsteen, Frank has a knack for blending his ideas, interests, passions, anxieties and personal life into fantastic sincere rock/folk/country/punk records. The kind of record that can be hard to find on the mainstream market in recent years.
His accomplishments include selling out Wembley Arena and playing at the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony in London.
The man is a master of his craft and owns the stage. Having played over 2000 shows and counting, he has no plans of slowing down.
If I haven’t made it painfully obvious yet, I’m a fan (A word he doesn’t like). So even though it is early days in my career, I thought I would reach out to ask Frank for an interview and try to allow him to introduce himself.
Liam: Hey Frank, how are you?
Frank: Good thank you. Happy to be home at the end of the year.
Liam: First of all, thank you for doing this during the busy holiday season.
Frank: A pleasure. It’s good to be home from tour and winding down for the year, if not the decade.
Liam: Awesome, well let’s get started.
So, you’ve just got off the Mongol Horde tour, this past summer you came out with an amazing new album No Man’s Land, your second book and a lot more touring, the album Be More Kind just a year earlier, as-well-as getting married! Where did you learn to have that kind of work ethic?
Frank: I come from two families. My father’s family is characterised by impatience, my mother’s by practicality. It seems to be a good mix.
Liam: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be more productive?
Frank: There are 24 hours in each and every day, you can use them all.
Liam: On top of all this, you still make time to meet and chat with fans, and leave your email open for them to write to you. I know we have met on a few of these opportunities you create.
However “ Fan” is a word I hear you don’t really enjoy using. Can you elaborate on that philosophy?
Frank: The word “fan” implies a permanent divide between the people who make music and the people who listen to it, and I’m uncomfortable with that. My early exposure to live music was through the London hardcore punk scene in the late 1990s, and it was a scene that was very much characterized by egalitarianism. When bands finished their set, they’d jump over the barrier and watch the next band. It’s ingrained in me from back then. I want my music to be part of a wider conversation between equals.
Liam: Speaking of fandom, you were recently name-dropped by the Boss (Bruce Springsteen) himself, on a list of more contemporary artists he enjoys. What was that like for you?
Frank: That was pretty surreal, but something I can be proud of for sure.
Liam: Eton College is a place that hung around your neck for years. Not the most punk rock place on earth. What is your relationship with your secondary school and are there positive things you have you have to say about it?
Frank: I don’t have a current relationship with my secondary school, I’m in my late 30s, that would be weird.
I didn’t enjoy it much at the time, and certainly didn’t choose to go there. I got out as soon as I could and started making my own choices. The education was, obviously, pretty incredible, and I’m grateful for that. But the social milieu was vile, and it’s something I’ve been trying to distance myself from since I first got there.
Liam: On your most recent tour, you did an unplugged set with the Sleeping Souls as well as a solo set for the No Man’s Land songs. In the unplugged set, you opened up about your past and created as sit down storytelling experience from songs across your discography. Why was this important for you to do?
Frank: I’m not sure I can say it was important as such – more that it struck me as interesting, as different, as a refreshing approach. I try not to repeat myself as an artist if I can avoid it. I’ve never tried that approach to a show before, so I got into it conceptually, and found it really inspiring actually. It’s given me a lot to think about going forward, both as a songwriter and as a performer.
Liam: Forgive me if I’m wrong, on No Man’s Land, it sounds like each song is sonically and lyrically tailored to stylistically fit the time period of each song’s story as-well-as tonally match the subject matter. Personally I find sounds incredible and incredibly, sonically diverse as a result (Jinny Bingham sounds like it could be ripped from Sweeney Todd, and Dora Hand sounds like it was being played by an actual cowboy). Was it difficult to write in various styles and learn so many new ways of crafting a song, all for one project?
Frank: That wasn’t the case on every single song – there’s precious little link between the music of “The Lioness” and the life and cultural world of Huda Sha’Arawi. But where I could make it make sense, I did. Trying to write a jazz piece for Nica Rothschild was a major challenge for me, and one I enjoyed. I always want to try my hand at pushing my own boundaries a little, every time I make a record. I guess it was just more at the forefront this time around, given some of the subject material.
Liam: Have you ever thought about writing a musical?
Frank: I can’t say I’m a huge fan of musicals alas. That said, I have friends in that world more recently who’ve given me a deeper appreciation of the artistry involved. Still, not really for me.
Liam: Sierra Leone charity group WayOut Arts, is something you’ve been working with for a few years now. What can you tell us about them and how it’s inspired you?
Frank: They’re a group who use music as a conduit to reach some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the world. It’s really quite mind-boggling, visiting the slums and the camps, but then also meeting a lot of the people involved and hearing their stories, and seeing how much of an impact a group like WayOut can have on individuals’ lives. It’s a small group, they’re not going to change the world, but then again their size makes everything they do more personal. I like to think I have some genuine friends out there now, which is a lovely thing, and the fundraising I do for them enables them to make a huge impact.
NOTE: If you are interested in making a donation or finding out more about WayOut Arts their website is https://www.wayoutarts.org/
Liam: Known for being always on tour, you are finally making the rounds in South America. What took so long? and how does it feel to finally get over to that area of the world?
Frank: Touring in South America is, it turns out, not the easiest thing to organize, the scene there is still pretty wild west, there are a lot of sharks and you have to be careful about committing to travelling so far. Thankfully I finally found the right promoter, so I’m going at last. I’m excited, it’s a completely new part of the world for me. There are people excited about the shows, which is cool, and I hope to learn something new while I’m there too.
Liam: Author/Critic Clive James recently passed away. You often plugged him, and his writings as an inspiration for Be More Kind. Care to say a few words on his work and how it impacted you?
Frank: I was aware of his work as a television critic, but it was only comparatively recently (the last 10 years or so) that I became aware of his work as a cultural writer and poet. His erudition and wisdom blows me away, he might be my favourite prose writer ever, and he’s certainly hugely broadened my cultural horizons. The book “Cultural Amnesia” pretty much changed the way I think about everything.
Liam: Your catalogue is huge and a lot has been released in a short amount of time especially compared to other artists. What in your career are you most proud of? and/or what would you like to be remembered for?
Frank: In a way, the thing I’m proudest of is still being here, still standing. It’s a rare thing to sustain a career at this level for more than a decade, to release 8 albums, and still be selling tickets and making some kind of an impact. It was unlikely enough that I’d ever succeed, but to continue to do so after this long feels like a real achievement to me. Spending your time considering how you’ll be remembered strikes me as a slightly foolish thing to do, it’s quite narcissistic, plus I won’t be here then anyway by definition, so I can’t see why I should care that much.
Liam: The roaring 20s are about to begin! As I understand it you’re a man of history and learning as much as you are a musician. You went to University for 20th-century history, any reflections/analysis on the past decade and anticipations for the next?
Frank: I feel like we’ve lived through a decade that has seen a lot of political fragmentation and division in the west and north. That’s pretty worrying. But from a statistical point of view, we’re still living in the wealthiest, healthiest, most peaceful moment in the history of our species, and that’s something to consider and cautiously celebrate, in my view. There are huge challenges ahead, not least the state of the climate, but then I think we’re discussing that more than ever before, which is some small kind of progress
Liam: What does the next decade look like for you? and any plans for next year, that you are at liberty to reveal of course?
Frank: I have no idea how the decade as a whole will go – in 2010, I’d have been surprised to see myself here, I’d imagine. Next year will be about touring, but also finishing off a new record for 2021. So there’s that.
Liam: Frank, thank you for joining us, it been a pleasure.
Frank: The pleasure was all mine.
So there you have it!
Frank will be on tour in 2020 and a new album 2021!
You can buy his latest album No Mans Land on his website https://frank-turner.com/