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Interview: Frank Turner

Frank Turner is an artist who isn’t known for holding back. His latest album FTHC (Frank Turner Hard Core) due for release on 11th Feb, is no different as he returns with a raw, edgy and very open album that pushes headfirst into the current personal and social challenges many of us face.

With his 9th studio album on the way, along with new single ‘A Wave Across A Bay’ (a song written in tribute to the late Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison, with profits being paid to the Tiny Changes organisation – pre-order links for the single and album can be found below) and the unfortunate cancellation of his twenty-nine date UK tour planned for January & February, there was a lot to talk about when I caught up with Frank earlier this week.

Mark: Hi Frank, how are you? You must be disappointed to have had to cancel the upcoming tour?
Frank: I mean it’s not ideal, honestly, but ultimately I never wanted to be part of the problem as far as the collective event we are all living through. I am very very keen to do my job but at the same time one has to be considerate about it, and as a minor point I personally find it tedious when people keep postponing & postponing gigs assuming that everybody can make the new date. So it seemed more fair to me to just cancel it and get it back in the books as soon as we possibly can, when it is safe and a reasonable thing to do.

I agree moving dates isn’t always ideal for anyone. Regarding your new album and your first release since 2019, when did you start writing this one?
A while back in the long run. There are always bits & bobs of ideas that come from old piles of notebooks and stuff. Actually one of the songs on the record ‘The Work” – the verse melody to that song has been in various different notepads of mine for maybe 20 years!

But more precisely I started writing it in 2019 (ish) and by Feb 2020 I had maybe 10 songs ready to go, and usually for a record I will write maybe 15. Then the pandemic struck and I was unable to go to LA to make the record in the summer of 2020 as was the original plan. All of this is bad news but the silver lining to this enormous cloud is that I had a lot more time to work on the record and I ended up writing 28 songs and revising quite a few more than I would usually before arriving at the studio.

Also to the extent that this is a ‘punk’ record, this was an idea I had in my head and prior to the pandemic I was going to take a couple of steps down that road, but because I had more time it turned into a headlong sprint down that road! And ditto with me getting back into a more autobiographical confessional style of writing, I had been tiptoeing in that direction and then had time to run further down that road, so its ended up being both musically and lyrically more intense than it otherwise might have been.

Do you feel that because of the timing of the album with lockdowns & restrictions, and you mentioned earlier you were heading in a direction, do you feel that all of this has challenged and pushed you musically further than expected?
Yeah definitely, I mean there are a few things really, having more time to work on songs is one and plus my other major lockdown project was learning how to be a music producer & mixer myself, which weirdly helped my own creative process. My plan, which is ongoing, is to do that and make records for other people, including Pet Needs (who’s hoodie Frank was wearing during the interview) but being better at producing music made my demos better which meant I was able to flesh the songs out a lot more. One of the other things is I also parted ways with my long term drummer in 2020, and there is a kind of freshness and aggression from the rhythm section on this record which was a deliberate choice, getting Ilan Rubin from Nine Inch Nails to play drums (something I still can’t believe he said yes to) gave a real sense of intention which I really wanted from the record.

Absolutely, having had a listen to the album it sounds a little less experimental, more direct,  raw & edgy but very much relatable. Was that relatability a deliberate move?
Relatability is like the sixty four million dollar question of song writing, in my opinion, it’s like the magic eye picture in that you kind of have to do it by accident. If you try to write a song that is relatable it can feel slightly marketed in a way, and that’s not what I do. This is a lesson long learned over many years and ultimately what I have to do is channel what I have to say as an artist in the most honest way I can and release it into the world.

It does feel honest, elements of the record are very personal, how does it feel for you to write like that and put it out there?
Yeah I feel with the last two records I have been more experimental within my own canon and that cleared the pallet, plus I am a little older now which means I am more secure in myself which allows me to fish in deeper waters when I am writing. When I was younger I used this thing called ‘The Wince’, and this is where I am writing a lyric and it make me go ‘aargghh’. What’s happening there is I’ve provoked a reaction and that’s really powerful, so the rule I have is that if you get a wince you’ve got to keep it in, and I kind of went right back to that approach to writing with this record.

In a funny way you have to keep your head down when you are writing in that way and not think about how other people are going to react to it, otherwise it can be self-conscious in a bad way.  Ultimately the reason that I do this is because it is cathartic for me and makes for better art (if that’s not a pretentious thing to say!).

I wanted to touch on the single ‘A Wave Across A Bay’, is that how it felt for you to write that track, as a release and a way of dealing with a traumatic experience?
Yes, I react to the things that happen in my life through song to a degree because I have been a songwriter for my entire adult life, and Scott’s passing was utterly heartbreaking and still is. It’s not a surprise to me that I wrote something about it, having said that the actual story of how that song came together is quite weird as it began with me having a lucid dream where Scott arrived in my room with a guitar playing me some chords and singing me some words! And whatever some might think of that, I then got up and wrote some words and the following day had three quarters of a song. That’s a very strange experience that I have never had happen to me before but it kind of felt like it was delivered to me and my job was to forward it on, but it is very cathartic in a way.

That single has profits going to ‘Tiny Changes’ and you have completed many gigs in aid of Independent Venue Love, do you plan to do more work in support of charities and organisations close to you?
Its been an element of what I do for a long time, whilst one of the many reasons I tour is because I want to make a living, also because I love it and I have art that I want to share, but when you occupy any type of platform in life you can use it for more that the boosting of my own ego and you can direct the energy outwards a little bit! The Independent Venue Love thing was very much pandemic specific, for my friends, there are a legion who either manage, run or work in venues that were hit hard because if your whole business model is set on bringing people together in a confined space a pandemic is bad news.

I mean the main thing I want to do is play a show at every venue that I did an IVL show for as it will hopefully help them a lot. Also the current tour that was cancelled was planned for larger venues as I wanted as many people as possible to come. I mean if we played The Joiners in Southampton 90% of the people who wanted to come couldn’t and that would be lame, but at the same time I will get there!

Ah yes that aged old question of Portsmouth or Southampton, I mean we had Southampton show in the diary for this time of year and I apologise to the people of Portsmouth for such a dereliction of my duty! We will be back,

Your first record ‘Sleep Is For The Week’ is 15 years old now!
I know, my God, ‘Sleep is For The Week’ would have its first-weekend job now!

In that whole journey, if you were to pick some parts of your career that you are most proud of, what would those be?

This is going to sound like a dodge of an answer but I promise you its not, the honest answer to that question is that my proudest point is that I am still here, I am still doing this and you & I are having this conversation today about my 9th record, 15 years after my first! I mean this will sound like a whistle stop autobiography but when I was a kid and I told people I wanted to be a musician everybody laughed (and I mean visibly laughed) and when I started playing in bands the idea that I would do a tour was ridiculous, and when I released my first record I had no idea that it would lead to this, I aspired to this but never expected this.

I still don’t have an office job, YES!!

And I get paid to play the guitar and talk about my feelings, to me that is ridiculous and there is huge part of me that spends my day waiting for the reality police to knock on the door. But I am still standing and there is a sense of freedom that comes from survival, I am getting to the point where I am largely older than the people reviewing my records (not this reviewer I’m afraid) and there is something very satisfying about that.

And you would hope that those reviewers are delving into your back catalogue?
Sure, one can hope yeah! You know as a listener for me there are some artists who are absolutely career artists such as Nick Cave & Elvis Costello, I am hopefully not being so pretentious as to actually compare myself to those artists, but if I could have a career that was one tenth of either of theirs I would be very content with that.

I am doing this for Strong island and we are based in Portsmouth, when might we get to see you performing a show here again?
Ah yes that aged old question of Portsmouth or Southampton, I mean we had Southampton show in the diary for this time of year and I apologise to the people of Portsmouth for such a dereliction of my duty! We will be back, I mean put it this way one thing I have learnt over the years is never to take what I do for granted again, and to love every minute of it. I now know that I will be doing this for as long as I possibly can and it won’t be too long.

You returned to Victorious Festival last year in what felt like a very emotional return to live performing (my wife was in tears when you played I Still Believe), it was like a coming together after a completely rubbish time, how does that feel for you being up there and seeing that in front of you?
Sensational, I mean it feels like that for me too ya know. Whilst that wasn’t quite the first show back, nevertheless it didn’t wear off over the summer at all. And also Victorious holds a special place in my heart for a couple of reasons, I used to hang around a lot on Southsea Common as a teenager and also the last time I saw Scott was at Victorious Festival in 2017. It was a beautiful summers day, we had both played afternoon sets and we spent a summers evening sat in a pair of deck chairs drinking beer and shooting the shit, it was a glorious time. And this is often that way with people you lose in life, I am so grateful that is how our last hang out went because it was pure and a lovely time hanging out with my friend.

Do you have any plans for any other festivals this summer?
I am going to be in America for quite a lot of this summer and then we will get the UK tour back in the diary, so we will be back in Hampshire! Then we plan to hit the UK circuit hard in 2023, so I am sure you will get sick of me by then!

I’m sure we won’t!

YouTube: youtube.com/user/frankturner
Apple: itunes.apple.com/gb/frankturner
FTHC Album Pre Order is available here

Photos: Ben Morse


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