The lovely Frank Turner is in the middle of a monstrous tour promoting his sixth album, ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’. I caught up with him before he and The Sleeping Souls tore Sheffield a new one with their sold out show at the O2 Academy. We talked about the new album, current events, and Netflix & Chill; easy Frank, we’ve only known each other ten minutes!
How’s the tour been so far?
It’s been great! The shows have been fantastic, we’ve got great support bands and it’s lovely to be back in the UK. The events in Paris have been pretty heavy for everybody who’s involved in live music and the touring community, but that aside it’s been great.
I guess that had quite an effect on the mood of the tour in the few days afterwards?
Yeah, I knew Nick Alexander quite well and I know quite a lot of other people who were shot, all of whom are thus far still alive, so that is good news. But yeah, I was doing a gig when it happened and I was doing a gig the following evening and it’s like, ‘this is what I do, I do gigs’, and it’s mad to think about what happened.
Does it make you reflect on your career and appreciate it a lot more?
It does, it makes me pretty angry in places as well, people talking about this with reference to Western foreign policy it’s like ‘what the fuck do people at a death metal show have to do with Western foreign policy?’ It’s not to do with that, it’s to do with totalitarian death cults and… yeah, fuck those people.
You’ve played well over a thousand shows now, what number is tonight’s show in Sheffield?
1789! We’re gonna break 1800 by the end of this year.
Has the reception to your new album been any different to your previous albums?
Well, it’s an interesting question because it’s my sixth album and there’s a degree to which people have made up their mind about an artist by the time you get to a sixth record and I’m slightly kind of bored by… You know, there are some people that will just go ‘oh I fucking hate that guy’, and won’t listen to it. And then, I don’t want to be disrespectful or ungrateful, but there are people that are gonna love it because they love what I do. I’m more interested in people that have a kind of rational, reasonably critical response to it. But I feel quite strongly that it’s one of the best records that I’ve done, if not thebest record I’ve ever done. It struck me that I really needed to not just release a run-of-the mill ‘me’ album.
When I listened to it I did think that you’d branched out in a lot of different places and experimented with new sounds.
Thank you, I’m glad we agree! You know, if I just did a me-by-numbers record on album six, a lot of people would kinda go, ‘probably not gonna bother listening to the next one.’ You need to keep interesting people.
In ‘The Angel Islington’ you mention the writer Samuel Johnson, is there a book or poem that you’ve read that’s completely changed your outlook on life or that you’ve taken inspiration from when writing yourself?
Yeah, hundreds! I’m a very bookwormy, poetry kind of guy. I was just talking about a writer called Clive James who is my favourite writer, he’s an Australian who’s lived in London most of his life and it’s very sad to say that he’s nearly dead – he’s got terminal cancer. He wrote a book called ‘Cultural Amnesia’ which reordered my entire thinking about art, but that’s just one of many that I could choose.
In ‘Get Better’ you say the lyrics ‘she took a plain black marker, started writing on my chest.’ Speaking of ink on skin, what’s your favourite tattoo and why?
On me? It’s difficult to pick favourites. I really like the backs of my hands, partly because I see them all day every day. The idea came from a song from a band called mewithoutYou, sort of via Aesop’s Fables, and the drawing was drawn by my friend Keenan and the inking was done by my friend Ian, so they’ve got a lot of personal attachment.
Okay, in relation to ‘The Opening Act of Spring’, what are you most looking forward to about 2016?
We’re gonna be in Europe a lot in some places we haven’t been for a long time and I’m really excited to get back to Scandanavia and places like that.
You talk about postcards and travelling a lot in ‘Mittens’, where’s one place you haven’t toured yet or don’t tour very often that you’d love to visit?
South America! I’ve never been south of the River Grande and we’re going to Mexico next month which I’m crazy excited about; obviously Mexico isn’t in South America but it’s a little bit closer. I get tons of emails from Brazil, Chile and Argentina and places like that and I would love to get down there.
‘Glorious You’ – what’s been the most glorious thing about releasing ‘Positive Songs for Negative People?’
You know what, it was a real battle to get this record to come out the way I wanted it to. There were lot of people who were trying to get me to mitigate a little bit, or just round the edges off, or change up what I do and I was really, really fierce about fighting that. It was very stressful. The record was supposed to come out in February but it came out in August because we were arguing about when and where to record it and all those kind of things, and I’m really glad that I stood my ground.
So you’re very certain that the album reflects you specifically rather than the interests of other people?
Yeah, definitely. I mean that’s always true but just particularly this time around. I think some people didn’t quite get what it was I was trying to do and were trying to change what I do, and that really fills me with rage so I was really quite keen to just ignore all of that.
In ‘Love Forty Down’ you mention fears about reaching forty, is there anything that you’re determined to achieve before you do turn forty?
Oh, God! I’m right at the very beginning of planning to write a history book. I shouldn’t really say any more than that right now but it’s gonna be an extremely difficult thing to do because I don’t really know how to do it, and I don’t want it to be a history book that people like because I’m a musician, I want them to like it because it’s a history book, you know? I’ve got a plan and if it comes out before I’m forty I’ll be very pleased.
When you stop making music, what’s the one thing you want people to remember about your career?
[Pauses] Well… That’s an interesting question, in some ways I… [pauses] Making me pause is quite impressive, I never stop talking! In some ways I kind of don’t care, in the sense that it’s not really my problem what people do or don’t remember, but that’s actually not strictly true. I don’t think that’s how human beings work – everyone thinks about how they’re going to be remembered. I just want to be remembered as someone who was integral and decent. I mean, I’d love to be remembered as the greatest songwriter in the history of the universe but that’s not gonna happen, so I’d just like to be remembered as someone who was decent to the people around me and stayed true to my artistic aims.
What would be your ideal gift this Christmas?
I’m really into old maps of London, stuff like that and I’d like an old map of London – well, I should clarify, I’d like another old map of London.
What was the last concert you attended that wasn’t your own?
[Pauses] I’m trying to think, we’ve been on tour for a long time! I can tell you the next concert I’m going to attend which is tomorrow night because we have the night off. We’re going to a band called Felix Hagan & The Family who are amazing, and I’m very excited about seeing them live again.
Are there any songs or artists that you listen to that people wouldn’t expect you to listen to?
I don’t really know what people expect me to listen to, or care very much. I listen to a lot of pretty heavy music, I think people generally know that about me. There’s a band called HECK that used to be called Baby Godzilla, they are fucking monstrousand I love them. At the same time lately I’ve been mainly listening to traditional 70s country, stuff like John Prime, George Jones, that kind of business. It’s great, it’s some of the most finely crafted song-writing I’ve ever heard.
Okay just to finish off we’re gonna play a word association game, you know what this is right?
I do, I live in fear that you’re going to discover something about me that we didn’t already know!
Okay, so the first one is pretty easy – Music.
Uh… [pauses] I know I’m supposed to do this quickly! I’m gonna say Mum really, because the deal I have with my mum is that, obviously because I’m not home very often, I go home for Christmas. If I don’t, and do Christmas anywhere other than my Mum’s house she’d fucking hunt me down and kill me. She can cook the shit out of a turkey!
Don’t care. That whole thing passed me by hard! I have friends who are die-hard fanatics but it’s not for me.
So we’ve discovered that Frank likes his mum’s cooking, old maps of London and being a decent human being. There’s just one problem – how do we tell him there’s already a historian named Frank Turner?