Frank Turner: “It Is Ridiculous That I Am Doing This for a Living”

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The Edge recently caught up with ‘Wessex Boy’ Frank Turner when he performed in Bournemouth on 22nd November, as part of his six-day tour of the UK. He started as the vocalist of post-hardcore band Million Dead. After the band split, Turner launched his solo career which has taken off in the last few years: he is playing Wembley in April of next year. Considering his success, his prospective interviewers Grace Remmington and Justine Tatt were worried that they would find a conceited rockstar whose success had gone to his head. Instead, they found an easy-going, charming, unassuming gentleman who was more than happy to answer their questions.

So, your last album England Keep My Bones contains a lot of references to England, is that to do with missing home on your heavy tour schedule?

Yeah, I think so; I haven’t spent that much time in England. Plus I don’t have my own place, and I haven’t done for a long time. So I think my psychological conception of what constitutes home has kind of zeroed in a bit more on national [home]rather than just a room in a house somewhere, so I feel at home when I’m in England which is good. And also, if I’m doing a solo tour particularly, like in America, I’ll be the only English person in quite a crowded room, and that gives you the opportunity to consider why it is that you understand the rules of cricket and other people don’t, or whatever it might be. When I was younger, I was very into that whole ‘rejecting national identity as a construct’ kind of thing, which to me now seems like spectacularly missing the point. I am definitely English, and I am defined by that to a degree.

You performed a gig last year in Southampton. How does it feel to be back in the south of England?

Feels great, this is my… Bournemouth is stretching it a bit… but this is kind of my manor ’round here. I grew up just outside Winchester and, yeah, it feels really nice actually. I had a day off on Tuesday, and I went up to Winchester for the day and I went and had tea with my Mum. It was really nice; I hadn’t been to the city for a long time, so it was nice to wander ’round and remember what it looked like and all that sort of business.

What is life like on tour, or are you not allowed to say?

It’s funny, because I think for a lot of people touring is what you do a little bit of here and there, and it’s kind of like a holiday which is fine. But it’s not really like that for me. I’m not saying it’s un-good [sic] in any way, it’s just this is what I do and I’ve been doing it without a break for seven years. So it’s not much like a holiday anymore, it’s kind of like every day. There are stresses and strains, no different from the stresses and strains of working a 9–5 job and living in a flat because I did that too.

[On tour] you get tired and spend all day every day thinking about your health, because getting sick on tour is just the worst and yet it always happens. You always get sick on tour. [Touring] is fantastic; I love being in a different place every day. I feel like I’m really packing it into life, if you know what I mean. Every now and then I try and think about where I was like three weeks ago, and every time I do that I go “Whaaat, that wasn’t three weeks was it?” It feels like a lifetime, and makes me feel like life is taking a long time to go by, which is good.

You’ve had some criticism from fans about the larger size of venues. Do you think smaller venues suit your music?

Not necessarily at all. [sic] It’s a conundrum that thing, because I do get it that some people only like to see smaller shows. But it would be utterly elitist of me to only do small shows because then all the people who want to come couldn’t go, and I think I have a duty as a performer to present what I do in such a way that all the people who want to see it can see it. And even on this tour, you know, London sold out like two months ago. So you can do multiple nights in smaller venues, but at the same time there is a whole lot of the world that I want to tour in, and people say “Oh, you’re only doing a six-day tour”, but I’m like “Yeah, but I’ve done about 900 shows in the UK prior to this tour.” I’ve played here more than anywhere else.

In terms of the long tours in smaller venues, we’re going to do those in America, or Europe, or Australia. And here, sure it’s six dates, but we’re playing to like 1,800 people at a time. I don’t want to sound overly defensive about it. I think one of the reasons it’s something that slightly raises my hackles is that, whilst I do think it’s a totally legitimate opinion for people to have, there is also the parallel to it: the punk rock, purist ‘oh it’s popular, so I don’t like it now’ which I really don’t have any time for. And the two often become intertwined, and so it’s kind of important to separate them out a little bit.

The amount of enthusiasm you put into your performance is amazing.

Yeah I love it, it’s funny. Kurt Cobain in his suicide note talked about this, that there are some performers who shrink in front of larger audiences and there are some who feed off it. Without now accidentally wandering into a conversation where I’m comparing myself to Freddie Mercury, I love playing to more people. I mean, I like playing small smoky rooms, but there are going to be 1,900 people at the show tonight who are, hopefully, all going to be having a good time, and that makes me want to up my game and put more into what I do.

A big part of that is that I still think, every day, that it is still faintly ridiculous that I am doing this for a living, and that it is going so well, and that any moment there is going to be a knock on the door from the reality police and they’re going to go “Sorry, there’s been a terrible mistake; you need to go back to whatever else.” So I just try and enjoy it as much as I can.

Obviously you’ve done quite a few festivals this year. How do you find the festivals compared to general touring?

Festivals are fun in small doses; it’s a cool way to play to new people. And some of the wilder nights end up round campfires at festivals. That’s the other thing: you make a lot of tour friends in this game. It’s weird, me and Against Me! [his current support act]  are gonna hang out for the next six days and then we won’t see each other in the same place until a festival. So it’s quite concentrated blasts of seeing old friends, and that plus alcohol means that you’re suddenly halfway up a hill in Glastonbury on stilts and doing acid. So they can be fun, and it must be said, every year, by the time it gets to the end of festivals, I’m getting pretty thoroughly tired of it.

It’s all a bit more ramshackle; you don’t get soundchecks, and everything is quite disorganised. As it would be when you’ve got a million bands and a field. By mid-August, I’m usually just about ready to go and do some proper gigs again; but then usually about May, I’m quite excited for festivals: it’s the natural cycle.

I’ve also heard rumours of a possible hardcore band and a new album. What are your plans for the future?

Yeah, there’s those two, and I’m also working on a new electronica project with a friend. My brain’s about to explode with too many things to do. Basically, I had an idea of doing a side-project of something heavier and more aggressive for a long time. It just hasn’t materialised. I mean, to be honest, it technically hasn’t materialised now. I’ve got a lineup, and we’ve started kicking some riffs around, but we’re doing it all via correspondence right now because I’m on the road all the time. There are a lot of nasty guitarists getting emailed around the world at the moment, but I’m excited about it. But I’m not entirely sure when we’re gonna do shows. I mean, hopefully next year, but I don’t have a concrete plan just yet.

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