Monday, 17 May 2010

“If Dylan can get writer’s block, then so can I”
The Confessions of Frank Turner

Before his slot at the Academy, the largest show he’s ever played, HV were fortunate enough to catch up with Frank Turner. He strolls tiredly into the room, soft drink in hand, and admits that after a morning of interviews he’s exhausted. It’s not long however before the conversation slips into a comfortable discourse, and Frank’s answers tell of a sharp intelligence coupled with a willingness to voice his opinions honestly, however brutally so. Having said that, what would you expect from a man who finished his third year History Dissertation while on tour with Million Dead in Europe?

HV: What would you say are your biggest influences, musical or otherwise?
FT: I grew up with punk rock. That kind of informs everything I do, there’s no escaping that. In recent years it’s the Big Three: Springsteen, Neil Young and Dylan. In the whole folk-rock, singer- songwriter territory they are inescapable.

HV: Your current set-up is very different from Million Dead, even with the band backing you- how does it compare?
FT: It is very different. When Million Dead broke up I decided I didn’t want to be in a band anymore. The intermeshing politics in Million Dead were fucking ridiculous. I played on my own for eighteen months to set the groundwork for what happens now… my band now is a dictatorship, not a democracy. I’d like it to be a constant, like the E-Street Band. I want people to know the names of Ben Lloyd, Matt Nasir, Nigel Powell and Tarrant Anderson as well as mine. Those are my boys. In Million Dead we were wide-eyed idealists, and I think we were probably dickheads… I can’t believe I just said that!

HV: Can you remember the best show you’ve ever played?

Frank pauses, momentarily lost in thought, so I try to prompt him: “was it with your first band? Like, your first ever gig?”

FT: Ha, no it wasn’t that… with Kneejerk I remember the first show I ever played that people sang along to words that I’d written. That was in Manchester actually, at some tiny practice rooms- it really blew me away. Tonight’s the biggest show I’ve ever headlined… before the London show that is. The other week I played in New Jersey to three hundred people who knew all the words to my songs. It’s a weird feeling being that far away and getting that reaction.

HV: What are your plans for after this tour?
FT: Europe after the UK, then the West Coast of the US, then Australia and New Zealand. After that, a ten-day tour of China. I really don’t know what to expect from that… then it’s festival season. My tour schedule runs through to February next year.

Frank explains that he’s writing his new album for the end of this year, and that he’s also planning an album of traditional English folk songs. He’s also writing a book; explaining, “I’m coming up to my thousandth solo show,” he’s choosing a hundred entries in his tour diary to turn into a consistent narrative of his life on the road thus far. I ask him, is he sure he’s keeping himself busy enough?

FT: I’m a workaholic. I’m haunted by the idea that my enthusiasm or my songwriting will dry up. If Dylan can get writer’s block, then so can I.

HV: What do you think of the current musical climate? For that matter, as someone who’s very involved in the punk scene, any thoughts on that? The US and UK scenes are very different…
FT: I don’t know and I don’t really care. I don’t care about scenes. It’s always struck me as a rubbish reason to like a band, because they came from a certain town. I’m still working my way through the Gram Parsons bootlegs.

He goes on to mention Frightened Rabbit and Gallows as favourites, as well as expressing admiration for Craig Finn (of The Hold Steady), Aiden Moffatt (Arab Strap) and John le Sampson (The Weaker Thans) as lyricists. He confesses that he’s not familiar with Andrew Jackson Jihad although he’s been recommended them several times.

HV: What is your view on illegal downloading? Do you think downloading helps or hinders musicians?

Ok, so I’m going to pause here and observe that this question provoked a nearly half-hour discussion. I’ll set it up by my comment that Dead Confederate had come out in favour of downloading in an earlier interview of mine.

FT: They have the luxury of saying that. They are paid by a label. I’m on an independent, and I have less money than when I was a student. As it is I work as hard as I do and I live with my mum. I’m playing to 2,400 people tonight and I can’t even afford a flat. There’s a short-term and a long-term. As long as record companies rely on record sales then the artist is getting fucked. We’re rapidly reaching a time when all music will be free. I’m not necessarily saying that’s bad… but lots of people work hard in this industry… other things need to change or two things will happen: less music will be made and it will be of a lower quality.

Frank refutes my assessment that Radiohead did well off their last album, “nobody paid for it; why do you think they buckled and released it on CD?” I ask about The Crimea’s free album- pointing out it notched up 120,000 individual downloads for a cult band, “exactly, I know those guys. Do you see them touring off it?”

FT: We’re in an attention-deficit market. People only care about singles and the record companies have been forced into an economic position which focuses on the hit debut record. Neil Young didn’t come into his own for a couple of albums; Kevin Shields hates playing live. Neither Young nor My Bloody Valentine could exist today.

I point to the growth of niche labels to allow the emergence, for example of a new shoegazing scene:

FT: Sure, but those don’t sell enough that the bands can live off it. If you got a record out in the 70s, people would buy it. These days, it’s about getting heard amongst the noise. Madonna’s taken a step that’s ahead of the curve by signing to Live Nation rather than a label- now her records only act to promote her tours. The bottom line is that this is a business. If people are consuming music then they need to contribute financially. The ‘I’m fucking the man’ attitude is wrong; it’s just a rationalisation for stealing. If you download my album, you aren’t fucking David Geffen, you’re fucking me and my friends who run the label with me.

After that passionate discussion, I decide to close with something I hope he feels equally passionate about.

HV: What do you love about music?
FT: I don’t know. It’s so completely infused in my life. It sounds pretentious, but I can’t imagine my life without this much music in it… it’s the context for everything. I just fucking love to play guitar and sing. It’s the coolest thing in my life and I hope nothing ever comes between me and that. It’s a fucking joy. My life would be fucking empty without it.

Frank Turner is on tour for the foreseeable future. His newest album, Poetry of the Deed is out now.

No comments:

Post a Comment