Catching up with Frank Turner is a bit like trying to chase a whirlwind. Packing in two live shows at Live At Leeds as well as a DJ set, he throws himself headfirst into everything he does with an aggressive passion, yet still manages to cultivate a 'friendly guy' image amongst his fans and in the industry. Though aside from being a modest and articulate fellow with a penchant for creative swearing, Frank is bluntly honest, philosophical and startlingly intelligent with plans to start work on his follow up to the acclaimed 'Tape Deck Heart' and sock it to sixteen year old naysayers.
Contactmusic: Hello Frank, how're you doing today?
Frank Turner: I'm alright, just having a bit of an 'arghhh' hectic day. I was DJing in Northampton last night and travelled up today. I'm DJing in Leeds tonight at Propaganda which is actually the reason I'm here. I really don't consider myself to be a DJ but they seem very keen on paying me lots of money to come and play songs that I like off a laptop for an hour. But I do get really into it; I have a bit of a dance, I sing along.
The Live At Leeds people noticed that I was going to be here today and said, 'Do you wanna play a gig as well?' so I said 'Yes, very much so' because, actually, I'm a musician and I like playing music so that's fine.
CM: A someone who aspiring musicians see as a role model, do you have any advice for those who want to be where you are now?
Frank: It's funny, I feel like I could answer that question for two, three, four days of talking. Then I also feel that I couldn't answer it at all because I don't know what I'm talking about. The thing is - and I'm not at any point trying to play the martyr - but it is hard work. I think that one of the most important things for me and something I've always tried to do and could do lots more of is educate myself about the industry I'm trying to work in. I know people in bands who sign publishing deals who don't really understand what publishing is. And I think that's indefensible, it's mental.
There's books you can get and articles you can read to educate yourself about how it works; what a booking agent does, what a manager does, what a record label involves, what mechanical royalties are, what the word cross-recoupable means, all this kind of s**t. If you wanna do this professionally you need to know all about that stuff to protect yourself and to be in control of what you do.
I do have a lot of control of what I do but it's not for any specific reason other than I kind of asked for it at the beginning and I think a lot of people don't and therefore never have it. If you show up for your first meeting knowing what management does, you set the tone straight away.
CM: You've played Wembley, the Olympics, released five albums and won awards left, right and centre: how do you treat the fact that you're seen as a hero by a lot of people?
Frank: [Laughs] I try very hard not to think about it because it makes me feel all strange. It's not really how I think of myself. If people recognise me in the street, my overwhelming emotion is still feeling a bit embarrassed because I'm just a guy who plays guitar. I'm very flattered that people like what I do and I don't want to be ungrateful for that. I'm also painfully aware that I'm able to lead the life that I lead and to make the music that I make because people buy tickets or CDs. There is as much a debt of gratitude from my side as there is from the other.
I understand [the hero worship] though. When I met James Hetfield [Metallica frontman], I lost my s**t. I actually really f***ed it up. I sort of forgot how to talk and went all 'arrueughgh' and when we walked off, my friend went, 'You f***ed that up.' That was about a year ago.
CM: How did that meeting come about?
Frank: I was opening for a band called Social Distortion in the USA and he's friends with them so he was hanging out with them. My scale of important musicians that I like isn't related to sales figures. My biggest hero in the world is John K. Samson from an obscure, Canadian indie band called The Weakerthans. He is my God. We're actually kind of friends now but it's a bit weird because every time I'm hanging out with him I'm going [worships]. He is an incredibly nice man and he is mind-blowingly talented and he just sheds poetry like dead skin. Unbelievable. He even at one point discussed writing songs with me and I just had to say no because it was just like, 'There's no way I'm ever going to disagree with you.'
But back to the question, I understand that there are people who look up to me - argh, I don't even like saying that out loud - and I'll take the compliment but I don't wanna spend very much time thinking about it because I think if you did you'd turn into a d**k quite quickly. People do though and there are successful musicians out there who are d**kheads. It's a shame.
CM: One of the most unique things about you is the time you take for your fans. Is that something you always intended for?
Frank: I guess so; although it's not really something I've sat down and planned. It's just how I approach life. To give a slightly more philosophical answer to this question than you were probably expecting, something that people give me a lot of s**t about is the fact that I got a scholarship to be privately educated when I was a kid. The thing about that is, I was surrounded by judgemental s**theads for the whole time that I was at that school.
The thing that was so horrifying to me as a child that remains so horrifying to me now is prejudice; pre-judging people. It's just b*****ks. I was surrounded by screaming examples, just insane levels of that as a kid. Firstly, it made me fall in love with punk rock 'cause punk rock was my kind of lifeboat in all of that; this idea that you could reject the society that you're in and find one of your own choosing. That to me is the most important thing that punk rock ever means.
In everything I do, I try really hard not to think anything about somebody before I've had a chat with them. Then if someone's a d**k then fine, I'll call them a d**k. So anybody I'll meet after a show to me is equally valid and has as much right to say things and be a human being as I do. That's not really anything to do with me being a musician either, it's just how I like to try to approach life - I just don't ever wanna hold myself above another person. It's a s**t way to be.
CM: Without wishing to cover well-trodden ground, musically, your background is primarily in punk. Your fame, your success, your many endorsements from the media and even political figures; how does that sit with your punk stance
Frank: I have a very complicated relationship with the word 'punk'. The best analogy I can think of is that it's kind of like Catholicism in a sense that if you're born a Catholic you're just a Catholic for the rest of your life. It doesn't matter what you believe, it just inhabits the way that you think. Like Catholic guilt, punk rock guilt is definitely a thing that exists. There are days when I feel incredibly passionate and defensive about punk as an idea because, as I said, it was my lifeline as a kid. It taught me everything I know about music and it gave me my politics and it also gave me a lot of friends. It's a huge part of my life.
At the same time, having been successful, of course the internet is full of people who want to tell me that I'm a sell-out and that I'm not punk blah blah blah; I get this s**t all day every day and I don't care, but within all of that there are days that I really wanna turn around and go, 'You know what? Fine. I'm not punk any more. I don't care enough to waste my f**king life arguing about a four letter word.' Who gives a s**t? There are elements of punk rock that are very judgemental and cliquey but I hate it; that's the side I really dislike because that's not what it was supposed to be to me.
It comes up in my email inbox every day; some s***ty little a**ehole will tell me I'm a sell-out but never to my face, for some reason. Cowardly little b*****ds! I'll tell you something I'm really looking forward to; this August I will have been touring officially for more than half of my life, 16 years. So I'm looking forward to the day when somebody who's 16 or younger starts trying to tell me anything about my life or the world. I'll be like, 'I've been touring since before you were born, so why don't you f**k off!' It's gonna be such a good comeback.
CM: What inspires you to get up every day and keep ploughing on then?
Frank: My phone alarm [Laughs]. Something that is part of my character and something my sisters have too, is that I'm really bad at being idle. I just get annoyed very quickly and have to find things to do. I'm always organising new projects for myself when I have 30 seconds off. It drives my manager up the f***ing wall! I do think that a healthy dose of workaholism goes a long way in life. I'm just not very good at sitting on my a**e.
CM: What do the next six months hold for you?
Frank: We've got a busy festival summer then I'm going to be in the studio making another record after that. Number six! Which is an interesting thing because there really aren't any clichés or signposts about what a sixth album is supposed to be like. There's loads of clichés about what a second album is like. It's kind of virgin territory, which is nice. I'm excited about it, we just demoed 12 new songs and I'm writing more.
CM: Will it be heavier than 'Tape Deck Heart'?
Frank: A little bit. I want to make more of a punk record. I've been listening to a lot of The Replacements, The Descendents, stuff like that. It's going to be an upbeat record. 'Tape Deck Heart' is an insanely introspective and morose record, which is fine; that's what it needed to be, I needed to write that album. But I'm enjoying writing slightly more positive songs now.
Frank Turner, thanks a lot for your time!