Interview with Frank Turner.
Frank Turner is beginning to find a prominent place on the public's radar, but it's not just the loyal supporters who have followed him since his unavoidable yet constantly referred to 'Million Dead' days that are picking up his signal. Those days are long gone and the past few tough years of solid touring, recording, releasing and gaining widening media coverage have made him an exciting and popular attraction on the musical map.
Manchester is tonight's port of call on Frank's largest headline tour to date and the venue, in common with a number of others, has been sold out for some time. Grateful for this, Frank thinks that 'It's nuts. The last time I was here - actually in this room - I was selling merchandise for Reuben. Million Dead had just broken up and I was doing my solo stuff, but no one was interested. So it's nice coming back and being sold out.'
As any solo artist or band trying to carve out a music career would attest to, it isn't easy trying to make a name for oneself. But making it thus far, with two well received albums and plenty more in the pipeline, hasn't come as too much of a surprise to Frank after all the effort that he's put in.
'I'm not sure whether I'd put it that I expected it, but I certainly wanted it. This was the aim and I'm really over the moon with how things are going right now. This tour has been really busy, the single is doing well and there's more good news to come about the next record, so I really can't complain about my lot in life.'
Touring can be tough, though. Aside from the enjoyment of being able to play your music to people night after night, constant effort is required to get the music heard. 'The lifestyle of being on the road is something I really like. It has its downsides, as with everything else, but at the base of it there's still something totally cool about travelling around the world, and playing music that you wrote for a living is f***ing great.'
I must admit I've done a lot of stuff in the last few years and it really isn't slowing up any time soon. I think I might try to book a month off at some point next year to see my girlfriend, so she can remember what I look like. But it's cool, I still absolutely love it and especially right now, in the UK, the shows are just going crazy. I think an awful lot of people would give their arms and legs to be where I am right now, so I'm lucky to be here.'
Although content to be where he is today, Frank, as with many of us, still has days when he feels as though he's had enough. One such occasion was in 'Pensacola in Florida last month, with Fake Problems, who are great guys but I don't know them that well. I was a million miles from home, I had a hangover and I had a cold, which never helps. I was sat by the side of the road and I was just like. what the f**k am I doing? I want to go home. I want to go and get a f***ing nine-till-five.
But everyone has shitty days and I think people who work office jobs - the kind of jobs I did before I did this - probably have a lot more days of saying 'I want to f***ing jack this in and go away' than I have days of saying I want to go home, so it's still better than that, obviously.'
Recent coverage by the likes of Radio 1 has certainly raised Frank's spirits, including his recent interview with Sara Cox, 'Which was a bit surreal. I was sat in my Travelodge and my phone started going crazy with all these people texting me.' Whether or not this is a sign that mainstream radio presenters are starting to pay attention to lesser known and wider genres of musicians, or whether loyal fans pestering and voting have influenced opinion, remains to be seen.
'I think it's a combination of those things. The voting has certainly put it on people's radars, but they're quite a close community, the Radio 1 DJs, so as soon as Zane Lowe started playing stuff, Sara Cox picked up on it and Jo Whiley picked up on it. Once you've reached that point, I'd like to think that there's a degree to which they like the songs and they're into my stuff.
Almost necessarily, people who do a job like that are going to be quite detached from reality and probably not that clued into underground music, but all the people I've met and spoken to from that community seem like nice people. They're enthusiastic. They might not be particularly clued in to what's happening in the underground, but they seem to genuinely love what they do.'
The actions of those who are enthusiastic about Frank's music have been 'Humbling. It has massively moved my career forward. The crowds at the shows on the last tour were great, but with the crowds at the shows on this tour it's really starting to get a bit demented now, but good demented. It's getting crazy. In Leeds - the first night of the tour - we went on and played the first song and everyone went nuts.
It's really funny, there's this way that the music industry is theoretically supposed to be, which is that bands or acts exist, they play, people like them and then they sell records and people come to the shows and it grows. That never usually happens, because big labels throw wads of cash around and good bands die on their arses, whilst bad bands get millions of pounds. It's all screwed up.'
It's no secret that money plays a big part in driving forward the careers of many bands but, whereas some have the finances for huge promotion in markets such as America, Frank of course relies on his music to do the talking. 'America is easy. It isn't really, because it's huge and it's vast and there's a million people trying to have a go. But the reason it's easier is that if you've got an English accent, you've got a head start. They're all Anglophiles over there. The reaction I've had has been great.
I'm starting to hit Europe properly in November. I'm worried about the language barrier because a lot of what I do is quite lyrically based, but people like Billy Bragg do alright in Europe so there's got to be something going on. It's exciting. America is really fun to tour because you meet nice people but it's a boring country to travel around, whereas Europe has all the history and landscape, so it's better.'
Other musicians who have already achieved significant success haven't always gone about business in the way that they'd have you believe, and this bothers Frank. Enter Shikari are one example, trying to disguise the fact that they're actually signed to a major label.
'The only thing that bothers me about Enter Shikari is the fact of trying to disguise it. I couldn't give a toss what label a band is on, I just judge them by their music. If you like it, you like it and if you don't, you don't. To be honest, as well, some bands operate by having outside writers coming in and helping them write their stuff. If that's how they work I don't really care. if I like the end product, I like it and if I don't, I don't.
For me it's slightly different because I'm talking about the music that I'm creating, but having said that, I've always maintained that I'd consider signing to a major label. I've got no essential philosophical problem with that. But with the Arctic Monkeys ground swell thing, which is also bollocks - and the worst one was Sandi Thom - I don't care where you came from, people care too much about it. You either write good songs or you don't.'
As for Frank's song content, recent material has become a little less political, given his past ideals. 'The reason there hasn't been masses in the way of politics in my lyrics is because I ran out of things to say on the subject. I got really, really bored of telling other people what to do. It just doesn't really interest me. I must say though, I still get f***ed off about stuff and shout at people within a five mile radius about how annoyed I am by our surveillance society, or whatever it might be, and I'm sure there will be opportunities and times.
I'm not saying I'm never going to write political songs again, but it's just that right now I find it uninspiring. If I have to sing these lyrics day in, day out, for years and record them and be judged by them then I'd better make sure that they're about something that I'm passionate about. I'm just not that passionate about political projects anymore, not like I used to be.'
As Frank matures and his future unfolds, his music is sure to continue in exciting ways. Immediate aims include making sure that the next album is better than its predecessor, 'Love, Ire & Song' which, in Frank's opinion, was 'Clearly better than 'Sleep Is For The Week'. not to knock that.
I am currently modeling my career, both creatively and business-wise on Springsteen, who is my favourite living songwriter. In that sense, the album which is really possessing me as I think about my third record is 'Born to Run'. I'm thinking about it all the time, about what makes that record good. I am an ambitious person - I'd like to sell a ton of records and I'd like to play to thousands of people - but I don't want to take a short cut to get there. I want to get there by playing music that I believe in.'
Before Frank gets ready for the show tonight, there is just one more thing that he'd like to add, something that seems to bother him greatly. 'I'd like to learn how to do cryptic crosswords. That's true, I really would. I can't do them, no idea, and it troubles me that I can't do them. I feel like I should be able to.'
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