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Frank Turner, a Musically Insatiable Englishman

Frank Turner at MPMF 2016 via Jesse Roos

Frank Turner is the type of musician that will do this until his body breaks beyond repair. I suspect he would feel lost if his songs ever dried up inside or could never hold a guitar in his hand. The day he obliged my ramblings with answers, he had a show. After that show, he was not satisfied and threw a makeshift set in a hotel bar. He literally played a show after his show. This is commonplace for him. The man is a beast that feeds on performing.

Frank Turner
Frank Turner photo Courtesy of Frank Turner

VV: Lucky you, the day of your MidPoint Music Festival set we had a triple digit temperature. You turned in a blistering rioted performance like you were in competition with the heat of the day. You jumped into the audience and screamed in people’s faces, seemingly having the time of your life. You revealed on stage that you hold a certain affinity for the State of Ohio. So much so, that the night before you tattooed the State on your right arm. What is it about the State of Ohio that speaks to an Englishman?

FT: I've always had a great time in Ohio. It's a common phenomenon among English bands to come to the USA and only ever play on the coasts (and maybe Chicago). It's a point of pride to me that I have played much more widely around the country. I'm trying to phrase this in a way that isn't patronising, but Ohio always feels to me more like "real" America than San Francisco and New York. It's less European, and I like that - if I want Europe, I go there. Anyways, always good times, loyal crowds. The tattoo was more the result of a drunken bet than anything else but I'm proud of it.

Frank Turner
Ohio tattoo pic courtesy of Frank Turner

VV: Were you afforded the opportunity to check out your fellow Midpoint performers?

FT: I saw a few here and there, yes. Lucero and AJJ are old friends as well as bands that I fucking adore (I have tattoos for both actually) so that was a nice addition to the day for me.

VV: You support your support. I saw you man-crushing on Arkells. I love that. I’ve toured with bands where the headliner motto was not to share the stage with someone potentially better than them. I find that maddening. Please discuss your philosophy on this subject.

FT: People with that approach are idiots, and cowards to boot. I came up opening for other bands, being given a shot at winning their audiences, and it seems only right and fair that I pass that baton forward as much as I can. On top of that, I'm responsible for the evening's entertainment. I don't want people to have to suffer through some shit bands before I come on. And finally, I love being pushed, as a performer, being challenged by your opener. It makes me work harder at my craft.

VV: I’ve withheld how I felt about a band until I saw them live. For me, it all lives and dies on the stage. In terms of your live performances, you receive from the audience as much energy, if not more, than you give them. It’s like you’re working through your day’s stress right in their faces and they pay that back in kind. Your shows aren’t the kind that you can phone in. They won’t allow it. This becomes more difficult as the bigger the venue the more intimacy you loose. Talk about your strategy in pushing yourself for your audience in different settings.

FT: Well, first and foremost, shows are an artform in themselves. Performance is a thing separate from songwriting and musicianship, and I try to concentrate on it as a thing unto itself. I grew up with punk rock and hardcore, and the physicality of those shows is still very much an inspiration to me - I want my shows to look and feel like Sick Of It All or whatever. So I try to throw down everything I have. That's not sufficient for a good show, however. I often tell the crowd, "this will only be a good show if you want it to be". Audiences get out what they put in, to an extent. My job is to inspire and then amplify their energy. Larger rooms have good points and bad points for this. Sheer numbers can generate more energy, but the bigger the distance between you and the crowd the harder it gets. Not impossible, mind you, just harder.

VV: Bruce Springsteen said that he metaphorically “puts on his father’s clothes” to perform, in an attempt to seek a certain kind of transcendence on stage. Is your on-stage uniform of black slacks, white button down with a black tie, a nod to showcasing a sophistication of your family or a visual respect for the hard work poured into your art?

FT: My art and my family are pretty far removed, to be honest. I have no relationship with my father. The white shirt thing; well, in the early days we just wore whatever, but we reached a point where we had to have stage clothes of some kind, it was totally gross trying to wear the same stuff after the show every day. Once you've reached that point, there's an opportunity to think about presentation. We went with white shirts because it's visually striking, and it's kind of a blank canvas.

VV: The Boss also said, “The performers who we think are wrestling with something significant are the ones that hold our attention”. I recognize you in that definition. You have this unabashed courage to be raw and vulnerable with your audience. That has to be a constant struggle of insecurity of ‘What of myself do I reserve?' and invigoration of challenging your boundaries. Is a part of that, seeking the validation of being understood and the recognition of misery and suffering by others?

FT: I guess so, though I'm not sure I'd put it in quite such high-falutin' terms, myself. I would say that the stage is the only place I feel comfortable in life really, so no part of playing shows is, in the final analysis, tough for me. Trying to connect, discussing difficult subjects, is part of what I do, and at best it’s cathartic in a collective way.

Frank Turner
Nelsonville Music Festival 2014 Photo Courtesy of Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com

VV: In your book, The Road Beneath My Feet, you talk about going back to your Alma Mater, Eton College, (a fancy pants school for Non-British readers) where a kid hung an article about you and wrote, "See, you don't have to grow up to be a banker". That speaks to a message beyond music. With courage you don't have to be a 9-5er. You can create your own career, by your own rules, no matter what industry that dream may lay. You give inspiration by example, that's a pretty cool thing isn't it? Does a sentiment like this, give you inspiration to keep on keeping on?

FT: Yes it does, though this is a line of inquiry I'm very wary about, increasingly so as I get older. To me punk rock is self-definition, choosing your own path through life, and that's how it connects to my educational background - I ran away and joined the circus, chose my own path. I'm wary of telling other people what to do, though. The example part is self-determination, rather than specifically playing music and traveling for a living. A lot of people email me asking for advice on life matters, which I find bizarre - I'm still figuring out my own shit, I don't see myself as much qualified to advise anyone else on anything.

VV: Touring is harder on the body and mind, than some people realize. Again, it goes back to your discipline to your craft. You seem to be constantly on the road. Are you the type of person that sitting still for a week drives you crazy? Is it one of the motivations that sparks the complicated discipline that is a requirement to making a lifetime career as an artist?

FT: I do get itchy feet, sure, though it's more about just doing something productive with my time than about travel, per se (though as time goes by I guess I am more consumed by Wanderlust). I think life is terrifyingly short, and it's a crime against yourself to waste your time. You mention the word "discipline"; one of the things I like about touring is the routine, the regime. It makes me more productive as a person. And there's an overwhelming direction to your day; the show has to be good, that's all that matters. I like that.

VV: Touring isn’t all aches and pains. What was the funniest thing that ever happened on tour or a surprising aspect you’ve learned on the road?

FT: Hard to pick the one anecdote (I wrote the best ones down for the book!). I guess touring has taught me self-reliance. I love the way that a problem has to be solved NOW because the next show is coming up, and the next, and, and... Don't fuck around. Sort out your shit. Get it done. That's a great thing to learn (though I suspect that sometimes it makes me a little intolerant around some of my home friends and their dithering, haha). Tour has also taught me that dick and fart jokes never get old. I'm in my mid 30s now, for fuck's sake.

Frank Turner
Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls Promo Photo

VV: On occasion, you pick up a DJ set at club in whichever city you seem to be squatting in AFTER your show with the band. What kind of playlist do you spin?

FT: I play the hits. Mostly Queen Greatest Hits actually. It's a fun way to spend an evening, and to put some cash in the tour kitty.

VV: Your analogy for Punk Rock & Catholicism is spot on. "Punk, like Catholicism gets into your veins when you are young and never escapes.” You liken Catholic guilt to punk rock guilt. I never understood the ''Sell Out'' label applied to broke musicians finally being able to pay their mortgage with their music. Did you once subscribe to it, if so, how did you reach a different perspective?

FT: I was a snotty self-righteous "punk" as a teenager, sure, but looking back, I don't think I'd even begun to think seriously about business, economics or morality. It's just a kneejerk thing, a self-satisfying flipping of the bird to people above you in the pecking order. I don't take it very seriously now. In fact I'm proud of the fact that I full-time employ 8 people (and part time many more). It's just growing up really, and it's kind of sad when people get older and don't.

VV: You recently teamed up with ‘Safe Gigs for Women’ in your home country. Why did you feel it important to stand up for half your audience where many do not? How often have you witnessed offending behavior toward women at gigs?  

FT: I've witnessed a little, but the whole point, for me, was that Tracey (who runs the organization) raised my awareness on this issue. She's been collating records of incidents at shows, including some of mine. I guess I was naive about it, in a straight white male kind of way. I figured that kind of stuff was vanishingly rare in my corner of the world. I was wrong about that, and outraged to discover as such. It seems like the most basic thing to me; in a way it's frustrating to have to talk about this issue. I mean, for fuck's sake, it's 2017.

VV: The Great T-shirt Debate. I’ve taken the stance that bands actually love seeing the audience wearing their shirts. While others feel it’s too cool for school. Where do you fall in this debate?

FT: I can't say I have a strong opinion either way. It's kind of cool seeing old merch make a reappearance for a show. But each to their own.

VV: You have stated your intention to work on a new album in 2017. Have you figured out how you will challenge yourself this time around? Will you record in England, America or somewhere else?

FT: Right now I am drowning in new material, and trying to cut a way through it that makes sense. Quite a lot of that will come down to producer choice, but I am working very hard to do things I haven't done before, to make new noises and say new things. More than ever before really. It's the thing occupying most of my time and energy right now.

VV: On this leg of touring, you are sharing the stage with the Arkells, Will Varley, and Murder By Death. What can the audience expect from these performers?

FT: Amazing music, basically. They're all hand-picked, some of the best acts I know of.

Frank Turner
Promo Photo Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls, Courtesy of Frank Turner

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Mr. Turner for taking time out of his crazy day to speak with me. Cincinnati, we have a big expectation to live up to as we’re living on his fleshy picture-book of memories. Let’s riot in his face! Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls will appear in Cincinnati for show #2008 on Saturday, January 21, at Bogart’s Grab tickets HERE before it sells out as this WILL SELL OUT!

Not in Cincinnati? Check out his tour schedule HERE


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