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INTERVIEW: Frank Turner

The Verse’s Matt Austin interviews Frank Turner in the run up to his 2,000th gig in our Frank Turner interview…

Matt Austin: So first things first, your 2000th show is coming up, that’s pretty mental.

Frank Turner: It is! I sort of oscillate between not caring, thinking it’s really cool and thinking that it’s terrifying.

You’ve gone with Rock City in Nottingham for the venue, what was the thinking behind that?

I mean the first thing is we didn’t want to do it in London because we had the whole Round House announcement thing coming up and the powers that be didn’t want to have too much stuff going on. Winchester would have been my second choice but there isn’t really a big enough place in Winchester. Biggest venue there is like 700 cap, and I think we had 1900 applicants for tickets to show 2000. Which is lovely but selling 1900 tickets is bad enough, and trying to sell 700 would strike me as verging on unjust. So I was thinking of my favourite venue of that kind of size in the UK, and [in] the world actually, and the people who run rock city are kind of like family to me. The people there are just the good guys are far as I’m concerned and when we finally made the decision and called them up, they were like ‘yeah we were waiting for your call’. It’s such a great room to play as well, it sounds great [and] it’s a wonderful layout for the room. I have a lot of history there and it felt like the right place to be.

And the support for the show, you’ve got Beans on Toast and The Tailors, what made you go for them?

I was thinking about who I wanted to play, and obviously there’s a million choices. But when I was playing in hardcore bands and listening to hardcore music I started living in a bar called Nambuca, which was run by Jay [Beans on Toast] at the time in North London. The Tailors used to play there all the time and [it was] both Jay and The Tailors who got me to start paying attention to music other than hardcore. The Tailors I regard still as one of my bigger influences in life, but nobody knows who they are as they never even did very much and they broke up 10 years ago. So I called Adam, who’s the singer in The Tailors, and asked him if he’d be up for putting the band back together and he said ‘Yeah but Chad [Guitarist] moved to Canada’, so now I’m in The Tailors. They released two and a half albums back in the day and Adam’s approach to song writing is still hugely influential to me. We had a rehearsal the other day and it was actually one of the greatest days for me because I was just sat in a room playing back-up guitar and back-up vocals on some of my favourite songs ever, and that’s a wonderful thing to do.

One thing I was always a bit curious about, how do you even begin cataloguing 2000 shows, how do you keep track of that?

In Million Dead [previous band], our drummer counted the shows, and at the time when the band was going I thought he was a bit OCD about it. But once the band broke up I was quite happy he had because we had a list of everything we’d done. With every passing year I’ve been more grateful for it because without the list of Million dead shows, which is also on my site, I would not be able to tell you anything really about what Million Dead did, other than sort of vague half memories. I think human memory is quite bad at quantity generally speaking. I have friends who are in bands [who are] like ‘yeah we’ve probably played like 5000 shows’ and I’m like ‘believe me, you didn’t’. So I started keeping a list at the beginning, obviously the list is on my site I don’t keep it in my head that would be mad. We had a party for the show 1000, in the run up to it I was quite resistant to the idea initially. I had this idea that ‘every show’s equally important, it’s just a number, who gives a shit’ and then I kind of got over myself and was actually like ‘this is kind of cool’.

It’s definitely an achievement.

Yeah, well I mean it’s an excuse for a party to be blunt. Since then the show’s number thing has become a much bigger deal, I met somebody last night who had like five show numbers tattooed on them. It was just like, ‘ok, this is more of a deal now’.

For this tour in particular I noticed you’ve got the charity safegigsfor women on the road with you. How did you get involved with them and what does the charity mean to you?

So the charity’s run by a woman called Tracy [and] it started as a blog initially. [Tracy] sent me a link to it and Sarah and I went and had a read before I shared the link, and the blog was sort of people sharing their experiences of harassment at shows. There was a lot of stuff on there but there were one or two stories from my shows, and I was quite shocked by that because it’s really important to me that there’s this communal atmosphere at my shows. I’ve never behaved like that towards a woman and I like to think that nobody I know would either. It’s one of those things that’s a little bit like when people say shit like ‘who votes Republican or who listens to Nickelback? I don’t know anyone who does’. The answer to that is actually that that’s a self-condemnatory statement as lots of people listen to Nickelback, and if you don’t know anyone that listens to Nickelback that means that you live in a bubble. I sort of suddenly realised while reading the blog that I was living in a bubble of sorts, and on talking to Tracy and on talking to a few friends of mine, every woman I know is like ‘Oh yeah, totally that’s a thing that happens all the time’. Maybe I’m just a starry eyed idealist but I was just like ‘that’s bullshit, how the fuck is that a thing?’ So I spoke to Tracy about coming out on the tour and she kicked into gear. She’s been amazing on this tour and she’s really brought it. The other thing that’s happened is that I made the error the other day of reading some comments on the Facebook post they did about [the tour], and god fucking dammit there are some scummy people out there. There’s the obvious shit where people are like ‘Well it’s never happened to me therefore it’s not a problem’ which misses the entire point of the whole fucking thing, which is sharing experiences with other people. But the people say dog shit like ‘safe gigs for everyone’ and it’s like yes, obviously, but there’s one extant problem that we can solve now by talking about it, or at least try and solve I should say. But I think overall it’s been a really positive thing and I hopefully it’s opened up some conversations.

Raising awareness and bursting bubbles.

Yeah totally. I have a little spiel I do on stage every day and one of the lines in it is how the first person who had their awareness raised was me, and it’s helped me understand what’s going on, so why don’t we share that with more people.

You’ve also got the Lost Evenings festival coming, that’s going to be big!

It is! I’m really excited about it [and] it’s selling insanely well which is gratifying. I wanted to do a festival of some kind for ages [and] we looked into doing a festival in a field but it’s kind of a saturated market these days. The levellers had ‘Beautiful Days’ [Festival], and if I did it it’d just be like Beautiful Days, and I love Beautiful Days and don’t want to tread on their toes. I want it to be a community thing, so part of it that we haven’t really announced yet, is that we’re taking over maybe up to six other venues around the roundhouse. We’re going to have events [on] during the day, we’re going to have some theatre stuff, we’re going to have Enter Shikari sound system in. I was just talking to a friend of mine about having a stand up thing during the day on the Saturday [and] some acoustic nights. I want it to be a community event. My dad’s family was from North London; I was raised outside of London but I moved back 20 minutes after my A levels were finished; my mum was pissed! Camden is my Mecca, I spent my childhood saving up my pocket money so I could get the train on Saturday afternoon, to go to Camden and sit on the lock and look at T shirts and not buy them. So it feels really good, we’re getting loads of charities involved [so] we can do a lot of local outreach work as well. If it goes well this year which it currently looks like it’s going to, then hopefully it’ll become an annual thing.

I noticed another part of the festival was commemorating ‘Sleep is for the Week’, the 10th anniversary of your debut album, which is pretty mad.

It is fucking mad! Totally mad!

It’s got to be pretty strange having an album turn 10 years old.

Yeah it’s a weird feeling, it almost feels like it was 1000 years ago and [that] it happened to somebody else, so much has happened since then. It’s funny because a lot of people, this isn’t the question you asked but I’m going on a rant anyway, there’s a strong streak of conservatism in music fans which I find depressing at times. Some people want me to be exactly the same person I was when I wrote ‘Sleep is for the Week’, and it’s kind of like ‘do you want to be the same person at 33 that you were when you were 23?’ that’s fucking tedious. I love that record and I’m really proud of it, and if you’d told me that we’d be playing it at the roundhouse 10 years later I would have scoffed at the time. One of the things is that night, and I’ve actually checked the figures on this, there’s going to be more people in the room than there were on the entire ‘Sleep is for the Week’ tour. That’s pretty fucking cool.

With 10 years of hindsight, what does ‘Sleep is for the Week’ mean to you now?

It’s interesting, if I think about it in the abstract I have different feelings to everything about it in detail. Yesterday Tarrant [Bass player in the sleeping souls] and I were having a conversation about it and he was like ‘fucking what songs are on that album?’. In my head it’s a bit hit and miss, it was kind of naïve, it’s not the best produced record we ever did, the drum sound on it really annoys the fuck out of me still. In my head I’m like there’s four really strong songs in there and I’m not sure about the rest. But I went through the track list the other day and thought ‘oh that’s and good song and that’s a fucking good song as well’. I think it’s going to be really fun and who knows, maybe it’ll give rise to some of those songs making more appearances on setlists. There are some obvious ones that have survived on the setlist like ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ and ‘Real Damage’. We’ve actually been playing ‘Vital Song’ a bit on this tour, and the first night we played it we all looked at each other saying ‘God this is fucking great’. The show we’re gonna play [as part of Lost Evenings] will have stuff off the first two EP’s as well, so it’s going to be really interesting trying to write a setlist that works within those confines. One thing I’ve learned, because I’ve done a couple full album shows just for a laugh for charities in the past, one thing I’ve learned is that the way you track list and album is not the same way you run a setlist. So you don’t play in order, that’s a bad idea.

As far as the next album goes, how is that coming along?

I have a whole shit tonne of songs at the minute, some of them are more finished than others. I kind of wrote a concept album, then I think I just decided that’s not what I’m going to do next. That doesn’t mean those songs won’t come out but they’re sort of on ice for the time being. I want to do something stylistically quite different for my next record I want to take a left hand turn. I’m reading Laura Jane Grace’s autobiography [of Against Me!] and Laura’s a friend, she wrote it with Dan Ozzi [Noisey Editor] who is one of my best friends, and it’s kind of a weird memoir to read because I know pretty much everybody in it. There’s a great bit in it where Laura quotes a letter that Springsteen wrote to him, as it was then, to Tom Gabel, after ‘New Wave’ and after the Backlash they got after that, just saying “Bob Dylan said “if you’re not busy being born you’re busy dying””. I think it’s really important to do things that you’re not comfortable [doing] as an artist and that push your fan base too. Punk rock is my bedrock of the way that I see the world, but there is an essential flaw in punk rock. One of the things Punk Rock doesn’t acknowledge is that art is a form of communication and that communicating to more people is a good thing. It brings a certain validity to the work. One of the things I found frustrating about being in Million Dead was that the demographic I was communicating to was extremely narrow. That’s not supposed to mean ‘I want to sell more records’ or whatever but there is an inherent suspicion of wider, broader audiences in punk which I don’t think is particularly artistically valid. I really like the idea of my next record being confusing to a lot of people who like my music already. It’s still going to be me writing the songs and all the rest of it, but if it was something that people weren’t expecting that would be cool.

You’ve got your film ‘Get Better’ coming out on the 13th December, how did that come about?

So Ben Morse is a good friend he makes our music videos and he was on tour with us as the tour photographer. He pitched this idea about a film that was going to be ‘a year in the life of the man who never stops working’. And I was like ‘ok fine.’ About a month into that, the wheels kind of fell off and everything ground to a halt because I had this huge argument with my record label about the album. Everything got really dark for a time because my bad habits and my ability to deal with stress kind of formed a perfect storm, [which is a] very polite way of saying it. It was quite a difficult year actually, and he kept filming so it ended up being a film about a year of things not being great. But there’s a happy ending, spoiler alert! It’s funny as it’s not my piece of art, though it is about me. It’s like I’m the subject of the portrait. It puts the fear of god in me a little bit that everyone’s going to see it, but people seem to like it!

How was it watching it back?

Oh terrifying. Terrifying and weird. Ben said to me ‘What do you want me to take out that’d make you more comfortable?’ and I said ‘I’m not going to ask you to take anything out, because it should be an honest portrayal.’ The whole thing makes me uncomfortable because it’s almost like a dry run through your obituary. There’s a lot of people you know well talking about you in the third person.

And one last question, if you had to recommend one smaller artist that you think needs a bit of love who would it be?

Well, just the one?

You can have more than one if you want, I’ll make an exception!

A sort of shortcut answer would be just to look at the people I take out on tour. I always pick my support acts and this tour we’ve got Esmé Patterson and Felix Hagan and both of them are amazing. We’ve been doing a lot of stuff in the States with Arkells, [they’re] huge in Canada and not elsewhere. The first show we did with them I just watched them with my Jaw in my lap, they are one of the most incredible bands I’ve ever seen. If I may pick one more, Homeless Gospel Choir; which my mate Derek [is in]. We’ve been in shows with him on and off over the years, and he’s self-released records and done some EP’s. He’s got a new record coming out early next year, which I happen to have a copy of, and it is stunning from top to bottom. In fact that is something that’s been firing my song writing quite a lot recently because he, in the course of 45 minutes, reminded me what punk rock means. It was like ‘fuck man, this is awesome’, so big kudos to Derek.

So I’m probably going to have to call it a day there but thank you very much.

Thank you man, that was fun!

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