An interview with Frank Turner

Frank Turner  Brantley Gutierrez

Michael Yeubrey got to meet Frank Turner before his set at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena.

Warning: Explicit language is in this one…

Yeubrey: I’m a massive fan let’s get it out the way; I bum you I bore my friends with how much I talk about you it’s really bad I do apologise.

Frank: (laughs)Well thank you.

Yeubrey: So everyone today has told you today how you have built up this massive following and everything. How do you keep that intimacy that building a following requires in gigs as big as this?

Frank: uh it’s a good question and one that I don’t have a short answer to its one I spend a lot of time thinking about. The thing you know, the things you’ll discover incidentally  that I generally have long circuitous answers to questions. The thing about this tour is that when we announced it there were a few people going owe I don’t want to go see him in an arena setting. The reasons we chose these venues is because I want everyone to be able to buy a ticket. You know what I mean? A number of things happen if you play, if we were to play a smaller space. It sells out which obviously feels good for us, it’s nice to have a sold out show. But the problem with that is that first of all it excludes quite a lot of people and when I was a kid I was never the sort of person who would be in the know to be on the guest list or to get tickets on the day they were released, that kind of thing. Because I just wasn’t in the know, and that bothers me I don’t want to be exclusive in what I do it’s never been exclusive to this point. I mean the other thing is ticket touting because immediately is what just happens is there is a crazy trade in ticket that’s going on. So we got these venues, some people seem to think that there is this straight line between venue size and how intimate a show is. I don’t think that’s true because I’ve seen bands do shit gigs in small venues and I’ve seen Springsteen make sixty-thousand people feel like they were sitting in his front room. But it is more difficult to do and there isn’t unfortunately a handbook on how to do it. And the other thing is you don’t get generally a lot of practice playing a big gig in a barfly endlessly you know what I mean? We’ve done some arena sports tours and we’ve done one arena headline show before today and hopefully you know the thing is you know I’ve got my band and particularly the guys in my crew, you know we’ve worked our arses off on this we’ve done pre-production rehearsals and spent a lot of time thinking about it so hopefully people are going to come along and just feel good about it. But you will be able to answer that question after the show

Yeubrey: You always crack out a little surprise, like a little bit of folk music or ive been there and you have played some Abba what are you cracking out tonight?

Frank: O I couldn’t possibly reveal my set list in advance.

Yeubrey: Can you not?

Frank: No no no. But I’m glad you say that because that is definitely. Writing set lists is a fine art to me and one that I spend a lot of time thinking about and there is so many different considerations like for example always try and play something of every record I have done because there might be someone who has only bought two of the albums. You know what I mean? And always do something we didn’t do last tour or always try and reimagine an old song a different way something like that or just play something obscure. But at the same time we’ve got to play I still believe and Recovery and Photosynthesis or else there will be like a revolt. Again you know when we are writing a set list whether it is for a show or a tour or something I always look at old set lists and try and make sure it is not too similar in its structure.  So yeah it’s probably something I spend way too much time thinking about.

Yeubrey : You admit in past interviews that some things like the references and allusions you have made in Million Dead you reference Polish communists and I will admit as much as I bum you they don’t quite fit. Yet all your references to T.S.Eliot they fit quite succinctly into your music like the concepts you mention. How did you learn to make them more succinct?

Frank: Umm Well I mean I guess the first thing I would say is that I guess Eliot’s more relevant to my day to day life and probably to the life of people listening to me in that he lived in England. I’m fully aware that Kamalka (sic?) was not something that most people know about. I’m not sure that I know much about him. And there was definitely me trying to show off how many books I have read, which is not particularly attractive quality I don’t think. It’s something that kind of makes me cringe in retrospective. I think the other answer to the question is just practice actually at the end of the day. I think most things in life you get better with practice and I’ve had more practice at writing songs. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of sitting down and trying to be, I don’t sit there and go now I must write something that is relevant to everybody because that is kind off naff. Its more that I just try and write songs that feel good and natural, and hopefully that comes across that way.

Yeubrey: You mention a lot of Modernism. Are you going to bring any other schools of poetry in, Imagism or Dadaism.

Frank: I’m not getting the impression that you know more about poetry than I do. I was fortunate enough as a kid to have one English teacher who introduced me to Eliot and Larkin and Burcham, and those are my three favourite poets. Beyond that I’m really not particularly well read. I’m not an expert. I bought some Benjamin Zephaniah books when I was younger because somebody told me he was an anarchist. It’s not my field of expertise. All of my reference points are more likely to be rock and roll. Nick Cave is a huge deal for me.

Yeubrey: What is one of your favourite songs to play live?

Frank: For me the act of playing live. There are a lot of live bands who baulk at the idea of being described as entertainers, which I think is bollocks personally because first of all what is wrong with being an entertainer? What a noble and excellent thing to be in life. Secondly if you are charging someone sixty quid to come and see you, you are an entertainer Bob Dylan get over it. When I’m on stage tonight my primary job description is entertainer. It is my job to make sure that the people who have paid twenty quid to come and see this gig tonight get twenty quids worth of entertainment. I think my favourite songs to play live is ones that get everyone in the room involved. There is that moment when everynow and again, even at the best of gigs it doesn’t happen all the way through, flash moments when suddenly a room full of strangers coalesces into something that is greater than the sum of its parts and that is a really, really special moment to me. Essentially that is the high that I’m chasing, almost in everything I do. I love it, it is so interesting.

Yeubrey: Flip side of that, what is your least favourite song to play live?

Frank: Songs that go down badly I suppose. Whenever we are rehearsing, when Photosynthesis comes around everyone just sighs. But I never feel like that live because everybody loves that song, it would be really shitty to stand in front of a room full of four thousand people and go this is boring. It’s not fucking boring, it’s amazing. There are songs that don’t go off so well, especially if they are songs that you like. My Kingdom For a Horse is one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written, it’s never gone over particularly well live. There’s always about three people who go ‘YES’, and everyone else goes ‘eh’. And that’s slightly depressing, fuck it it’s part of the job.

Yeubrey: You’ve obviously got a lot of tattoos. Serious question am I cool enough for a tattoo?

Frank: (laugh) I don’t think of myself as a cool person. Almost in a way I hope I’m not. When I was a kid people who were cool, were people who would generally speaking either beat me up or not invite me to their parties.

Yeubrey: Wanker.

Frank: Yes twats the lot of them. Every now and then people somewhere say your music isn’t cool and I say thank fucking Christ for that. So yes is the short answer to that, not saying you’re not cool. Cool is not something I engage with as a concept. I like tattoos, on the one hand don’t want to be seen to be encouraging anyone to get a tattoo because it’s a permanent decision, it’s a very personal decision it’s not really any of my business whether anyone else gets a tattoo. Obviously I like them I think they are cool; I said the word cool damn.

Yeubrey: Do you regret any of them?

Frank: No life is too short, plus I’ve got too many tattoos now. There are some that I probably didn’t think about very much before getting them, because I was pissed, and wouldn’t get again. I have a tattoo of Texas on my arm I got when I was hammered. That would be the quintessential one to regret if I regretted any of them. But I don’t regret it. It was a fun and amazing evening, it was a funny story and I do actually love Texas.

Yeubrey: Tape deck heart and Poetry of The Deed what you make the decision to go for set piece albums like that?

Frank: they don’t get written as set pieces its more a question of how you organise everything after the songs are written. I do slightly feel like Sleep Is For The Week has a theme running through it. Its one that lots of people seem to have missed, its essentially to me a record about having a drug problem. Its not something I’m proud of, it was a very messy time in my life a lot of the songs are about being broke, high and lonely. God that sounds depressing when put like that. I don’t write concept albums I didn’t sit down and go lets write an album about England, its more these are the songs I’ve got, then the art work comes after then the title comes after and you lob it all together.

Yeubrey: So this is the first gig of the tour have you got any big rituals to set yourself up for the rest of the tour?

Frank: We have on pre-show ritual, we never used to have any. I always used to think they were slightly contrived, I’ve seen bands to the Hakka or whatever. Our guitar tech Cahir, he’s form Derry Northern Ireland, its called the empty pep talk he basically tells us how much he hates us.

Yeubrey: Does it work?

Frank: Yeah, he’s like I fucking hate you all, I wish I wasn’t here, this show is going to be shit, I hope you have a terrible gig. And we go out and have a good time.

Yeubrey: Has it ever destroyed a gig?

Frank: No it hasn’t, we’ve had shit gigs here and there, I’m not sure I can blame it on Cahir.


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