Frank Turner on then, now, and the future

on Friday 19 December 2008

eGigs caught up with a very chatty Frank Turner before he headlined at a charity gig at The Proud Galleries in Camden...

Firstly, I wanted to ask you your thoughts and feeling s about Nambucca burning down because you left quite an emotional comment on your website about it?

Well, actually that’s what this gig tonight is for. It was meant to be for Shelter but then we called up Shelter and said “Hey, we now know 15 people who have just become homeless” so tonight we’re actually raising money for Nambucca. For those people who have lost everything and have nowhere to go, no clothes and no home. It’s really depressing, you know. That place was the centre of a lot of things and it was like my second home. It totally hasn’t sunk in yet but you know... A lot of the people who lost their homes are coming down tonight so it should be quite an emotional gig.

Recently on XFM Alex Zane has been plugging you a lot and so has Jo Whiley on Radio 1. Have you noticed this new found attention?

Well, funnily enough, I actually met Alex Zane at Nambucca many years ago at about 9am in the morning when everyone else had gone to sleep and we were the only 2 survivors at this party. I didn’t have any idea who he was and he didn’t have any idea who I was, and we bonded for a little while. Then a couple of months later I saw him on the telly and thought “It’s you. That’s who you are!”

So have you been keeping track of all this recent attention?

Well, I don’t listen to the radio and I don’t read the news in these magazines. That world is slightly unreal to me because that’s not how I personally hear about music. But I do notice things like comments on my MySpace page and yeh, it just seems like things are really starting to pick up, which is really interesting and really gratifying. I sort of find it mildly hilarious too - just because I grew up with expectations that if you get 70 people to a show, you’ve done well. My initial horizons when I first started playing music were so much smaller than they are now and I do quite often just laugh. I mean, I was in NME and I just thought, “Really, me?” It has been incredible and I don’t ever want to be ungrateful for my life.

In some of your songs, you send out the message that people should follow their dream and not just settle for mediocrity in life...

That’s definitely a metaphor that I use but what I want people to understand is that I am a fucking workaholic. The life you want to lead does not come cheap or free. So yeah, you only get one shot but some people listen to it and think I’m saying “Yeah, I’ve got an amazing life, fuck you” but it’s not that at all. I worked fucking hard to get here and I’m proud of that fact. Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination so it’s not about being successful, it’s about trying to achieve what you want to.

So, if you weren’t a musician, have you got a plan B?

Yeh, I do actually. I’d love to be an A Level history teacher. I think life is about passion – I’m not just in a band getting pissed all the time; I’m doing something I love, and history is my overriding, consuming passion. I’m always knee deep in history books at any one time. I’ve got my undergrad degree in history from The London School of Economics – I got the undergraduate dissertation of the year 2002. I had this utterly life-changing and inspiring teacher too so yeah, that’s my plan B.

It’s a good Plan B! Your latest video for ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’ is very comical and fun. Did you enjoy making it?

Oh yeah, I don’t know if you’re aware of Ruben’s work but he’s been a friend of mine for years and is just this furiously creative guy. His videos are fucking great and I’d kind of exhausted all my video ideas so I got him in and just said “you can do anything that you want.” He just told me where to go and to bring the band. I didn’t actually have a clue what he had in mind but it turned out hilarious. We were ad libbing for the arguments in the video and it was so hard to do because he is fucking hilarious and was just shouting things in my face so we had to keep cutting it because I was just wetting myself laughing.

The song, ‘Long Live the Queen’ is about and dedicated to the memory of your friend who passed away from cancer. Did you find it very hard to write?

It was kind of simultaneously both very hard and very easy to write. Basically, once I had decided that I was going to do it - because I wasn’t sure whether it would be appropriate to write a song about her – so once I sort of went for it and once I found an angle to go at it from, then it just came really easily. This is going to sound really terrible but I actually wrote most of the words in one go. I sat on a hill in Paris with a notepad and then it all just came quickly. I was very nervous about how her family and friends were going to receive it but they were fine. Then it turned out to be quite a monumental song in my career in the last few months so I started to feel a bit weird about it but then I thought if Lex was here right now, she would be pissing herself laughing about all of it. It worked out because we raised a lot of money for the breast cancer charity so it was all good.

Are you quite an emotional chap because it does come across in your music?

I don’t know actually.

Or are you emotional because of the music?

Well, yeh it kind of feeds into itself. You can’t write a song about something that doesn’t move you because otherwise there’s no way you’re going to be able to pay it at gigs all the fucking time. Why write about something that doesn’t move you anyway? So I don’t consider myself to be an overly emotional person but when something gets to me, I’ll write about it.

Last time eGigs spoke to you, you were set for the festival season. Did you enjoy it more than gigging?

Hmmm. Well first of all, festivals are fun but I did 26 festivals last summer so I must admit that by the end of it I was fucking bored of wandering round fields wondering what the fuck was going on. You know, some of them were great, some were not so great. It was an amazing leap in my career but I think by the end of it I was deeply grateful to not have any festivals left. I’m sure that come next May I’ll be all riled up and ready for them again but I’m not going to do as many next year. I’m hoping to just do 2 or 3 festivals in the UK. Hopefully I’ll just do Reading/Leeds, Glastonbury and 2000 Trees, and maybe Beautiful Days as well because I’m touring with The Levellers and we get on very well. They’re my peeps!

Do you have a favourite song by yourself as a solo artist?

That’s a hard one but I’d have to say ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’. I love that song because once I’d written it I straight away felt like I could move on. It’s rare for me to be 100% satisfied with a song but now looking back at the words to that, I just think ‘yes.’ I don’t sort of need to write anymore songs like that for a while because it says everything I wanted to say on that subject.

It’s in a good place, right at the beginning of the album too...

Yeah, definitely. I think it musically works really well too. So yeah, I think that. Actually, having said that, it’s probably some of the new stuff I’m working on because the new album is going to piss all over the others.

So when is the next album due?

September. Basically, I’m going to record the next album with my live band because they’re fucking great. So we’re going to be rehearsing in late April, performing in May, and the album will be out in September after a couple of single releases over summer.

Finally, what would you like to see for the future of Frank Turner?

Well, there’s two things I would like form my career. One of them is to continue making a living doing what I love – that would be incredible. The thing is, so few people get to do that. I mean you hear these small new bands in NME saying how they want to sell out Wembley and I just think ‘really?’ I make a living out of what I do and that is really a great privilege. I’m not going to sit here and say ‘I want to play Wembley or this, that and the other. I just want to make music without having to have another job for the rest of my days. That would be fucking amazing. The other thing is that I would like to write real folk songs. To me, real folk songs have got nothing to do with a particular style – they’re songs that everyone can sing along too. When I was a kid I used to sit round the campfire with my friends and we’d play Levellers songs and we’d play Counting Crows songs, and I’ll put my hands up - we’d even play ‘Under The Bridge’ by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. To me, a real folk song is when you can pick up and instrument, start playing, everybody knows it, and it’s so good that it brings everyone together. That to me is the most important thing music can do so that’s what I mean when I say ‘real folk music’. I don’t know if any of my songs have done that yet but that’s what I’d like to achieve.

Thanks to Frank for putting back his dinner and first beer of the evening to take time to talk to us!

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article by: Fiona Madden

published: 05/01/2009 11:26


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