Frank Turner has seen nothing short of a mammoth year with his 2000th show fast approaching and a film release in the shape of ‘Get Better‘, a biographical look of a year in the life of the man that never stops. I caught up with him ahead of show number 1996 at the LCR, Norwich.
After a year of amazing highs and his fair share of lows, the Frank Turner sat before me seemed one ready to tackle the next leaps forward in a career that has continually flourished in the decade since his debut album ‘Sleep is for the Weak‘.
After talking last August, amidst the release of ‘Positive Songs for Negative People‘ and the book (‘The Road Beneath My Feet‘) things don’t seem to have slowed down for you at all!
Yeah, I haven’t really stopped since I saw you last. It’s an interesting thing right now because when ‘Positive Songs‘ came out in August 2015 we, and by that I mean band and crew, team if you like, decided we were going to do 2 years on the road and it looks like we’re actually going to have done that. We’re touring through to the end of next summer, and it’s nice because long term plans like that have a tendency not to happen in the music industry so it’s good that this has all worked out.
As well as all of this you have the 2000th show which is fast approaching as well. How do you feel in the run up to this?
Well, tonights show is number 1996, we’ve been enjoying reliving albums of our youth every day on stage on this run, during the ’80’s shows it was great as I was doing Iron Maiden albums ever day. It’s exciting and funny, initially when we got to show 1000, I’ve been counting since the beginning obviously, I was reluctant to mark it in any way because, y’know, standard shit, every show is equally important and it’s just a number rolling over. I got over myself eventually and realised this is an excuse for a party so we had a exactly that to mark the occasion. The show numbers think has become a bit of a monster out of my control since then, there are people who have show numbers tattooed on them and that kind of thing, so everyone has been asking me where is show 2000 going to be, so we booked Rock City.
And with Jay aka Beans on Toast and a band from your youth that you have managed to get back together?
And indeed join. Basically, in about 2004 I moved into a bar in London that was run by Jay. I moved in on a social level but it was a bar that was running a lot of folk and country nights called Nambucca in North London. By a process of osmosis I got into a lot of folk and country, and the two acts, bands, whatever, that got me into it was Jay ‘Beans on Toast‘ as he was doing what he did back then, and a band called The Tailors. They were unsung in their own time I think is probably the politest way of putting it, which I found unjust as I still regard them as one of my biggest influences. So when I was thinking about supports for show 2000 I gave Adam, the singer, a call and asked if he would be up for playing and he said yes, and then I asked about putting the band back together and he said “the problem is our guitar player has moved to Canada!”
And you might just happen to know one of those..?
Well funny you should say that… so I’m now in The Tailors. The problem I’ve encountered is that Chad, their old guitar player, is considerably better than me, so I’ve been practicing… a lot. Sound checks every day I bore my band and crew by practicing guitar solos which they find excruciating I’m sure
With the touring schedule up until then and the film release in between are you going to have a chance to play with them before the show?
We had a rehearsal the other day in Leeds and it was alright. In fact it was better than alright! It was wonderful! I sat in a room with one of my favourite song writers, and sung backing vocals and played a couple of leads. That’s a wonderful way to spend a day.
One thing I wanted to touch upon with the 2000th show was your stance on ticket touting. I was talking with You Me At Six a while ago and they have tried to push this bill through parliament to eradicate third party ticketing websites like Getmein. Is that something you’re going to look to continue past show 2000?
The problem with it is the right solution for this problem has not yet been hit upon. There’s been a lot of good in the way that we have handled show 2000 and there has been quite a lot of hassle and annoyance for people who are not ticket touts who are trying to exchange, give tickets to somebody else, buy tickets for somebody else or have suddenly discovered they can’t come to the show. I’ve spent a lot of my days trying to figure out a lot of those hassles or at least point people in the right direction. The thing that’s difficult about it… I don’t object to the idea of people reselling tickets full stop, blanket, end of the conversation for all of the reasons we were just discussing. The problem is the organised, time specific, monopolisation of tickets, you put tickets on sale and somebody block buys them and then sells them at an inflated price. I object to that. I have the right to set my ticket prices. It’s just the standard thing that the person who’s taking advantage of that situation isn’t adding anything to the experience. It’s a frustrating thing. I think that bills in parliament and that kind of thing are good ideas and I do think there is a mismatch in the way that parliament and the law has dealt with sporting events and not with music events, rock and roll in particular remains the unloved step child of the culture and arts world. Which I have to say incidentally is a status I do not particularly object to. The less beaurocrats that are involved in my industry the better in my opinion. I think that all that kind of thing is very good, but I think with the pace of change of technology I think it’s not long before we’re looking at smart phone tickets, essentially something like that. I wouldn’t want to make overall predictions on it but I think that technology is definitely getting better.
Lets talk about the film. So that’s obviously quite a milestone for you?
It’s terrifying in its own way because it’s not my film, it’s a film about me but it’s not my film. It’s like I’m the sitter rather than the painter.
So the film, ‘Get Better‘ follows a year in the life of Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls and everything that’s happened on and off stage?
The thing that I think in the end makes it for a better film is that Ben Morse is a good friend. He makes our music videos, he takes photos of us and he was on tour with us anyway so when he switched over to filming it was kind of a seemless transition and no one really noticed or cared. His original picture was a year in the life of the guy who never stops, and then a month into filming everything stopped. I had a huge fight with my record label which I dealt with by having issues with alcohol and other substances. Everything just got really horrible and dark for quite a long time and ben kept filming and I think that, in the end, it’s made for a better film. I told him right from the word go I wasn’t interested in hagiography, I wasn’t going to censor or edit his work in any way and he should make the most honest document that he could, or at least follow his artistic vision and that’s what he’s done. It ends up with a film that I think is a better film but it’s one that I find much harder to watch. When I watched the first edit back I was hiding behind a cushion, but like I say it probably makes a more interesting film for other people.
Would you say you have learnt some lessons watching this back? Figured out anything about yourself that you hadn’t before?
Yeah, here and there. I mean, one of the weird things… I’ve been saying to people lately “May you live long and never watch a documentary about yourself”. It’s obviously in jest, it’s a little bit like a dry run for reading your own obituary because there’s an awful lot of people close to me talking about me in the third person, including my mum and my sisters and that’s a strange experience. I think one of the things was I hadn’t really sort of twigged how concerned about me and my mental and physical health a lot of people were in late 2014 early 2015. I hadn’t really realised that’s what was going on.
Do you think this will be a catalyst to making sure that that doesn’t happen again? Maybe something you look back on in times where those demons rear their ugly heads?
Maybe, I’m not sure I’m gonna keep it on my DVD shelf and watch it on a regular occasion but it’s certainly been an interesting experience, I’ll say that.
There is something you have announced recently, the Lost Evenings festival in May in Camden. Is that going to celebrate the end of the ‘Positive Songs‘ cycle?
There will be a couple of bits and bobs after that, festivals in the summer, but essentially yes. It serves that function but I’ve also been wanting to do a festival type event of my own for a long time. For a while we were looking into the mechanics of doing it in a field, one of my problems with that was that essentially I realised I was trying to recreate Beautiful Days festival which already exists and which I love playing so there’s no point in just duplicating that. Also, I wanted it to be a community event and I’m a fierce adopted son of north London and we’ve got loads of local outreach stuff going on, charity stuff, and we’re gonna have local bands playing. Part of it, which we haven’t fully announced yet, is that we’re going to have a fringe that’s called Lost Minutes. We’re taking over hopefully 6 different venues around the Roundhouse that are going to have other stuff going on during the day. The idea is it is going to be a cool event that’s more than just four shows by me in London, and if it goes well hopefully we’ll do it annually.
With Lost Evenings there are obviously four shows form you but they’re all going to be different but there is also the celebration for the anniversary of your debut ‘Sleep is for the Weak‘ as well?
Yes, Which is just mad!
And after that what’s your plans? I suppose there’s the next album that needs to be written and recorded?
Of course! I’m in the middle of quite a feckended but confused creative moment. I’m writing a lot, I actually wrote a whole album, kind of a concept album, with songs about obscure women in history, then decided that the world in 2016 is demanding more contemporary comment. It’s funny, for a long time I’ve shied away from politics in my writing partly because I got pretty burned by the subject a few years ago, but also because an awful lot of it seemed pretty self indulgent to me. It seemed like an awful amount of quite comfortable people shouting at each other on the internet and it was boring to me, an awful lot of people preaching to the converted and then shouting at strawman hate figures. None of that is really artistically valid or interesting to me, I feel like the one way of summing up 2016 is that suddenly politics really fucking matters again for the first time in a long time.I feel that for the first time in my adult life I’m subject to historical forces that I have no direct control over, and that is provoking as an artist.
If you’ve got something like that to sing about and you’ve got real opinions to get out there then the time now is right to stand up and be heard. Is it a lot more accepted now than maybe 3 or 4 years ago?
I guess part of it is that I’m less bothered about pissing people off. I like to think the older I get the less bothered I am about annoying people generally but it sort of feels like the world is demanding comment right now. Don’t necessarily take that as gospel, we’ll see what happens but I’m trying my hand at some rather more commentating songs.
Which of all of your albums has been the hardest one to write?
Hardest one to write. Probably ‘Tape Deck Heart‘. The thing about ‘Tape Deck Heart‘ was that there’s an awful lot that goes into the direction an album takes so this is part of the component of it. Part of it was that ‘England Keep My Bones‘ was my break through record if you like and I was aware that more people were paying attention to what I was doing next than at any point in my life to date. Having just written quite a bombastic record about death and England and national identity I thought it would be interesting to not go more bombastic, to write an entirely inward focused record about my own failings as a human being. That was inspired by and helped along by the fact that I was going through a really horrible break up at the time, impishly I was kind of like “Yeah, I’m not gonna write anthems about the world I’m gonna write songs like ‘Plain Sailing Weather‘ and see how that goes”. It was difficult, it made me deal with myself to be as raw as I could with that record and I stuck to it but it wasn’t much fun, writing the song ‘Anymore’ took a lot out of me. And it’s not one that I play very often.
And finally, this is always interesting, what would your dream line up for a gig be, a band before and a band after you?
Band before would have to be Larry and His Flask. They’re a folk punk band from Bend, Oregon who remain the best live band I’ve ever seen. We toured with them for a long time and they were stunning. They’re songs are incredible. Afterwards… Living or dead? I’d have to go for Nirvana in 1993 or Black Flag in 1981, either of those! Or maybe both, co-headline.