Frank Turner

Everyone’s favourite post-hardcore turned folk-punk singer Frank Turner has been throwing everything that he has into 2015. After an Australian tour earlier this year, Turner released his first book, ‘The Road Beneath My Feet’, and has now dropped his sixth solo album, ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’. The man himself recently took some time to chat with about both releases, random acts of kindness, and Taylor Swift, of all things.

So far, it’s been a pretty huge year for you – You released a collection of tour diaries in the form of your first book, ‘The Road Beneath My Feet’, which is obviously really different to anything you’ve done before. How’s the response to that been?

It’s been great! I’ve never written a book before, and I learnt so much from it – The first of which is that it is considerably harder to write a book than I thought! (laughs) And, I don’t mean to brag, but in the UK it was a number one bestseller, which means that I got to number one with a book before I got to number one with an album, which makes me think I’ve been barking up the wrong tree for most of my life so far.

It’s been great though, people seem to have enjoyed it, and it’s been an interesting experience for me. I may well do it again.

I found that in reading the book I came to have a sort of newfound appreciation for a lot of your music, seeing the characters and the circumstances that lead to a lot of these songs in that form really gave a new perspective to see them from. Did you find yourself experiencing anything similar in revisiting those stories, or those moments in your career?

Yeah, I didn’t really think about it before sitting down to write the book, but it was quite an odd experience. I mean, everyone sort of remembers things that they’ve done, but to sit down and try and research what it was that you were doing on a certain day/time/place, and also to work out what the overarching narrative of your life is. I was trying to write a book about how I got to where I am, and it turns out I’d never really sat down and thought about how I got to where I am in any serious way, so I did come out of it sort of bamboozled in a way. It was quite interesting. I feel like I gained a newfound sense of understanding of who I am and where I’ve been after writing the book.

Obviously, the book kind of leads up to the climax of your first arena show at Wembley, a feat that you’ve since done many times in the UK. On the other hand, you came down to Australia just the other month, and some of the shows you played were in venues that would only hold a few hundred people. Is there any struggle in translating your show from an arena to a show in a bar?

No, in fact, I feel quite fortunate that I get to do both, because, first of all, variety is the spice of all. Secondly, though, you get to learn things about showmanship, which is something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. You get to learn things in a small venue that you wouldn’t learn in a larger venue, and vice versa as well. Having the opportunity to do both makes me and The Sleeping Souls better performers.

I won’t give off any spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the book, but in ‘The Road Beneath Your Feet’, there’s mention of some pretty crazy stuff that went down when you played in Australia, and specifically, Tasmania for the first time. Were there any similarly crazy stories on the run in April?

Well, we didn’t make it down to Tassie, which I felt bad about. In fact, I haven’t made it back down there since that first visit. We’re making plans right now in a general sense now that the new album’s out and I’d like to include Tasmania in that.

[The] Last Australian tour was great though. The Sydney show was actually one of my favourite we have played. It’s difficult to pinpoint why, but sometimes you just have these fantastic moments where everything kind of aligns, and it’s just fantastic. It was the kind of show where we walked off stage and just went ‘Fuck yeah! Let’s just do that every day!’

So if releasing your first book wasn’t a big enough deal for 2015, your new album ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’ was released not long ago. You’ve been playing the songs live for a while, and I’m pretty sure there isn’t actually a single on this record that hadn’t seen a performance in some way, shape or form before the album’s release. How have your fans been responding to the material live?

Generally, they’ve been responding well to them. The fact that we’ve been playing this songs live for so long was actually part of the methodology of making this record. I had this kind of thing about wanting to make a record that felt like a debut record, and the thing about debut records is that they’re all played and rehearsed in a live setting. I wanted to borrow that methodology and put it into ‘Positive Songs…’

We’ve been playing and tweaking and rehearsing all of these songs for quite a while now, and we were even playing new material for hours at a time in sound check on the Tape Deck Heart tour. The audience has generally been responding really well to them, but that said, if you were just to gauge an album off an audience reaction, all you’d have is fast, upbeat songs like ‘Out of Breath’ and ‘Get Better’. Generally, the response has been great, though.

I imagine that there would be something of an interesting dynamic between you and your band, The Sleeping Souls, in finding the balance between you being a solo artist, and them being able to leave their own mark as artists and musicians on the music that you play. How’s that work in the studio? How much of ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’ is a solo effort, and how much is more of a full band affair?

Well, I think that striking the right balance there is difficult but imperative. Certainly, over the years, as I’ve mentioned in the book, we’ve had our ups and downs in working that out, but at the end of the day, we’re not a normal band. It’s not quite a solo project though. The Sleeping Souls are an important part of this record, and I want them to be recognised as such.

The methodology we have these days is that I write the songs myself and then we arrange them all together. That said, we’ve been together long enough that I more or less know what they want and they know what I want out of an arrangement. It’s definitely a collective process though, and I have no intention of playing with anybody else.

In some ways, ‘Positive Songs…’ is the antithesis to your most recent record, ‘Tape Deck Heart’. Whereas the latter deals with some pretty heavy emotional themes, the former is obviously a lot more optimistic. I’m curious as to how much of that is you trying to promote a message of positivity, and how much of that is more of a self-help process in the wake of the events that inspired ‘Tape Deck Heart’.

Well, I’ve always hated the idea of using music to promote a message. You know, of it becoming the vehicle of something else. I’m interested in making music with the end goal being to make music. I’m not writing songs because I want people to think a certain way, I’m writing songs because I want to write songs.

The two albums are heavily linked though. Tape Deck Heart is about a period of failure and collapse, which I felt I needed to write, and create, and talk about. The feeling when I started writing for ‘Positive Songs…’ was a feeling of relief, as if I’d survived that patch of my life and come out the other side. I think that comes through in the lyrics and subject matter as well. It’s very much a record about picking yourself up when your down, and dusting yourself off and getting back on the bike.

The album features a guest appearance from singer ‘Esme Patterson’ in the song ‘Silent Key’. Historically, outside of some B-sides, guest appearances and the like haven’t featured too much on your records. What was it that made you want to bring Esme in on ‘Silent Key’?

The thing about that song is that I wrote about a woman named Christa McAuliffe, who was an astronaut and primary school teacher who died on the space shuttle Challenger, which is something I’d been planning on writing a song about for some time. The song is supposed to be sort of ‘Christa’s Lament’ in some regard.

I knew that I wanted to have a female vocalist, and I knew I wanted it to be an American out of respect for the role of Christa herself. Names were getting thrown into the ring regarding who would be available, who would be up for it, and most importantly, who would be right for the part. After a lot of back and forth, it suddenly occurred to me that Esme had just signed with Xtra Mile Recordings. I did some shows with her in January in the UK, and she had this incredible voice, and the minute I heard her voice in person rather than on the recording I was like ‘That’s it. That’s who I want to sing this part.’

I vaguely remember reading something about the label suggesting a guest appearance from Taylor Swift on the song.

(laughs) Ok, so here’s the thing about that story. Butch Walker, who made the record with us had worked with her before, and someone jokingly threw her name into the ring, and it was instantly, with as much sense of humour as it was initially suggested thrown out of the ring. That’s just not my world.

(laughs) It would have been an interesting collaboration, to say the least.

Aside from the fact that I have no idea how one would contact Taylor Swift (laughs), I feel like it would have definitely overshadowed the record. As much as I am trying to promote what I do, we’re talking very briefly now about the possibility of her appearing on the record having been floated. If we’d made the song with Taylor Swift, I’d be spending all day, every day, answering questons about this one guest appearance on one single song that I’d written, and I don’t wanna do that.

On your Australian run earlier this year, you mentioned that those shows were meant to be the first after ‘Positive Songs…’ was released, only it didn’t come out in time. With that in mind, can we expect another run sometime in the near future given the release of the album?

Yes, definitely! I was talking to Chris, the guy who does my booking in Australia, and he pointed that [out], and I can’t stress enough that this is entirely non-deliberate, but every time I come to Australia, it’s kind of ‘between’ album cycles, just before a new record comes out. It’s certainly been the case the last two times I’ve been down there. I don’t want that this time. I want to get to Australia in the midst of all, sandwiched in with everything, so we’re talking about getting down there as soon as possible, really. I’m not going to be so rash as to put dates on it, but I love Australia and can’t wait to bring the new album there.

We don’t have a great deal of time left, so let’s finish up on a positive note. In the lead-up to releasing ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’, you did a Random Acts of Kindness campaign on your social media networks. Do you wanna say a bit about what happened as a result of that?

Yeah, with Tape Deck Heart, we came up with this game based around a ‘Tour Flag’, which was a flag with the album artwork on it, that had to make it to every show on the tour, without any input from myself, fans just had to interact with one another. I must admit, I was pretty sceptical. I was convinced that someone would nick the flag on the first day. It’s actually evolved into this amazing thing that people are still doing to this day.

We decided to try and come up with a different game for this album cycle, and I think everyone’s got a story in which someone hit them with a random act of kindness where they didn’t have to, and we wanted to celebrate that. I mean this in a good way, but I’m not entirely sure where the game is gonna go. We’re hearing lots of stories. I have this awesome idea where we could maybe reconnect two people who fell out and then sort of faded away into the night, and we could get them to buy each other a drink or something like that.

Frank Turner’s new album, ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’ is out now. Check out our review of the album here.



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