Frank Turner‘s photography by Greg Nolan/ Interview PUTSCH.MEDIA – Audrey Johnson: Your last album is entitled Poetry of the Deed. Could you explain to our French Readers what it means?
Frank Turner : Yes I would like try to reply in French but my French is not as good as it used to be. It’s actually a reference from a Russian philosopher called Mikhail Bakunin who wrote about propaganda of the deed and his whole idea was instead of writing pamphlets on how you think the world should be organised, you should go out and be that way. And that in doing things rather than sitting around theorising about them, that’s the best propaganda. I’m not really interested in propaganda at the moment but was always taken by the idea of action over words, so Poetry of the Deed is an idea that instead of sitting around and reading poetry or writing poetry and wishing one’s life was more poetic; one should go out there and live as adventurous and as poetic a life as possible.
A.J: There is an evolution in your first solo albums from personal to more universal, from sometimes melancholic to something a bit more uplifting and energetic – Is that a conscious decision?
F.T: It’s not a conscious decision, I mean the only conscious part of it is that musically, when I started out the first solo album was basically just me and then hiring people in to play extras when I wanted them, whereas now I have a full live touring band. I think that musically the things are a bit more expansive, although I still write everything. There are now five players on the record rather than one.
But what I write it’s important to me that I don’t analyse the process too hard because I worry that I might break it. I just sit down and close my eyes and I try and write what I think is a good song.
And then I guess it just reflects where I am in my life and I think I’m in a slightly more positive space now – or at least while I was writing the last album – than I was when I made my first one, and that shines through.
A.J: In several of your song,s such as Try This at Home, you encourage everyday ordinary people to make music rather than consume it, would you like to tell us more about this?
F.T: I grew up listening to punk rock music and for me the most exciting and important part of punk rock is the sense of iconoclasm and the sense that there isn’t a dividing line between the people who make music and the people who listen to music; and that actually it’s the same sort of people doing both. And that if it isn’t, then the music is worth less. And for me I don’t like the word “fan”, I don’t like the idea that I’m separate from my audience in anyway. You know, obviously If it’s my show I’m standing on the stage, and for that hour or whatever, it’s fine, I’ll be the focus of the music but as soon as I’ve finished playing then I’m completely the same as everybody else in the crowd as far as I’m concerned – and I wouldn’t want it to be different in any way. And I think that song is just trying to crystallise those ideas of iconoclasm – and not buying into the whole kind of bullshit mythology of rock ‘n’ roll that there’s such a thing as a rock star who’s like this kind of aristocratic breed who are allowed to be arseholes to everybody else… which I always thought was a really stupid idea.
A.J: You’re just back from the US and over the years you have pursued a very demanding tour schedule. It’s been the subject of a lot of your songs such as Sea Legs, Jetlag, The Road, do you find that your lifestyle has changed the kind of song you want or you like to write?
F.T: I think of it as “The Streets” trap: his first album was genius because he wrote about what he knew which at the time was everyday life as he was unemployed in London and that’s a fantastic record. The problem was he became very successful from it and he continued writing about everyday life but his everyday life was being on chat shows. It’s a Catch 22 you know because one wants to continue writing honestly about one’s surroundings. So yes I have written a fair few songs about being on the road – reached the point where I’m trying quite consciously not to write too much about it because essentially I don’t want to produce albums about being on tour because most people don’t spend their life in a band touring the UK. And you know I don’t want to lose people but at the same time I try to write honestly about my life. It’s a difficult balance to strike and I think particularly with the song The Road I wanted that to be the last word on the subject, at least for little while.
A.J:Do you find being on stage addictive? Do you think you are ever going to stop?
F.T: I love being on stage. I love every aspect of being on tour. I love being in a different town every day meeting new people, travelling. I’m very fortunate because I love my job; I love what I do. A friend of mine said to me the other day, after seeing me play a show (she hadn’t seen me play a show for a while), “You look very comfortable up there.” And I thought it was a big compliment for me. How long do I get to do it for will be more dictated by how fickle my audience is rather than how long I want to do it for. I would love to keep doing it forever. Hopefully there will be enough audiences who want to keep me doing it forever and hopefully I’ll be able to do that.
Some of your songs are political, speaking about disillusionment with either the anarchist movement or the left, some are calling for action or talking about civil liberties; some are political by nature, like Poetry of the Deed. What’s your relationship with politics at the moment? Are you involved in any way?
This is a difficult question. I have a lot of strong and passionate political views. Put it like that: I went through a long period of being disillusioned and apathetic about politics because when I was younger I was very passionate about left anarchism and I fell out of love with it. Basically I spent a lot of time not being involved. I recently reorganised how I feel about it and found a way of thinking about things that still work and have a practical realistic way of action. I don’t want to become a political singer; I don’t want to be a protest singer. I feel for example that one of the problems with Billy Bragg is that so many people care about his politics and some of his fans don’t really care about his songwriting or don’t really care about his songs about his personal life, which I actually think are much better than his political songs anyway. If you become a political singer you’re expected to turn up at every demonstration. There’s a lot of stuff that I don’t really care about. Actually it’s funny, a lot of people think that I think rather different things than I do. I have been putting that in a very diplomatic way. I’m interested in freedom and would probably describe myself as a libertarian. I get a lot of people in Che Guevara T-shirts who think that we might have something in common politically and we really don’t. I guess at the end of the day as much as I can get passionate about politics I think there are more important things in life than politics and I hope that I can sit down and have a beer with anyone from any political side really and sing and have a good time.
Your songs appeal to wide range of individuals and they speak about everyday situations but there are a lot of literary references in them. I’d like to know if literature has had an important role in your life and education and if you still read now?
I read a lot. I wouldn’t describe myself as well read, at all. In literature, I know what I like, you know what I mean. I have a few bits and bobs. Elliot has been an important influence for me, the other one is Philip Larkin; I’m very much in love with his poetry, I think he’s a wizard. He was an English poet, he was from Hull and he died in the 1980s.
He wrote such beautiful, melancholic Englishness, that I’m just an enormous fan of his work.
Lyrically my biggest influences are other singers, there’s a guy called John Samson who sings for a band called The Weaker Thans, who is just a total genius as far as I’m concerned – so I listen to a lot of his stuff. There was a band in the ‘90s which was called Arab Strap – their words just break my heart, every time I hear them. I spend a lot of time listening to and analysing lyrics as well as poetry.
You have a huge crowd of fans, men and women alike, some of whom even tattoo your lyrics on their body. It hasn’t always been this way. How do you cope with being their inspiration?
It’s a funny one because on one hand I’m humbled when people have my lyrics tattooed. At the same time I have lyrics from bands tattooed on me and I have bands logos tattooed on me so I understand the motivation for doing it. But I’m quite flattered that it’s me that they’ve chosen to do it for. Like you said there was a long time when I was doing this and people didn’t really gave a shit; and it is very rewarding now to know that people do, and also to know that it didn’t happen because I signed a major label and they gave me £100,000: it came because I’ve been on tour for a very long time and just working hard. I’m quite proud of the way of I have achieved my success, hopefully not in an arrogant way. I feel I did it in an honest way and that’s important.
As many of your songs on your first two solo albums had very personal themes, do you often find that your fans feel that they know you? If so, how do you deal with this?
Yes sometimes; most of the time it’s fine because people understand that whilst I write personal things there’s still a degree of detachment and I am not completely and utterly laying out my life on the line every single time I open my mouth. Occasionally I do meet people who think they know absolutely everything one could ever know about me, but at the end of the day it’s a compliment in some way that they’ve been listening that hard. So I just gently have to let them know there’s a little bit more to the story than that.
Your debuts with Kneejerks and Million Dead were very different from your current style. Will you ever revisit that style of music?
I think that what I do now will be the main thing that I do for a long time, but I like the idea of doing a side project maybe. I’ve had conversations with friends of mine about doing this, the problem is more that I haven’t had any time in the last 5 years. But I like the idea of putting together a group with a couple of friends, make a project of it, give ourselves one month to write an album and then wake up and do something else. I still listen to a lot of punk rock and hardcore and all that kind of thing. There is still a little part of me that wants to just play really loud angry music.
What are your plans?
We are going to the studio in January and making album number four. And when that is done, I will then be on tour forever everywhere. I hope very much to come back to France as soon as possible. I love France – it sounds fake to say this to a French publication!