James McDonald 15/05/2009
It's been a while since we last touched base with Frank, during which time his often one-manned show has become quite the behemoth across the UK and America, selling out countless high capacity venues in the process. This strikes me as a little surreal, as the last time I saw him play was in a grotty bar in Boscombe (near Bournemouth. n.b. Don't go to Boscombe) with 8 other punters, sat cross-legged on the floor. However Frank himself is one to absorb such success with an innate modesty, fully aware that his is indeed 'Living The Dream', and happy to savour every moment appropriately. He's currently in the studio recording his third solo long player, so I caught up with him to probe on what promises to be a landmark release in his career.
GIITTV: 'Poetry For the Deed' - working title or bone-fide fact?
FT: Bona Fide fact. I usually spend a lot of time kicking album titles around, changing my mind and so on. This one actually cropped up as a rough idea while we were recording the last record, but it's settled in my mind since. The artwork is done now, so there's no going back! It's a Bakunin reference, incidentally. Propaganda of the deed and all that.
It's fair to say you're no longer a stranger to the studio, but have you found the whole process of recording, mixing, remixing, re-recording and RE-bloody-mixing smoother with experience?
It's different every time. I think my knowledge of and comfort with the process has increased in time, but then my expectations have increased as well. I think I'm a lot less highly strung about the whole thing these days. It's a little more professional. But then, every session is
different, and every session can be tedious in the same way as well.
In context, do you prefer writing songs or recording them?
It's difficult to say, but on balance, there's something very satisfying about seeing a song come together in the studio. By time you reach the mixing stage, I start to relax a lot more because it's down, it's on tape, and, in theory at least, it's sounding how it should...! In a way that's almost the end of the writing process for me.
How pedantic can you be with regard to the final product? All artists have an idea of how their music 'should' sound, do you find this hard to replicate in a studio or are you generally pleasantly surprised?
Phillip Larkin said that a poem is never finished, only abandoned, and to an extent I think the same is true of music, with both songwriting and recording. Having said that, greater knowledge of the studio as a tool means that I now have realistic assessments of what can be achieved, and I'm generally pretty happy with the results. 'Love Ire & Song' is the only album of mine that I've made which I have been able to listen to contentedly ever since making it. I think that's a good thing…?
How's everything going with Alex (Newport - Mars Volta, At The Drive In, Rival Schools)? I imagine you feel as though you're in safe hands with him on the other side of the glass…
Alex is great, I'm a big fan of his work, and it's been pretty exciting having him around, both in the last stages of rehearsal and now in the studio. He sure knows what he's doing, he has a great pair of ears and I'm confident this record is going to sound fucking great. He's also a cool guy, which is, um, a relief!
In the interest of privacy, where are you recording this time around, and how has this new environment reflected on the product?
We're recording the music (i.e. the instrumentation) in Norfolk at a residential studio. The vocals and the mix we're doing in New York at Alex's studio. This time round we've reherarsed the whole album as a band, and we're recording the music live. In the past I did everything in a very layered, meticulous way, with me playing most of the instruments. So it's quite a different process in that respect. I want it to sound more live, more raw, more, um, rock.
How do you think this album will differ from previous releases? You do indeed have a 'style', however I know you're one for change and progression in music. What evidence of this can we expect in September?
I try hard not to think about that kind of thing too consciously. I just try to write the best songs that I can. I think this record is influenced by the way I'm working more and more with my band. They're great musicians and great friends, and it's been fun to mesh more with them this time round. In a way it's what we've always done, it's just that in the past we usually did this bit after the recording, so our live versions are better than the studio ones. This time round, we'll get all the goodness down on tape.
How does it feel to be supporting the Offspring on the spring tour, and how the hell did that come about? I am constantly flabbergasted by the acts you seem to be opening for, as I'm sure you are too.
Yeah, it's pretty weird! Actually it was a personal request from the band, or so I'm told. I think they got wind of me through Epitaph (with whom I just signed for the world outside the UK). But yeah, they're fans, apparently, which is super weird - they were a massive deal for me
as a kid.
Given the seas of people that will be exposed to your music on the tour, how are you going about approaching such a task? Anything up your sleeve?
I'm a little nervous, to be honest. We spent a lot of time thinking about whether to do these shows band or solo. In the end we went with solo - partly because of the finance, but partly because I felt I can make more of an impact. It's quite a thing to play to a lot of people who neither know nor care who you are, and to win at least some of them over. I think I'm just going to concentrate on playing as well as I can.
So how was SXSW this year? You're becoming a veteran…
Austin this year was fucking awesome. The showcases I did were great, packed out and useful, if you see what I mean. Then the party afterwards was, well, Roman in its debauchery. I ended up with a tattoo of Texas on my arm after a particularly vicious drinking bout. Oh well.
At this point in the interview I can't help but reflect on the 'realness' of our discussion. I first met Frank at a Million Dead gig at Southampton Uni (they were supporting Pitchshifter, on their farewell UK tour - a tour which didn't turn out to be their last after all.) and have since held an almost brotherly admiration for what he does. Take a second to absorb his lyrics, they are unmittigating modern poetry, saying things in ways that I, at the time, could never have previously penned. Now he can be found sharing stages with an ever increasing number of industry heavy-weights. Frank is also dyslexic, however he earned a degree in European History in his youth, which has resulted in my possibly misguided belief that he is an authority on political climates, hence the question;
Obama = saviour?
No. He's a politician. The (totally awesome) fact that a black man got elected president of the USA ceased to be politically interesting the day after the inauguration. If we're all really post-racist, now we need to judge him on his political abilities. I admire his calm and his foreign policy initiatives have been refreshing if nothing else. However, I'm massively against his economic policy (for whatever that matters). I also see in him the same problem that we had with Tony Blair here: an ability to campaign rather than govern, a worrying disregard for constitutional safeguard, a slightly chilling self-belief. But it's early days anyways. Let's see what he has to offer.
Back to music then. You've touched upon the topic of music downloads in previous interviews. For an artist like yourself who, with all due respect, despite the success of previous releases is still having to be all too aware of the cost of doing what you do, have you a strategy for combating this when the album's released?
It's a challenge, obviously. I think the Epitaph guys have a policy of watermarking press copies of the album, which is cool. In the UK I think we're going to be a little more selective about who we send advance copies too as well. At the end of the day it'll be on the internet the day after it comes out for sure, so you could argue that it's a losing battle. However, there is still a point in having a release date, in a promotional campaign, and so it's worth trying to hold the record back until that point in time. It's fraught, but we're going to do our best.
Is it too early to be announcing festival appearances this year? There are a few unfamiliar ones already confirmed… And on the subject of, Weymouth has a music venue?
There are a bunch on my website. There are one or two more significant ones to announce, but I'm not allowed to do that just yet, so I'll hold my tongue for now. [Weymouth has] More than one, ye gods. At least three on my count. Nice town.
Fans are, at present, voting on where they'd like to see you play. How's the Baghdad count looking?
Haha, my label put that widget on there. No Baghdad just yet, although Ulverston (? me neither) is doing well. I'm sad to say that my tour itineraries aren't actually based on that thing.
Finally, and I'm sure you're growing tired of the whole Million Dead debacle being bought up, but a re-release of 'Song To Ruin' - is this in all parties best interests?
Yes, because it's a good record, and right now you can't get hold of it. I'm proud of what we did, and happy that people will be easier able to get hold of it. I just need to re-state that there will never be another live show (at least not with me in it). Sorry to be all Morrissey about it, but that's how it is.
Fair enough. On reflection those days of post-punk brutality are a great distance from what Frank is doing now. Yet he remains to be the honest and self-reflective individual he always has, with the fire of an uncompromising musical passion ever burning in his belly (not, as suggested, one as bloated as Morrissey's). I think to whatever degree of relevance he has on your life, whether it be minimal or medicinal, Frank Turner is one of the clearest examples in music today of how, with the right intentions and a fuck-load of touring, anything is possible. This makes me smile.