Emma and I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Frank Turner, who performed at The Accord in downtown Champaign where we spoke with him. Check out the chill and down-to-earth performer’s interview below.
E&E: You tweeted you had a day off in Illinois, did you guys get up to anything?
Frank: Actually I ended up with Will Varley, who’s on this tour, is a good friend of mine, and incidentally I think the best song writer I’ve ever met in my life, he and I went out for drinks last night and ended up gatecrashing this dude named Justin’s birthday. We just sort of met him in a barand then like we were feeding him shots. And he was having this really really relaxed quite birthday and he was kind of screaming and running around the bar and stuff. And some of his friends were looking at us like “Oh my god, what have you done.” But he promised he’d come to the show tonight. And then kissed me on the mouth.
E&E: So your most recent album, Positive Songs For Negative People, what was the inspiration behind it, the process, difference in this one from previous albums?
Frank: Every record I do is different and long may that continue because I don’t want to repeat myself. The preceding album Tape Deck Heart was kind of a breakup record; it was about things falling apart. And so thematically, Positive Songs is about, not perhaps everything being fine again, but realizing that you’ve bottomed out and you’re on the upside again. It was sort of the “I’ve made it through the worst”- entirely self inflicted I should say- but sort of bad part. Its kind of a record on optimism and picking yourself up. The other thing was that the preceding album Tape Deck Heart, was like we got lost in the studio in my opinion and we spent a lot of time in dark rooms kind of rerecording little parts and getting really really anal about everything. And with Positive Songs I really wanted to just make a record quickly so we cut the record in nine days. I just wanted it to feel sprightly.
E&E: You mentioned in a previous interview that you like to keep music and politics separate, do you find that difficult in today’s environment, especially since you’re here on a college campus?
Frank: There was a lot of context behind that statement; the first thing to be said is that’s a personal preference, not a statement not on how the world should be. My politics is such that I have historically found them quite hard to discuss meaningfully in the context of a two and a half minute pop song, and through twitter which is the worst forum for discussing politics that exists. And there was a time when there was more politics in what I do and it got really depressing and boring to me because there’s just no nuance, and there was, I think it was [Charles] Bukowski that said, the problem in the world is there’s stupid people who are convinced they’re right and don’t have doubt and shout really loudly, and then there’s people with more nuance ieas who tend to sit around and doubt themselves. And I just got bored of idiots who didn’t really understand what I was trying to say shouting at me. I mean it’s obviously a fraught time, particular America right now. But I’m not sure the solution is in music specifically pop music. And also I’m an individual and I have my opinions about it, but it’s crushingly important to me that I don’t consider my opinions more valid simply because I play for them. There are a lot more intelligent people that people could look to for their inspirations about politics.
E&E: And you have such a platform where people are listening to you more.
Frank: That’s true, but then again it’s a double edged sword to me, because I’m instinctively kind of antiauthoritarian in my politics, and I’m not sure how much I like the idea of preaching to people form the stage. Music’s about communication, that’s the other thing, is all of that could very much become just a monologue, you need directional form of speech, and to me, my shows and everything I do is supposed to be an exchange, a conversation. When we do shows, it’s an exchange of energy with the audience and you’re telling a story and all that kind of thing. And that’s what’s interesting and important to me.
E&E: Do you notice any difference in the vibes when you perform on college campuses?
Frank: Yeah, to a degree. As a musician you play to who comes through the door, and occasionally you will come across bands who want to be selective about their audiences in some way, and I think that’s pretty lame. You open your doors and people come and then you entertain them, that’s your fucking job (sorry I’m trying not to swear). I mean, I’m arguably the wrong person to get deep into the demography of my crowds but I like to think there’s a quite wide demographic of people that come to my shows, and I imagine that there will be more college people tonight, than in some other towns. But I know for a fact that there a few more die hard folk that I know who are traveling down.
E&E: Since you performed at Lollapalooza, do you notice a difference between the huge sell-out crowd and venues a little more intimate? Do you have a preference?
Frank: Obviously they are different and there are small things that you tailor to the different contexts. But for me, you’re still trying to do the same basic thing, you’re still trying to communicate with your music to whoever is standing in front of you.
E&E: Do you think there are benefits from either one?
Frank: Yeah, in festival crowds generally you’re making new friends, because people are checking out new music more, where as tonight people are gonna buy a ticket because they want to see the show.
E&E: How was lollapalooza then for you?
Frank: They made me play four shows in 24 hours, while I was really jetlagged, and that was a bit much, so I was a little tired.
E&E: And you were at Red Rocks in August, so are there any other venues on your performance bucket list?
Frank: Yes and no, I try to be not that bothered about venues ‘cause I think it’s more about people than the room. Certainly, there’s a few places I’ve been in my career where people are like “it’s hallowed ground” and you get there and it’s kind of a shit hole. I can’t remember were it is but there’s a venue, that’s legendary as Kurt Cobain’s favorite venue to play and you go there and it’s just a hole in the ground. What mattered about Winterland in San Francisco was that the Sex Pistol’s played their last show there; it wasn’t about the stage or the room or anything like that. Having said that Red Rocks was pretty incredible, that was a good place to play. And I’d love to play at Radio City Music Hall in New York one day. But I mean, like I said, it’s pretty low down on my list of priorities.
E&E: Looking forward to the show tonight, are there any songs that are your favorites to play or anything you’re particularly excited for?
Frank: Yeah, I mean, I like the songs where that kind of communication happens. That’s kind of a highfalutin way of saying that I like the sing-alongs and the crowd participation. But it’s, I like it when the divide between the stage and the audience breaks down a bit. We got a lot of crowd participation stuff on our set. I always try to throw in some rarities and curveballs to keep people on their toes. We’re kind of working on a new setlist actually. We don’t play the same thing every night but the set list is structured around certain kinds of pillars and I rebuilt the setlist from scratch about 4 days ago and we’re still kind of ironing out the kinks, so hopefully we’ll get it right tonight. We’ll see.
I also address the public domain and communicate with people like that and for example there’s a kid in Bangladesh, whose girlfriend goes to college here and he’s bought her a ticket and asked me to play a particular song. It’s a song I don’t play very often at all.
E&E: You mentioned that you wanted horns on mittens and you’ve always wanted your own E-Street band. As your sound has evolved and as you’ve tried new things, have your musical influences changed as well?
Frank: Yeah absolutely, I hope my musical influences continue to grow and expand all the time. It would be terribly dull to just have one reservoir to pull from. Partly, it’s just whatever I happen to be listening to that sort of influences my thinking and my writing. Sometimes I go down specific kind of roads to seek influences, like I had a little but of a moment last year of not knowing what I was gonna do going forward after we finished the last record. I went through a time of listening to a really splenetic mix of stuff, I was listening to like Fela Kuti and African guitar, a lot of old soul music. I went through a heavy phase of trying to learn every George Jones song ever written. But then again, in a way, stuff like that is a little bit artificial somehow, because it feels a little bit academic. There is an intellectual side to what I do, but I feel it should be instinctive. To hear something and just be like “that’s great!” But I try to listen to new music all the time.
E&E: You mentioned on your blog that you’ll be working on some “secret plans” in October. Should we be looking forward to some new music or projects soon?
Frank: It turns out that was a terrible choice of words. The entire world is convinced I’m doing something more exciting than I actually am. I’ve been working on a new record in my head at the moment. I’ve got a pile of songs written and I’m trying to write more. I’m sort of trying to feel out what I do with those songs and how I record them and who I record them with. It’s funny because last time around right from the get go I knew exactly who I wanted to record the record with and where and how and it was just a done deal in my head. And this time around I’m sort kind of like “I don’t know… ehhh I don’t know!” So when I get home I’m just gonna have a few sessions with different people just to kind of dip my toe in the water and see how it feels. That’s all it is really.
E&E: And lastly, because we’re on a college campus, our focus is frequently local music and there’s a lot of aspiring musicians around. Do you have any advice to give?
Frank: It’s kind of a funny question because I could give you a one liner and sound snappy and I could also talk about it for three straight days, and neither of those sound appropriate. It’s head and heart. In terms of head, know the kind of industry you want to work in. I know friends who sign publishing deals and don’t know what publishing is. The Internet is this unbelievable resource, we’re luckier than any other generation ever. You can go out and learn everything you want to know about how the music industry works. And how to get shows and how to get managing deals, all those sorts of things. Obviously it comes down to talent and music at the end of the day, but you can just educate yourself about what you’re doing and you can get out there and make an impact and let the world know what you do. There’s more than 24 hours of stuff you can do to improve your music career in a day, every day, so get the fuck on with it! And that leads to the second part, the heart. Just go for it! Put all your eggs in one basket and chuck it over the side of the ship. There’s no point in doing it unless you’re doing it with everything you’ve got. If you’re kind of like “eh! I don’t know” about it, then I think, you shouldn’t really bother. It should be the thing that keeps you up and night and makes you sweat when you don’t work on it for 45 minutes. If it’s that, then all the down sides of being a musician, and there are loads, it’s an extremely uncomfortable, unhealthy, insecure, asocial way to make a living, if it works out, which it almost never does. But all of that doesn’t matter in the slightest if you love it, because it’s the best possible mode of existence. And even trying and failing is the best possible thing you can do sometimes.
E&E: Well that’s all we have, thank so much for taking the time to talk with us. We look forward to the show.
Frank: Thank you.