Frank Turner

By paul

Andy had a chat with Frank Turner after his incredible set on the Radio 1 Stage at Reading Festival ’09.

PT: Busy day then, Frank?

Frank Turner: Oh my god, tell me about it. I did another show after the main show on the BBC Introducing stage. It was only like three songs or whatever, but I was in ‘power down’ mode, and then all of a sudden it was time to power up again. After that I did half an hour in the signing tent, and now I’m here talking to you! As soon as I’m done with press here, I’m going to get really fucking drunk!

PT: So how was the show for you?

Frank: Absolutely, totally, insanely amazing! That’s probably the biggest crowd I’ve ever played to. I thought we played really well as a band, and the crowd reaction was amazing. There’s not much more one can wish for out of a gig. It was great.

PT: You look genuinely overwhelmed by how many people were there singing along with you!

Frank: Sometimes when I’m playing a show and I’m a bit nervous about it, I close my eyes when I sing. Today I was doing that a lot and I kept saying to myself ‘stop fucking closing your eyes!’ because you never know, that could logically be the peak of my career. It’s certainly the highlight so far, so I thought to myself ‘Enjoy it. Look around, see what’s going on and enjoy it while it’s there!’

PT: You’ve played here two years before. Did you come to Reading as a spectator before?

Frank: Reading was always my festival. I’m from Winchester, I was never a Glastonbury kid, Reading was always THE festival for me. First time I came here was ’95, and I’ve been about a million times since then – I love it. I try and kind of hold onto that feeling I had when I was 13 years old and coming here for the first time. Looking at those bands up on stage and thinking maybe one day I could be up on that stage. Now this being the fourth year I’ve played here (I did one year with Million Dead as well), it’s really important for me to not lose hold of that feeling of wonder about the whole thing.

PT: I wanted to ask you about Epitaph. How did that deal come about?

Frank: Yeah, I’ve signed with them but one of the great things that’s worth stressing, is I’ve stayed with Xtra Mile for the UK. We were talking to a lot of big labels; I actually walked away (quite dramatically!) from a very big record deal, because they wanted to release my stuff in the UK as well. I’m not going to ditch Xtra Mile, y’know they’re my fucking family! They’ve looked after me since year zero – there’s no way I wasn’t going to stay loyal to them. All these other labels had problems with that, but when we spoke to Brett at Epitaph, straight away I said that was a condition of signing. Straight away he said ‘yeah, fine, no problem.’ He totally understands what it’s like to be part of a small label who are pushing a band when a bigger label is trying to nick them off him – I know he’s had that many times!

PT: Did Brett approach you then, or was it the other way around?

Frank: (Laughs) I was on tour in Germany, and I was having a shit day, and my phone rang and it was an American number and I was thinking ‘who the fuck is this?’ I answered the phone and he said ‘Hi my name’s Brett and I work for a record label called Epitaph in the United States of America’. I was just like, ‘Stop. Right now. YOU don’t need to tell me who you are, I fucking KNOW who you are! Jesus Christ!’ Then I sort of shat my pants a bit, we chatted for fifteen minutes or so and that was it. It was a wonderful experience. He said that my last record was his favourite album of the year and he wanted to sign me, and I said OK. It was a really easy process. They said to us ‘What do you want?’ and we said ‘the following things…’ then they said ‘OK’. Everyone was ready for some legal tussle but there was none of that, everyone just agreed on everything.

PT: You’re a guy that’s grown up in the punk rock scene. I imagine you must have looked up to a lot of the Epitaph bands when you were younger.

Frank: Well yeah, but even more specifically, prior to the internet – or at least prior to Myspace and stuff like that – when I was a kid, there was no way of hearing new punk bands. There were no radio stations that played them; there was nothing on the TV except for occasionally noisy mothers (I don’t know if you remember that at 3am every morning!) There were magazines that would write about them, but there was no way of hearing new bands. So what I and everybody else my age would do is go to Our Price and you’d go through the racks of CDs and if you found something that had the Epitaph logo on it you’d buy it! You’d have no idea what it would be like and sometimes you’d pick up some bullshit, but most of the time you’d find something amazing. Either that or the other way was going through the ‘thanks lists’ on a band’s CD. Going through the NOFX thanks list and see which ones you didn’t know you’d check out. That’s one of the things that I think as much as the internet on balance is a wonderful, amazing thing, I think the world’s lost that. You get all these kids now who say ‘Oh I can’t afford to buy a CD without knowing what it sounds like’. There’s no feeling of discovery, people can be quite spoiled about music now. On the whole, it’s a good thing that there’s more music being shared, but there’s no sense of ownership.

PT: You’re exposure in the States has grown massively since the Epitaph signing. Is ‘breaking America’ something you’ve aimed to do.

Frank: You know I don’t really like to say ‘Breaking America’, because I think it makes me sound like Robbie Williams! I don’t see America as this mystical land that I have to break, I’d like if it continued working as it is (laughs). But you know there are a lot of people in America, it’s a big place and you can tour it a lot. It’s not like I think if I can sell a million records over there then I’ve made it. But if I can travel around the States, see some of the country and meet some people, then I’m happy. Last time I did shows over there, there were like a hundred people at each show, and to me that’s incredible. A hundred fucking people and I’m on the wrong side of the world! To me that’s incredible and I reckon that after what Epitaph have been up to recently it’s gonna be more than that next time, so I’m very, very happy.

At this point, Frank’s people come let us know we only have a few minutes left

Frank: Right a few more questions, let’s go!

PT: Ok the new album, ‘Poetry of the Deed’ talk me through it.

Frank: Ok, the first thing I want to say is I didn’t want to take some massive stylistic turn, you know. I’m interested in writing good songs. The albums I’ve done so far are my attempt at writing good songs, and I suppose in that sense it’ll be more of the same to a degree. The main difference is I took my live band into the studio this time, because they’re all must better musicians than me. The old way of me just playing everything seems rather pointless when one is surrounded by such virtuosos! Along with that, I wanted to have a sound that was much bigger, more expansive. I feel like when you write a song, whether you’re conscious of it or not, in your head you have a room in which you’re going to play that song. To my first album, that was a bar with fifty people in it, my second album maybe it was a club with two hundred people in, this record it’s maybe a club with four hundred people in. Maybe not mind-blowingly huge, but just a bit bigger. I wanted to sound a little more expansive. It’s funny, I finished it and I was really happy with it, then I had a period of great doubt where I went ‘oh god it’s rubbish!’ then I’ve since decided it’s excellent. Hopefully people will like it.

PT: Million Dead’s record ‘A Song To Ruin’ is having a deluxe re-release. Was that down to you, or was it a label decision? How did it come about?

Frank: You know it’s one of those things – we always wanted to put out a DVD, and we always had these legal stumbling bocks, but simultaneously, the legal stumbling blocks disappeared and we realised that you couldn’t get ‘Song To Ruin’ anywhere prior to that – you can’t buy it, you can’t download it legally. Also y’know, I felt like I’d emerged from that shadow enough to not be bothered by it. I’m furiously proud of everything I did with that band, but I didn’t want to be ‘that guy who used to sing in Million Dead’. Now that I feel that I’ve established myself enough to be confident enough to be like, fuck it. I think we were a good band you know and I just wanted it out there.

Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]