During the last decade, Frank Turner, who hails from Winchester, England, went from playing in the hardcore band Million Dead to playing at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games under his own name and with songs that he would now describe as English Country Punk. As surreal as the performance on a green hill in the middle of a stadium underneath clouds on strings was, his sold-out gig at Wembley Arena was perhaps an even more remarkable milestone. When Frank Turner played in Stockholm on 26 February 2014, Anne Malewski caught up with the sea-legged singer.
Breathing in and Breathing Out
People have called Frank Turner a sell-out long before he played big arenas. Sometimes because he toured in a van that had seats, sometimes because he had a suitcase on wheels instead of a rucksack and, only the other week, because he tweeted about throat sweets. Franks says, “coming from a punk rock background, the world is always full of people who want to call you a sell-out for getting out of bed or not getting out of bed or breathing in or breathing out and the thing I always want to say to those people is, you know what, I’m still doing exactly what I did in terms of my approach and my ethos and all the rest of it as I did when I first started out and if you’re somebody who’s changed your opinion of me because more people are into what I do, you’re a sell-out. Because, to me, what sell-out means is somebody who lets their opinion about music be dictated by something other than the music itself.” He does not care for exclusivity, he does not want to be a jealously-guarded bootleg secret. Instead, he wants his shows to have a sense of camaraderie, to be a place where “everybody’s welcome and nobody’s being judged and everybody can just have a good time.”
That sense of camaraderie is also the reason why he used to call himself a folk singer: “When I started out, I used the word folk to describe what I was doing, which was partly because I was listening to stuff that came under folk in iTunes or whatever and partly because it was kind of an ideological statement about wanting the shows to be for everybody and the music for everybody.” Over the years, his definition of folk has become more specific: “Quite quickly I started getting kind of shouted at by people from the traditional folk scene, saying this is not folk music, these are not traditional songs. I was kind of defensive about it at the time but I have to say I think they’re probably right now.” However, he is still fascinated by the genre and and has regularly performed the popular folk ballad “Barbara Allen”. He has also covered an impressive range of non-traditional songs during the last decade – from Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”. Some are more difficult than others: “Tom Petty is a remarkable songwriter to me because his songs are very, very simple and I think they’re very difficult to cover effectively. They’re like cobwebs, they kind of fall apart in your hands if you try to pick them up. It’s weird because I know all of those chords and I know all the words and I know the melody, but you start playing it and it just doesn’t sound anything like his songs. So I’m wary of covering Tom Petty.”
Hitch-hiking with Bob Dylan
Frank Turner not only covers other artists’ songs but he also refers to them in his own. For instance, he hitch-hikes with Bob Dylan in “I Am Disappeared”. Asked what he would do with Neil Young in a song, he smiles. “Neil Young, for me, is someone who when he’s good he’s one of the greatest and when he’s bad he’s laughably bad. But I kind of like the way that he’s not afraid to try crazy shit in public. What would I do with Neil Young? I’d play some acoustic guitar On the Beach in 1973.” Freddie Mercury, “the greatest of them all”, he would like to watch play the piano for hours – “He knew more about chord changes than I ever will. And just the best front man ever, easily. Unquestionably.” Another songwriting crush of his is Regina Spektor: “I love Regina Spektor. I think she’s one of the greatest songwriters alive today. I think she’s not given enough credit as a songwriter. The shit she does is remarkable, really fucking wild.”
I Am Disappeared (acoustic)
His next album might be wild, too, as he called it a monster on Twitter. Which kind of monster? Something like The Incredible Hulk, a short, sharp record. Fair play.
Interview by: Anne Malewski
Anne also filmed the interview, you can watch it here: http://awoostockholm.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/frank-turner/