Music News: Isn’t the Wickham Festival virtually a hometown gig for you?
Frank Turner: Basically yeah. We are I think about 8 miles away from the village I grew up in and in rural terms that seems close as damm it. I did once play Meon Fest which is a little closer but that aside this is the closest I’ve played to where I grew up.
MN: Is that going to be a special night for you?
FT: Yeah definitely. It’s nice to be in a place I know. My mom’s coming down later. Yeah it’s gonna be good.
MN: You mentioned that it’s not far from where you grew up, but a lot has changed since then.
FT: Sure yeah, very much so. I think that, I try and retain a sense of wonder about my fortunes in life if you know what I mean? If you told me as a kid I would be headlining a festival anywhere in the world I would have been very pleased shall we say. And yeah, it feels really good to have succeeded.
MN: Is it true You keep a count of your gigs, what number is this tonight?
FT: I think I’m right in saying it’s 2,372, although I’m going to reserve the right to correct that slightly. It’s written on the set list every day. There are some people who think this (is) information I carry around in my head all day every day and it’s not quite that, I cheat.
MN: Is it important to you to remember that journey?
FT: It is. I mean I started counting the shows right at the beginning sort of for my own benefit really, and didn’t used to always mention it on stage or anything like that. And I remember when we got to show 1000 I threw a party for the show and everybody else, No one really got what was going on. They were like 1000 what? And I said 1000 shows, and everyone’s said really? By the time we had got to show 2000 it had become a thing. You know what I mean? A lot of people, I know there are people that have shown numbers tattooed on them and all this kind of thing. You know it’s a nice way of kind of acknowledging work done. I have now done more shows than Metallica and Grateful Dead and people like this. I’m sure they play to more people, but it’s a nice thing to be able to say.
MN: Sounds like your one of the hardest working artists around?
FT: Well I mean, I don’t know really. People say that about me a lot and to the extent it’s meant as a compliment I’ll take it, but you know I think quality matters as much as quantity. And there are plenty of people who work in offices and factories who don’t get awards for doing their job five days a week. So I don’t want to make too much of it.
MN: Interestingly, you’re not just a singer, but an author as well. How’s the latest book gone down?
FT: It’s gone very well thank you yeah. I have two books out now which I think makes me an author, I suppose, and they’ve both been bestsellers which is very nice. I’m beginning to toy with the idea of what I might write a third one about were I to do that. The thing for me is that I’ve written two books so far which have both been about me and therefore required very little of my own research. You know what I mean? I just sort of thought oh yeah and then wrote it down. I quite like the idea of writing a book that’s about something else. That would be more of a proper book from my point of view.
MN: Your book Try This at Home was a little bit different?
FT: Yeah, it’s a book about songwriting. The first book I wrote was about touring which made sense. People were wondering if I was going to write a sequel to that, and I just sort of felt like I had said most of what I had to say about touring already, and there was an in built narrative arc that went from playing to no one in a pub to playing Wembley Arena. I’m not sure I need to write another book about continuing to exist at a certain level. I then realized I had written a whole book about myself as a musician without ever really talking about music. So I thought I would correct that with book number two.
MN: Try This at Home is a little bit of a different take on the slant of songwriting?
FT: yeah yeah. I think about songwriting to the exclusion of pretty much everything, all the time. And it struck me that it would be interesting to try and get some of those thoughts down. I haven’t talked about songwriting in public that much in the past. Not because I’m trying to keep a secret or anything, but just because I sort of lack the vocabulary really. I hadn’t thought about it in verbal terms previously. So it was an interesting process writing for me because I had to figure out what it is I think about songwriting and trying to get that down.
MN: You have a new album out August 16 called No Man’s Land. Is it true that it’s all about women?
FT: Yeah, well it’s a storytelling record, it’s a history record, which is the original, that was the original impulse. Most of the songs I’ve written have been about me. I write in quite confessional autobiographical style and I was thinking about branching out from that, trying to write about different topics, and had this idea of writing history songs. And started writing history songs and after I had about five down I realized they were all about female historical figures, so I decided to kind of follow that theme through to the end. It’s really fun, histories my other obsession in life outside of music and it seemed like it would be interesting to see if I could combined those two things…
MN: Do you have plans to tour behind the new album?
FT: Yes, we’re doing a tour that’s kind of, I’m gonna do two sets at night on that tour, because I’m a maniac. And the idea is that the first set will be all stuff from the new record, and then I’ll take a break and then will do a full band show afterwards.
MN: Listening to songs like Make America Great Again, it seems like your quite politically and socially conscious. Is that something you strive for?
FT: There are different answers to that question depending on whether you’re talking about me as an individual and my songwriting.
MN: Yeah, as a writer do you think I’m going to write about this, or I’m just going to write a record and see where it goes?
FT: Yeah, it’s more the latter I would say. I try quite hard, with the exception of the new album, I try quite hard not to pre-direct my songwriting d’you know what I mean? And just like if ideas come and if they’re good then I work on them and I try and write them down. But it’s rare for me to sit down and sort of decide to write about something, before I’ve got any ideas. Having said that, obviously the No Man’s Land was slightly different, but I mean I don’t consider myself like a protest singer or anything like this, but that was an idea for a song that came along and it seemed like a good one, so I followed it to the end.
: When do you know a song is definitely good enough for the album?
FT: Well that’s a good question. It’s difficult because with a lot of the records I’ve done there are b sides or extended versions and all that kind of thing. Choosing which songs make it onto an album track listing is a difficult thing and I don’t always get it right. I definitely think Balthazar, Impresario should have been on England Keep My Bones proper. I don’t quite know what I was thinking back then. There’s a very long editing process. I mean there’s a lot of songs that I’ll finish writing that then don’t go anywhere, that I won’t record, or that I won’t work up with the band. Sometimes we’ll get halfway through with working it up with the band and I’ll realize that it needs more work, or that it’s not good enough or whatever. So I think with every record there’s generally a core pile of songs that are definitely going on the record, but you know, sometimes I get it wrong in terms of what actually goes on and what doesn’t.
MN: You do a lot of touring, but how do you handle the work life balance?
FT: Well for a long time I didn’t because I just didn’t have anything going on in my life other than touring. And kind of as a conscious choice, I had a bit of an obsession with Henry Rollins and wanting to be the hardest touring guy ever and all this kind of stuff. A few years ago that plan kind of came a cropper a little bit. Partly it wasn’t good for my mental and physical health living like that, and I also just felt like as a writer you get a bit one-dimensional if you only do one thing forever. And then I’m settling down with my Mrs and we tour a little less hard than we use to. We’ve definitely kind of leaned off the gas a little, as they say. And I’ve got much better. I mean this is the first time in my life, my adult life I’ve really sustained a meaningful serious relationship for any period of time, and it feels great….
MN: Obviously, it must be great to play a gig so close to your home thanks to the Wickham Festival, but is there any where you’d still like to play?
FT: Off the top of my head I would say South America, because I’ve never been. I mean, I’m quite magpie-ish I kinda just wanna play anywhere, anywhere I haven’t played I’m excited to play….
MN: What else have you got in the pipeline?
FT: Me being me I’m kind of busy. I’ve got various side projects things bubbling away, and I’m kind of writing songs for another record already. I’m getting married in four weeks time as well…
Picture credit: Dawn Fletcher