kurzweil-ICH: „Ich will mich nicht langweilen“ – Frank Turner im Interview

kurzweil-ICH: "Ich will mich nicht langweilen" - Frank Turner im Interview Interview_Turner_01

It’s been a little more than a month since Frank Turner’s fifth album “Tape Deck Heart” was released – and charted on number 2 in the UK. All in all, the 31-year-old can’t complain about absent success: in the spring of 2012 he sold out the Wembley Arena, in the following summer he and his band “The Sleeping Souls” played at the opening of the Olympics in the middle of the stadium. However, not long ago they did the complete opposite: in support of the new album’s release, Turner and the Souls played smaller venues, one of them being the “Bi Nuu” in Berlin, where I met him for an interview.

Frank, there’s a song called “Polaroid Picture” on your new album. Quite exactly four years ago we talked about your then current album “Poetry of the Deed” in some hotel in Düsseldorf – and back then I took a Polaroid of you…

(laughs) Woah… I look very fresh-faced, don’t I? Just thinking about all of the things that happened since this photo was taken, good lord!

So, while you’re at it: what are your most memorable moments since that time?

I guess I would say the release of an album for me is a big deal, not just because it’s a big deal in itself, but also because I write autobiographically. Each record I have kind of for me is a couple of years or whatever, snapshotted, it’s a picture of a couple of years. Thinking back over the last four years I can think about the new record and it takes me to the place where I can think about what’s happened.

Also, playing Wembley was amazing, playing the Olympics was amazing, we’ve done main stages of festivals and we’ve had magazine covers and that sort of shit – and all of it’s been pretty great.

Here’s one other thing, that I should mention since that photo was taken, probably my favourite thing that’s ever happened to me as a musician: I played guitar for The Weakerthans for one show, just for a couple of songs, in 2011 in Hamburg. And that was the greatest thing that’s happened to me pretty much ever, because they are my favourite band. I walked off that stage that night and told my friend that I could die now, I was like “that’s it, I’m done”.

You said that every new album is a snapshot of what you did over the last few years – so “Tape Deck Heart” as your newest album is probably a snapshot of the last two, two and half years. It’s also a pretty nostalgic album and you seem to look back on a lot of regrets. How did that come about?

If I had to pick one word to describe what the album is about, and it’s a silly thing to do, but if I had to, I would say it’s about “change” and things have changed a lot for more in the last few years. And obviously, in my “career”, whatever you wanna call it, things have been going great. In my personal life things have been more strained, I mean it’s pretty obvious from the record, but I had some tough times in my personal life and with my relationships and that’s given me something to write about. Or, put it this way: I don’t kind of sit down and decide “I’m gonna write about this” and then go and write about it. It’s more that I like to follow the songs rather than lead them, if you know what I mean. And when we finished the new record, one of the first things I thought was like: “man, I needed to talk about this, I had something to get off my chest”. And a big part of what I write is catharsis. Hopefully the record has enough of what people can connect with rather than it just being like “here is my diary for the last two years” (laughs). But yeah, I guess it’s not the most upbeat-record I’ve ever written in my life… (laughs) it has its moments, but it’s a record about the dark sides of things, I suppose.

kurzweil-ICH: "Ich will mich nicht langweilen" - Frank Turner im Interview Interview_Turner_02

(C) freeloosedirt / flickr.com

Besides the relationships, you also sing a lot about “old things” like Polaroids, tape decks, the Astoria that has been demolished – that’s probably something especially younger people won’t remember in a few years…

That’s probably a bad marketing decision on my part, yeah (laughs).

So, are you perhaps also kind of trying to keep those things in the collective memory in some way?

I guess, although I mean it’s funny, because people keep kinda going like “uh, so you’re really into tapes now”, but I fucking hate tapes, they are terrible, they break all the time, they are such a shit way of listening to music. If I could get all the hours I spent with a fucking pencil trying to fix a tape back…

So in a way, one of the things I like about it as a metaphor and in a way it’s the same about Polaroids, is that: yeah, it’s kind of nostalgic and it’s old, but it’s also kinda shitty and broken and it doesn’t really work all that well. I mean, I don’t wanna sit here and spend too much time calculating the metaphor for the album title or whatever, but I like the idea that a tape deck heart might screw things up as much as play them.

The song, where this metaphor stems from, is called “Tell Tall Signs”, probably the saddest song on the whole album. And in it, you sing about some Amy again…

Oh… I mean, I have to be careful about what I say. It’s funny in a way, I’m trying to push myself to say as much as I can about the things I’m writing about and the songs, but at the same time there’s a degree of anonymity to it, because it’s not my business to talk about other people’s lives or at least not to personally defame anyone. So, Amy is not really called Amy, but she is a real person. In a way that song is supposed to be the last song I wanna write about that situation, so we’re done now… I mean I say that now, but give me another ten years and see how it went.

One other thing that really grasped my attention: in the “Fisher King Blues”, you sing about a myth with which I am honestly not too familiar with, but there is also obviously a connection to a poem by T.S. Eliot [note: “The Waste Land”), whom you referenced before…

Yeah, I mean I am a long-term T.S. Eliot-obsessive. But yeah, the Fisher King is a part of a legend I like, because it’s a very big legend, there’s a lot of different stories, but just the idea with the king of a broken kingdom, fishing over a dead land… Do you know Battersea Power Station?


So you know that it’s a ruin. That’s the thing that is so amazing to me about Battersea, that it is one of the most famous landmarks in London, but it’s broken, it doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked for like 50 years, and they can’t decide what to do with it. And I was going past it on the train, any train will take you past it, and suddenly felt: if the Fisher King lived in London, he’d live in Battersea Power Station.

I really like that song, it’s a funny one for me, because I’m really not entirely sure what it is about myself. Or at least I couldn’t tell you in a short sentence in a way I could with most other songs. And that’s one of the things I like about it, I feel like I’m kinda intrigued by it as much as anybody else can be. I guess you could say it’s about how people repeat themselves and how fucked up… But it’s funny: somebody told me they thought that it’s a depressing song and I think that is not right at all. I find it quite endearing the way human beings consistently just make the same stupid, fucking, idiot mistakes, generation of generation.

I can see why someone would think that it’s depressing – with one of the last lines saying „the world will not shrug all that much at our passing“…

Oh yeah… well ok… (laughs) That’s that the thing: I am reasonably well publicized atheist and people ask me “isn’t that depressing?” And I find: no, not at all, it’s a thoroughly liberating idea, because if you can quantify exactly how much time you have to achieve anything, you can set up and get the fuck on with it rather than postponing things, to imagine … afterlife. Again, the line “the world will not shrug all that much at our passing”… you know, there is no kind of special secret magic reason for us to exist, so make the most of what you do have.

kurzweil-ICH: "Ich will mich nicht langweilen" - Frank Turner im Interview Interview_Turner_03

(C) Graham Smith

One other song that kind of stands out to me is “Broken Piano” as the final song, which is a bit unusual for you, with the falsetto and the drum pattern…

Well, I mean partly, it’s probably my favourite song of the record, I’m particularly proud of it. It’s different, I’ve got a big corner of music collection and taste that goes to Bands like “Godspeed You! Black Emperor” and “Sigur Rós” and that sort of post-rock-thing from labels like “Cranky Records”, “Constellation Records” and all that shit…

The actual beginning of that song was the microwave in my ex-girlfriends kitchen, it hums in a perfect A6 chord, which is actually the beginning of that song, it kinda hums in, it’s not actually her microwave, but it’s an A6 chord. I just started singing along with the microwave, at a time when I was moving out of that place – not that I ever officially moved in, but you know, just collecting my shit and leaving… And yeah, it’s my favourite set of lyrics on the record and, this is very unusual for me, I wrote it as a poem before it became a song. I usually write with at least some kind of music in mind. And also, the first line is a reference to a song called “Summer Is Icumen In”, which is the oldest recorded English song, it’s a 13th century English song, and the first line is „When I walked out one morning fair“. So, it’s just a lot of different ideas in one song, but I really like that.

The drums at the end was really fun to do in the studio, because when we started doing it, Rich Costey, the producer, was like: “I don’t really understand what this is supposed to sound like”. And I was like: “It’s gotta sound like an army of Uruk-Hai at the gates of Minas Tirith, a whole army beating the fucking drums…” and he was like: “You are the biggest fucking geek I’ve ever met in my life!” (laughs) Also, during the Olympic Opening ceremony, they had this massive army of drummers, which sounded incredible, and I guess that probably played a part there as well.

It’s funny, you know, some people love that song and some people fucking hate that song. I’ve had a couple of people, and it’s funny, because it’s usually more the punkrock-types, going like “What the fuck is that song, man?” and they go „It sounds like Coldplay“. And I sort of think to myself: If the only person you’ve ever heard singing falsetto is Chris Martin, it says more about how broad your taste in music is than it does about me… But fuck that, I like Coldplay, I don’t give a shit, they are a good band, but I’m not sure if I would pick them as the first line of influence for that song (laughs).

One other thing concerning the whole album is that you playing with the Sleeping Souls probably sounds better than ever. Were they more involved in writing the songs this time?

Yes, I mean, well: The general standard process for like every record that we’ve made together, so since “Poetry of the Deed”, has been I kind of write the songs, I bring them to the band with an acoustic guitar and the vocals and we work them out together. And I have some pretty strong ideas about the kind of drum pattern or whatever… but: they’re all better musicians on their instruments than me, there is no point in me telling Matt how to play the piano, because he is way better than me.

And then people throw their own ideas in, for the arrangements as well, and we talk about it and come out with something. But yeah, I think you’re right, I think we are getting better at that process. I would say – and this is as much as self-criticism as anything else – in the past, there were occasionally moments where there was a sort of ego knocking together about who had the final say over what part or whatever. And now I feel like everybody just wants it to be the best thing for the song and it doesn’t matter who comes up with it or who suggested it.

There are two songs on this record that are actually co-writes, though. The song “Oh Brother” for instance is a co-write with Matt, he basically wrote the music for it. The thing about that is: everyone in the band has a soundcheck riff, when it’s your turn to play in a soundcheck generally speaking everybody always starts playing the same fucking thing. I can still tell you what Ben’s, who has been the drummer in “Million Dead”, soundcheck riff was, the drums will never leave me (makes drum noises). And Matt just kept playing this piano lick in soundchecks and eventually I was like: “what is that?” Because I thought that must be from a song – and he said: “Oh, it’s just this thing I’ve got”. And it’s really fucking good and after a while, again I thought it was a thing of rather than sitting there being like militantly “I have to write the songs”, I was like: There is no point in leaving this fucking great piece of music hanging in the air, just because I’ve got a fucking ego problem about writing all the music by myself, so we did it that way.

You mentioned a few things already like playing the Olympics, playing Wembley, even charting at number 2 in the UK, congrats, by the way …

Yeah, thanks. It’s a weird one, that one.

… so all in all: you probably have more appointments like playing in tv shows, playing on radio shows and that kind of stuff. How does that affect your daily routine? For instance, you’re being very active on the social media platforms.

I got better at delegating… I mean, I don’t have anything to do with my merch anymore, I used to do it myself, sell it myself, doing the designs and all that shit, but I have people who handle that know. There are people who kind of want to tell me that I’ve sold out, because I don’t sell my own t-shirts anymore and it’s like: just fuck off…

I mean, my press schedule is heavier than it was in the past and I take more days off on my tour schedule these days. We once did like 21 shows in a row without a day off. There is no way we would do that anymore, we try to take a day off like every four shows.

I think the thing is: a very good friend of mine, who I haven’t seen for a long time, in fact last night, I spent the evening in front of the Berlin Wall, at the East Gallery, and I sat at the river catching up with an old friend and she asked me: “What is your aim in all of this? What’s your end point?” And I said to not get bored is a big part of it for me. And that’s the thing about doing new things like… again, I had every fucking accusation of selling out you could imagine from every dickhead: “Oh, you did this tv show”, “oh, I heard you on this radio show”, “oh, you played with this band, you played that festival”, whatever the fuck. And it’s just like I don’t want to repeat myself, and that’s both creatively and organisationally.

Of course, the bottom line is: I do still pay attention to things like ticket prices, merch prices, trying to make sure that we don’t kinda release a CD that has ten old songs and two new ones, something like that. I pay attention to all that kind of shit, I still can tell you exactly how much everything costs at the merch table, what the tickets cost, how much everyone in my crew gets paid and… so, obviously I’m still involved on that level, but just, I’m interested, I wanna push every door and see if it’s open, and if it is, I go through and see what is inside and see if there’s any more doors. And I just don’t see the point in that kind of like that “militant small-mindedness”, just like “must stick to the world that I know” – if that’s what you wanna do, that’s fucking great, but I’m just… life is short, you only get a few opportunities in life, you might as well fucking take them.

Having that all in mind, you’ve also always been trying to closely keep in touch with your fans. Is that getting harder? Like, are you still going out after the show?

Yeah… um… the going out after the show thing is interesting. In Europe it’s still totally fine, in the UK it’s kind of had to become a bit more formalized now, there’s usually a security guy and people have to form a queue and it’s not like just hanging out, it’s more of a meet and greet type thing, which kind of depresses me a little bit, but I think it’s better to do it than not to do it, so I still do it.

I mean the main thing for me with all that is… my e-mail-address is on my site and I spend all day everyday answering fan mail and that’s fine, I think it’s a good thing to do, I think it kind of helps break down any barriers between or certainly reduce the barriers between me and the people listening to my music. And also, it also broadens my mind, I get e-mails from all over the world, telling me stories about listening to my songs whilst this was happening – and it’s really interesting and broadening for me. It’s really funny, because every single time anything’s happened since I saw you last, somebody somewhere, usually my manager, goes “well, we probably gonna have to take your e-mail-address off the site at some point”. And every time I’ve gone “bollocks, no” and it’s still out there and it’s not changed yet.

kurzweil-ICH: "Ich will mich nicht langweilen" - Frank Turner im Interview Interview_Turner_04

(C) Dan Griffiths

One connection to your fans are tattoos, for which you even set up a Facebook page. Does that put you under “pressure” in any kind of way, like “people have my lyrics on their arms or my head on their legs and stuff, I shouldn’t screw things up”?

Well… I spent a lot of time thinking about the tattoos thing. Incidentally I set up a separate page, because originally it was just a gallery on the main Facebook page, but annoyingly on Facebook you can’t update galleries without it posting it out to everybody and that was kind of pissing me off.

But yeah, back to the tattoos: on the one hand it’s a massive compliment, it’s really cool, I have a lot of music-related tattoos myself, generally speaking I’m really into tattoo culture. But I wouldn’t want somebody to get a tattoo so it can be on a Facebook page – that’s the fucking lamest thing I’ve ever heard in my life – and I don’t wanna sit around encouraging particularly like younger people to rush out and get tattoos, because obviously they are permanent.

In terms of me then having obligations – again I thought about this a lot – I quite strongly reject the idea that I have an obligation to somebody who freely chooses to get some of my lyrics or whatever tattooed. You know, it’s a voluntary act taken by somebody I don’t know, I doesn’t owe that person something after that. And at the end of the day, one thing I always tried to be, is sort of open and honest in my life, and if I stopped being that, because I was scared of upsetting somebody, then I’ve already done it, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I will continue to try and do things in the best way I know, and it might piss some people off at some point, it usually does… It’s a funny thing with being more successful as a musician, because the thing about being an underground musician is, it’s comparatively easy, because the only people who know about your band are people who like you. It’s a funny thing being operating on a higher level, because your music is exposed to a lot of people, only some of whom are gonna like it and you have to develop a much thicker skin, I’ve learned (laughs). But it’s also a more interesting place to be in so much.

Well then, one last thing not in any way connected with your new album, but with your side-band “Mongol Hörde. What’s happening there?

Well… basically, “Möngöl Hörde” came back, because we had like ten days off, and I sort of planned to do a band and some shows, fucking ridiculous. But it’s also something I wanted to do for a long time, partly to kinda scratch that musical itch and partly because I really wanted to play some music with Ben, the drummer again, because he is a very old friend of mine and we played together many years. It’s a ton of fun, it’s not that it’s not serious, but it’s not my first priority. So basically what’s happening is: we are making an album, possibly not all at the same time, I think the others might be doing the music, while I’m doing some press or something (laughs). And then I find some time to finish writing the vocals and record them and then we’ll have a record and then we’ll put it out and then we’ll tour it. And that’s definitely what we all wanna do, but it probably won’t be till next year. I mean in a way that’s a good thing, though, because I don’t wanna just put it out and forget about it and have it disappear. Like if it was ready now, I wouldn’t put it out now, because there is too much shit going on with my “day job” or whatever you wanna call it, because I want people to focus on “Möngöl Hörde” as a band, because it is, it’s a real band.

It’s actually pretty funny, I’ve gotten really used to being like a solo artist and that said I’ve forgotten about being in the democracy of a band. We had some stuff going on in “Möngöl Hörde” and I disagreed on the decision and got out-voted on it and I was like: „What?“ (laughs) You know, it’s nice having creative control, and suddenly I was out-voted, I had sort of forgotten about it (laughs). But it’s really fun, it’s very creatively liberating, as well, to do that band, because we wrote nine songs in like two rehearsals – and the only way you gonna do stuff that fast is, it’s not a question of being like careless, but just kind of being pretty spontaneous about musical decisions. And I agonize over every chord and strum and drum hit and syllable of lyrics with what I do most of the time, and to just suddenly slap out a set of lyrics and pretty much all of them are like the first draft… and it was just like: “ha, sometimes that’s a good idea”. It’s also just really fun writing lyrics like that, almost all the songs in “Möngöl Hörde” have a kind of complicated way of me setting up a scenario in which I can basically just scream insults at the front row… (laughs)

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