INTERVIEW: Frank Turner on touring

Posted on January 19, 2011


This is the first of two features I’ll be putting up that came from my interview with Frank Turner. We spoke for around half an hour, and it as all too good to leave out. It’ll work better as one huge piece, but would be too long to post in one. Pictures were taken from Frank’s MySpace and Facebook, but can be removed by request, no copyright infringement intended. I’ll post (and link) part two on Monday.

Frank Turner

Frank Turner is a man who, despite only being 28, has travelled the world, and become friends with some of his idols. It was pleasant, then, that he seemed humbled, approachable and friendly as we sat down to chat before his show at 53 Degrees, Preston in December. Chatting for nearly half an hour, we covered everything from Fat Mike and the end of Million Dead to the hatred of the word “fan”, and a possible electro side-project.

I’d been in contact with Frank fairly frequently from June onwards, part of that resulting in a few e-mail interviews for my degree. This accessibility comes from the reality that Frank really doesn’t consider himself any different to everyone else who enjoys music. It’s also become clear that he despises the word “fan”.

“It implies there’s a division. As soon as I get off stage and stop playing, I don’t consider myself to be removed in any way.” He added: “It’s not a prominent thing. As soon as my guitar’s down, I don’t wanna be different to anybody else.”

This is definitely apparent throughout the conversation, as Frank seems bewildered by the friends he’s getting to make through his touring in the States. Most recently, he joined punk legends Social Distortion on their US tour, which included a pleasant surprise.

“On the last date of the tour Mike [Ness] actually came up and sang Photosynthesis with us, which was ridiculous. No-one told me he was going to do it, so I was like “Fuck me, he knows the words to one of my songs!” He’s just…the man’s a legend.”

2010 was an exciting year for Frank, particularly from the direction of brushing shoulders with idols. At The Fest in Gainsville, he was joined on stage by NOFX’s Fat Mike for a fantastic rendition of “Linoleum”. Despite his success so far, Frank is still down to earth, seemingly star-struck by his friendship with Mike.

Frank Turner at the LCCC

“He just doesn’t give a shit, and there’s something very admirable about the level to which he doesn’t give a shit. It’s kind of weird. I guess we’re friends of a kind now, and that is something I quite regularly find myself pinching myself about, because fucking hell, it’s Fat Mike!”

He continued: “I have to say, in all honesty, of that whole set of punk bands, which I very much grew up listening to, for me…NOFX are fucking head and shoulders above the rest of them. I always thought that they are phenomenal pop song-writers, underneath all the pratting about.”

2010 really was one hell of a year for Frank, in part highlighted by two stadium shows supporting Green Day. “It was just ridiculous. It was pretty overwhelming,” he admitted. “I still kind of don’t quite believe it happened,” he added.

 Both online, and from personal experience of being at the show, it was fair to say that first show at Lancashire Country Cricket Ground wasn’t quite as well-received as the Wembley gig. Frank mainly put that down to nerves: “Before the Manchester show, I’d never played to anything like that number of people before.”

Frank in America

“By the Wembley show it was like, yes motherfuckers, I can do this now! So, I think [nerves were] one of the reasons.” Both shows were opened in a very deliberate way, as Frank walked out alone to perform “The Real Damage”. He explained the decision: “I wanted to be able to tell my grandkids that I walked onstage on my own at Wembley. It was quite a conscious thing to do that.”

So far, Frank’s played in 27 countries, and it’s still a weird experience hearing non-English speakers singing back his lyrics. “The craziest one was going to China. The shows were sold out, packed out with people, and it was like…fuck. This is crazy. It’s very gratifying.”

Whilst it’s certainly difficult being on the road almost constantly, Frank would be the last person to ever take it for granted. “At the end of the day, I’m doing something that I love, and I’m getting paid to do it. That’s just ridiculously fortuitous of me to have this position in life. So, I don’t complain about it.”

He also doesn’t seem to have a great deal of sympathy for musicians complaining about touring, naming Kurt Cobain in particular. He makes a blunt, but strong, argument: “Mate, if it’s that shit, just stop.”

He continued: “Everyone has days when they want to go home. I had a lot more days like that when I was doing the last job I did before I was a musician.”

Frank admits that it’s definitely the live aspect of his job that he prefers, describing the recording process as “stressful”. “I’m kinda hyper-self critical when it comes to my vocals,” he said, adding “I generally have to warn people that I’m probably going to be a bit of a dick for the next few days while I’m getting some vocal sessions done.”

It seems fair to say that Frank’s life revolves around touring, and this really is his life. It was surprising, then when he said he could imagine not being a working musician. “I try to work on the principle that this isn’t going to last forever, mainly because pessimists are pleasantly surprised, and also because those are the odds.”

It’s true that the number of musicians managing a sustained, successful career is relatively slim, although naturally Frank is hoping for the best. “I would love to keep doing this for the rest of my life…that would make me very happy. I do think about what else might happen. I’d like to be a teacher, running my mouth about history.”

Touring is definitely one of the best parts of Frank’s life, it’s something he clearly loves. You can’t really blame him, particularly when he spent a few months with Social Distortion. “I love touring America. It’s a country that’s very well-suited to touring, if you get me. It’s a country that’s built round travelling,” he said.

 Although proud of the diversity of the crowds he gets here in the UK, there is definitely something iconic about touring the States. Also, Frank’s a natural fit for the scene. He said: “I’m definitely much more centred in the punk scene, I think, in the States than I am here. I would argue that’s because there’s a much more coherent punk scene in the US than there is here.”

 He continued: “In the US, it’s much more familial and communal, if you like, and it’s cool. At the end of the day, the fact that I can turn up and play, and have people show up to watch is ridiculous enough in itself, so I’m not going to get picky.”