‘Something as simple as Rock & Roll’: an interview with Frank Turner

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As part of a special Exeposé Music and XpressionFM collaboration, James Beeson, Sport Editor, chatted live to Frank Turner ahead of his sold out performance at Exeter’s Lemon Grove on September 22nd.

A gigging veteran of over 1600 shows, Frank Turner has certainly been around the block a few times. It was with great pleasure that I had the opportunity to speak to one of the UK’s hottest singer/songwriters live on XpressionFM before his performance at the university last Monday; here’s what he had to say….

How does it feel to be back in Exeter & playing the Lemon Grove?

It feels good. We’ve played the Lemon Grove before, I’ve got a lot of time for Exeter and it’s a lovely day.

…And a sold out show?

And a sold out show! What usually happens when we have a sold out show is I end up going and putting random people I meet in the street on the guest list until my tour manager tackles me and tells me I have to stop! I just want everyone to get in.

You’ve obviously played in Exeter numerous times in the past, but what is your favourite venue/memory of the city?

I’m going to have to say the Cavern. I’ve played there many times and the people that run it are old friends. My old band Million Dead played there about a thousand times, but I haven’t been there for quite some time which is a shame.

You reference Exeter and a girl named ‘Amy’ in the song ‘I am Disappeared’, who exactly is Amy and does she really work in a bar in Exeter?

(Laughs nervously) Urmm… No comment to the first question and yes to the second. It’s not actually her name; the names have been changed to protect…I was going to say the innocent but that’s perhaps not quite what I mean…

You spend a lot of your time on tour. How hard is it to find the time to write new music whilst constantly on the road?

I don’t find it particularly hard. I’ve been touring pretty hard now for a good ten years, so all the records I’ve made with the exception of the first have been written on the road. For me it’s my normality; a better question would be: how do you survive off the road? I never know what to do with myself when we get time off; I always end up climbing up the walls!

You’ve promised fans you’ll be performing new music on this tour, but how difficult can it be to strike a balance between playing the hits and trying to introduce new material to your audience?

I think writing a setlist is somewhat a fine art, and one which I spend WAYYY too much of my life thinking about. But yeah, some people, yourself included, that know we’re playing some new music on this tour. But equally, I don’t want to be one of those people that refuses to play the songs that people want to hear; I’m a professional entertainer and I want people to come to my shows and have a good time.

With that in mind, when can we expect a new album, and what can we expect from it?

I’m in the middle of a ‘discussion’ with my record label about where we make the album and with whom, but I’m keen to get it done as soon as possible, realistically we’re looking at early next year. It’s a little early to comment on the record as a whole, but I think it’s going to be more upbeat that the last one I did.

… I was going to mention, your last album was a deeply personal record, do you ever find it hard to write and sing about issues that are so close to you, or is it in a way therapeutic?

It’s very theraputic and its very cathartic. The writing part isn’t necessarily that hard, but there are certain songs and certain days where relaying this information time and time again infront of a room full of people you don’t know can get a bit weird… But it’s my fault, so I’ll take the blame for that!

How difficult was it to make the transition from playing punk music (with Million Dead) to playing folk music? And what prompted that decision?

Well, once Million Dead fell apart (which was sad), I knew I wanted to keep touring and keep making music. Playing an acoustic guitar seemed like the opposite of playing in a hardcore band, so I gave it a go and it just kind of felt like the right thing to do. Looking back at it now I think I must have been nuts!

But it all worked out for the best? A triumphant show at Wembley Arena in 2012, followed by opening the Olympic Games… What’s it like as an experience to play a show of that magnitude, and to have the fans sing back at you?

The two experiences were very different. The Olympics was really cool, although predictably I got these self-righteous punk kids trying to give me grief, which is just like, really man? Who wants to be that old guy sitting in the corner of the pub in 50 years time telling the story about the time you DIDN’T play a show like that? What a tedious way to go through life being too self-important to actually do anything. It was a weird gig, and I don’t think most people had any idea who I was, but I’m really glad we did it. Likewise with the Wembley gig, it felt like the culmination of an awful lot of effort. It was a risk doing a show in a venue that big, but it worked out, I think!

Moving away from the tour and your music, you’ve recently been campaigning to the UK Culture Secretary Saijid Javid asking him to adopt the ‘Agent of Change Principle’ in order to help save small independent music venues from closure. Tell us a little about that and why it is so important to you as a cause?

Basically in recent years there have been a lot of instances of venues, particularly on the underground circuit, becoming under threat due to development of the areas surrounding these venues and the inevitable noise complaints which stem from that. The principle basically says that the person who changes a situation is the person who has to bear the costs. So if somebody builds a new venue in a housing estate, then they are responsible for making sure there’s no noise pollution. But by the same token, if somebody turned a disused car park right next to fucking venue into a block of flats, they cant then get the venue fucking shut down, because it was there first. I think there’s something evidently more just about that. It annoys me that there is so little legal consideration for our culture (Rock & Roll). Other forms of culture seem better protected to me; this stuff doesn’t happen to opera houses!

In 2012 Labour MP Kerry McCarthy labeled you a ‘twerp’ for expressing your libertarian political views, do you identify with any political standpoint or party?

Well she’s a Labour MP, so I think I won that argument! I certainly don’t identify with any particular party no. I don’t even particularly like talking about ‘Libertarianism’ as a thing which comes with this checklist, a manifesto, certain set of beliefs, and a poster of some 19th century guy with a beard to stick on my bedroom wall! What I actually am is a liberal in the classic sense of the term; John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith. I just believe first and foremost in maximal freedom and not telling other people what to do with their lives… and apparently that makes me an awful human being if you’re a Labour MP!

If you could collaborate on a record with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

I would be really interested in doing something with Robbie Robertson (from The Band) whilst he’s still alive. He’s a great songwriter and a great player, and he’s been an incredible arranger, particularly in the work he did with (Bob) Dylan in the 70’s, and I think he helped make Dylan a better musician for it.

As a former teetotal, what advice would you give to Freshers’ who are feeling pressured into drinking whilst at university?

First and foremost never give a damn what anyone thinks you should do. That’s a terrible way to live your life. I’m not trying to say it’s the easiest thing in the world but if you don’t feel like doing something just don’t do it… and actually it’s kind of lame to try and pressure somebody else into drinking; I think there’s something pretty pathetic about that. But yeah, just have a good time; if you want to have a drink then do. I enjoy a drink myself and I’ll certainly have one after the show tonight! But you should always do what you’re comfortable with and nothing more.

After the interview we headed to Frank’s show at the Lemon Grove, at which we were treated to a mixture of exciting new material and old favourites. The gig was a roaring success and we hope that next time he won’t leave it so long before returning to what is one of the South-West’s hottest up-and-coming cities for music….

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