[from the editor]
Frank Turner has been one of our favorite artists since we launched our content earlier this year. One of my dear friends James Shotwell approached me with publishing a Q&A he did with Turner shortly after his SXSW experience. Read the interview below and let us know what you thought!
James Shotwell: How are you today?
Frank Turner: I’m good, thank you. I’m still slightly in post-South By Southwest recovery mode, but I’m by the side of a pool in San Antonio, Texas, so I can’t really complain.
JS: Yeah, that’s as good of a place as any. How did South By Southwest treat you?
FT: It was my ninth time doing the festival, which I think makes me a veteran. I figured if I do ten then I get honorary Texan citizenship.
JS: I believe so.
FT: But it’s like, on the one hand, I’m a bit more prepared to be bussing it because I know what it’s going to be like, and on the other hand I’m getting older so kind of forcing myself to play three or four shows a day and being surrounded by everybody partying takes it’s toll.
JS: Yeah, I think I’ve got six under my belt so you’ve got a few more than me, and I feel like maybe six is one too many, so I can’t imagine doing nine.
FT: Well, I doubt it’ll be my last one. But it was great, we played a lot of shows. We had a lot of fun.
JS: You recorded at least [some] of the album in Texas, right?
FT: …Josh and Austin of White Denim, who now have their own studio, Niles City Sound in Fort Worth, and yeah, I ended up having a conversation with those guys. There was a moment in time where I was thinking of making a kind of white soul record, and they made the Leon Bridges record, so that was the original connection. It turned out that idea of mine wasn’t totally for the best but we’d already started the conversation by that point and it seemed that like any pieces, stylistic content, outside of the confines of soul or indie or punk or country or whatever, didn’t phase them in the slightest.
JS: It’s so funny that you mentioned Leon Bridges, I’m a huge Leon fan. I’m actually talking to him tomorrow for a cover story for the next issue of [Substream] magazine, but I love that first album. I think his new stuff is even better.
FT: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Josh and Austin were the guys who kind of helped him put that last record together.
JS: I like this idea of white soul. Are there any songs from that initial idea that make it onto this record or was that whole idea scrapped?
FT: Not in the stylistic arrangement that they’ve ended up in. I think “Blackout” would be attempting to head in that direction at one point, but it’s obviously ended up pretty different now.
JS: I was wondering, I was gonna bring up that song – I guess “Blackout” would be something close to that, at least. I’ve been really enjoying watching people react to that. I love any artist that seven albums into their solo career can do something that still makes people be like “wait, what?” And I feel like there’s an element of that to “Blackout” and it still feels so in the pocket in many ways.
FT: Yeah, I mean, it’s funny, the nature of what I do for a living, and I’ve always been quite nervous about the release because I’ve spent two years working on forty minutes of music and other people spend forty minutes listening to it… so one is naturally nervous releasing your kind of precious art into the world. I think that emotion has been more intense now simply because I have been sonically outside my comfort zone… and I’ve been nervous that, what I’m doing now, is actually that radically different than before? I think it is, it feels like that to me, but I’m arguably the last person to ask for an opinion about that because I’m so close to it all… So yeah, I’ve been a little braced for a bit more of the backlash for the track than it’s actually receiving for the most part. It went really well.
JS: Yeah, it seems like people really like it. I liked your description in an interview I read where you had a quote where you said it could actually be played in a club, which was very surprising and that was actually my first thought, that this has a different kind of radio appeal to it.
FT: Yeah, I mean it’s actually that this wasn’t planned but something I was thinking about for the record. There’s a thing in the UK that are DJ club nights but they’re indie rock nights, you know what I mean? They’re terribly kind of stinted in things like The Clash and Queen and some of that, but you know, it had occurred to me that there’s not a track in my book that would survive in a kind of proper dance club, and I thought that was a gap in my armory and it would be good for my soul.
JS: I like it and I think the team you had work on the record was the perfect group to bring that kind of sound out, you know what I mean? They do so well with some of those throwback sounds and making them feel new again.
FT: Yeah, definitely.
JS: There’s something that really bridges the gap.
FT: I was just going to agree. Charlie Hugall who mixed the record did a couple of them… when I finished with Josh and Austin, what we had was so stylistically sort of all over the place, I mean, diversity is really the word, it was kind of not cohering as a record at all, and Charlie really brought it all together sonically.
JS: I’ve had a chance to listen to the record a couple of times now and I’ve very much enjoyed it but I feel like there’s no way that we can talk about the record and not talk about the fact that there’s a song called “Make America Great Again”, which is a great song that’s destined to draw clicks almost, you know what I mean? It’s so wonderfully titled that it pulls your attention immediately. You could have a song titled anything else on this record and people would be like “well I’m gonna click that one first.”
FT: Yeah, yeah, sure. I don’t mind the nature of that song being like that. It’s definitely a degree or provocation, of course, from that. But I mean, that’s something I spent a long time doing when I was younger… I’m aware that song is gonna generate some debates. In fact, when I was at South By over the weekend, I made a point of playing it at every show that I did because I don’t feel like I get to write something like that then hide it from people who might not like it. If you’re going to make that kind of statement, you have to just kind of come out and make it. So, I mean, that’s the thing, I’m aware of course of the audience in Austin, Texas at South By Southwest not being the most kind of red-blooded red state audience, but nonetheless, it is more so than the European one. But it’s a friendly song about hope, that’s clear, it’s a song that’s supposed to be reaching out to a friend in a way and giving them a pat on the shoulder.
JS: I was going to point out that I feel like with the title of the album and where it comes from, I think that song and the beauty of that song and that title is that it draws an immediate attention and your own history, it has this thing where people are gonna think there’s a lot of ire in it and there’s probably this “oh, here comes the protest song”, and you can see that element, but it more goes into the larger theme of the album and this Be More Kind theme. I kind of wanted to get into that, where this title comes from and that idea. I feel like that song really personifies that meaning in a way.
FT: Well, the title, the specific kind of inspirational catch for it was a poem by the writer Clive James who is one of my favorite writers… He’s also terminally ill and he’s been writing poems about facing death and one of them that I always repeat has the rhyme “I should have been more kind. it is my fate, to find this out, but find it out too late.” And that just really kind of captured my imagination. Of course, it’s not the only example of that in literature that I can think of off hand, I mean, Kurt Vonnegut finishes [God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater] with the line “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” It’s a thing that people note that consideration and kindness are actually valiant attempts to bide the washout at the end of a life and the passage of time. And that just really resonated with me, that really struck me and I think that the fact is one of the major problems we have in the world at the moment is in social media, I feel like we’ve accidentally built a machine dehumanizing the rest of the planet because you don’t see the people that you’re arguing with. You know? So you just end up in a situation that by everyone’s sort of rhetoric… and I think that it’s important for us to try to recognize this is what social media [is], and try to think of things to do to counter-balance that and I guess the album title is a gentle suggestion about that.
JS: I love it because I feel that we live in an age where people are waiting for more artists to take a stance or say something in a topical way and you’ve done it in an approach that makes it not so fleeting, you know what I mean? You’re not talking about things now in a sense where it won’t matter in two years.
FT: There’s a bit of conscious, bit of opposite in there. I always think of what I call the ‘Phil Ochs trap’, I think that in the early 60s Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan were equally interesting and important songwriters in terms of the current affairs but Dylan just had this knack of writing in a way that felt timeless, when most of Phil Ochs’ songs were kind of dated within two or three years and as a result you and I have bot had conversations with people about Bob Dylan and not so many about Phil Ochs.
JS: I like that you bring up Phil Ochs because hopefully it’ll make a lot of people Google that or at least I’ll have to add a YouTube embed so people can be like “what is that? What is a Phil Ochs?”
FT: Yeah I mean, he was an incredible songwriter, but he rooted himself in the time and place so intensely that it’s just quite hard to listen to him unless you’re an actual history student of the 1960s.
JS: Well now that you’ve wrapped up South By Southwest, it’s pretty much onto the tour and promotional circuit I’m assuming for the rest of 2018, for the most part.
FT: Yeah, and probably most of 2019.
JS: Yeah, let’s be honest here, it won’t stop, yeah.
FT: Yeah, I mean, we’re booked pretty solidly until the end of the year and I’m in the middle of some quite deep deliberations about what we’re going to do in 2019 which is… I’m so used to that amount planning ahead. I have to say that as I get older, like I don’t have kids yet myself, but three members of my band have kids and I have a cat and I have a girlfriend and I have a house to go home to, and I’m 36 years old and I’m the youngest guy in the band. We’re all reaching a point where we realize that what we do want to do for the rest of our lives, and we do, we want to do it in such a way that doesn’t then foreshorten our lives. So we are touring for the rest of the year but we’re taking a couple of weeks off here and there in a way that we never used to do.
JS: I wanted to touch on two quick things with that, which was one: I noticed you’re going to Alaska soon, and I’m a big proponent of people visiting Alaska, it’s one of my favorite places in the world to go. Have you gotten to play there before?
FT: No, it’ll be my first time. I fly there on Wednesday and I’m extremely excited about it.
JS: That’s great, and you get to do a little bit of traveling between Anchorage and Fairbanks. There’s only like four or five places you can play in Alaska, so you’re doing most of it.
FT: Yeah. I’m hitting two in one go, so that’s pretty good. My booking agent is aware that I’m desperately trying to get to all fifty states, so all I’ve got left is Alaska, Hawaii, South Dakota, and Wyoming. So, we’re picking Alaska off this time around and we’ll get to the others soon.
JS: Well that’ll make someone in Wyoming very happy, I’m sure. “He’s coming here eventually, he’s got to!”
FT: Yeah, I have to wonder which one has to be last. You know what I mean? I’m not sure if I want to make South Dakota the last one, that might make them sad.
JS: I also feel like you have to pair South Dakota and Wyoming together, maybe both as a one weekend go, if you can figure it out, and just knock them off as a celebration.
FT: That’d be nice if I could play a show in front of Mount Rushmore.
JS: Exactly, exactly! The other thing I wanted to touch on before you go is what it means to you to be part of this Warped Tour. I know you’re only doing like two dates on the run, but you have a busy enough tour schedule that I’m sure you didn’t absolutely have to fit in two dates of Warped Tour, so what’s it mean to you to be a part of it?
FT: I think it’s pretty cool, I’m glad that I’m going to be a part of it and be able to say that I did do some Warped Tour in my life. I sort of frankly owe Kevin, he’s a lovely guy, and I’ve been offered Warped Tour many times in the past and it’s just never really worked out for me. Whatever one might think of what Warped Tour has become or it’s history as devolved, it was always a really cool element of the American punk scene and I’m really happy that I’m going to be able to have on my CD that I was a part of it at one point, even if it was the final year.
JS: Yeah, it’s a rite of passage and even though you’re so far into this industry, there’s less and less rites of passages for you and this is kind of a fun one. You never got to do this one.
FT: Yeah, it’s funny, I’ve always had it in the back pocket that at some point if I ever had a free summer I would just go and do the whole thing, just for laughs, and I guess that’s not gonna happen now. But, it’s the thought that I’m going to get to do this that matters.
JS: Yeah, exactly. Well I wish you the best in everything, Frank. Like I said, I love the record, and I’m hoping to see you when you get to the midwest, that’s where I’m based right now. So eventually! You’re here eventually in a few months, I know you have a ton of dates, so best of luck until and safe travels to Alaska!