After cutting his teeth with the short-lived British post-punk act Million Dead, vocalist/guitarist Frank Turner has moved on to a hugely successful solo career, making his mark as an alt.country influenced folk punker playing alongside acts like Social Distortion and The Offspring. SPB sat down with him during a Canadian tour earlier this year to get his opinions on songwriting, punk scenes and underwear.
Scene Point Blank: This isn’t the first time you’ve played Toronto, but the last show was support for the Offspring in a much larger venue. Can you tell me a little about how a smaller headlining show differentiates from some of the gigs you’ve done with The Gaslight Anthem and the upcoming tour with Flogging Molly?
Frank Turner: Well there’s a different skill to it. With a support slot you’re trying to achieve something different than you are with a headline show. In a roundabout way I really enjoy supporting. You’ve got something to prove and you go in swinging. It’s fun and as long as it’s going well it’s really rewarding to finish a song and get a smashing round of applause. It’s like you’ve achieved something. Headlining shows are fun, too. Tonight is a funny one, though. I’ve only ever done one other gig in Toronto and that was in an arena. Everybody thinks there will be loads of people here this evening. It’s awesome but strange.
Scene Point Blank: It’s got to be weird playing a place you’ve barely been to and already having a fan base.
Frank Turner: Yeah. The one that really blew my mind was Germany. I recently did my first headlining tour there, and it was only the second time I had ever been there in my life. It was sold out. There were like five hundred people at the shows going fucking crazy. They don’t even speak the same language as me. It was a really surreal experience. In the UK I play pretty big shows because people like my stuff. It’s been a long and gradual process to get there, which is a good thing in my opinion.
Scene Point Blank: There has been a certain amount of buzz that’s gone along with this tour as well as the Poetry of the Deed album. You’re playing a sold out show tonight and I’ve noticed a lot of the other dates are getting sold out as well. Has the growth in popularity been something you’ve noticed?
Frank Turner: I have. I think that’s a direct result of working with Epitaph. They are a fantastic label at promotion and the word has spread. I also think that the American punk scene is kind of tight knit. Once you’ve got some people in that scene who like your stuff you get in. I played some shows with Pennywise last year and they had my album and knew who I was. The first person who started hyping me over here was Chuck Ragan.
Scene Point Blank: You had played the Revival Tour with him. Is there any plans of taking that tour across the world?
Frank Turner: The thing about the Revival Tour is that everyone who has been involved with it has been messianic about it continuing. From a musician’s point of view it is the fucking coolest tour. It’s a different thing, but I think that some people really enjoy it. We’ve talked about taking it to the UK and Europe. I know Chuck wanted to take it through the US and Canada as well.
Scene Point Blank: I’m sure you’re a little sick of talking about, but the coverage you’ve gotten for the latest album has come from all over the place. You seemed to have won over some of the people at CNN.
Frank Turner: Yeah, there is this guy over there named Pete who is just into what I do in a big way. In a kind of ‘maybe I’m going to not sit so close to you’ kind of way. He’s a cool guy though. It came out of no where, and we just sort of did it. Loads of people’s parents were calling and telling me I was just on CNN. Everybody was asking what the fuck was going on.
Scene Point Blank: I had won over my mom with Love and Ire Songs but she thinks you say fuck too much. Do you think it’s better to have songs that are lyrically driven as opposed to musically?
Frank Turner: People can do whatever songs they want. Lyrics are a big part of what I do, but it’s not like I just put a couple of chords together to back up some lyrics. I certainly am not into people publishing books of lyrics as poetry, because the two are very distinctive art forms. I get obsessed with a good lyricist: someone like John K Samson of the Weakerthans or Craig Finn from the Hold Steady. I am really into it, but I know a lot of people who couldn’t give a fuck about lyrics.
Scene Point Blank: You’ve gained a lot of your success with very personal subject matter. Does that ever strike you as strange?
Frank Turner: Not really. I think that that is what all great song writing is about. There is detail in my song writing. It’s emotional detail but it’s not actually factual detail. I’m very careful that there is still a private realm that doesn’t get into songs. It’s hard to explain. When it involves other people it’s difficult. It’s not my place to put their stories in the public domain. I’m very comfortable with emotionally raw stuff, but there is still a distinction between the public and the private. For me the art of great song writing is to take the very specific and make it universal. There are times it can be weird when people think they know everything about me when meeting me for the first time.
Scene Point Blank: I had read an interview with you that said you needed some sort of detachmentment when playing the songs live.
Frank Turner: You can’t relive an emotional song every time you sing it otherwise you’d be a nervous wreck. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a degree of detachment when playing a song live, which isn’t to say you’re just throwing it away. To pick an obvious example I wrote a song about my friend passing away. I don’t go through every emotion I have about Lex each time I sing that song. There are nights when it’s harder to sing that song.