the AU interview: Frank Turner (UK) talks about Australia, Bluesfest, Tape Deck Heart, and his upcoming new record.

Following the news that he’ll be returning to our shores next year for Bluesfest, we had a chat with Frank Turner about touring Australia, Tape Deck Heart, and his upcoming new record.

You’re in the midst of a UK tour at the moment, how is that going?

It’s going great thanks, yeah. It’s funny, obviously in the early days I mainly toured in the UK. These days UK tours are a little fewer and further between, and I always slightly forget how awesome it is touring over here. Because everyone knows everything, it’s always packed out and it’s sort of a homecoming type affair. The vibe has been really really great.

From looking at it, you’re maybe playing a few places you haven’t played before?

Yes, certainly places I haven’t played for a long time. I think that over the years I have tried to switch it up. You know you do one tour where you do the major cities; you do Manchester, London and Birmingham and Glasgow. Then the next time round it is kind of fun to go off the beaten path. Its more fun for me and my crew and it’s more interesting. It’s a show of respect to people as well, to let people know that you know that not everyone lives in those big cities. Personally I grew up in a town, Winchester, that wasn’t on the regular touring circuit, and we always really appreciated it when a band would take the time in their schedule to come to us. And I think it just makes for a great vibe at the shows.

This week marked 10 years since your first solo show. Did you anticipate that 10 years ago you’d be in the position you are now?

Absolutely not. I mean when I did what is listed as my first official solo show I was still playing with Million Dead. And I did it as a charity show actually as a bit of fun. I think if you told me there and then that I’d be doing what I’m doing right now I’d have thought you were out of mind. But it’s been a fun journey getting here.

What have been some of your highlights of the last 10 years?

It’s going to sound like I’m ducking the question, and I’m honestly not. I think the major highlight for me is that I’m still here and I’m still doing this. Partly just in the sense that I was in Million Dead, I was in a band, we got signed, we put some records out and it fell apart, and I got a second go around at this, which is rare in my experience.

But also when I was a kid I told everyone that I wanted to be a traveling musician when I was older. And everybody, my friends, my family, my mum and dad and everyone told me, well they kind of laughed at me as if I was an idiot essentially. And I’m quite proud that I stuck to my guns and I’ve achieved what I set out to do.

You’ve been a regular visitor to Australia the last 4-5 years, how have you found touring here, do you find it different to say America or the UK?

Yeah it has it’s own vibe. It’s funny the first time I went to Australia, it was 2010 and I’d been touring with and hanging out with Chuck Ragan for quite a while, and he kept going on and on about how Australia was the promised land of touring. His phrase. And it reached a point where I was like “Aw shut up man” because I’d never been. So he took me to Australia on tour and I had an amazing time, and it’s always had a special place in my heart since.

I went, I think we did four years in a row in Australia, and last year I wasn’t and I had a lot of people emailing me saying “What the fuck man”, you know “It’s April, you’re not here, what’s going on”. And it wasn’t a specific choice to take a year off last year, or rather this year, but I’m excited that next April we’re going to be in town. It’s going to be good.

Yeah it definitely seems that Australian audiences have taken to you strongly; do you think there is any particular reason why that might be?

I think that culturally we’re not a million miles away from each other, England and Australia. That would be my guess. But I also think it’s important for me not to spend to much time thinking about and analysing that kind of thing because I think that’s how your head ends up your own arse. So I try not to think about why I might be popular in one country and not another, I just put my head down and do the shows.

This is going to be your second time playing Bluesfest, presumably you enjoyed your last visit given you’re coming back?

Yeah, I mean I’m very pleased they’ve invited us to return. Last time around was fun. We were kind of like first on one of the smaller stages last time around. But my big highlight from Byron Bay last time, was that I finally after many many years of trying, got to meet Adam Duritz from Counting Crows, who is one of my songwriting heroes and we’d nearly crossed paths many times, and basically that last time our dressing room was directly opposite theirs, in the dressing room complex as it were. So I got a deck chair set up outside my room and just thinking “I’m sitting here until I meet him”, which I successfully did.

Excellent! I don’t know how much free time you get at these kind of festivals, but was there anyone else on the line-up you were keen to try and see?

I’ll be hundred per cent honest and I say I haven’t actually had time to look at the rest of the line up. Over the years I’ve gotten into the habit of not really checking festival line-ups, because more often than not, you go “Wow I really want to go and see that band” and it turns out they’re playing a different day and you’re not going to be there, or they’re playing at the same time as you, or they’re playing when you have press scheduled or something like that and you just end up disappointing yourself, so I’m going to allow myself to be pleasantly surprised when I get there.

And is it just going to be the show at Bluesfest? Or are you planning a longer tour as well?

We are planning a longer tour. I have got in trouble sometimes for announcing stuff that I wasn’t supposed to be announcing yet. So I’m not hundred per cent sure if I’m allowed to say any more other than we’re definitely doing some sideshows. I think we’re doing quite a lot of sideshows. Which we’re quite excited about.

Great, and looking at your previous tours, you’ve gone off the beaten track a little bit, you haven’t just played the East Coast.

Yeah, I think basically the thing with that is, so Chris Moses from Blue Murder, who’s the guy who books our tours in Australia, I think it was the second time I was over and I was doing the same cities I was doing the first time over. You know you do the big five as it were: Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane. And I sort of said to him, where else can you play? And he just sort of said “there are loads of places you can play, just a question of if you want to” and I said “come on man of course I want to, it’ll be amazing”. So yeah we’ve done Gold Coast, Darwin, Alice Springs and I hope to do some more next time we’re out.

Tape Deck Heart has been out for a little while now, maybe about a year, how has the reaction to the album been?

It’s been good. OK I should preface all this by saying that it seems to be a natural part of my creative cycle that I’m generally prone to find fault with the last thing that I do. I can endlessly pick holes in the last release I put out, so now might not be the best time for me to talk that positively about Tape Deck Heart. But I’m proud of it as a record.

But with a degree of hindsight, it’s funny I think it’s a way darker and more intense record than I thought it was, when I was making it. And people said that to me at the time, when we were recording it and when it came out and all the rest of it – “this record is pretty intense man” and I sort of said “No it isn’t… no it isn’t… it’s fine” and I kind of look at it now, and go “Yeah, well maybe it is”. So I definitely think it was a cathartic record, it was a record about endings and break-ups and all that kind of thing, and I think it helped me get it out of my system. It is quite liberating to have all that done and out now and the new material I’m working on can be about more positive things.

So the next record is going to a little bit jauntier or lighter then?

I’d say upbeat certainly. We’re hitting the studio pretty much as soon as this tour is done. And the idea is to kind of I think… I mean I don’t write towards a theme, I don’t pick something to write about and write towards it, its more just things come and we see what happens. But the general kind of vibe is a quite, almost like defiant. It’s a record that’s sort of saying “Fuck you world, it’ll take more than that to kill me”.

So how do you approach the songwriting, you’ve been on the road a fair bit since your last record; do you find it easy to write when you’re out on tour?

I write in transit. Actually to be honest with you, in the middle of this year I’ve actually had a bit more time off for the first time in nearly a decade I’d say. So I’ve always kind of written on the move and it’s never really been something that I’ve found that difficult to do. It’s funny, occasionally I’ll read about bands that have writing periods, which to me is a really odd and bizarre concept, it’s an on going process for me I suppose. Fortunately, I should say. I haven’t had to struggle to hard with writers block generally.

Recently you’ve found yourself writing for your other project Mongol Horde as well, do you find yourself in a different headspace when writing for that to when you write for the Sleeping Souls?

Yeah. I mean Mongol Horde is a collaborative process you know. With my solo stuff I generally tend to write the songs and then take them to the band to arrange it, and we work on the arrangements together, but I still have pretty strong ideas about how they’re put together. But Mongol Horde is a different people, its three people in a room, kind of throwing ideas at each other and seeing what sticks, which I actually find quite creatively liberating.

And earlier this year you found yourself on the other side of the desk, producing an album for Billy the Kid, how did that come about?

Well I’d produced one record before, for my mate who goes by the name Beans on Toast, and that was a first for me, I was asked to do it out of the blue and really enjoyed it, and producing is something that I’m interested in getting in to, although my experience is not huge at the moment. There is certainly a lot of technical knowledge that I could brush up on.

But yeah Billy is kind of a friend, via the whole Revival scene and Chuck Ragan and she’d worked out a deal with Xtra Mile, the label that I work with in the UK, and Charlie who owns Xtra Mile and who is also my manager and one of my best friends, and he knew I was interested in the idea of producing more. He sent me all of the demos and just sort of went “What do you think?” And I got emotionally involved in the project at that point, shall we say, and yeah it went from there.

So it is something you could definitely see yourself doing more of?

Yeah, in the long run. I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to, in the immediate future, just in the sense that building up to this next record of mine, I’m going to be pretty busy for the next couple of years.

It was a really interesting creative process to be the other side of the desk, and not be the songwriter, but nevertheless still have a vested interest in how the songs develop and how they’re presented. Because there’s an awful lot of art between a song being kind of demoed with an acoustic guitar and vocal track and a finished product. So there’s lot of involvement. It gave me a fair amount of sympathy for the producers that I’ve worked with in the past. There’s definitely a different angle to what’s happening on that side of the table.

Presumably it’s still useful in terms of maybe getting ideas for your own work down the track?

Yeah, definitely, and I think its loosened me up a little in terms of listening to other peoples opinions about songs and that kind of thing, even just the trying new ideas kind of thing. Because, and this is no disrespect to Billy, because she’s an amazing songwriter and musician, there were a couple of moments where I was really pushing her to try something different, to just try it and see how it feels. And we did, and occasionally we’d make a breakthrough by doing that. I always try to be open to ideas when I’m on the other side of the table as the songwriter, but there are days when you can be stubborn, and I think it made me more receptive to the idea of trying everything.

You mentioned earlier in the year on Facebook that there were plans to publish tour diaries, are you able to tell us any more about that project?

Basically a guy got in touch and asked if I’d be interested in writing a book. And my initial reaction was to go “Absolutely fucking not”. You know that whole thing of 26-Year-Old Footballer writes an autobiography, which is just sort of hideously bogus. And that whole world is not one that I’m interested in. But he stuck to his guns to his credit, and we talked about Henry Rollins’ tour diaries, and I’m a big Henry Rollins fan, and books like that I’ve personally found really interesting, and I might even want to say helpful to me, and he talked me into it. I guess the thing is I don’t automatically think of my reminiscences of the last ten years as being necessarily of interest to anyone else. But he’s successful persuaded me that perhaps they are, so I’ve started my first draft. This is the other thing, turns out writing’s really hard. I think I was slightly blasé about the whole idea of putting together 80,000 words or whatever it is, and it turns out its actually quite difficult. So I’m struggling through my first draft at the moment.

So finally what are your plans for the rest of the year?

The idea is that we’re hitting the studio pretty much as soon as this tour is done. The diary has been cleared simply because I’m fortunate enough to be in that place now where the record can take as long as it needs to take. I’m hoping that it will be a quick process, I feel like I don’t particularly want to delay this album, I want it to have a raw, spontaneous feel to it. I mean at the end of the day we’re going to work on it until it’s done and if that takes a month, it takes a month, if it takes three months it takes three months. We’ll see.

And is the plan to record overseas again?

That is still a slightly hot topic.

Well I’ll leave it there, thanks for taking the time to have a chat with me, enjoy the rest of the tour, and hopefully see you at a show next year.

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Frank Turner will return to Australia to play Bluesfest in 2015 over the Easter Long Weekend. For tickets and more details, head to: http://www.bluesfest.com.au/

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Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.

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