[MUSIC: Interview] Frank Turner
Wide Awake, It’s…
By Chris Martin
Frank Turner won’t mind if you call his music ‘folk punk’ – he’s far too humble, polite and articulate to impose an opinion where it doesn’t belong; but please don’t assume he was out to invent a new genre – all he had was an acoustic guitar and some ideas that needed shouting.
“My slight reservation about [the term ‘folk punk’] is that people try and create this kind of sheen, as if me and Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry and Tom Gabel sat in a basement five years ago and planned that we were going to ‘do folk punk, man’ – and it really wasn’t like that,” Turner chuckles down a phone line from Canada, where he’s just walked off stage.
“There’s lots of elements of folk in what I do, there’s lots of elements of punk in what I do,” he explains. “If I’m completely honest with you, I actually think that I’m probably most likely to be described as a country singer… [genre definitions] are just kind of signposts, and if they send people in vaguely the right direction that’s fine.”
Whatever you call it, in the hands of Turner – the former frontman of hardcore act Million Dead – this music is captivating an already impressive and rapidly growing audience. And many of that audience see Turner as their figurehead and muse, even if he can’t quite grasp it. “I do my humble best not to think about it, because it feels kind of faintly ridiculous to me – not that I’m trying to belittle anybody who says that,” he says. “At the end of the day, if people are citing me as an influence that’s a fantastic compliment and I will take it as such, but I will also be terribly English about it and stammer and look at my feet and change the subject.”
As it happens, the very next subject is Englishness and nationalism, ideas that permeate Turner’s fourth and most recent album, England Keep My Bones. “England and Englishness was the subject that kept rearing its head in my songs,” says Turner. “I really felt with the last record that it was time to confront it head on, talk about it with an eye to – at least for the time being – getting it out of my system. And it’s kind of fun now, because the new songs that I’m writing are about other things.”
For Turner, the writing process is permanently invasive, yet obviously productive. “Sometimes I read interviews with other bands or singers or whatever and they talk about how they like ‘writing time’ set aside in their schedule, and that to me is kind of a strange idea because it’s just a constant process for me. I’m always humming a tune, clicking my fingers… At the risk of being a tiny bit over the top, I slightly look forward to the day when I don’t really have to do that anymore, because I lose a lot of sleep over writing; it’s something I’m constantly thinking about.”
In the meantime, Turner returns to Australia with a swag of old songs and a handful of his newest, the calling cards of a man whose swelling popularity saw him headline at London’s Wembley Arena last month – his biggest show yet. “There’s a big difference between dreaming about something and actually expecting to receive it,” says Turner of his latest successes. “Wembley was fantastic but it was a weird one for me, because it wasn’t like I was crossing something off my boyhood ‘to do’ list of rock’n’roll dreams – it’s way beyond that now. I feel like I’m constantly having to add stuff to the bottom of my bucket list because I keep crossing things off the top of it.”
What: England Keep My Bones out now through Epitaph
With: William Elliot Whitmore, The Smith Street Band and Jen Buxton
Where: Manning Bar, Sydney University
When: Saturday May 12