United Kingdom | by
Ruth Booth |
02 September 2009
Ruth Booth caught up with Frank Turner backstage at Leeds Festival to talk about the rock weekender, downloading music and selling his soul...
Virtual Festivals: You mentioned onstage that this is the first time you've done Leeds first, so is it different seeing it without post-party eyes?
Frank Turner: “I guess, yeah. The last couple of years Leeds has been a slightly kind of like ‘again?!’ kind of feeling - not to disrespect Leeds, I love Leeds, it's great, and it's obviously important and wonderful and huge and everything else complimentary that I can say. But yeah, it's going to be sort of interesting doing it this way round. It's kind of nice in a way, just in a sense that, again without wanting to disrespect Leeds, I grew up going to Reading, Reading is sort of my festival from being a kid. I'm looking forward this year to finishing Reading and being able to basically just go absolutely nuts, rather than thinking got another show tomorrow. I'm going to lose my shit tomorrow, I swear down [laughs] I'm going to embarrass myself in front of my nation.”
VF: You were on CNN in the States recently - how did that feel?
FT: “The funny thing was I had no idea it was going to happen. I got woken up in the morning by a text message from Ben [Dawson] from Million Dead which said "could you please send me the address of the crossroads at which you sold your soul" [laughs] and I was like ‘what are you talking about?’ And he just wrote ‘CNN’. And I was half asleep, it was 7 o'clock in the morning and then yeah I went online and saw the thing, and it was pretty mind-blowing. But I'm now actually going to play on CNN.”
VF: So you really have properly sold your soul then?
FT: “Mmhm. I have no use for it. It was just taking up storage space.”
VF: Have you found a difference in the way they treat you in the States? Obviously it's been a little different as you've been doing arena shows with the Offspring over there. However, I recently read an article by Krissi Murisson where she said words to the effect that British music fans want their rock stars to be David Bowie, while the Americans want them to be Springsteen, so I was wondering if you reached the same conclusions.
FT: “I read that very article, and I thought I know what she means. She has a point, but by her terms and definition, I'm definitely on the American side of the divide. I hate David Bowie. I hate the idea that the people who make music are this separate breed. I think that's awful. To me, the reason I think it's awful is that it devalues the music, because... who cares? [sings] ‘I am from Mars...’ Well then I'm not interested, do you know what I mean? Fuck off. You know, to me, the point of music is its transcendence, is its connection between people. Art is, at its best, just people having conversations about the human condition. And if one of the people in the conversation makes it clear to everyone else that they're on a higher plane, then it's a monologue rather than a dialogue, and to me that's boring. Obviously there are things within the paradigm of rock'n'roll or pop music or whatever that tend towards the monologue or whatever. I see that, and that's how it is, but there are many, many things that one can do to temper that, and I try to do them.”
VF: There will be some fans who regard you as being on that higher plane, even though that isn't something that you've aimed for.
FT: “For me personally I try and maintain a sense of ‘that's fucking weird’, for my own sanity as much as anything else. If you meet people like that, to a certain level you work hard to make it clear to them that that's not how it is. I got asked to do the signing tent earlier today, which I did, because, you know, and there was a big queue of people, and they wanted me to scribble my name. And it's arguable that that's kind of detached, to a degree, but you make an effort to say hi to everybody, ask what everbody's name is, hang out. That's what they want to do, that's the thing that's going to make them happy.”
“I get really irritated with musicians who refuse to concede that they're entertainers first and foremost. We might be artists, but before we're artists, we're entertainers. Our job is that the people who paid money to be in the crowd when we play shows to make sure they fucking go away with a big smile on their face, having had a great fucking time. And people who think they're above that are arseholes because to me that's like the noblest profession in the world, to make people happy. What else do you want in your life, you know? Within doing all of those kinds of things, one may create art, and that's great. But that disdain for the idea of being an entertainer that I just think is enormously pretentious. It really annoys me. So on that level, if people want me to go and do a signing, if that's going to make a lot of people happy, then yeah, I'll do that.”
VF: It seems that there is a point where you can take the musician-as-entertainer thing a little too far, particularly with the commercial aspect of it, and then this can have a negative effect on the music. So it is possible to go too far in the other direction.
FT: “Of course, of course. To answer the question in a slightly oblique fashion, the definition of sell-out for me is quite simple - it's people who write music for anybody other than themselves. When I write a song, when I'm doing anything that's vaguely creative, my only target audience is myself, and anybody who says anything other than that is either a fucking liar or is the worst kind of sellout. Even if they're talking about you know I write songs for my mates, I write songs for my record label, I write songs for radio, I write songs for, to get laid, whatever it might be. That's selling out, right there.
“To me, there's a separation between that kind of base creative moment, and then the rest of it, the promotional moment, as it were. So I just sit down and try and write the best songs that I can. I guess the entertainment part comes in when it comes to the touring. It's really important to me that people come to my shows. Something I was saying the other day is if people go and see a band that they like, who are headlining and they've paid the money, unless you're abysmally shit, they're probably going to come away saying that was a good show, because you played the songs they wanted to hear. In which case... you haven't done your job. You haven't fucking risen above it. In that situation, you need to strive for everybody to walk away saying that's the single best show I've ever seen in my life. Because like I say if you just show up and play the right songs, everyone's going to say it was a good show. You need people to walk away and say it was mind-blowing, staggering, and that's something I aspire to.”
VF: Well, speaking specifically about Reading and Leeds, how do you do that? Two shows, one after the other, similar crowd, same setlist - how do you keep that fresh?
FT: “Well, it's fresh cos it's different people. There are things that one does in a show that are formulaic. You know, I generally play the same setlist on a tour each night, and though it's not like its scripted, one might kind of mention similar things at similar times in the set. But the point you have to remember is that I'm not playing a show - this goes back to what I'm saying about being an entertainer - I'm not playing a show for my benefit. I'm playing a show for the benefit of the people who are in the crowd, and tomorrow it'll be a pretty much 100% different crowd of people tomorrow. So we'll do the same thing, we'll go up there and we'll work as hard as we possibly can to make it into a great show that people can enjoy.”
VF: You've spent the last few years trying to get away from the whole Frank Turner from Million Dead thing. Now Xtra Mile Recordings have re-released debut album 'A Song To Ruin'. How did you feel about that?
FT: “You know I was actually comfortable about them doing it at this point in time. I mean, I was happy they did it anyway, because I'm proud of that album and it wasn't commercially available, so I think it's a good thing that it's out there. But also I really feel like at this point in time I've achieved the thing me and you have talked about a million fucking times, which is me not being ever thought of and referred to as somebody ex- this, that and the other. Inarguably there are way people who know about me than know about my old band, and I've sold a ton more records than Million Dead ever did. None of this is disrespect for Million Dead, I'm enormously proud of what we did with that band, I think we were a fucking good band. My concern just originally was not to just spend the rest of my life in the shadow of that. I don't even think that's really a concern anymore, you know? [Half-laughing] Million Dead never got played during the daytime on Radio 1.”
VF: You also have new solo album 'Poetry Of The Deed' coming out in a few days. I found the title quite interesting because you've never been keen on the romanticisation of being a musician.
FT: “Yes, yes. I totally agree with that... I think on the one hand I believe in kind of pulling aside the curtain and puncturing the mystique bubble of rock'n'roll, but on the other hand, I think that it is possible to live adventurously and romantically and in a way that isn't boring. I suppose that's one of, if not the main concern lyrically for the new album, is how can we live adventurously, but in a sustainable way - not in a kind of like I had a crazy time on my gap year. Fuck that! How can we live in an adventurous way that keeps going? And this is the thing, I know people who do - Jay Beans On Toast is a constant revelation because his entire life is like a cartoon strip of just awesomeness. And how do you do that? Thing is, it's totally doable to fucking everybody. I guess that's the other part of what I might have said in the past, is that I'm egalitarian with it. It's not some fucking secret world that you need a pass... It's just finding the fun in life and sticking with it. Anybody can do it. And that's what the album title's all about.”
VF: You recently got into a very heated discussion about findings that most teenagers think it's reasonable not to ever pay for music.
FT: “See the thing is I was about to say just then ‘man I wish I hadn't posted that blog’. But do you know what? I'm fucking glad I posted that blog. The main problem in the whole thing about downloading, and this kind of esoteric argument about the economics of the music industry is essentially that most people contributing to the argument, and I really don't mean to be insulting with this, but most people don't really know what they're talking about. Not because I'm special or more intelligent, but just because I've been working doing this for a long time, I feel like I do slightly know what I'm talking about. I just find it slightly offensive when people start trying to lecture me on my fucking economics...
“The bottom line is I'm not bourgeois or middle class or rich enough to be able to say I don't care about money. I have to make a living out of what I do. And I'm proud that I do. I'm not working class in my background, but I feel like a working class musician, because I'm a musician who works hard and tries to make an honest living out of it. And if people think that I'm a fucking arsehole for trying to do that, then fuck them, at the end of the day. Because they don't fucking know what they're talking about.
“More bands need to talk about this because the main problem, like I say, most people don't know the ins and outs. And all these bands skirt the issue, either because they don't know about it themselves, or because they don't want to get into a fucking argument about it. But the bottom line is we're never going to change people's opinion about it unless we educate people. So I started trying to talk about it, I stick my head over the parapet, and then suddenly I'm literally getting fucking hatemail death threat type shit from people, literally people saying ‘I Hope You Fucking Die’ because I suggest they fucking pay for something of mine they now own. [Calming down] I'm sorry, I suffered a fucking lot of flack. The comments on Myspace and Facebook and the blog were half of it... I'd like to think of myself as a reasonably nice, approachable person, and it's kind of stressful to get email saying you are an evil cunt and I hope you die.”
VF: You tour constantly, hit a lot of the festivals, you've made an album a year for the last few years (not to mention your 'The First Three Years' compilation)... How long can you keep going before you burn yourself out?
FT: “I'm not worried about burning out, I'm worrying about running out of creative material. I have this list that I keep on me of songs that have been begun but not finished. I've got 25 songs on the list right now. With the immortal exception of Nick Cave, everybody - Springsteen, Dylan, whatever - everyone sort of runs out in middle age. So I just sort of feel like right now it's coming, material is here, I can tour, I love touring, why not just keep going? I'm not worried about burning out, I'm just worried about not being able to do it either creatively or physically, so I guess that's a big thing that drives me on.”
VF: You're not worried about burning out, you're worried about fading away.
FT: “[Laughs] You know, you've gotta hear it, the first track on the new album has a lyric about that. If you'll forgive me for quoting myself, it says ‘You'd rather burn out than fade away / I'd rather do both and I plan to stay.’ There you go!”
VF: With 2010 coming up, what's the most memorable festival performance you've done in the last decade?
FT: “I'm probably just going to have to say Reading Festival last year. Who knows what tomorrow holds? [laughs self-consciously] I just think it was because - and I don't want to sound conceited now, but I slightly feel like I knew more what was going to happen today and what will happen tomorrow - last year was just like, ‘holy shit, there's a lot of people here’. And it was just such a kind of revelation to me that there might be that many people who are interested in my music in one place at the same time. It was just fucking an amazing thing."
VF: What the best one that you've seen in the last ten years?
FT: “I'm not sure if it counts as a festival. Springsteen at Hard Rock Calling this year. Holy shit. Played for three hours, made it feel like half an hour. And Brian [Fallon, The] Gaslight [Anthem] got up as well, which was a beautiful thing. Yeah, that was a really special day.”
Frank Turner's new album 'Poetry Of The Deed' is out this month.
Be the first to make a comment!