Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls are back in the US and Canada for the Frank Turner Lost Evenings tour. Joining him at various stops on the tour are Murder By Death, Arkells, Bouncing Souls, and Will Varley. As the Positive Songs for Negative People tour starts winding down, we probably won’t see Frank and the Souls back in the US for quite some time. The North American leg will come to a close on February 18th with his first US arena show at Agganis Area in Boston.
To say that 2016 has been a huge year for Frank and the Souls is quite the understatement. They’ve played 193 live shows in 23 countries, which roughly translates to one show every 48 hours. Songkick estimates that they have traveled 86,911 miles this year alone – enough miles to circle the earth 3.5. The “Frank Turner Always on Tour” merch at his recent shows is no joke. December also saw the London premiere of Ben Morse’s Get Better, a documentary about a year in the life of Frank Turner. To top it all off, Frank played his 2,000th show at Nottingham’s Rock City on December 15th.
Don’t expect to find him resting on his laurels in 2017. In May, he will be joining with OneFest for Lost Evenings – a four day festival centered in and around London’s legendary Roundhouse with numerous events during the day and Frank headlining shows every evening. One of these shows will see Frank perform Sleep is for the Week in its entirety in recognition of its tenth anniversary.
With all this going on, Frank was kind enough to take the time to do an email interview for us before his show in Guildford back in December.
So, OneFest and Lost Evenings. Tell us a bit more about this in terms of what you plan to accomplish and the thoughts behind it. Is it meant to address the issue of loss of live venues in London or does it go further than that?
I’ve long wanted to do a festival of some kind of my own. I think a lot of people in the industry have actually been expecting me to do it at some point, given my track record and reputation. We looked into doing something in a field, but the costs and risks are astronomical, plus it’s isolated. I want this to be a community event – we have a ton of local charities, a whole stage for local bands, we’ll be taking over up to 6 other venues around the Roundhouse for the four days, the idea is for it to feel communal and local, whilst also celebrating live music.
You’re enjoying a lot of success in the US these days, especially with ending your US tour for Positive Songs for Negative People with your first US arena show. Should we get used to seeing you in bigger venues over here or will you still play the smaller venues as well?
I play venues that roughly fit the number of people who want to come to the show. I don’t actually think the venue itself is all that central to how the show is, in my experience.
Are there many noticeable differences between playing in the US vs. the UK?
There are some superficial ones. Americans travel further and tend to have better manners. I’m a little more closely associated with the punk scene in the US, thanks to releasing records with Epitaph for a while. But overall I find the things audiences have in common more interesting. People respond in intriguingly similar ways around the world to what I do, which I find reassuring.
You’ve made several references to the next album – particularly that it’s your first foray into the idea of concept albums. Maybe I’m wrong, but I felt like Tape Deck Heart and Positive Songs for Negative People were concept albums in terms of hitting rock bottom and then getting better. Am I wrong in thinking that? Is there any particular risk in doing a concept album? Do you run the risk of alienating fans who have become used to just albums of songs, for a lack of a better way to describe it?
Well, the first thing is that that idea may or may not be receding currently. I’m in the middle of quite a few ideas right now. Anyways. TDH and PSFNP were not written as concept records, they were just the strongest songs I had at the time. In sequencing an album you can present material in a certain way, and that was certainly the case with those two, you can present a thematic coherence. But that wasn’t in the writing. I have a whole pile of songs that were specifically written in a certain direction, which was kind of a creative experiment for me. I enjoyed it hugely, but the world is demanding my creative attention right now, so that stuff might go on a back burner for a while. Concept albums tend to be unpopular with label people, but I can’t say that bothers me particularly. Sometimes concept albums run the risk of having duff material to pad out the concept, I think that’s the thing that makes people suspicious of them.
One of the things that you’re known for is your accessibility to your fans through social media and hanging out after your shows. Do you ever think this will change?
Not radically, though I am, as I get older, increasingly keen to stress that none of that is an obligation, as I see it. Occasionally after a show I’m just fucking beat and need to go to bed, to save my voice if nothing else. I’ve had people angrily demand refunds for their tickets on such occasions, which is just fucking nonsense. I am a human, I have a private life. Some people really misunderstand the nature of our interaction. I respond to 100+ emails every day. The fact I’ve responded doesn’t make us friends as such. That sounds harsh, and I don’t mean it to, but it’s true.
I found it intriguing when you mentioned in a more recent interview that you were taking guitar lessons – I believe it was for learning more about bluegrass technique. Is it normal for professional musicians to go back to the lesson room? And can we look forward to a few bluegrass songs in the near future?
For some people, sure. I want to improve what I do. I’ve actually become a much better guitar player in the last two years, I’ve been really focusing on my lead work. Bluegrass technique helps with that, plus it’s just a ton of fun to play that way.
I laughed when I saw “Frank Turner – Always on Tour,” on your current merch line because it’s true. How do you do what you do while staying grounded and not going insane?
I think tour keeps you pretty grounded inherently, because, unless you’re a buzz band or Britney Spears or whatever, it’s grind, hard work, it’s humbling enough in its own way. Or at least that’s how I’ve experienced it. Beyond that, well, the road is my normal life. As such, questions about how I “adjust” to normality or whatever are meaningless. This is normal to me.
A lot of your music is biographical in nature. Is that comfortable? Do you feel like you’ve ever crossed a line in terms of revealing too much or treading on toes – especially when you’re writing about relationships between you and other people, whether they be family, past romantic partners or friends?
It’s not always comfortable, but then I see no necessary link between art and comfort. There have been occasional moments of tension with friends or with partners about my songs. As time goes by I guess it’s part of the package deal of knowing me, haha. Plus I think I’ve got better at being circumspect.
What was it like working with Ben Morse on the “Get Better” documentary? I can’t imagine that talking about yourself for extended periods of time – especially when the film is dealing with some rather personal demons – is easy. Did you ever want to say “I don’t want to do this anymore?” Were you and Ben been surprised by the popularity of the release in the UK? Any news yet as to whether we can expect a screening in the US?
Actually for the most part it was pretty under the radar. Ben had been with us on tour for a while anyway taking photos, so we largely forgot that he was filming too. I think that made for a truer film. Every now and again we’d sit down for a proper face to face interview. It’s been wonderful seeing how keen people are to see the film, yes. A premier in Leicester Square is certainly a new one for me. We are working on US release, and of course DVD and streaming and so on.
Political news has been abysmal, to say the least, on both sides of the Atlantic this year with Brexit and the outcome of the US election and a lot of people are worried. Any suggestions as to how we can even begin to cope and muddle through this mess we’ve fallen into?
I think people should stop looking to musicians to have the answers, haha. I don’t know. I’m worried by the desertion of the center ground. People seem to be fleeing to the extremes and ossifying in those positions, and that’s not something that’s bound to end well. I guess on a personal level I try hard to find people I disagree with and engage with them (not actually that hard given my politics and my social milieu). Less shouting, more listening. But then I know that’s kind of a facile statement too.
You’ve reached the 2000th show. Did you ever in a million years think you’d make it to that point? I imagine that show will have (or had, depending on when you answer this) a lot of emotion involved. Any thoughts on whether we can look forward to the 3,000th show?
I’m not sure I thought about all these things in such a quantifiable way until quite recently. I’ve always wanted to tour hard for a long time, so in some ways it’s not a surprise to me. It’s still pretty cool though, it’s a tangible achievement of sorts. I’m looking forward to it. Show 3000 will be shortly after show 2999 I’d imagine.
I love meeting new people, I love being able to play my songs afresh every day, and I love doing the work with my band and crew. I find the whole thing endlessly redemptive. There’s not actually much I hate about touring. It’s wearing on your health and your relationships, but that’s part of the deal. I hate staged meet-and-greets.
Every year more and more bands are adding Christmas sweaters to their merch line. Your Slayer Christmas sweaters are legendary. Might we see a run of Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls Christmas sweaters next year?
Haha maybe sometime, sure. I have an Iron Maiden one now.
I do; more than people think actually. I’m going away after show 2000, and it’ll be my third break this year. That’s actually pretty luxurious by anyone’s standards I think. My partner is a great help in making me take time for myself, and indeed for her. No plans for a gap year as such.
What drives Frank Turner, the man, as opposed to Frank Turner, the entertainer? Are those two separate entities or are they two indivisible parts of the whole?
I try not to see a divide I guess. I’m driven by an acute awareness that no one ever has enough time to do all the things they could do in this life. So why waste time? Get the fuck on with it.
For more information:
Upcoming tour dates: http://frank-turner.com/live-gigs/
OneFest/Lost Evenings: http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/whats-on/2017/onefest-and-frank-turner/
All pictures copyright Tara Pitts