"It felt like it was time to look back more to the music that I grew up with and love the most"
For a man who has played just under 2500 shows in his career, the last year of not being on stage has been a tough one for Frank Turner.
But better times are coming, better times ahead, as a whole host of exciting projects and excursions are now coming to fruition. First, there is the series of shows that he is calling Gatherings, where he is taking over plots of land around the country with his Xtra Mile Recordings family and bringing people back together. Then there's the return of Lost Evenings to London's Roundhouse between September 16-19. And then there's the small matter of 'FTHC', Frank's upcoming 9th album and what promises to be his most fast, furious and fantastically raw offering to date.
So, to discuss and dissect all of this lovely stuff we jumped on the phone with the man himself and find out what it is that has kept him going through the uncertainty and doubt of the last 18 months...
How does it feel to be at a point where you’re able to return to the things that you know so well yet have been unable to indulge in this past year?
“Gratitude is a significant factor in all of this for me. It’s impossible to have this sort of conversation without eventually quoting Joni Mitchell, but you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. A lot of people, myself included, learned a new appreciation for what we had before. I’ve been operating on the principle that as live music returns, it will be pure euphoria.
“There is an element to the last year and a half of the slate almost being wiped clean as well. I have a bit of time for that, really. There’s a sense of reset in there. There is the argument of things going back to how they were before all of this, but it’s not like everything was perfect. If this is an opportunity to change some things about how the live music industry, or even society in general, functions, that could be an interesting thing to explore. We will see. But I feel like some things are simpler now. I just want to get on a stage and play rock and roll music for people who want to hear it. A lot of the other bullshit that floats around what I do for a living is fantastically less important right now.”
That feeling comes across really wonderfully in ‘The Gathering’ as a track, the first taste of this new era. It’s expelling all that pent up emotion in a genuinely rousing manner. So, where did this track come to life in the last year or so of your writing?
“So when I’m trying to write an album, I usually aim for around 15 songs, so you have a 12 track record and a bit of leeway. So I was maybe ten songs into that when the pandemic was nothing but a twinkle in everybody’s eye. I was already toying with the idea of going down a more sonically aggressive route, and there are many reasons for that. Part is that I simply love that kind of music, end of. Then also, there’s the fact that ‘No Man’s Land’ was a history folk album/podcast and ‘Be More Kind’ was me experimenting with more synthesisers, and it felt like it was time to look back more to the music that I grew up with and love the most.
“One of the things that occurred to me, and something central to this whole thing, is that I have spent a lot of my life making music that is punk-adjacent. Whether that’s folk-punk or post-hardcore or something like that, that’s all well and good, but I just felt like this time around, I wanted to make a punk record that was just a punk record. We did Punk Rock Holiday in Slovenia back in 2019, and I felt good being there. But there was a slightly weird vibe the day we played, as people were looking confused as to me being on the bill because I’m the guy who wrote ‘The Way I Tend To Be’. I had a pep talk with the band beforehand and said, ‘We have something to prove, and we have to hold our own here’. So we went out there and kicked the fuck out of it, and there was a general recognition in that audience of, ‘This guy gets it’. So the seed was sown there that it would be nice to have a few songs that would have made that task easier.
“Then lockdown kicked in, and since then, I have written around 16 more songs. That’s more than any process I’ve ever had before. It’s not all fucking Crass, but it leans more into that aggressive side. ‘The Gathering’ is more on the midpoint of the aggression-o-meter of the record. So there is stuff that’s more singer-songwriter, but there is also stuff that is way more intense. I think it will surprise some people, as they don’t think I have it in me!"
Going out and proving yourself is a sure-fire way to validate your creative process, isn’t it?
“Doing the NOFX split was something that helped a lot as well. Firstly it was a life-changing incredible thing that I’m so proud to be a part of. It was also a bit like getting a punk-rock blue tick. The thing as well is that through recording that and getting in contact with so many different people because of it, because NOFX is a much bigger punk band than me, there was this sense of, ‘These are my people’, you know?
“The other thing that has happened is that I have parted with my old drummer. A lot of that came from us going in different directions musically. We have now ended up with Ilan Rubin from Nine Inch Nails playing most of the drums on the record. That motherfucker can play the drums. I fear for his kit and want to go and look after it when he has done. So that’s been a big sonic boost in terms of what this album will sound like. It’s been slowly evolving for a couple of years, and I feel really good about where it has ended up now.”
The thing is that ‘FTHC’ is a title that has been with you for a lot of your career, so this feels more like a self-titled release than anything else. So if you’re going to make an album called that, you’re going to make it the purest version of what that means to you…
“Exactly! I think another thing I’m looking forward to is playing shows in which this sort of music is made to be played in. It’s an album made for crammed bodies flying around the smallest of rooms. That’s an image that was in my mind even before the pandemic, and now it feels like a really good shout.”
When we were right in the middle of the lockdown void, and you put together those other 16 songs, is there anything you noticed felt different from what you had been working on before with this particular project? Did the environment and uncertainty breed anything you hadn’t had before?
“Yeah, it was a strange time. There were the people who said that it was this time to write and work uninterrupted, which was bollocks. There was one quite significant distraction which was the global pandemic! So I wrote many lockdown songs, some of which appear on ‘Buddies II’ [With Jon Snodgrass], which made sense. ‘The Gathering’ is also one of them, but more than anything, that's a song that's looking forwards. That was very important to me. I’m not sure how many people in the Summer of 2022 will want to be dancing to a song about April 2020. So there’s a song called ‘Perfect Score’, for example, that is in its final form now, but when I went into the studio with the initial version, I didn’t even recognise the world in which I had written the lyrics anymore.
“The other thing for me was that my major lockdown project was getting into the production side of things and the world of the studio much more than I ever had before. The process of doing that and getting better at that was interesting to me. There’s a hybrid between technology and creativity right now. Before, I would get a song completely together on the acoustic guitar then take it to the rehearsal room to be fleshed out. Over the last year, I can come up with a riff, knock up a fake drum beat, and see how it feels. Technology has facilitated a different type of creativity, and I have demoed this whole new record on my own. That’s something very new for me. But then, when we were able to get together all as The Sleeping Souls, the other guys threw their magic in there as well. But it was much more of a direct, ‘This is how it sounds, so let’s record like this’.”
In many ways, that’s the style and attitude you want to have when it comes down to more of the raw side of this new music. You don’t want to be sitting and considering every second of a punk track. You want to be able to leave it as it should be…
“Totally, I didn’t want anything to get diluted.”
Combining ‘The Gathering’ as a song with the string of Gatherings that you're putting on and then rounding that off with another edition of Lost Evenings, how does it feel to be coming back to things in such a way?
“There’s some anxiety in there. There’s a part of me that feels a bit like I’ve forgotten how to do shows, then the other part of me saying, ‘Shut up, it will come back’. But overall, there is a great sense of release and a sense of purpose. There was a moment at one of the socially distanced shows I did last summer in Nottingham where it hit me how much of a privilege it is to work in this industry. There are very few things in the world where every single person is stoked to be there at that time. Not just the audience, but the people working the show as well. Everybody was so happy to be there at that moment. To be part of a crew, you have to be an efficient and hands-on person, and it’s not an easy job to do. Now the sense of the relief that I feel from my own crew now that all of these plans are now in place is huge. My tour manager has hotels to book, and she is stoked. My production manager is figuring out how to move equipment around the country again. My band is booked into practice. All these things equal this huge sense of joy that we’re all able to do this again. Hopefully, that brings joy to other people.”
And it’s that joy that people have always gravitated towards when it comes to a Sleeping Souls show. It’s something that has always remained important to you…
“I’ve worked hard over the years to create a certain atmosphere at my shows. If you are on a raised bit of flooring and everybody is facing and listening to you, you have a pretty big sway over the culture and feeling within that room on any given day. What you can do with that is encourage a sense of values and a sense of community. Hopefully, then people will take that home with them. One of the most powerful things that I picked up from the hardcore scene in which I grew up is that we had a little safe space where we all dealt with our values and took a piece of that home with us. I think that even having the opportunity to create that again is enough to make people who I know will be attending pretty giddy. That’s very special to me.”
Through all of this, how do you feel the Frank Turner of today is different to the Frank Turner that kickstarted this process 18 months ago?
“I feel like I’ve changed a lot. I feel like everybody has. The most obvious thing that springs to mind is that I’m no longer a Londoner as I now live on the coast of Essex. I’ve spent a majority of my adult life saying that I would only ever leave London in a tour bus or a pine box, and yet here I am. That’s a big surprise to me.
“When everything shut down, I had something of an identity crisis. If I’m not allowed to tour, then who the fuck am I? Thankfully, I had done a bit of work before 2020 where I had focused on my mental health and getting married and deciding who I was other than the guy on stage with a guitar. Ultimately, if that is all I am, things become pretty one-dimensional, and you turn into a cartoon character quite quickly. I feel more comfortable in my skin now for sure.
“Creatively, there are moments that I get to a point and think, ‘The obvious thing would be to go this way’. On every other record I have gone, ‘That’s too obvious, let’s take a left-hand turn’. On this record, I said, ‘That’s the obvious way, and that’s how it’s going to fucking go’. There’s going to a breakdown and a build-up, and it’s going to kick in in this way, and that’s because that’s the way it should be. So I’ve stopped second-guessing myself. Everything about this period feels like the right thing to do. I feel very comfortable and liberated within this music.”
When you think that you’re at a point where you’ve been doing this for so many years and you can still find ways to push yourself, even if it’s stripping things right back, that’s a pretty lovely place to be…
“I feel incredibly grateful about that as well. I feel as fired up about basic songwriting more than I ever have before, and that’s a huge privilege. I feel like a good chunk of this record is some of the best shit I have written by a fair distance, and I’m just so excited to be able to share that.”
'FTHC' will be released in 2022. You can pre-order it right now from HERE
You can join Frank for one of his Gatherings at these dates:
08 - LIVERPOOL Top Rope Brewery - (Competition winners only)
17 - GLOUCESTER Llanthony Secunda Priory
18 – GLOUCESTER Llanthony Secunda Priory
07 - FROME Cheese & Grain
08 - FROME Cheese & Grain
21 - MANCHESTER Urmston Sports Club (full band show)
03 - HULL Zebedees Yard