Interview with Frank Turner
Solo Armada Presents…
Despite releasing an album, conducting a full UK tour and headlining every night of Lost Evenings (a festival put together under his name), British folk-punk musician Frank Turner found time on the final day of Lost Evenings to sit down with the Solo Armada for a chat.
After delightedly grabbing himself one of the Armada’s badges (designed to help solo gig attendees find each other), Frank was more than happy to reflect on everything from the stressful weekend he was in the middle of to the little slice of punk rock paradise that he’s managed to carve out for himself.
Solo Armada: Are you enjoying yourself at Lost Evenings 2?
Frank: I am! It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions this year for obvious reasons. The tour followed by the album release last week meant it was already one of the most stressful times of my life. Then, Friday morning, my girlfriend woke me up and told me the news about Scott [Scott Hutchinson, lead singer of Frightened Rabbit who sadly passed away].
Friday was a tough day; before Friday I hadn’t been sleeping very well anyway because I’d been worried about Scott. Friday though, if there was ever a day to help me cope, it’s a room full of people losing their shit! On Friday morning, I didn’t know if I could listen to any of his songs or not. Then I put some on at home and it completely broke me for about 10 minutes. Then it was like, fuck, actually this is how I know Scott, this is how I know and love this man. We’ve had his music [playing] all weekend in between bands and obviously I played the song [Frank played a cover of ‘The Modern Leper’ on the Friday night]. It’s been nice because he was here on the Sunday at last year’s Lost Evenings. There’s footage of us playing out back in the car park and having beer and cigarettes. It is haunting, but you have bad hauntings and you have good hauntings and I think it’s a good haunting. It feels like he’s around and I think that’s important.
Other than that, I think it’s been fucking great! As usual, it’s been hard for me to watch bands on the Nick Alexander stage because I don’t want to distract from what’s happening there. I haven’t been able to make it there which is a shame because there’s great bands over there. I heard that Joe McCoriston had a great show – which is really important to me because I fucking love Joe! And I also heard Xylaroo were good.
My favourite – I shouldn’t pick favourites – but my absolute holy mother of God over the weekend was Sarah Walk. I was already sort of familiar with her stuff and I really wanted to have a female presence on the main stage yesterday [Sensible Sunday] as I thought it was really important. And fucking hell she was so good, like hauntingly good! I think she thought I was just being polite after the show and I was like “No! That was fucking amazing!”
Solo Armada: One thing you said last night (in regards to Lost Evenings) is that you get the chance to play the songs you don’t get to play very often. We know that you get emails for requests, but is Lost Evenings an opportunity for Frank Turner to request a Frank Turner song?
Frank: A little bit yeah. Although, about half the set last night were requests from emails because any requests people sent in I just put them on the set list. I think it’s cool to not repeat songs across the nights though. We group the songs on tour, songs are kind of structured around pillars. So, you have an opening of three songs, then there’s a ramp up in the middle. But generally, there’s give and take in the set. Partly we change it up each night so we’re not just repeating ourselves and partly so that I can accommodate requests. I generally have three or four requests per show and most nights I play three out of the four and that feels good to me. And it’s nice to play. I have a lot of songs and it gives me a chance to play a few older ones. I may not like a song a few years down the line but that’s another conversation entirely. But yeah, last night was really fun for that. Jay (Beans on Toast) said to me afterwards, he doesn’t think he knows anyone else that can play deepcuts (a song judged to be less commercial or radio-friendly) for a two hour set with three thousand people and it works, which was a nice compliment. Obviously, I finished with some big hitters to get everyone back in the mood, but it was really fun.
I think there’s a technical side to song writing alongside the sort of raw side to it. The raw is the more important. ‘Undeveloped Film’ is just one of the most intricately bolted together songs and I just love the way it’s written. Lyrically and musically, it’s really well structured and no one ever requests it. So I’m like (puts on a sad voice)”Oh. Ok.” So last night, I got it requested, for myself!
Solo Armada: We have spoken to a few people over the past few days that know of you, and when they have seen the things that have gone on this weekend they’ve asked us what is it that creates this culture?
Frank: I have an opinion in that I think it’s great. I don’t really know why it happens and I think it would be really odd of me to spend too much time analysing -that’s really self-involved. It was interesting, one of the panels I did yesterday was with Ginger [Wildheart] who’s one of my absolute favourite people in the world. He was saying that he used to see The Ramones as a kid and see all these people at the gigs and he was like, ‘Where do you people go when The Ramones aren’t playing? There’s all these people in leather jackets and Ramones shirts, I want to hang out with you beyond this!’ For me, when I was a kid, I grew up and I heard about punk rock, started listening to punk rock records and then I found out that there were people still doing punk rock shows. It wasn’t something that was happening in the 70’s or 80’s. Real live punk bands are happening now and you can go to shows in grimy little pubs in London.
Like every wide eyed fifteen-year-old, I had a very idealistic notion towards what the punk scene was supposed to be, and of course it took over my life, because real life is made up of real people and real people are flawed. One of the things I love about Derek [Homeless Gospel Choir], this answer is going somewhere I promise, is that Derek reminds me of that. The idealism about punk rock. The way he talks, the way he thinks, everyone is fucking welcome. It connected with me because I grew up in a situation where I felt weird and uncomfortable and I hated everyone and they hated me. I was suicidal and I hated everything and that’s when I heard Black Flag and The Clash. Then I found out other people liked them as well. It was like “Fuck!” No one gave a fuck about anything other than learning the words to Knuckledust songs. It was a refuge, and that to me is the most important thing a punk singer can be!
So to come back to the question, told you we’d get there in the end, my friend Evan said to me, ‘You’re just trying to recreate what you thought punk rock was before you discovered what it is’. I was like, “Yeah! I fucking am! What about it?” Whether or not the music I make is punk or not is a thoroughly boring conversation. Whether I’m punk in the view of twenty year olds who have neck tattoos that live in a squat in South London is utterly fucking tedious to me, because I’m fucking proud of what I do. I think that my definition of punk and the atmosphere at my shows are two things I try and align quite closely. And it seems to be working!
Solo Armada: You’ve seemed to have brought out a community in a disparate group of people.
Frank: And the disparate is what’s important to me! I like the fact you don’t get quite many fashionistas at my shows. You see some, and of course they’re welcome, but I love that it’s not all that. Some artists shows you might go to, it’s all the beautiful people and I’m just like “ach!” Immediately, it puts me in the mind set of what I was like when I was 14 or 15 years old and feeling unwelcome again.
Solo Armada: We were talking to Sean McGowan yesterday and he said that’s one of the things he loves in his crowds – that everyone from eighteen to seventy plus is there and it’s something similar to you and your crowds.
Frank: I think one of the other things (and this is me self-analysing a little bit) is that it isn’t cool and it hasn’t ever been cool. I think that is one of its secret strengths. If something is cool, then the minute it ceases to be cool people have the tendency to be like, “fuck off.” In life, there are a handful of people that maintained cool such as David Bowie and Leonard Cohen but outside of that it’s mostly about fashion. Up to a point that is. In the view of people like journalists, who write for newspapers about music, it’s kind of a weakness and they sneer at it. But one thing that’s really interesting with the new record [Be More Kind], the reviews and the reactions. The Guardian newspaper put out a review today. The Guardian fucking hate me and they write horrible things about me all the time, and they gave it a four-star review! The thing is, after a certain amount of years it’s kind of inarguable. They can star it as much as they want, they’ll still fucking hate it and in fact it’s bigger than it’s ever been so they can shove it up their arse! It’s kind of nice, it’s the simple fact of me, and indeed us, persisting. It wins lots of arguments. This is shit, they said back in 2010 and in 2018 it’s bigger than it ever was. They’re entitled to an opinion but fuck off!
Solo Armada: Keeping with the theme that things are getting bigger, do you have an idea in the direction future Lost Evening events will take and what they could grow into?
Frank: It’s not an outdoor festival. We talked about doing an outdoor festival and there are two problems with doing that. The first problem is that it’s a much bigger undertaking than Lost Evenings and financially risky. The second problem is that I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to add that wasn’t already present at either Two Thousand Trees or Beautiful Days, both of which I love. What’s the point in just doing another one of those? Then there’s the Flogging Molly cruise, which is cool and that’s their thing. The actual inspiration for this was Wolf Alice, touring for their first album. They did four nights at The Forum in London and they had different support acts every day. And I was in the crowd with my good friend Cal and he was saying how it was like a mini festival. And I kind of went “Yes it is… Hmm…” and that’s where the idea came from. And I can say this without giving too much away, it’s going to move around the world. That is the long, bigger plan. Partly, because I think that’s cool, partly, because (and this is an entirely business thing to say) but doing my own festival in London in May slightly fucks up my festival billing for other festivals in the UK, like Reading or Leeds. There’s a bit of jostling going on with that.
I think Lost Evenings will be in London more often than not because it means I get to go home after each show. That’s the thing that has saved me over the last four days. That I go home and I go to bed. I’m in my bed with my cat and my girlfriend and I sleep and it’s fucking better than on the bus. So yeah, London more often than not. However, it’s a dilemma for me, as I love the Roundhouse. I love it as a venue, I love that it’s in Camden and I love what it stands for. In particular, a big shout out to Jane Bees who is one of the people at the Roundhouse who runs it and she runs a lot of the educational outreach around parts of the venue. It’s mad that I’m going to say this out loud but it’s too small. Basically, we sold out of all four nights before we released info on who was supporting and in way that’s been a problem. For example, The Subways couldn’t bring any of their fans to the show and same for the Arkells.
Partly for their benefit and partly because I’m ambitious, I wish to grow bigger in my career. So we are having a think about other places in London that we could do Lost Evenings at. That’s not because there’s any problem with the Roundhouse – this place is fucking great, I love it. If we do move somewhere else the whole sort of communitarian and education angle will come as well. I think that side of it is important.
Solo Armada: How much input do you have in selecting the support acts?
Frank: I pick my supports everywhere in the world and it is one thing I am fucking militant about. There has been a couple of occasions in my career, like when we started with Polydor, they started having some opinions about who I was touring with and they got shut down very quickly. It was like “No. Fuck you.” Obviously, when I’m picking, there are a series of criteria and sometimes one of those criteria is the crowd drawing aspect. For example, in the States we’re touring with a band called Lucero, who happen to be one of my favourite bands. But it has also meant that we’re playing slightly bigger rooms because they can also draw a crowd themselves and that’s cool for everyone. The supports we’ve just had, Arkells and the Homeless Gospel Choir, were musically two of my favourites and were two of the biggest influences on ‘Be More Kind’ when we toured Canada. Arkells offered me a tour swap, so I supported them in Canada as they have a huge fan base there and vice versa for me and the UK. My only reservation about it was that it was all white dudes with guitars.
The reason I say that, a few years ago someone published the Reading bill with all the acts removed that didn’t have women in, and hats off to whoever published that because the purpose of that kind of thing is to change minds and change opinions and it fucking worked on me. I just went “Shit” and I thought about Lost Evenings last year and if someone did that to the bill last year. So this year on Saturday, I can say this now, every single band had at least one woman in the band. The reason I can say it now is that I didn’t want to stand on a podium and say “Look at me, I’m brilliant!” I just wanted it to be a thing. I don’t want to sit here and take credit for it but at the same time, it is something I think about. In the process of doing this, like everybody, you get stuck in your ways of what you listen to from time to time.
With the bill for Lost Evenings, John Kennedy (who co-books the Nick Alexander stage) serves two purposes. First of all, it’s getting new and younger bands in. A lot which come via John, because it is his job. The second purpose, and this’ll sound like a joke but it isn’t, sort of not entirely a joke: One of my worst habits is getting drunk and telling people I’m going to throw them a show over a tour. I do it incessantly; All the fucking time and with everyone! So the Nick Alexander stage is really useful for me in ticking off some of those people. I have a list on my laptop and I wake up in the morning and I go, “Oh my God I was speaking to Conway [from Bloody Kneez] about gigs, so I’m going to have to Nick Alexander him!”. So I’m not entirely joking but I only do that to bands I like. It’s not like promising things to bands that I think are shit.
Solo Armada: So that’s a tip for upcoming bands then?
Frank: Yeah, get me drunk and then I’ll promise you a gig! But it is cool. We had a couple this year. Joe McCoriston is this guy from Lancaster. I don’t think Joe will mind me saying this, one of the points that gets raised about me and what I do is that my whole tour is underpinned by a very middle class safety net financially and that’s a fair cop. That’s absolutely correct. I hope and I try to recognise that fact when I talk about what happened to me and not be like “I did it therefore anyone can do it” because I think that’s a tired statement. However, Joe has dropped everything and made this his life and he absolutely does not have that safety net which I fucking respect him so much for. It’s cool as shit that he’s out there doing his thing.
Also, there’s this guy called Stephen Cooke that emailed me with some songs he recorded, and he said that he’d never really written any songs before, and they were really good. So I asked him did he want to play at Lost Evenings? He was like “Err I’ve never really played a gig before” so I was like “Fuck it, you’re playing The Monarch on Friday.” So yeah, he played on Friday. That made me feel good because it’s one of those things about putting your money where your mouth is.
Solo Armada: People have discovered all kinds of bands and musicians through your influence; do you have any in particular that you feel people need to look out for?
Frank: It’s very kind of you to say that but my knowledge of what’s happening in terms of bands is purely idiosyncratic and there isn’t really any method to it. Quite often, someone like Sean [McGowan] will go “Listen to this!” It’s random. It’s haphazard. My recent one is She Makes War. I was chatting to Ben Marwood who introduced me to her music. He called me an idiot for not knowing who she was. One of the other ones is Girli, she’s like a female Mike Skinner from The Streets. She’s fucking incredible! I think Mike Skinner is easily one of the top five artists of the 21st century! Easily! If not the top three but Girli has got a The Streets vibe about her. It’s really tight, intelligent rapping and aggressively feminist.
Solo Armada: With each Lost Evening celebrating a 10-year anniversary of an album, presumably Poetry of the Deed is lined up for next year. What are your plans for a Lost Evenings when there’s a gap year for an album release?
Frank: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this. There’s various options. I was thinking about doing a first three album set. We might do a First Three Years, Second Three Years set. B-sides full band set. I don’t know, we’ll come to it. It’s funny because everyone’s thinking about year 4 and I’m thinking my god that’s in 2020, fuck me! So I’ve got quite a lot of other things to think about in the interim. Someone asked about doing a Love, Ire & Song tour the other day and I’m like, I don’t need to do that I don’t need full record themes. And that’s why I like Lost Evenings as it gives me the opportunity to do that album or whatever. It makes it special which it wouldn’t be if we toured it.
Solo Armada: How do you have this many songs?
Frank: Well, that’s the thing, I need to stop writing new ones. Unfortunately, the next album is finished in my head, I finished it before Be More Kind. It’s an album about famous women throughout history It’s been a few years now since I wrote all that and then Trump got elected and I went like “Oh Fuck” and I started writing different songs. I’m going to revisit it and revamp it but that is the next creative thing I’m focusing on. Actually, that’s not true because I’m writing a book at the moment. I’m writing music for a play as well but I can’t say anything more than that. Fuck knows when anything is going to happen with that. At the moment everything is on hold because of the album release and Lost Evenings. And thank you for being part of it, this whole Solo Armada thing has been fucking cool!