It’s been about six years since the UK’s Frank Turner walked away from life in a hardcore band (Kneejerk, Million Dead) and swapped out the distorted guitars for an acoustic one.
In that time, he’s turned in an impressive collection of albums (six, to be exact) and managed to help define the punk singer/songwriter genre. Known best for his injection of wit and humility into songs about growing up, growing old and politics (proof that you never grow out of punk rock), Turner is quickly becoming one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.
His latest album, England Keep My Bones, is just one more example (as if one were needed) of just how confident Turner has become as a lyricist. A stellar collection about questioning and ultimately the choice to stay optimistic, the record may just be Turner’s best to date.
A month out from the release of England Keep My Bones (Epitaph Records) with a little prompting, Turner spoke about the new record, the current revolutions in the Middle East and God (I told you he was deep).
Innocent Words: You seem to be on a roll lately with at least an album a year for the last few years. Have you always been this prolific of a songwriter?
Frank Turner: I’ve been writing songs for a long time, but when I was in Million Dead, it was a more collective process and took a lot longer. We used to agonize over everything. Since I started writing acoustic songs on my own, I’ve felt like I found my niche and things come to me much quicker. Who knows how long it’ll last, but for now it’s great.
Innocent Words: It seems like every other musician I have interviewed this year is either preparing to tour with you or just finished touring with you. How much time do you spend on the road? Does it make it difficult to have a normal life?
Frank Turner: Touring is normal life for me now. I spend as much time on the road as I possibly can. I’m a musician and an entertainer; I want to play music and entertain crowds. It’s not really a big deal to me to try and play every day. It makes some things more difficult, sure, but then I choose to live like this so complaining about it would be entirely redundant.
Innocent Words: What can you tell me about the songs on England Keep My Bones?
Frank Turner: I’m very happy with them! (Laughs) Um, I think this time round I’ve tried to go a little deeper than before – no massive stylistic U-turns, just trying to push further into the territory, both musically and lyrically. It’s hard to describe without playing the songs, as should be. I can’t wait for the record to be released properly.
Innocent Words: I read online recently where you said “I wanted this album to feel more like a solo record made with a band.” Can you expand on that a bit?
Frank Turner: Poetry (of the Deed) was very much a band record, arrangement-wise pretty much all the guys played on every song. I think it’s because it was the first time I had a stable lineup for the band before recording, and the first time I recorded with them. As a result, the arrangements are a touch monochromatic to me. This time round I wanted to expand the dynamic range a little and also reassert my primacy at the centre of things. Something like that.
Innocent Words: Where did you record this album?
Frank Turner: In London, at The Church Studios, with Tristan Ivemy, who mixed my second record, Love Ire & Song. It was a great experience. Tristan is the man.
Innocent Words: Congratulations on making it to the main stage at Reading and Leeds Festival. Did you ever attend it in the past as a music fan?
Frank Turner: Yes, very much so – in fact Reading 1995 was the first major gig I went to, aged 13. I’ve been many years, and played for the last few as well. Getting to the main stage is a major deal for me. I’m very stoked about it.
Frank Turner: (Laughs) Unlikely, I think.
Innocent Words: You were born in Bahrain (though lived there very briefly), so I assume you have been paying more attention than the average person to the monumental changes in the Middle East these past few months. Why do you think now, more than any other time in recent history, people in the Middle East are pushing for leadership change?
Frank Turner: Well, that’s an interesting question. I think it has something to do with new technologies, the internet and so on, but also with a generational change and the aging of the tyrannical gerontocracies across the region. I think it’s a very interesting time, an encouraging one, and something for which we in the West should be unqualified in our support. Lazy assumptions about opposition Arab movements necessarily being Islamist are being shown to be false, and we should be very happy about that, if we have any confidence in our own value systems.
Innocent Words: I really love the last song on the record: “Glory Hallelujah.” Do you consider yourself an atheist? Agnostic? Are you expecting any backlash over the song?
Frank Turner: I’m pretty firmly atheist in my beliefs. I like Richard Dawkins a lot. The song, incidentally, is not supposed to be a “fuck you” kind of song, I’m not so assured in my belief as to insult other people. It’s more a celebration – to me the idea of a godless universe is, as well as being much more eminently sensible, much more joyous as well. Backlash? Sure, there will be some. I’ve played the song out live a few times and had various comments on it. Some people disagree but are cool with it, which makes me happy, as I’d say they’ve taken it in the spirit intended. Some people have been upset, which is a shame, but then I don’t burst into tears every time I hear “Kumbaya”, so I’m not entirely sure it’s my problem.
Innocent Words: What other plans do you have for the remainder of 2011?
Frank Turner: Touring, touring, and probably some more touring, which is just fine with me. I have my first full-band full U.S. and Canada headline tour coming in the fall, and I can’t wait.