HomeInterviewsFrank Turner on His New Album, New Book, Politics & Sea. Hear....

Frank Turner on His New Album, New Book, Politics & Sea. Hear. Now

Pop Break’s Staci Altomari chatted today with acoustic guitar-wielding English punk rocker Frank Turner about the evolution and reception of his most recent album Be More Kind, the influence of the social and political climate on his music, why live shows are still important, and what is coming up next (hint: a second book).

I’ve enjoyed seeing you play many times over the years but one show that stands out to me was at the Fillmore in Philadelphia on January 20, 2017, the night of the inauguration. The room had a totally different vibe that night but you successfully preserved the treasured show “escape” atmosphere, while still acknowledging everything that was going outside the doors of the venue. How do balance those competing interests?

Well it’s a million dollar question. In a slightly old fashioned kind of way, I believe quite strongly in the power of community. The way that I’ve found the power of community in my life has been through punk rock or rock ‘n’ roll or whatever you want to call it. Particularly in this day and age where we’re all so atomized by social media and by communicating online, I’m really pleased that nobody has yet succeeded in finding any way of downloading the live experience. When you get a bunch of people in a room it remains a really important communal experience. The odds are on my side anyway when you have a room full of people. I think it is more than just the simple fact of being in a room.

Frank Turner Be More Kind

I try quite hard to focus on that idea of finding things in common rather than finding things that differentiate us. That was a weird time to play a show, obviously.

We had a new song called “Sand in the Gears” and we opened the show with that one. I did think about it quite hard. As much as I know that people find the current U.S. administration alienating and terrifying, I don’t want to put it out that anyone who voted for Trump is not welcome at my shows. That’s not how I feel about it. It’s important to approach it in the opposite way. The very first thing we have to do if we’re to heal these wounds to try to make sure we can live peacefully in society together is to get in the same room with each other and have calm meaningful discussions about our disagreements as opposed to screaming at each other all the time.

You project all those things so well in your live show. How has your extensive experience with touring shaped your ideas about the responsibility of musicians to speak out about social issues or current events?

I’m not all that big on talking about the responsibility of artists or what other artists should or shouldn’t do. The nature of being a creative person is that you have the right to do whatever the fuck you want to do with your art. If somebody turns around and says that they don’t want to respond to what’s happening in the world right now, that is their right and it is not my place to tell anyone else what to do with their art. Having said all that, I felt the need to respond to what was going on in the world.

A lot of the new record came together in the summer of 2016, conceptually, while I was on tour with Flogging Molly around the US. While we were doing that, it was while the election campaign was really heating up. It was an eye-opening time for me. I’m an outsider in the USA, but I’m one with an enormous amount of affection for the country. I was surprised and shocked a lot of the time. I had a comment that I was throwing into my shows about how I thought the America that I loved was better than a failed real estate salesman with a bad tan.

And I was kind of surprised that even in the context of punk rock shows there were a lot of people who found that comment challenging and offensive. I thought, ‘Oh, wow, really? At a punk show there’s going to be people chanting “Fuck Hillary”? I didn’t like Hillary Clinton at all. I think she’s a terrible candidate but as compared to Trump. Fucking really? I try to be open to learning about the world at all times and it was instructive to me to see how people were at that point in history.

Be More Kind came out on May 4th and it takes a dive into social and political topics and also looks at us as human beings and how we relate to each other, which was a dominant theme on the album. Was it your intention to address those things when you sat down to write a new album or did it develop based on that experience?

That kind of material just arrived and I have to deal with what shows up as a writer. I was busy writing an album about something else and 2016 happened and I had all these new songs that fit together – there you have Be More Kind. I’ve been hesitant to call it a political album, the way I see it, it’s a social record. In a funny way, I made an attempt at writing a non-partisan political record. I know it sounds like a contradiction in terms. There are people out there writing the partisan political records and I think that’s great. I think its cool that you have acts like Beyonce or whoever writing these kind of records.

The angle I wanted to take on it was to talk more about the way we conduct our disagreements rather than the content of those disagreement. I think it’s really important. There isn’t actually much to be gained in the kind of tone of discourse that we’ve all become used to online. It surprises people these days if you remind them that the purpose of political argument used to be to try to persuade people to come over to your side of the argument. No one does that anymore. Everyone is just trying to find funny ways of calling each other assholes in 140 characters. I don’t see the point. I don’t see where that goes.

What reaction have you experienced to the new album?

For the most part I think people have accepted it in the way it was intended which has been really gratifying. Obviously there have been a couple negative responses. On the one hand some people say that they think that I’m fence-sitting or I’m trying to make an easy argument. I don’t think that’s fair incidentally. Everybody is in favor of the concept of being more kind in our politics as long as it means that your opponent is being kinder to you.

The hard part is you being kinder to your opponents. A lot of people struggle with that, myself emphatically included. Of course, there have been some people on the Trump side of the divide who found the song “Make America Great Again” challenging but arguably less than I expected. More people seem to be annoyed about my use of synthesizers on the album than they were about the politics which I think is fucking hilarious.

You’ll be in Asbury Park on Saturday for the Sea. Hear. Now Festival. Is it still exciting to play to a festival audience that may be seeing you for the first time? Do you prepare differently to face a crowd like that?

This is almost the only festival we’re doing this year, believe it or not. What I like about a festival is that you encounter a group of people, quite a few of whom will be new to what you do. The kind of people who are not yet ready to buy a ticket to a headline show but who might want to pass and think “Hey, I’ve heard this guy’s name, let’s check this shit out.” And then you have 45 minutes to try to persuade them that you’re worth their time. There is something kind of chewy about that, you can really get your teeth into it. I’m really looking forward to the show.

You’re part of an eclectic lineup this weekend with artists like Ben Harper, Brandi Carlile, my favorites Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Incubus is heading on Saturday. Is there anyone you’re excited to see?

We’ve got a lot of friends who are on the bill. With festivals, I very rarely check out the specifics of the lineup until we get there because what always happens is, and this is what happened this time around, Social Distortion are playing the day we’re not there.

The Menzingers are playing the day we’re not there. At the same time, I get to check out new people as well and some of the people you mentioned, I’m not familiar with and I will spend some of my day trying to learn about new music. It’s my favorite thing to do with my time.

You posted on social media that you are working on a second book. Can you tell us anything about that?

I can. I finished the first draft which means its a long way away from being finished. There is a lot to do. It’s a book about songwriting. The first book was about touring and a lot of people were asking if I would write a sequel to that. That didn’t make much sense to me. That book was about going from playing in a basement to no people to headlining an arena show. The book was the narrative arc of how you get from one to the other. Since that first headline arena show, I’ve done more arena shows so it’s less interesting. I spend the vast majority of my day thinking about songwriting. I tried to get some of those thoughts down and I’m pretty pleased with how it’s going. Its a way off being finished yet.

Is there a timeline for that release?

First half of next year, hopefully, if all goes well.

Anything else we should look out for?

We’re going to have some new music coming out reasonably soon. I’m working on a bunch of side projects. I’ve been very creatively busy lately. We’ll be announcing all of this in good time when it’s ready to be talked about.

Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls will perform at the Sea. Hear. Now Festival on Saturday September 29 at the Stand Stage at 6 p.m. Click here for tickets.


Most Recent

Stay Connected