“It doesn’t give you social points to be a Frank Turner fan”

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When Mahima caught up with the English singer-songwriter, she faced the irony of meeting a tatted-up musician who has no interest in the after-parties.

Veteran musician Frank Turner has attained that elite stature worth a greatest hits album. | Wikimedia Commons

Frank Turner is taller than he seems in photographs. A dark mop of short curls and a beard frame a long, fair face and dimpled cheeks, and the numerous tattoos on his long arms reflect the persona he wears on his sleeve.

 

It has been a decade since Turner released his first solo album ‘ Sleep is for the Week ’, after breaking away from post-hardcore band Million Dead in 2005. Since then he has been a part of a niche underground folk, punk and rock music scene. He has six albums, six EPs, a book and a documentary to his credit, and has performed over 2,080 shows in 45 countries, including at the London Olympics in 2012 and a sold-out show at Wembley. He hopes to put out a new album by early next year. Yet, Turner admits that he’s never going to be famous enough, let’s say, to be on the cover of Vice Magazine .

Known for his controversial opinions, a discussion on politics skirts the edges of every conversation with Turner. For instance, while acknowledging that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn “isn’t evil”, he says the increasing support for him is worrisome.

 

 

You have finished a decade in the music industry. What has the journey been like?

Completing a decade makes me feel old, but fortunate that we are still having a conversation now. When I made my first album I wasn't sure if anyone would care in a year’s time, let alone 10. Surviving in the music industry gives you a certain kind of respect and weight.

What is your new album going to be about? Will you return to the themes that you had explored in your initial work?

Stylistically, it is very different from the other six albums. I’ve been listening to a lot of Electronic, Soul from Detroit and Memphis, and traditional Country music so not only has the style changed but it has also broadened. I have used sounds that I have never used before.

The album is different in terms of lyrics as well. I don’t want to call it a political album per se; it is not a protest record or whatever. The last two albums were about things going on inside my head but this is definitely about things happening outside. The world is turning into a ******* scary place right now so it’s kind of about that.

What is your politics?

In the last couple of weeks there has been a fresh attack on the idea of Centrism in British politics, which is stupid. Among other things, most people think of themselves as being roughly in the Centre; they don’t consider themselves to be extremists. Both sides have some particular arguments to make, and politics should be about compromise. If people don't communicate through words and reasoned debates, then they tend to communicate through force of arms and that’s not something that I wish to see in my lifetime.

Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn?

Neither, please.

May is a terrible leader and a terrible person, and I am sort of embarrassed for my country. But there are a lot of things about Corbyn that are also worrying. Not so much the domestic policies but his international ones. For instance, he is friends with the Venezuelan dictator (Nicholas) Maduro. I think he should speak out about what is happening there, and the fact that he doesn't says an awful lot about him. I have many friends who like Corbyn and that’s fine, but I get worried when a group becomes fanatical about a politician. While I have known (of) Corbyn for 15 years [Turner is a registered voter in Islington, Corbyn’s constituency], a lot of people found out about him two years ago. Now they think he’s a messiah. Well, let me tell you about the other 13 years he’s been in my life: he’s my MP, and he’s not a good one. I don’t think he’s unreasonable or evil, but I have some issues with him.

In a funny way, the fact that nobody won the last UK election is kind of cool. Generally speaking, my politics is liberal, which means I am not particularly in favour of an activist state or an activist government. So, if you are in a situation where the government is not able to do much, I generally think that it is good.

Why is it good?

A government tends to accrue power to itself and uses it for its own end. It’s much better when people and parties interact with each other (to resolve issues) at an individual level. People reaching out to each other, helping each other out and building communities is more important and interesting than state intervention and action.

It’s not a popular opinion but I don’t hold opinions because they are popular.

It is a decade since you wrote about “skirting around the edges of the ideal demographic” and being “almost on the guest list”. Since then you’ve performed at the Olympics and Wembley, do those words still ring true?

I still connect to the songs I earlier wrote. I am friends with all the people mentioned in my first few songs. Many people think those are fictitious name, but they aren’t. In fact, Dave Danger, who is mentioned in the song I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous is one of my closest friends.

 

There have been moments in my career where it was difficult for me to pretend that I am still the underdog. However, I have still never been cool. Ever. I was never the artiste that Vice thought was worth covering. I have never been trendy or hip. That is cool, I like that.

I like that you don’t have to be super trendy to know who I am. It doesn’t give you social points to be a Frank Turner fan. I don’t want to be a fashion accessory for anybody. As far as I can tell, people who like my music tend to like it for very pure reasons. That is an excellent thing. My passion for music is quite unadorned… and I really like playing songs that people can sing along with.

When we did the Olympics I was living above a bar in Camden. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone that I was doing the show, and we had to sign a secrecy agreement. A friend kept asking if I would come watch the ceremony in the pub with him and I just said, ‘I will be there’. On the night of the performance, my phone kind of exploded! When we finished, there was this big celebrity after-party but I didn’t go because I didn’t know anyone, and I don’t care. Instead, I got into a cab and came back to Camden to my friend.

You’ve written a book, a documentary, songs, and concerts. What keeps you going?

I want to be a three-dimensional person. The thought that drives me more than any other is that life is short. When I was a kid I wanted to be a computer programmer, a paleontologist, a travel writer, a journalist and a musician… and there was not enough time to do all of these things in one life. Growing up is the process of narrowing your options and choosing who you are going to be. Nevertheless, I want to do as much as possible. I am going to die one day so it is not about legacy — I don’t give a damn about a legacy, it’s not going to be here when I am gone. I want to lie on my deathbed and feel like I didn’t waste my time.

Any Indian musician that’s caught your ear?

I love the Raghu Dixit Project. I thought I am going to be the guy who brings them to the UK, but my friend told me they have played here a lot. I had my own music festival in May called Lost Evenings, and it went great. However, I was conscious of the fact that the bill was pretty much ‘white English guy with a guitar’, barring few exceptions. I would really like to coordinate with other artistes from around the world. We are having another festival in May 2018 and I will be working towards bringing in more diversity. It is always good for everybody to be more open-minded.

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