There is no one quite like Frank Turner.
From his foundations in the hardcore punk scene he rose, acoustic guitar in hand, to become a beloved figure and beacon for music-loving folk of all genres and age groups, inciting moshing, group hugs, and massive singalongs across continents. Seven albums in and he has delivered perhaps his most socially – if not politically – relevant effort to date. Touring this latest release, Be More Kind, has taken Frank Turner and his band, the Sleeping Souls, from their home in England to a headlining gig at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. It was before that show when High Voltage was able to catch up with Frank and hear more about his new album, latest music video, and upcoming projects which he promises to be “incredibly odd.” Talking with Frank is less along the line of Q & A and more like a slightly long-winded, yet colorful “A”, so here are some broken down highlights from our conversation with Frank Turner.
On Be More Kind being different from previous albums:
“One of my worries about this record is that I was so vocal about how it was going in a radically different direction and, without mentioning any names, there have been bands that I’ve been into who have done that and [the new album] comes out and it’s the same old shit with a different drum sound or whatever and I didn’t want to fall into that trap but, at the same time, it’s quite hard for me to judge how different because every song I write feels different to me. So I was kind of hoping that people weren’t going to turn around and say this is the same old bullshit and I think I got away with it. I think it is what I wanted it to be. It’s more for you guys to say than for me to say.”
Songs that almost weren’t:
“In the old days we just write, record, tour for 8 months. Write, record,…you know what I mean. And that was cool because I was in my 20s, but with this new album, Be More Kind, I had a bit more time for reflection. We did the first batch and then 3-4 months later we could go back and it was cool because all of those little things which were annoying me, you could change them and, indeed, I actually wrote three more songs that ended up on the record because I could feel there were rhetorical gaps.
[The three songs were] ‘Don’t Worry’, ‘Little Changes’, and ‘Get It Right’ …which are all pretty important songs for the record. We did the initial session then I did a bunch of interviews talking about what we were doing and I was talking about the record in the abstract and I had this moment and ability to compare my abstract rhetoric to what we actually had and I could go, yeahhh, I need to change this a bit if it’s going to live up to what I’ve actually been talking about.”
Surprise discoveries from the album release:
“One of the more nerve-wracking but interesting parts of what I do for a living is that I burrow away writing and in a studio (and we spent more time working on this record than any other that I’ve made in my life) and you’re doing all this stuff and you’re posting updates on Instagram or whatever kids are doing these days and there is this moment when suddenly two to three years of my life – which in a really odd way is condensed into 45 minutes of music – gets presented to the world and you discover things.
I discovered that no one in America knows what the expression ‘in there like swimwear’ means which is hilarious to me. I was going to explain but then people started to have theories on the internet and I was like, cool, I like that one.
There was some more politically leaning stuff. When the song ‘Make America Great Again’ came out, I was nervous about that song and, initially at least, there was way more people pissed off at the synthesizers than the politics.
You learn a lot about a record when it comes out and, hopefully, some of it’s good!”
The inspiration behind the “Make America Great Again” music video:
“One of the things [I’ve learned over the years] is that lots of people don’t listen very closely before having strong opinions (said in the most diplomatically phrase way I could come up with). Obviously, that song is a nod towards the current American President, but it doesn’t mention his name at any point. If it’s about anything, it’s about the nativist, nationalist movement that surrounds that guy. I knew that certain people were going to go ‘fuck you’ the minute they heard even the title of the song. The album is called Be More Kind and the interest is more in bridge building than bridge burning.
I’m proud of the fact that my audience is politically diverse. We’ve toured with blue-collar, punk rock and country bands and there are definitely people at my show who aren’t left-wing progressives and I think that’s good. I think that we should be in the same room having conversations rather than standing on either side of an un-crossable ditch throwing things at each other. I wanted to make a video that highlighted the outreach part of that song, shall we say.”
The story of that suit (from the “Make America Great Again” video):
“I’ll tell you this story quickly because it’s a great story. We’re at South By [South West] and really busy and I need to get a suit so I’m like ‘Just get a Walmart suit’ but it turns out Walmart suits are too terrible. I wanted it to be a terrible suit but, fucking hell, the suits at Walmart are the worst so I just googled ‘suit shop’ and there was one right next to Walmart.
I went in there and there was this Hispanic guy – really, really lovely guy – and he’s telling me about how his daughter plays in a band that got nominated for a Latin Grammy. He measured me for a suit and it was like $100. I go to pay and he goes, ‘You party man?’ which to me means drugs, right? That’s what that means. And I was like, ‘I mean…not now.’ and he was like, ‘I party.’ and I was like, ‘Ohhhh good.’ and he was like, ‘Come with me.’ and just darted in the back of the shop. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want to do a line of coke at this time of day.’…or indeed while I’m working ever…or, for the cops that listen to this, ever at all. But I went back there and he had a freezer full of the best tequila in the world. Seriously, $500 bottles of tequila. He pulled one out with these frozen glasses and he was like ‘I never sell a man a suit without drinking with him.’ and I was like ‘That’s kind of cool!’ And he poured me out.
I don’t know very much about tequila, but he was like ‘This is the shit’ so I had a not fuck you shot, but just a little taste. And I had a slightly brighter second half of my day, skipping from interview to interview.”
Debuting new material at SXSW:
“My expectations for my achievements in music, first of all, were grounded in underground punk rock ’cause that’s what I grew up with. I’d never been to an arena show until I played one. My favorite bands played to 1000 people maximum, so that and just the fact that not many acts get to put out seven records and still have anyone give a fuck at the end of it. I spent an awful lot of my life waiting for the bit when reality taps you on the shoulder and it’s like ‘neh neh’ and my career is going to collapse in on itself. More specifically, I’m waiting for the moment when I put out a new record and everyone goes, ‘Yeah no, fuck this. We’re done now. You’ve put out enough records.’
That’s always the thing at South By. I’m playing these new songs and there’s a part of my brain that’s thinking maybe this is the one that everyone’s going to hate and it’s the end of my career. And they haven’t thus far.”
As for what’s next:
“We are on tour until at least the end of next summer on this record. But I’m kind of incessantly busy in my character I guess. I wrote a book a few years ago, I’m writing another one. I have three other projects vaguely on the go, only one of which has surfaced in public before. I have a band called Mongol Horde which I do. Kind of an aggressive hardcore band. We did a tour in January this year for the first time in four years and had an absolute blast and wrote a bunch of new songs so we’re going to do that again.
I’ve got a couple other things which I can’t really talk about yet, but they’re extremely odd.
I’ve also written most of my next record, as well.”
About those support acts:
“I always pick my support acts for the tours and I’m extremely proud of the lineup we have for this tour. Lucero are a big part of the reason I picked up an acoustic guitar when I loved being in punk bands. I have their logo tattooed right here [points to arm]. The Menzingers are the best kind of new punk band around right now and Derek in the Homeless Gospel Choir is my current favorite songwriter. It’s a good night of entertainment for everybody.”
And entertaining it was as Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls and all of their friends spent nearly five hours punk rocking and rolling the Hollywood Palladium. There was moshing, cheering, chanting, embracing, and a crowd surfing game that involved selfies. More importantly, it was an evening of people coming together with much enthusiasm to celebrate something they love (seven albums worth of music from one of their favorite artists) and doing their best to follow Franks’ explicitly stated rule number one:
“Don’t be an asshole.”
Photos: Kristen Coveleskie (live @ the Hollywood, Palladium)