Three things are certain in this life – Death, Taxes & Frank Turner being on tour. Frank, alongside his band The Sleeping Souls, have been globe trotting for over a decade to countless faces and with endless amounts of applause from back alley pubs to vast arenas.
It is this journey that is chronicled in Frank’s first book “Road Beneath My Feet” and while it’s no secret that Turner and The Sleeping Souls relentless work ethic is the secret to their success, the question remained, what about the songs that brought people in?
From love songs and break up songs to personal and political calls to arms, Turner has written hundreds of songs with more than a handful weaving their way into the fabric of many people’s lives. It’s the songs that take centre stage every night he plays live and now he has written a second book to detail his writing process for 36 of his songs. His new book “Try This At Home” will be released for your reading pleasure on 21st March and we had a chance to sit down with Frank before a sold out show in Manchester on his “Be More Kind” tour.
On his new book “Try This At Home”… It’s a bit of everything really, it’s definitely not a manual per se and it’s not something that you need to have certain level of music theory knowledge to appreciate, but I’m hoping that people with all different levels of interest in song writing will gain something from it and hopefully, people who have no interest in it other than being interested in my process would gain from it too. It’s structured around songs and I picked 36 of my own songs and there’s a chapter on each one and talks about everything from how the chords relate to each other, to where I was when I wrote it, to what the music video was.
On writing a second book… It’s my second book and with the first one, I went into it with a huge degree of hubris and was just like “Yeah, writing a book can’t be that hard!” and it really fucking was, I struggled with missing deadlines and stuff so thankfully, the publishers wanted to do another one and this time around I went into it with my eyes open. I’m really pleased with how it’s come out, I’ve tested it on a few people who found it interesting so hopefully other people will too. Basically I do think about song writing more than any human should but as well as that, the first book was all about touring and stops in 2012, and everyone just said that I should write a sequel to that but I just wasn’t sure that it would work, mainly because the first book has a narrative arc to it which is that it starts with me playing to fuck all and no one in a bar and finishes in an arena show, so there was a structure there and writing a book about another six/seven years of touring at a reasonably successful level isn’t as interesting, and I could write down a bunch of anecdotes of course but what I learned the first time round is that you need to have an organising principle for your material otherwise, you just drown essentially. It also occurred to me that the only thing missing from the first book is a discussion of any of the music that I’m playing out of all of the endless shows I’m writing about, and there is a bit of a conceptual gap there and so, I kind of wanted to fill that out so I hope that the two will serve as companion pieces.
On song writing… In a funny way, it’s actually more difficult to write a simpler song, like in a way it’s harder to write a Weezer song than it is to write a Dillinger Escape Plan song. To write a song like ‘My Name is Jonas’ is bolder in a way, and I love Dillinger and I’m not dissing them but as long as it’s in thirteen time and it’s going 400mph and it’s dramatic then it is a Dillinger song, whereas a song like ‘The World Has Turned and Left Me Here’ has four chords in it and they’re either good chords or bad chords.
On song writing influences… I quite often have a standard bearer at any given time who I obsess with, obviously there are staples in that regard, Adam Duritz (Counting Crows), John K Samson (The Weakerthans) and Leonard Cohen. I do slightly hesitate to cite Leonard Cohen in the sense that, he is so good it’s quite hard to be influenced by him, there’s just a kind of biblical perfection to what he does, if you’re going to write a novel you aren’t going to write an old testament unless you’re out of your fucking mind and Leonard Cohen to me, is the old testament of song writing.
On who the book is dedicated to… I do dedicate the book to Adam Duritz, Samson and Jay (Folk singer, Beans On Toast) because they were huge influences in my thinking of my songs, Jay in particular, as I was lost in a world of progressive technical hardcore with my old band, not that Million Dead were a technical hardcore band but we had some of those elements and we just reached this point of insanity where the more complicated the song, the better we thought they were so to hear Jay, who I met around this time and hearing him play songs with three chords and stories about things that happened in the last week was hugely revelatory for me, and I was just like “Oh shit! Songs don’t have to be hard to be good.”
On writing “Bar Staff”… I’m really pleased with that song and it was a bit of a step into an older style of song writing for me in terms of writing but the rearrangements were completely new territory for me, it’s very much muscle and shoulders type stuff, I was slightly dismayed at the number of people who think it’s a ska song because I think that reveals the fact that for a lot of people, the only music they’ve ever heard that has horns in it is ska. It’s not a fucking ska song, there’s nothing ska about it, it’s a soul song. The idea was that I wanted it to be played as the last orders are called.
On Lost Evenings 3 taking place in Boston… Boston is my biggest “market” to use a shitty term, in the USA there’s a few reasons for that, Boston historically has always been quite tuned into UK music, there was also a radio station called WFNX, that chose the song, “I Still Believe” as their kind of anthem when they were fighting a closure a few years ago and it’s the big indie station in Boston so that helped, and then we toured with Dropkick Murphy’s which is a bit like being given the keys to the city in Boston, so all of these things have combined and it is where we sell the most tickets in the US so it made sense to try it there. The idea for Lost Evenings was always to be able to move it and I know there will be some people out there who are like “Why is it not in London?!” to which I’d say, it’ll be in London again but my plan is to do it every year and to move it from time to time.
The only reason why we did year 2 in London again was because the first year was such a Hail Mary pass, and we were all staggered at how well it worked, because none of us had ever put on a festival before of any kind, and in order to solidify the lessons we learned from a production standpoint, it would be useful to do it again in the same place, twice in a row so we could learn and improve. The first year was great but it was pretty fuckin’ seat of the pants stuff and there was a moment about 36 hours before the doors open and someone was like “Wristbands? Are we doing wristbands?! Fuck, fuck we have no wristbands!” so we have definitely learnt some lessons from that. It was definitely a risk to try and sell that many tickets in a city that isn’t London to be blunt, and I’m really happy that it’s done as well as it has but I’d love to do it anywhere else in the future, Manchester and maybe taking it to Germany at some point, the idea of moving it is really fun.
On the atmosphere being different and inclusive at his shows… It’s a funny thing the whole subject of the tone and atmosphere at my shows which people remark on pretty regularly as being different, and it’s difficult for me to have an opinion about it as I’ve never been in the audience for one of my shows, and I can’t be in any meaningful way. I won’t name the artist because it’s someone who I admire and love but I went to a big show at Ally Pally a few years ago, and the show itself was great but the audience were fucking horrible, just like fights and guys fucking with women and stuff getting nicked and just a really hostile environment, there definitely wasn’t a sense of camaraderie in the room which made me think “Okay, maybe there is something different about the shows that I do” but like I say, I can’t objectively make any comment on that, but if people feel like that then it makes me very happy, because I don’t particularly want to be on a soap box all my life and I don’t want to try, and change the world or tell people what to do but there is a very small area on this world over which I have some say, which is the atmosphere at my shows and if I can make that reflect my values then that’s extremely cool to me.
On set-lists… It’s methodologically interesting for me to get requests for what people want to hear, plus I’ll always try to throw in some deep cut, curve-balls to keep it fresh for the audience and for me. It’s funny when you’re playing a show there’s a balance to be struck between following and leading an audience in the sense that, part of what you do is playing what people want to hear but also, part of it is playing what we want to play so when we do play a tour when we have new material, it’s kind of like playing the songs and going “here is the art that I’m making right now” and you want them to hear it, for most tours it’s a pretty “greatest hits” set but it’s nice to put new material within that and every time I release an album, after about a year you establish which songs from the new record are in the “greatest hits” category and which aren’t, sometimes that can be slightly disappointing if people don’t like something you thought they would but at the same time it’s cool to go, even after 7 albums in we can have a song like “1933” which is something I believe we’ll be playing forever now and that’s cool, I like it.
On future music and side projects… I’m gonna have a busy studio year this year, I’m recording a new album which is different, and every record should be different and it’s staggering to me when people go “It’s different?!” and for me, I think well yeah, that’s the point. When I’m writing a record I don’t need to write another “Photosynthesis” because we’ve already got that one in the set, and if I wrote another song that was the same feel and vibe as that, then I’d be challenged as to which one I’d put into the set and I like that song and people want to hear it so we keep it in the set and we want to fill other gaps. Whenever I write I’m thinking about the entirety of my body of work and how to, hopefully, not repeat that. At the moment, I’m making this soloish folk concept album and I will reveal all at a later date about that. Möngöl Hörde is stirring, slowly, but we are working on an EP right now and then hopefully have a record out by the end of the year. As well as all this, I also have a side project with my mate, Chris who I’ve known since I was 3, he’s my oldest friend and we got into music together when Iron Maiden landed in my life, Metallica landed in his, he got a drum kit for Christmas, I got a guitar from Argos and we started playing together when we were like 10 years old. He’s now into extremely odd, heavy, progressive, techno and electro, very extreme sounds of music and we made an easy listening covers record in this style and with a spin, it’s awesome for me because it sounds like a cross between The Prodigy, Aphex Twin and with an Otto Von Schirach vibe as well, it’s very strange and quite a lot of it is barely listenable and it’s deliberately provocative. We’ll be finishing that towards the end of the month and I’m really excited for how that turns out, it’s a completely different project and under a different name (Eating Before Swimming), it’s not a thing we could do live because of the level of sonic manipulation that’s involved but it’s really fun and I think it’s gonna fuck with a lot of people, all being well that will be out in the summer sometime.
On his place within the music industry… At the risk of over playing my hand with this statement, I occupy an odd place within in the music industry which I really enjoy – I’m not the hot young new thing, and all the places we played outside of the UK are the biggest we’ve ever played on our last tour, and within the UK we still operate at a level that we’ve been at for a few years. It’s just that now there’s no rules, no clichés and it’s just how it is and it’s really liberating. The kind of careers that I can compare myself against now are people like, Elvis Costello and Nick Cave, maybe that’s a hugely ambitious thing to say but those are people who I love and idolise and that’s really fucking cool and it does kind of mean, I can do whatever the fuck I want, I’d like to think that to a degree that’s always been the case, it’s not like I was ever trying to suck up to anybody at any point but now it just is what it is, I was actually pleasantly surprised that the NME did a review for ‘Be More Kind’ – granted, they’ve always been fucking rude about me and it was a good review that kind of said you can’t really argue with this at this point, it’s been around long enough at a very successful level that you just have to take it seriously and that gives me a lot of pride, it enables me to be like “yeah, fuck you guys!” not specifically to the NME but just to the world in general.
On embracing the entertainment aspect of performing live… My best friend in the whole world has commented on the fact that in the last five years of my life, he’s seen me embrace, Freddie Mercury as a concept and I think that’s fair to say. The realisation that I came to within the last decade is that musicianship, song writing and performance are three separate disciplines. Ideally, I wanna be good at all three of them and that’s what people in my position should want to do and that’s why Springsteen is so remarkable, because he is at the top of his category in all three which is just so unusual. It’s very easy to think of people who are or were good at two but not the other, Kurt Cobain was a great performer and songwriter but he was a pretty terrible guitar player, Eddie Van Halen is a great musician and a pretty good performer but I think in my opinion, his song writing isn’t up to scratch so to succeed at all three is something that I strive for. Having that realisation also allows me to think of performance and entertainment as a concept in and of itself, I hope it’s done with enough self-deprecation and tongue in its cheek that people think that I haven’t turned into like, Mika or whatever. I don’t take it particularly seriously but at the same time, it is a whole other angle to think about because I could stand still and play the songs but by adding some extra bells and whistles, it should hopefully just add to the show and it’s possibly not to everyone’s taste and I get that but then at the same time, when I do solo shows all of that, sort of falls away, it’s just me and a guitar again, talking and playing songs. It’s definitely right and fair to say, it is something I’ve thought about more but it’s not like I’m doing fucking costume changes, but having set pieces in the show is fun and we’ve definitely got some new ideas for the next tour we put together.
You can pre-order Frank’s new book, “Try This At Home” by clicking the following link – Try This At Home
Frank will also be doing a short book tour across different venues in the UK, check out the dates and locations below –
18 MAR 2019 GLASGOW, UK BOOK Q&A WITH IAN WINWOOD / SOLO SET AYE WRITE LITERARY FESTIVAL, MITCHELL LIBRARY
19 MAR 2019 MANCHESTER, UK BOOK Q&A WITH IAN WINWOOD / SOLO SET STOLLER HALL, CHETHAM’S SCHOOL OF MUSIC
20 MAR 2019 – LEEDS, UK WATERSTONES LEEDS (BOOK SIGNING)
20 MAR 2019 – CHESTER, UK BOOK Q&A WITH IAN WINWOOD / SOLO SET CRAXTON WOOD HOTEL
21 MAR 2019 – BIRMINGHAM, UK WATERSTONES BIRMINGHAM (BOOK SIGNING)
21 MAR 2019 – YEOVIL, UK BOOK Q&A WITH IAN WINWOOD / SOLO SET WESTLANDS
22 MAR 2019 – WINCHESTER, UK WH SMITH WINCHESTER (BOOK SIGNING)
22 MAR 2019 – LONDON, UK WATERSTONES TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD (BOOK SIGNING)
27 MAR 2019 – LONDON, UK BOOK Q&A WITH IAN WINWOOD / SOLO SET ST JAMES CHURCH