TURN, TURN, TURNER Frank Turner

Outspoken U.K. Troubadour pursues a
fast trajectory to Stateside success.

 

BY
LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Those
fortunate enough to have inhabited the planet back in the mid ‘60s are certain
to recall the all-out marketing blitz that accompanied the arrival of the
Beatles on these shores, manifested through multiple album releases, high
profile television appearances, manic tours and all variety of accompanying
product placement. While it would certainly be a stretch to liken the introduction
of tempestuous troubadour Frank Turner to the overwhelming onslaught of the Fab
Four – we’ve yet to see any Frank Turner wigs or lunch boxes, at this juncture
anyway – the rapid pace of Turner’s initial introduction does suggest that
Epitaph, his new American record label, intends to promote him with similar
urgency and enthusiasm. His last release, Love
Ire & Song
, had barely hit Stateside store shelves when a newer disc, Poetry of the Dead, began competing for attention. (Both were
issued here by venerable punk label Epitaph.) Naturally then, Turner’s taking
full advantage of this double-edged introduction in gunning for Stateside
success.

 

“The
main idea behind the release schedule was to try and get the rest of the world
up to speed before the new album comes out,” Turner explains, casting an
amiable attitude on the proceedings. “Love
Ire & Song
has been out in the U.K. for over a year now. The new one
[had] a simultaneous international release. So I guess it was just like trying
to level things out before then. There are a fair few people overseas who have
known about what I’m doing, so they’ll be waiting for the new stuff too. Who
knows if it’ll help or hinder… help, I’d hope and imagine.”

 

Turner
acknowledges that those already familiar with his work will notice a change of
direction, if not change of attitude, infused in the new LP. An outspoken and
opinionated pundit and pontificator, he veers away from the Billy Bragg
comparisons that have trailed him up until now and opted instead for a more
band-oriented approach that references the Clash, the Pogues and other English
insurgents. “When I did my first album, I was just starting out at playing and
writing this kind of music,” Turner recalls. “Since then, I’ve been improving
with practice. But on the whole I feel like the things I’ve done up to and
including this new album have been part and parcel of the same project.”

 

Even
so, Turner acknowledges that there are certain similarities that are likely to
draw the attention of those in need of a quick reference. “The Billy Bragg
comparison is a reasonably fair cop – we’re both English ex-punks dabbling in
acoustic / folk music,” Turner concedes. “The Clash and the Pogues, sure, are
bands I’m a fan of. Actually for the new record, I wanted it to be somewhere
between Springsteen and the Levellers [laughs].
I’d just like to sound English if I can.”

 

Still,
whatever his intent, there’s no denying that traces of rebellion and righteous
indignation hang on practically every strum, much like Dylan in his perched cap
and protest days. Turner demurs when it comes to specific intents, but short of
a sudden attitude adjustment, it’s likely he’ll still be perceived that way.

 

“I
don’t really think about it too hard,” he reflects. “I don’t consider myself a
‘protest’ singer, partly because I more often talk about other things, and
partly because if you get that label, people make sweeping assumptions about
your politics. For example, a lot of people think I’m left-wing [laughs]. I guess in general I’m quite a
passionate or angry person. It just kinda comes out that way when I start
trying to express myself musically.”

 

Even
so, Turner was inspired to undertake his musical trajectory in a most
inauspicious way, having been moved initially by a poster he spied on the wall
of an older boy’s bedroom. “It was the Stranger
In A Strange Land
Iron Maiden poster, and the whole thing of having a
zombie cowboy from the future was pretty much the coolest thing I’d ever seen. When
I found out it was a band, I was sold. From then, well, I guess I always
thought that if I enjoyed something I should participate in it, so I got a
guitar and started hammering away. As for making it a career, well, with my
last hardcore band, Million Dead, we eventually found a way of not having jobs
while being in the band, and I never looked back.

 

Unlike
other artists, Turner insists his upbringing did little to nurture his musical
ambitions. “My parents are reasonably musical, but also hold that all decent
music ended in about 1900, so it wasn’t a popular music household,” Turner says
somewhat sarcastically. “Getting into music always had an air of rebellion to
it for me. I first fell in love with metal and then moved through punk into
hardcore. Though the music I make isn’t really so much in that direction any
more, I think that background really influences the sound I make.  Beyond that, my tastes were revolutionized by
getting into stuff like Springsteen, Dylan and Young – artists I didn’t grow up
with but got into after Black Flag.

 

Million
Dead had lasted roughly four years when the members decided to part while
they were still in good standing with their public and each other.  Opting to go it alone and choosing an
acoustic guitar as his instrument of choice, Turner made folk music his means of
affirming a rebellious regimen. He stayed on the road nonstop for eighteen
months, making occasional forays to Europe and the U.S. Signed by a small
English label, Xtra Mile, he put out an EP and eventually an album, the aptly
and somewhat pointedly titled Sleep Is
For the Week.
The release of his sophomore set, the aforementioned Love Ire & Song, boosted his
recognition factor by several degrees, resulting in a spate of sold-out shows,
larger crowds, more than two-dozen festival appearances and his first hint of
true chart success.

 

“I’m
not really sure I believe in breaks,” Turner says now, reflecting on it all. “They
happen, but the hard work around them seems more important to me. I’ve been
touring hard for as long as I can remember, and that seems to be the key
factor. The first records I put out were on a DIY label I ran with my friends,
and then later on, other people’s DIY labels. It was a reasonably smooth
progression from there to where I am now. Signing with Epitaph was obviously a
big fucking deal, and I’m stoked about it. But it came at the end of a lot of
hard graft. Having the opportunity to release stuff properly in the USA is
awesome, a dream come true for me really. Touring in the USA is basically every
English musician’s dream. There’s something insane about traveling thousands of
miles to a city you’ve never visited before and finding a crowd who know your
songs.”

 

 

[Photo
Credit: David Black]

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