Interviewing Frank Turner for Distant Warning
Interviewing Frank Turner for Distant Warning
By Bella Holt
So… I’m on a fan site for a singer/songwriter/performer called Frank Turner. He is an Englishman who currently plays acoustic guitar, sometimes solo but mostly with a backing band called “The Sleeping Souls” – their name is a reference to a song lyric from a track on his fourth studio album England Keep My Bones. I got into Frank’s music around the time that album came out and met him that year. He is kind thoughtful person and deeply passionate about music which he loves to share. When someone asked on a facebook page (Frank Turner Army) if anyone had any questions they wanted to ask Frank as they were interviewing him later… well… I might have put one or two or several questions forward. I was asked (and pestered ;-) ) by a few people to interview him myself, but have been reluctant to do so. I have a brain disorder that puts me on the autistic scale and as a result I tend to talk a lot and go off on weird tangents…..
Pauline suggested that I do an email interview for Distant Warning as I am a member here as well. I put together some different questions to the ones I posted of the FTA page and Pauline asked Frank if that would be ok - This is the result….
1) History is Important (your T-shirt from Val) – you reference history and historical figures in some of your songs, do you ever think about the phrase “history is written by the victors” and wonder how close what we think we know is compared to what might have actually happened?
FT: Um, well, yes, but that’s a pretty cursory comment on historiography as an idea. I think historians generally are aware of that and try to lift the cover, I’d say that’s the first thing anyone thinking about history does actually.
2) With that in mind – is there a historical event you wish you knew more about, but have not been able to find out the details you would like to know?
FT: I always have a long list of things I want to find out more about. I’m currently looking into biographies of Leonardo Da Vinci and histories of Chechnya.
3) Do you ever hope that people who hear your songs will look up the obvious references in them? (eg: My Kingdom for a Horse, Boudicca, Prufrock, 1905 vs 1917, Watt Tyler, Rufus the Red - to name one or two… and more recently Josephine and Cleopatra…) Do you mind if people don’t understand the obvious ones?
FT: I guess I hope people have some understanding of the reference, in the sense that it’s there to enhance the meaning of the song (rather than just to show off). But I’m not writing songs to educate people, if they don’t choose to look into it, well, such is life.
4) There is a “Miss-heard Lyrics” thread on your forum, something I noticed about some of the things people miss-hear are things they might not know about, so they choose the closest word that they think it might be and squeeze that in instead. Have you ever listened to an album, or a song and badly misheard a lyric, only to discover the real lyric later? Can you tell us what it was?
FT: Sure, many times. There’s a lyric in “A Letter” by Mineral - “You looked like a sailor, with a tattoo of an anchor on your arm”. I always heard it as “you looked like a saviour, with a tattoo of an angel on your arm” which is kind of pretty in its own way I think. There were no lyric sheets for me to check back then alas.
5) I know you are a Cory Branan fan. Have you heard his song “Wreck of the Sultana”?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfCe0B77i3w Are you aware it’s a true story and there is a project to make a film about it remeberthesultana.com ?
FT: Can’t say I had heard it. Will check it out.
6) Are there any songs by other people that reference an event, that made you think about it and go look it up? If so, what was the song and the event?
FT: I guess… There’s a bunch of old folk and blues songs that reference events, sinking of ships, wars and so on, that I’ve looked up.
7) Other than the joke in Jet Lag about time zones - are there others that you can count on one hand the number of people who spotted a reference or joke slipped into a song? (you don’t have to tell what they are I’m just curious)
FT: Yes, loads. Hard to list them off the top of my head, but, for example, there’s a fair few Phillip Larkin references floating around the place that people seem to have missed.
8) I know you don’t get very much time whilst on tour to visit places in the way you might if you were on holiday there, but do you ever try to organise things like press for example, so that you get enough time to visit – for example a museum or historical monument – something you are particularly interested in while you are there during tour time?
FT: I do try on occasion, sure, but I’m not on holiday, I’m working, so everything else takes priority, time-wise.
9) Regarding planning tours – are you (and the Sleeping Souls and your crew) able to have any say in what cities or venues you visit on tour and the routes you take to get there?
FT: I usually have some ideas about cities I’d like to hit on a tour, but routing a full tour is a massive and specialised undertaking, which I don’t want to interfere in - my agent is paid to do that job.
10) Are there any places you are desperate to go back to on tour because of something totally unrelated to touring or history or how many friends you have there? Like a really good restaurant, or stunning scenery maybe?
FT: I’d like to go back to Prague. But all that is secondary to other, career-based considerations.
11) Have you ever said to the person booking your tours “NOT THERE!”? (You don’t have to say why if you don’t want to, but I have friends who are musicians and I know that are some places that no matter what the money, they never want to visit ever again – for a variety of reasons…. The one way system, cleanliness of the venue or city, manners of the locals… )
FT: No. If there’s a genuine reason not to go somewhere, my booking agent will know.
12) How do you deal with day to day things whilst on tour – like food shopping/meals, washing clothes etc.
FT: You get into a routine. I’ve been doing this for years, remember. On bigger tours we have our own catering. Otherwise I make plans to eat when I need to (you actually have to be kind of precise about it, you can’t plan on a full or empty stomach). Washing, well, there’s a system, you have laundry days once a week.
13) With modern technology like skype, do you find it easier to keep in touch with friends and family back home or does it not make so big a difference because the other aspects of your job are still the same, and that’s what makes keeping in touch difficult? (Timings of when you are working vs time zones vs times your friends are available to speak due to commitments in their own lives kind of thing?)
FT: The internet makes things much easier, for sure. Facebook is helpful to me, gives me a sense of connection to my social circle.
14) You tour very hard, so your instruments etc. get a lot of use - how do you and your crew manage to run maintenance on all your kit whilst touring? Has finding the time to do maintenance ever been a problem?
FT: Well that’s their primary job description, the crew, keeping things in order. That’s the job, so they do it.
15) I know you have more than one guitar with you on a full band tour – I am assuming this is so you can play songs in different tunings during the set without having to stop to retune one guitar – as I don’t play can you tell me if this is correct or is there another reason? Can you talk me through all the guitars you currently have on tour with you? (What are they, how do you choose them, how long have you had them?)
FT: I have a pair of Gibson Hummingbirds with me, they’re pretty much identical. I change guitar every 3 or 4 songs so that Cahir (tech) can clean, tune and cool off the other one, that way I don’t break strings, don’t need to take time to tune on stage and so on. We also have a parlour guitar that sits in the dressing room for warming up, writing and so on.
16) You retired the first guitar Patrick Eggles built for you (old Faithful?) and I think that’s your Gibson in the video for Billy The Kid’s making of her album Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. I remember seeing the interview you did with Farida about their FTHC Signature guitar – do you collect guitars just for you (not for touring)? Can you tell me about any stories about any of them?
FT: Old Faithful stays at home now. I now have a deal with Gibson so that’s what I play live. I also own a Dick Knight handbuild electric, built in 1947, which is pretty special. I have a pile of other guitars but I’m not that much of a nerd about it, truth be told.
17) I think in an old interview when you were asked about your current set up, you said you like big guitars with a full sound & cutaway so you could play higher up the neck, using fishman rare earth pickups… do I have this right and is it still the same – could you explain your current set up for me, saying why it is you like these things?
FT: I don’t have much in the way of a setup really, I play acoustic. I play Hummingbirds now, great guitars, solid and good sound, plays great. I use a Fishman Aura Spectrum DI. That’s about it really.
18) When you write a song or a melody, do you hear it in your head with all the parts (bass, drums, backing vocals etc.) while you are writing or just the main theme(s)?
FT: Just the melody at first but it usually gets fleshed out over time.
19) I have just seen the version of Undeveloped Film with the Cosmopolitan Quartet. I also saw you when you had Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo supporting your tour. After their set they played and contributed backing vocals on several songs with you and the Sleeping Souls. How many of the songs of the ones you have written so far, would you like to have additional instruments on during tour if you could afford to take more people with you? What would those instruments be if money was not an issue?
FT: I’m always interested in new ways of looking at songs and instrumentation and so on. But at the same time I think that unlimited resources is pretty detrimental to creativity - having some constraints on what you’re doing makes you focus and think harder about the whole project. So I guess I just like to work with whatever is at hand.
20) Am I right in thinking that one or two songs on Tape Deck Heart were written as more of a collaboration with one other member the band than just the usual element of you having the initial skeleton of the song and the others writing their own parts? If I have this right -could you elaborate on how that came to be and what makes that a different experience from the usual way the various layers provided by the Sleeping Souls happen?
FT: “Plain Sailing Weather” and “Oh Brother” were co-written with Matt. That’s because I ended up using riffs he’d written within songs I was writing, if you see what I mean. The main piano riff of “Oh Brother” was just something Matt had been soundchecking with for years, and I’d always thought it was something by someone else. When I found out it was his, it seemed silly not to use it for a song, so we started working at it.
21) You write about landscapes as though you know them well and love them – do you have favourite types of landscape? Moors, Fells, Coasts, Mountains, Woodland, Lakes?
FT: Love em all. Spent a lot of my childhood in the northwest Highlands in Scotland, and also some time in the moors in the southwest. And of course I grew up in the south downs. But I get a little mawkish around British countryside generally.
22) Does the time of year affect how badly you might want to visit certain places or do you like those places all year round? For example most people appear to prefer the moorland when the heather is in full flower or when the bracken is turning, but are unable to find the same place beautiful at other times. Some people love the woodland just as the trees start to bud, but other prefer to visit when the trees are in full leaf or in their autumn colours.
FT: I don’t generally get to choose where I visit when, so I’ll take what I can get.
23) I know you walked the whole of The South Downs Way in Hampshire. Did you know it is the only National Trail contained within a single National Park? Is there any particular landscape or area in the UK you would like to explore more that you have already and why (aside from not having time because you are on tour)?
FT: I did know that. I plan to do some more walking when I can find the time.
24) Are there any landscapes abroad that you would like to see more of? Deserts, old or new volcanic places, rainforests for example – and what do you find fascinating about it?
FT: Uh, I guess. It’s not something I’ve thought about much.
25) You also write about the sea – have you ever been sailing? If so – big boats or smaller ones? Lakes or reservoirs or the sea?
FT: I have been sailing. I did a bunch when I was a kid. I always felt an ease in sight of the sea.
26) Aside from the already planned book of tour diaries - is there any possibility of you and Matt doing another photo touring book in the future now you are playing bigger venues at home and traveling a slightly wider range of places elsewhere?
FT: I guess, though that photo book didn’t really work out financially, alas. So we’ll see I guess. I have an idea to write a travel history book about Holloway in north London, but that’s very much in the formative stages.
27) I like to collect myths, legends, and folklore tales and started actively collecting when I realised I had several versions of a particular story. I ended up several versions of the Fisher King amongst others and enjoyed your idea about Battersea Power station. I noticed you also reference other folklore and myths in your songs, and more personally in your tattoos – did you have a favourite myth/legend/folk story growing up?
FT: I liked Robin Hood a bunch, and the Fisher King too. Different thing I know, but I’m a big Tolkein fan as well.
28) You have travelled extensively whilst working, and reference travel in both your songs and your tattoo’s – do you like maps? Have you ever thought you might like to visit somewhere purely based on seeing a map or written description of the area without having seen a picture or knowing any more about the destination?
FT: I love maps, my flat is decorated with them, I have some weird and old ones in my collection. I spend a long time looking at bits of the world I haven’t visited and wondering what they look like.
29) Some time ago you said that you might like to do a side project of traditional English folk music and had collected some notes – is this something you are still interested in pursuing when you get time? Have you ever listened to the traditional music of the countries you have travelled to?
FT: It was an idea, it got kind of sidelined, and to be honest there’s no way I could come anywhere close to Jon Boden’s “Folk Song A Day” project, so it might be a dead idea by now alas. I have listened to some other trad music, sure, but it’s less connected for me personally.
30) I love to hear people talk about things that they are passionate about (a place, an event, an object, a piece of music or a film or a piece of art…) – have you ever heard someone speak about something that you knew very little about and felt compelled by that person’s passion to investigate the subject? What was it?
FT: Well, yes, sure, like most people, right? Isn’t that a pretty normal experience?
31) Other than the stuff listed in your FAQ on your website – are there any questions you get sick of being asked?
FT: I spend a lot of time answering questions which are a google search away for the askee, which gets pretty tiresome after a while. Look it up on the fucking internet, FFS.
32) On which note… did you ever get a T-shirt printed saying “The Tour Is Going Fine”?
FT: Haha, not yet.
Photo Copyright of Bella Holt
Taken at The Lemon Grove, Exeter, 22/09/2014