Frank Turner / From Battersea to USA / Interview

Frank Turner on

Finishing his most successful tour ever, which was highlighted by a sold out Wembley show and an unexpected appearence at the Olympic opening ceremony, Frank Turner didn’t wait long to record a new album. “Tape Deck Heart” – his 5th studio album since the beginning of his solo career 2008 – leads Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls to a new artistical height. With the help of famous producer Rich Costey (who worked with the ones of Muse or Interpol) “Tape Deck Heart” was recorded in California – the first time Frank Turner went abroad for recording. The album represents a new step in his career as Englands leading singer/songwriter – combines his folkrock approach on  a higher level with some bittersweet lyrical moments we didn’t know from Turner. We interviewed Frank Turner during his solo tour, which will be followed by a regular band tour in Europe this fall. As always, he tried to explain his life and his music in a friendly and most honest way, which is quite unique on this level of growing success. If you are looking for an artist, who lives his music with his heart and soul, and who deserves the success finally after years of endless touring – than it’s Frank Turner for you to choose.

Interview by Martin Hannig Pic by courtesy of Frank Turner Frank, your new album is called “Tape Deck Heart”. Do you have a tape deck heart? Mine’s gone, I don’t have a tape deck anymore…

Frank: (laughs). I don’t have a real tape deck, but maybe there’s one lurking inside my chest somewhere. It’s a funny album title, because there’s isn’t a specific meaning. It’s kind of open. People tell me hundreds different things what the album title can mean. It means whatever you want it to mean. The album was recorded in California, USA. Don’t you have good studios in good old England?

Frank: Yeah we do (laughs). I was a little nervous by recording in California. The driving force behind it was I wanted to record with Rich Costey. He’s an amazing producer and I really wanted to work with him. You know it’s not new. Bands from England or Europe whenever they get a certain amount of success they go to California. That’s not what I wanted to do. I spent some time convincing Rich to come to England to record it here. But in the end he convinced me – “I have all the equipment  I need for my job here in one place, why should I fly to England and hiring all the equipment that I already own?” In the end it actually didn’t make any difference, because we were working so hard, we didn’t see the sunshine in California… I thought your vocals on the album sounds better than on “England Keep My Bones”, or the other albums, with some more variations in singing on it.  Am I right?

Frank: I’d like to think so. Recording vocals is something I don’t enjoy very much… Do you like your voice on the recordings?

Frank: I’m kind of a perfectionist you know. Also it’s something very personal about singing vocals than like playing guitar, where you can fuck up sometimes, but by singing it’s like “you as a person have failed”. Rich drove me on the vocals not to get the things too correct, so they actually have soul as well. In the past I tried to construct too much, I was getting all the notes exactly right. One of the songs he let me sing 42 different times. I wanted to kill him, but it was great he did it because the performance on the recording is much better than it would be otherwise. So he’ still living, right?

Frank:  Ya. (laughs). So Rich Costey contributed a lot to your sound?

Frank: I think basically it’s not only the vocals – as a band he pushed us kind of dig deeper in  the performances. He was making us not accept anything unless it’s the best. Talking about the US. You’ve been touring a few times over there, so how it’s going? I mean you sound very british, you’ve got that very british accent, but as a german I’m not sure about this anglo-american relations…

Frank: I know what you mean. Before I started touring the States 2007 I was a little worried about what I was gonna do.  To be honest  I had the same worries about coming to Germany as well. Can anyone in Germany understand my lyrics? In terms of speaking English do they understand what I was talking about? I think in America there’s a really big string of anglophile, particularly in the punk rock scene. Everybody loves The Clash. That helps. But also particularly in the western world, the things that I sing about can be understood by people in Germany, in America and Austria and Canada and whatever, you know. Yeah and Italy, France, Spain…. One of my favourite song from your new album is “Fisher King Blues”. I thought this is all about the meaningless of life. It’s a slightly bitter set of lyrics, and for me it’s a new side of Frank Turner …

Frank: I guess. The one thing on that song in particular is I’m not entirely sure if it’s about myself. I guess it’s about the people!

Frank: Yeah it’s about people and the way how people tend to repeat themselves. I actually think it’s a kind of optimistic finish to that song in a sense that despite the fact that human beings fuck up in the same way, we all repeat the mistakes of our friends, our parents, it’s kind of enduring all time. In that song there’s a line “Battersea power station where the fisher king pounders on his ruin”, and I was wondering about that line. I know it’s not good to analyse every single line in one song… but isn’t it that power station where Pink Floyd flew the pigs?

Frank: Yes it is. But the more important thing for me, Battersea power station is absolutely huge, and if you take the train anywhere from South London you can’t miss it. But also it’s basically a ruin, it hasn’t been a functioning power station. They can’t decide what to do with it. Nobody wants to knock it down because it’s such an iconic landmark. Nobody can find anything. They try to turn it into luxury flat right now, but they tried it a few times before…. Luxury flats in an old power station, that sounds… strange.

Frank: It’s one of my favourite landmarks in London, that huge, vast and ambitious building, that doesn’t do anything. You played a solo gig at the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg a few years ago, that’s where I saw you the first time. And you came across as such a nice person, and during the gig you began to tell some stories between the songs, and that was very funny and and emotional. My friend and me we went “hey he’s like Bruce Springsteen in the 70ies”. And than immediately you sang “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways”… And we: my, he  plays Springsteen! Now that made our day – we’re big Springsteen fans. So what’s your relationship to the Boss? Was he a big influence to your work?

Frank: Oh yes. When I was younger of course I knew him like “that guy did Born in the USA”. But than when I was in that punk band somebody gave me a tape with “Nebraska” on it. I’d never heard Springsteen in that way you know, I’d never heard him sound like that and sing like that. That was a really big moment for me hearing that record in terms of a turn around in my music career, from hardcore punk bands to what I’m doing now. Since then I kind of got really obsessed by that guy, I got all his records, seen all his live shows… Did you see his concert last year?

Frank: No I missed him, cause I was on tour myself. But I see him a few times before. The one thing I find interesting about him he’s an allrounder. He’s an incredible singer, how he’s hitting those high notes that’s kind of insane, and he’s also an amazing performer and entertainer! For me it was one of the best experiences in my life to see his show twice last year. An ultimate gospel, soul, rock’n’roll show. It was like a holy mess of rock, and I was deeply touched by his charisma.

Frank: Yeah he’s really really amazing. I find him very inspiring because at this point in my career now we’re looking to play bigger shows like the Wembley Arena in the UK, and Springsteen is the proof that it is possible to do those shows and keep it feeling intimate and personal. I been thinking about that a lot in recent years, as I make that move myself. “Living days” could be an E-Street-Band song, right?

Frank: (laughs): Yes. For me I like the model of the E-Street-Band, it’s a really cool model. Frank I know everybody asks you about your olympic appearance at the opening ceremony. I don’t wanna be too annoying, but as I saw you there, I was totally surprised. Frank Turner is not the kind of artist you expect to see there. And you brought the music to the show. Tell me about this big thing, to play worldwide….

Frank: It was amazing to get this offer, I said yes straight away! How many other times you gonna get that chance? It was a very…. bizarre experience, it was a very big machine. It was Danny Boyle who asked us, he’s an amazing guy and very talented. It was really flattering to be part of his vision. People seem to think that this was the most exciting thing in my career that ever happened to me. But it isn’t really. It was a really interesting and exciting experience and I don’t mind talking about it. But particular mainstream press in the UK is always like “hey this must be the most exciting thing in your hole life!” Well –yes and no, you know (laughs). Playing a tour or especially playing Wembley Arena must be … another kind of incredible, I guess…

Frank: The thing about the Wembley show was, people came to see US play. At the Olympic opening, nobody came to see us…! But there’s nothing wrong about it – you get the whole experience with a different feeling, if it’s your show or if you part of another show. I found out your first album you bought as a kid was “Killers”…

Frank: …from Iron Maiden! Yes. Do you still listen to that album?

Frank: Oh yes I do. It’s such a powerful record. Awesome! You know I still like metal. That’s why I was shocked to hear that Jeff Hanneman from Slayer died yesterday. It’s so shocking to me, I just never expected that he would go you know… He wasn’t that old…

Frank: 49…. So “Killers” is still a great album…  I think it’s particularly noticeable that a lot of musicians of all kind and a lot of music lovers used to be into metal in their youth…

Frank: Yes. The thing for me I would say generally about metal is there’s a certain kind of intensity. And a kind of purity you know. People don’t get into metal because it’s cool or “I get you laid” or so, you know. It’s because you FUCKING LOVE metal. And that’s the reason why a lot of people kind of go on from that, to be still involved in music. Because there’s a purity in it, and I think that’s really cool. Yes, I will always listen to metal. Not only… but also. Ok that’s it – Thank you very much indeed talking to us Frank!