It’s been ten years since Winchester born Frank Turner released debut solo album Sleep Is For The Week, and in those years he’s hardly stopped to take a breath. Releasing six full length albums and playing over 2000 live shows, Frank Turner has become a world renowned pioneer of modern English folk-rock – and he shows no signs of slowing down.
I met with Frank at The Camden Roundhouse, to discuss his current ventures, the journey he has taken and what excites him about the music industry.
On your website you’ve been blogging about your charity work in Sierra Leone, how was that experience for you?
It was amazing. It was a really sort of mind-meltingly different experience for me. The Joe Strummer Foundation asked me to go and in the run up to the trip I read a few books and tried to educate myself but I absolutely wasn’t ready for it.
It was incredible and I mean that in ways that are quite obvious; when you’re there you realize the unbelievable privilege of being anybody in the West. It was a fantastic trip and it’s really fired me up, I definitely want to go back, I definitely want to do more. We’re talking about trying to get a proper show with The Sleeping Souls over there. It was a very moving experience and I’d like to think I’ve made some friends through it who will be friends for a long time.
In March this year Frank visited Sierra Leone, taking his musical influence on a journey of discovery around the country, meeting and collaborating with local artists. This venture was organized by The Joe Strummer Foundation who work to raise funds in the UK and distribute them to charities around the world.
To find out more about this venture you can read Frank’s personal blogs of the journey on his website.
That work you were doing was for The Joe Strummer foundation, and tonight you’re playing a DJ set at the Electric Ballroom where The Clash played, is it still exciting to play iconic venues like that?
Yeah, I’ve played at and been to the Electric Ballroom many times in my life but…I’m an adopted Londoner, when I was a kid I used to get the train up to Camden wherever I possibly could on the weekends. I’d buy a can of green hairspray and try on t-shirts I couldn’t afford, piss off all the market vendors. It’s nice to feel part of a community, part of a scene, part of a tradition. I love being in Camden and knowing the things that have happened here and being able to have a small part of that ongoing story.
You’re curating some very exciting shows at The Camden Roundhouse in May, including a ten year celebration of Sleep Is For The Week, are you looking forward to revisiting it live?
I am, it’s going to be a lot of work. The Sleeping Souls and I have started writing setlists for the upcoming shows; on that particular evening we’re going to play all the earlier stuff, everything from The Sleep Is For The Week, all the E.P’s that were around then and about two thirds of the songs are songs we haven’t played in about eight years. I had to re-learn some lyrics and Matt wasn’t even in the band back then, so there’s a lot of work to be done!
But when that record came out I wasn’t really sure that anybody was going to care about it full stop, so to be playing it in full ten years later is very meaningful to me. Recently I said jokingly, but after thinking about it I think it’s actually true, on the night that we do Sleep Is For The Week here there’s going to be more people in the room then there was at the entire tour back in 2007! It’s a tangible event, it’s a tangible achievement.
I think there’s a real sense of home on your albums, on the early albums in Winchester and then later on in London, when you’re performing do you kind of feel that journey you’ve taken?
It’s funny, both in my songs and personally I think there’s a strong inner tension and conflict between homesickness and wanderlust.
I think one of the things that always attracted me to folk music – to the extent that anything I do is folk – was the sense of place that accompanies it.
Occasionally that can be really surreal, to be on stage in Bratislava singing songs about Holloway with Slovenian people singing along. It’s cool, but it’s fucking weird! I remember the first time I toured the states I was nervous about whether anybody was going to give a shit about anything I had to say because of the deliberately parochial nature of some of the lyrics, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it translated.
Realistically I shouldn’t have been surprised, it should have been obvious, I adore Bruce Springsteen and I’m not a New Jersey native. I think everyone can insert their own local references and elements of home are translatable.
At your shows, and within folk genre as a whole, there’s a real sense of community, a mixture of ages and backgrounds. Do you like the way the emotive nature and the genre brings people together, do you like to see that when you’re playing?
I’ve always been proud of the breadth of my demographic, it’s something people remark on at my shows and I think it’s really cool. I didn’t plan against it but it’s not really something you can plan for, I just put music out and hoped people would like it.
I work hard at creating an inclusive, safe community vibe at my shows. I’m a musician, I can’t change the world, but that’s an area that I do have control over and I want my shows to have that feeling, I would never want people to feel shitty and unsafe at one of my shows.
This summer you have the tour coming up with Blink 182 and The Front Bottoms, are you looking forward to that?
Yeah definitely! I was a passionate Blink fan when Dude Ranch came out, and I still think they’re a great band. It’s going to be fun touring with The Front Bottoms, I’ve not played with them before, they’re a fantastic band and I’m looking forward to seeing them every night and hanging out with them.
What excites you within the music industry and within the music world as a whole at the moment?
I think the music industry is in a really interesting place at the moment, and the thing that I like is that nobody has a fucking clue what’s going on! In a way that’s really empowering, when I was starting out the power structure of the music industry was still very much in place, and I think now the field is a lot more open to creative minds. You can sort of make it up as you go along and people will take a chance on what you’re doing and I think that’s really exciting and really interesting. In a way what we’re doing here at Lost Evenings is an example of that.
This is the first section of a two part feature interview with Frank Turner, the second part to is to follow at the end of May.