Interview By Mariko Margetson
From Fall/Winter Vandala Magazine 2017 (Free HERE)
I’m driven by a knowledge that life is finite and that makes me lose my mind. I’m like ‘fck man, there’s not enough time to do like a hundredth of the things I’d like to do in a lifetime. Get the f*ck on with it… like immediately. Stop f*cking around!’
Frank Turner makes a face that closely resembles a grimace and raises both hands in front of his chest as if holding an invisible football.
‘I can’t handle the idea that there’s not enough time.’ He looks down at his hands and laughs. ‘It really bothers me.’
Like everything about Frank Turner, this statement is both shockingly honest and remarkably intense in the most endearing way possible. It’s a few hours before his September 13th performance in Vancouver and the subject of Frank’s favorite author has steered our conversation into some deep water.
I ask the next obvious question.
What’s the biggest thing you’d like to accomplish in your finite time?
Frank starts to answer almost before I finish asking. The biggest thing I’d like to accomplish is the thing that I’m working on…. He pauses, shifting on the couch we both sit on, before basically starting over. I’m not really sure I believe in legacy as a concept because… who gives a f*ck after your dead? It doesn’t matter. I don’t believe in any sort of continued existence after death. But I’m also trying to… amass a critical body of work that is coherent and that can be considered weighty.
As he says the word weighty Frank’s hands float in front of him again, except this time instead of a football, he’s caressing an imaginary crystal ball.
So whether or not I’m succeeding at that is not really for me to judge – I mean, that’s kind of the nature of what I do is just put art into the world and then other people have opinions about it… Tonight I’m going to go on stage and play for two hours and try and create an atmosphere and a mood and a connection with a room full of strangers for two hours and when it’s done it’s done and if you weren’t there you weren’t there.
I was back at the Commodore Ballroom six hours after we wrapped up our conversation to watch him play to nearly 1,000 of his fans. Full disclosure: I consider myself one of those fans – and I can confidently report that he accomplished his mission. And as far as his body of work is concerned, my opinion is that Frank’s live performance should be considered his opus.
I’m certainly somebody, you know if I’ve got a big crowd that’s going nuts then that completely energizes me. He admits during our conversation earlier in the day. And it’s not to say I don’t like playing small shows – I love playing small shows, but .. Tonight we’ve got a thousand people… hopefully enjoying themselves and loosing their shit and that will, you know pull me through the show.
My best guess is that somewhere in this confession is the secret to how Frank Turner manages to convert a roomful of strangers into a frenzied dance party where the guest of honor is kindness. Because if you go to see Frank Turner play he will force you to participate and become part of this transformation. There is something universally likable about Frank Turner that appeals to the craving we all have for belonging and connection. We’re also probably a little scared of what might happen if we don’t do as he says.
There are two rules at a Frank Turner Concert, which he let us know three or four songs into his set. The first is don’t be a dick and the second is if you know the words you have to sing along and if you don’t know the words you have to dance. He most likely isn’t going to ask nicely for anyone’s compliance either, he’s going to demand it. Loudly. Often.
He reminds me a little bit of Justin Trudeau. A friend of mine remarks, immediately after Frank has laid down the law. This friend of mine is kind of a genius, so while I have never heard our Prime Minister curse like a trucker when addressing a crowd, I am inclined to contemplate her assessment. Much like Frank Turner, our Prime Minister is tall, dark, handsome, and comes from an affluent background. I have also heard him speak about compassion and understanding, which is a central theme of Frank’s performance and something he touched on earlier in the afternoon when discussing his upcoming album.
I can say that the last two records I made were kind of sisters if you like… they were about internal affairs… and this new record is more about external affairs. I’ve been kind of reacting to the world. I actually wrote a whole other record of songs about women in history who have been ignored by the historical record. Which is done, but then Donald Trump got elected and I sort of felt like I needed to respond to that as a human and as an artist.
The thing that worries me about the way the world is going is the desertion of the center ground in politics. Because if people don’t engage with each other in the realm of ideas, they tend to engage each other in the realm of arms and that’s a bad thing.…Mutual incomprehension is a bad thing, and I think it’s really important for us to try and have civil conversations with people we disagree with. And I think it’s really important for people to reach out and try and build bridges.
The first of three well chosen songs Frank Turner and the sleeping Souls play from the new album is called Be More Kind. It’s a simple and resonant tune with the easily digestible sound of a hit single that I’d be quite happy to hear topping the charts next spring. Another is called There She Is a full blown happy love song, which Frank admits is new territory for him and the result of being in a settled relationship. The last was a punk flavored number called 1933, which is partially a response to his displeasure over people trying to amalgamate the alt-right with punk rock.
Frank considers the punk scene his chosen family and the ideology of punk rock is a topic he speaks about passionately.
Punk rock is counter-cultural but it contains its own values as well and it’s not enough for something to be punk for it just to be counter cultural. It also has to subscribe to some of the original values of punk rock… Being counter cultural for it’s own sake isn’t enough to be meaningful, in my opinion… It matters what the mainstream is. If the mainstream is good then being against it is bad.
As if to demonstrate this outlook, Frank orders his audience members to participate in a modified death metal tradition that originated in punk culture called a Wall of Death. He divides us down the middle of the room and instructs us to face each other. On his command we charge the row of people facing us and embrace at least one of them. If it were a Wall of death, we would all be trying to fight our way through the wall, so while I share a little more sweat with strangers that I am accustomed to, Frank’s Wall of Hugs is a much preferable alternative.
Frank Turner is every bit as passionate about tattoos as he is about punk rock, possibly even more so.
To me, punk rock is self creation. It’s the choice to be a certain type of person and defining yourself. And tattooing is a sort of externally visible manifestation of that… The first time you get tattooed is very interesting because it changes your self perception and the boundaries of possibility of yourself. And that’s.. I think why tattoos appeal to me is that it’s about self creation and self definition, which is also to me what punk rock is about. It’s about choosing who you are…
All of Frank’s tattoos have a story to them, so in some ways the folk-punk rocker is a walking depiction of the things that define him. His first tattoo, a four-letter tribute to the United Kingdom Hardcore Scene is fairly straight forward. The giant bull skull that adorns his back and is in his own words Cool as F*ck, as well as a portrait of the comedy duo Reeves and Mortimer which cover his entire calf elude to a more complex ethos.
Perhaps if you are going to contemplate Frank’s body of work, you must take into consideration the man himself. A man in a constant state of transformation; a man evolving.
Perhaps it would be worth mentioning his favorite author is Clive James, a terminally ill poet and literary critic whose writings on death have been completely re-arranging my(Frank’s) mind. Perhaps it would be worth knowing Jason Isbel’s song Vampires makes Frank’s blood run cold. Perhaps one would acknowledge there is a recurring theme of defiance, an unwillingness to succumb to being content all throughout Frank Turner’s catalog of albums.
Two thirds of the way through his performance, an attractive blond haired girl balances on the railing in front of the crowd.
This is my friend, Alice – do NOT drop her! Frank bellows, pointing in her direction. Keep her safe!
She reaches in front of her and takes the hands of the people in the front row, who help to steady her while Frank explains that her task is to crowd surf her way to the bar at the back of the room, collect two shots of whiskey, and then continue to crowd surf her way back to the front of the stage. People around us immediately start cheering while I imagine a trail of Whiskey spilling over the ballroom floor. The final instructions to Alice, are that she is not to start crowd surfing until he counts to four.
Frank and the Sleeping Souls begin the opening refrain to If Ever I Stray while Alice and the rest of us wait for the countdown. Approximately sixty seconds later it arrives and Alice gracefully leans forward into the waiting arms of strangers. Somehow, magically, she manages to pull off this crazy feat and she hops up on stage with her friend Frank Turner and the two of them each down a half full shot of whiskey.
It’s good to see you! Frank exclaims as their shot glasses connect.
And then as mysteriously as she appeared, she was gone.
Perhaps if you are going to contemplate Frank’s body of work, you must take into consideration the man himself. A man in a constant state of transformation; a man evolving. Perhaps it would be worth mentioning his favorite author is Clive James, a terminally ill poet and literary critic whose writings on death have been completely re-arranging my(Frank’s) mind. Perhaps it would be worth knowing Jason Isbel’s song Vampires makes Frank’s blood run cold. Perhaps one would acknowledge there is a recurring theme of defiance, an unwillingness to succumb to being content all throughout Frank Turner’s catalog of albums.
Most likely, though that’s not it at all. Ask yourself if you enjoyed the experience, and if the answer is yes, simply be glad you were there.