Interview: Frank Turner on Donald Trump, His New Film and Plans for the Future


Frank Turner has become one of the biggest names in the alternative music scene, renowned for being one of the hardest working artists in the industry, over the years he has released six outstanding albums and has toured the world extensively. Prior to his sold out show at Coventry’s Empire, iCov sat down with Frank to discuss his new movie, the rise of Donald trump and what the future holds for the folk singer.

We’re here with English folk-punk hero and tenacious six-string troubadour, the one the only, Frank Turner! How are we doing today man?

Yeah good thank you, I had a day off yesterday which, in my old age is one of the things I actually need so yeah it was good, nice to be back in Coventry.

Back in Coventry for the first time in eight years, for this the ‘Get Better Tour’. Pretty extensive tour, 22 shows in 29 days, how have the shows been so far?

They’ve been great yeah, we spend a lot of time right now in America, in Canada and in Europe, where I still think we’re building something if you know what I mean. So, there’s a lot of long drives and slugging away, playing obscure towns and really just like digging in, you know what I mean?

This always happens when we do a UK tour, which we do less of these days than we used to but like we come home, it is home you know and it’s just like oh this is so easy, everyone’s so nice, the shows are big and we have lots of crew and everyone’s on team, yeah it’s just lovely to be on tour in the UK again, it’s a good feeling.

So you had a day off yesterday, what do you do with your time off on tour, how do you relax?

Well, I mean actually went to a gig last night which was a move of questionable intelligence, you know live music, rock ‘n’ roll, however you want to put it is my life. Some good friends of mine Matt Northcote from Canada and John Snodgrass from Colorado where playing just around the corner from my house last night so I was like, I got to go you know what I mean. Saw them last night which was fantastic, I mean generally a day off in the middle of a tour I generally lie down and lie as still as possible for quite a long time because it is pretty physically taxing what we do.

We do a two-hour show, it’s very athletic, I do a lot of press and running and all that kind of thing during the day and so what I was alluding to earlier, when I was touring in my twenties you can kind of do all that stuff you know and it doesn’t really matter. I think the longest run on my tour dates was that we did twenty-one shows in a row without a day off. The idea of doing more than four right now makes me want to set myself on fire, I’m in my mid-thirties now I need time to kind of recover.

You’re creeping up to show 2000, which is a remarkable milestone for anyone, you’re playing Nottingham on the 15th December and you have some very special guests supporting.

Yes we do yeah, well first thing, the whole thing about counting shows which is something that the guitarist in my old band (Million Dead) did and I thought it was a bit weird at the time and then when the band broke up I was really glad that he did that because we have a record of what we did.

So I started counting my shows, when show 1000 came around initially I wasn’t that bothered about it, ‘It’s just a number every show is equally important’, blah blah blah… Then I got over myself and realised it’s a really good excuse for a party, so we had cool party for that one.

Doing the same again, Rock City is my favourite venue in the UK, people there are like family for me so it kind of had to be there. So that’s going to be fun and then basically I was thinking carefully about who I wanted to support and when I started out thinking about this kind of music when I still in punk bands, there were two people who got me thinking about acoustic music; one was my friend Jay, who now goes by Beans On Toast, so he’s opening.
Another was my friend Adam who’s in a band called The Tailors who are a little London country band, who were not particularly well known in their time and haven’t done anything for a decade but they were my favourite band back then, I loved them so much.

I asked Adam if he would be up getting them up for the show and he was like ‘You’re mad, but yeah okay fine’, then he said that the only problem we have is our guitar player moved to Canada. So I’m now playing guitar for The Tailors on that show, which is quite scary because Chad their guitar player is a way better guitar player than me, I’m playing quite a lot of the stuff that is really on the edge of my ability as a guitar player so I’m playing a lot of this tour practicing.

Last week you released a cover of ‘This Year’, by The Mountain Goats in support of The Torchsongs project, ran by The Calmzone a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide. You finished your last album Positive Songs for Negative people with ‘A Song For Josh’, a song that carries a very poignant message. How much does this organisation, or how much does this message about men being open and speaking about mental health and suicide?

I think it’s important, to break it down, suicide is a thing that has affected me in my social circle and I’ve lost a few people in my time, Josh was a heavy blow he was a great dude, he was the good guy you know what I mean? He was the guy everyone else went to with their problems and it was a complete bolt from the blue when it happened and it was gutting.

So it was inevitable that I would write something about it, that’s just how my brain works, you know. I think what Calm do is very important and I think as an artist I spend a lot of time struggling with this idea philosophically and I’ve settled it in my head now; I have a platform of sorts in life and I think that it’s important for me to use that from time to time for something other than my own self-regard. I find it kind of refreshing rather than sitting around all day talking about me me me…. To actually kind of go ‘F**k me’, it doesn’t matter about me let’s talk about something that’s infinitely more important, I do what. You know I do what I can, how much impact the things I do with Calm have on the world I don’t really know, but it seems like the least I can do.

This week ‘Get Better’ has been announced a film documentary produced by yourself and Ben Morse, the film follows yourself and The Sleeping Souls over the course of a year. Get Better will make it’s cinematic debut on the 13th December and it will be screened across the UK for one night only.

Could you perhaps talk us through part of the process behind making it?

Ben is a very good friend of mine, he makes a load of my music videos and he was on tour with us as a photographer for a while and he pitched this idea of making a documentary about ‘The band that never stops touring’. Everyone said yeah that sounds pretty cool, so he came on the bus with us and almost immediately we stopped touring because I had this gigantic falling out with my record label about how, where and with who to record the album ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’.

It was sort of a test of my artistic integrity if you like, this then coincided with / caused something of a bit of a meltdown in my personal life and there were some really dark moments in there.

Ben initially, when we stopped touring was like ‘oh f**k’, but he kept filming and in the end it’s turned out to be a film about everything falling apart then coming back together again and I think that makes it a better film. I can’t really judge because it’s about me and it makes me want to curl up and die when I watch it, you know, may you live a long life and never watch a documentary about yourself.

It’s a weird vibe watching it but I think it’s a very interesting film, a very raw and honest film, Ben asked me if I wanted edit anything out of it and I wasn’t going to do that as it would compromise it artistically from my point of view I think it needs to be the film he wanted to make. There’s definitely quite a lot of it that makes my toes curl, you know what I mean but that might be the thing that makes it interesting to other people.

A bit of an emotional rollercoaster is it?

Yeah definitely, there’s some footage of me doing and being things that I’m not enormously proud of, let’s say that, I guess you’ll just have to watch it.

Is it it something you can look back on and maybe learn from?

Yeah absolutely, that’s a good way of putting it actually I’ve learned a lot in the process and I’m quite happy first of all in a sense that the album got made the way I wanted it to and it came out and we kept touring and that was good. Also I stuck to my guns and I’m quite proud of that fact, there was a lot of pressure on me to do things in a different way and I told them to f**k off and that worked!

After this UK run, you’re heading off on a USA & Canada tour, and on the eve of the US election you posted a blog that perhaps let your political feelings known, without trying to sway or direct anyone in any which way. Obviously we all know the result of the election and we saw what Green Day did at The American Music Awards, do you think the rise of populist movements especially Trump’s rise to power will lead artists to continue these sorts of political statements?

Well that’s a difficult one, I’m reminded of the famous Kurt Vonnegut quote about the Vietnam war and artists; “Every single artist from everywhere was opposed to the Vietnam war, they were razor sharp in their focus and it turns out their effect on policy was akin to a badly cooked custard pie falling off a stepladder.”

It’s a difficult one for me, I’ve shied away from politics as I don’t think musicians have a particularly interesting voice on politics necessarily and I also think that the formats in which I am able to discuss politics, which are either three minute songs or twitter are bad places to discuss politics. Songs are not particularly analytical, so I don’t really think there’s space for that, my views on politics are a lot more complicated than what I could fit into a three-minute song and I think that Twitter is ruining politics.

I’ve sort of shied away from it, but I do think that Trump does represent a unique threat to the liberal world order and the simplest way to define my politics is to call me an extremist liberal, I am very in favour of liberalism in all things at all times and at all places. I think that the post-war world order is a good thing, I think we have lived through one of the most remarkable periods of prosperity and peace in human history and anything and anything that threatens that is extremely worrying.

I spend a lot of time in the States and one of my pet hates is British or Europeans who are blasé in their attitudes and indeed patronising in their attitudes towards the States. Certainly, when it’s patronising it’s entirely f**king unearned you know what I mean, people who have lived in peace in the post-war order under the American nuclear umbrella then try and tell Americans what the world is about really makes want to go ‘You are idiots’.
Anyway, that’s a whole other debate, but yes, it is a uniquely worrying event and I think that most people in the middle are sort of oscillating wildly between telling themselves ‘It can’t be that bad, it can’t be that bad!’, then he goes and appointed Steve Bannon and you kind of go ‘Oh, it THAT bad!’

So yeah, that’s the thing I think it’s great that people are speaking out like that, the problem with it is and it’s the whole problem that has given rise to the Trump phenomenon is the lack of communication between social block in the states. I just don’t think that, well Green Day is a special case because they are so huge as a band but I’m not entirely sure me going ‘F**k Trump’ really reaches anyone doesn’t think that anyway. I think preaching to the converted is really boring and is remarkably self-indulgent and I am not at all interested in doing that, which is another reason why I’ve been hesitant about it in the past.

Standing up at a punk show and being against Trump isn’t really much of a statement and I don’t have a solution to this but clearly what needs to happen is the communication, we need to find a way of communicating with the people who don’t think that Trump is a civilizational threat because he f**king is!

I’m not sure that those people listen to The National, I love The National they’re one of my favourite bands but I am not convinced  they are speaking to many people who don’t already agree with them. Like I say I don’t have the solution to this, but it’s a sticky question for me, but having said all that I do think there is value in making statements, drawing lines in the sand and taking a position and I do think that’s both respectable and often necessary thing to do, which is why I wrote that blog.

I don’t mean to diss any of the bands we are talking about now, I think of The National because I follow them on Twitter and they do loads of DNC stuff and I think that’s admirable and I’m not sure, sort of morally ground standing versus making statements I don’t know.

You’ve produced six albums, toured the world extensively, graced the stages of the biggest and best festivals in the world, produced a film and have even written a book. What’s there left to do?  What’s next for Frank Turner?

I try very hard to be my own hardest critic and the main thing that’s left to do for me, just in terms of my relationship with song writing as an activity is a lifelong battle. I don’t remotely think that I’ve written enough songs to do good enough, I spend my life thinking about songs; thinking about song writing; listening to other song writers and try to align and improve what I do.

It sort of sounds pretentious to say but song writing is my life’s work at this point and there is very very much more to do and I am not comparing myself to Leonard Cohen because that’s a fool’s errand, but I mean the way Leonard Cohen sort of made his life in song and then spent the end of his life wrapping up loose ends and that kind of thing I found very inspiring. There’s a line on the new record “Though I’m gone, you’ll still hear me, I’ll be singing from the tower of song” and that just made me want to melt it was so good.

I never want to claim too much for what I’m trying to do, I make art, I write songs that’s what I do and it is arguably not a particularly important thing in the world but from my point of view I’m trying to create a canon of work and I am nowhere near the end, I might be in the middle maybe at this point but I am nowhere near the end.

Thank you very much for your time Frank It’s been a pleasure!

Thank you very much man, cheers!

Purchase tickets for “Get Better -a film about Frank Turner”  here

You can catch Frank Turner at his remaining UK shows with support from Esmé Patterson


David Aston

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