Punk/folk singer-songwriter Frank Turner is wrapping up his US fall tour this weekend with back to back shows (Saturday 9/29 and Sunday 9/30) at Webster Hall in New York City. Our writer Matt Arena had the chance to speak with Frank recently about the new album, his side project Mongol Horde, headlining Wembley Arena and why he loves America. Read on more below:
How’s the tour going so far?
It’s great, at the moment it’s just a short run, about three and a half weeks, which isn’t very much. And we started in Boston, but I’m speaking to you now from Denver. We’ve had great shows and a great time at Riotfest as well.
You’re recording the new album, right? What was the process like this time around?
The longest amount of time I’ve ever spent working on a record before was 12 days, and this time around we have four weeks. Not to put down any records I’ve made so far but they’ve always been made to accompany the live thing in a way. Not that that’s gonna change completely, but I kinda feel this time around I’ve got the opportunity and resources to spend a bit more time on the album as an album. It’s an interesting process. I’m gonna say, but everybody says this, I’m excited about some of the things, it’s gonna be a good record. I’m really chomping at the bit to get into the studio this time.
Recently you’ve started work on a side project, Mongol Horde, which has a pretty heavy sound. Any chance that will bleed over into your album?
No to any real degree. If anything it makes it less likely in a way because I’m getting that aggression out of my system. The two are pretty separate in my mind, I don’t feel like one effects the other particularly. The album I’m making at the moment, as it is with all the records I’ve made, is just me putting together the best set of songs that I can. I think I’m getting better at songwriting with practice and age. I feel like these songs are better than before.
I’ve noticed you’ve debuted a couple new songs on the tour so far, what goes into the decision making process of which new ones you want to try out?
One of the things over the course of this whole tour that we’re trying to do is cycle through so that everything gets at least one play out. We’re switching it up with that in mind. The art of writing a song is a fine one and playing a new song is always fun for us, it’s always about finding the right song to put in the right place. I always feel like playing a song live tightens it up in a way that a million studio sessions will never succeed in doing. Something about having to present there in front of a live audience makes it pull together. Or fall apart, then we’ve gotta figure out what’s wrong with it.
Does playing them live help you discover any changes in the songs?
Sometimes yeah, there’s little stuff when you play it with that much more adrenaline and you’re trying to forcefully present it to people that suggests new ideas to you. I’m weary of trying to decide which ones try to make the album because I’ve got too many to choose from. I don’t want to edit the album based around the reaction of one audience. I’m not gonna be fussed I play a song one time and it doesn’t go over that well and go “right, fuck that song then.”
Are there any new songs in particular that you’re really excited about?
At one point we had 25 songs on the list and at this point in their careers a lot of bands get tempted by the double album, which I think is pretty much resolutely a bad idea, so I’m not gonna do that. So I’m trying to whittle down. There are definitely more than 12 songs that I really, really love at the moment. So it’s gonna be interesting to see what makes the cut and what doesn’t.
What was it like playing the opening ceremony of the Olympics?
It was cool, it was very surreal, not just days, but for a couple of months. We got a call from Danny Boyle asking us to be involved. It was weird, because he’s a culturally impressive figure and he’s something of a diehard fan of what I do. Which is great, it’s fantastic. The weirdest wasn’t that we were hanging out in a stadium with giant Voldemorts and Rowan Atkinson, but that we got used to that, it wasn’t even a thing anymore and we were just hanging out. It was kind off but in a good way.
You playing on an interesting background, the giant hill with people farming. It looked like a Shire scene out of Lord of the Rings.
It was supposed to be kind of old England. It was kind of odd, we were on a fake hill with a bunch of sheep and horses and stuff. We knew we were playing to tons of people but none of them were directly in front of us. There were either across the stadium or on the other side of the camera. So it’s a weird mixture of being nervous, because you’re playing to millions of people, but then you can’t really see any of them.
Let’s talk about your side project for a moment, Mongol Horde. It’s much heavier and radically different from anything you’ve done; I really dig it.
Thanks. I’ve been wanting to do something like it for a long time, I spent many, many years playing that kind of music and I still listen to it. The drummer I’m playing with in Mongol Horde is one of my oldest friends and we’ve been playing together for many, many years and I kind of just wanted to play with him again. It’s definitely a side project. We did a couple shows in the UK and put out a couple rehearsal demos but I have no idea when we’ll do an album. We will do an album, but it might not be till the end of next year.
Just in looking at a couple videos from those shows, it looks really freeing for you to be playing with that kind of intensity live.
It’s kind of like scratching an itch for me. It’s a side of my personality that’s reflected in what I make. It’s not a major part, but that little, slightly crazy part of me. It is very, very tiring though. After about 30 minutes in those shows I’m completely fucked. I guess I’m not 23 anymore.
What’s your favorite thing about touring the US that’s unique to this country?
I’m just a really big fan of America generally. It’s an endlessly fascinating country. I just really, really love American people, they have the best manners in the world. They tend to be very welcoming and interesting. There tends to be a boring, ill-informed anti-Americanism that pervades Europe, which, I’ll say when I was younger before I got to get around this country I probably indulged in as well, but since coming here I’ve gotten a real taste for what a fantastic place it is to be. I always feel happy when I’m heading back out to the US.
You always make it a point to hang around after shows and meet everyone, which obviously takes a lot of time and effort on your part, and not a lot of bands do it. What makes that so important to you?
I feel like it would be disingenuous not to do that if that’s what people want to do. I get to travel around the world and play music, it’s not a bad place to be. And the reason I get to do that is because come out to shows and buy tickets, shirts, and the rest of it. If people want to spend a minute of their time saying hi, it would be kind of really shitty of me not to do that. Philosophy aside, I’m a gregarious person and I like meeting new people and having a good time hanging out with people.
Do you have trouble doing that in the UK, where you’re a lot bigger? I would imagine it would be rough to stick around the merch table at Wembley Arena after a show.
Yeah, it’s a little more hectic. One of the things about it is that when things are a bit more of a manageable, I guess underground, level generally speaking the people are more connected to it and more respectful. I think one of the things in the UK is that people kind of go crazy in a slightly rehearsed way if you know what I mean. I kinda just wanna grab them and go, “chill out, I’m just another human.” Things have to be a little bit more controlled in the UK or else I’d spend my entire life talking to people after shows.
I think a lot of that comes from the fact that most bands don’t do it, so it’s really cool that you do.
Yeah, I think it demonstrates a point. That’s the main reason I do it really, to show people that I don’t hold myself above them.
How old were you when you played your first show?
Well, it depends how you categorize it. I played at my older sister’s birthday party when I was 13, I’m not sure that counts.
What do you think that 13 year old you would say if he were told that he’d be headlining Wembley Arena and playing opening ceremony for the Olympics?
Well I’m sure I’d be stoked but I’d be worried about saying that. Without sound too much like a Hallmark card, the whole journey is an important thing to me. One of the things I’m proudest about in my career, and if I can be forthright for a minute, is that none of it is handed to me. I’ve worked really hard to get everything and I’m really glad that I did. I wouldn’t have wanted a shortcut through all the shitty years because they were important to me.
(photo credit: Erik Weiss)
To see when Frank’s coming to a city near you, head over to frank-turner.com. You can buy his music on iTunes or XtraMileRecordings.com