- 24 Aug 15
“There were very negative things going on in my life, but I survived.” Frank Turner looks on the bright side with Craig Fitzpatrick.
At this point, the body of Frank Turner is a pretty well-covered canvas. With a little lull before his folk-throwing- stadium-rock-moves sixth album, Positive Songs For Negative People, landed however, he had an itch on his back only ink could scratch. To Twitter and.... “Tattoo update: fucking ow.”
Talking to Mr. Turner, he describes the moments when the needle goes over your vertebrae as particularly unpleasant.
“It’s funny how quickly you forget the pain though,” the 33-year-old English songsmith muses. “Now I’m thinking about it as ‘it wasn’t that bad’ but of course at the time, I was sitting there going ‘I will never do this again!’”
A bit like women forgetting the horrors of child birth?
“Well, quite. I read somewhere that we’ve specifically evolved so you can’t remember what pain was like, because otherwise no woman would ever have more than one child. The species would die out immediately!”
Emotional pain lasts a little longer, still smarting upon far-removed analysis. It was a task Turner took upon himself on his last album, 2013’s Tape Deck Heart, which dealt with heartbreak and the hard fact that he had been the heartbreaker.
If that wasn’t taxing enough, he badly injured that now freshly-inked back while touring the record and also found himself getting his first “good old British kicking in the press” when select quotes painted the anointed successor to Billy Bragg as politically right-wing.
Rather than continue wallowing on the follow- up, Positive Songs... (as the name suggests) is a reaction to all that dark malarkey.
“Continents leaping up after an ice age, as the sea levels lower,” is how Frank poetically puts it.
“Tape Deck Heartwas a difficult record,” he admits. “It was difficult to talk about, and to write, and to sing, because it was about a shitty time in my life... There were very negative things going on in my life, but I survived. I came through the other side. I decided that rather than wallow in my misery or surrender, it would be a better idea to dust myself off and continue the good fight, as it were.”
Liberated from the well of break-up songs, the record became about survival and defiance. Not that it has a ‘don’t worry, be happy’ vibe – “because that’s such a trite statement,” he notes – but we get a good dose of tempered Frank Turner optimism on a short blast of an album that packs in plenty of Springsteen-indebted punch-the-air choruses.
Lead single ‘Get Better’ features a lady writing words of encouragement in plain black marker on his chest. Who is she, so we can thank her for his upturn in form?
“That’s more of a metaphorical thing, alas! But she’s out there somewhere.”
We can’t put the expansive rock sound down to recording in the US either. Another full band effort, Turner decamped with his Sleeping Souls to Nashville to work with producer Butch Walker.
“I don’t personally think that the national location of studios matters that much. It’s both the equipment and, most importantly, the personnel. The people you’re in the room with. If you put that room and Butch Walker in Timbutku, we would have made the same record. I just felt a really, really strong connection with the guy.”
With his thoughts turning to touring, I wonder exactly how many shows he has under his belt. Last time we talked, he’d passed the 1,000 mark. Keeping a clicker to record every gig, he instantly says: “I’m on 1,702 at the moment.”
Could he ever envisage his life without it?
“That’s an interesting question. Never say never and all that bollocks. I have slowed down a little bit in the last year or two. Particularly after I injured my back, there was an agreement that possibly I don’t need to literally kill myself by touring.
“There was a moment when I realised that the only person who gave a fuck about the bravado of my touring schedule was me,” he continues. “Sacrificing myself on the altar of my own ego struck me as pointless.”
I’m loathe to quote Bono, but he recently talked about how strange it is to almost need to feed off the energy of a massive crowd each night to just feel normal.
“Absolutely. Well, I’m loathe to use the word ‘normal’ because seriously what the fuck is normal? But I think that there is something slightly odd about the thing that I do for a living. And Bono too – everybody’s allowed to compare themselves to Bono once in a lifetime and I’ve just used my one! It’s an odd way to exist and get through life. But it keeps me happy and it seems to bring a bit of joy to other people too. I’m unashamedly populist!”