Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls are once again bringing their signature blend of campfire punk rock and folk music to the people of the UK as they travel up and down the country as part of the “Get Better” tour.
Before the show in Leeds’ historical music venue, The Refectory, Frank sat down with GIGsoup’s Kieron Keen to talk his 2000th show special, the importance of paying it forward, his new documentary film also titled ‘Get Better’ and his work with charity Safe Gigs For Women…..
The ‘Get Better’ tour is making its way around the UK and you’re edging your way to the milestone 2000th show which you chose to have at Rock City in Nottingham, what is it about that venue that made you decide to hold such a huge moment for your career?
The thing is I’ve been playing Rock City since I think 2002 or 2003 because Million Dead played there a bunch and to tell a story to illustrate why I love Rock City, they have an in house catering area and chef and if you are playing the big room he comes in and cooks and if you’re playing the small room the economics don’t really work so they don’t bring the chef in. In the summer of 2014, Mongol Horde were playing the small room and I was not expecting to have catering but when I got in the chef was there and I was like “Who’s playing the big room?” and he gave me this look and was like “Fuck you, you’re one of ours and we look after our own now eat my fucking food and shut up.” There’s just a real loyal and family vibe and they’re the largest independent venue left in the UK and they take care of people. One of the other things is Nick Alexander, the merch seller who was shot at the Bataclan in Paris and nobody asked the venue to do this but in the merch area of Rock City they have a memorial plaque now just because he worked there a bunch and he was one of theirs and the older you get, you identify the lifers of the music industry and it’s definitely not the band because bands come and go for the most part, I’m the anomaly in that I’m still going at this point ten years into my career but a lot come and go very quickly and the lifers are the crew and the people behind the scenes and if you become accepted into that family, it’s a really important thing at least for me. That’s why when we were looking for a venue for show 2,000 I knew that it just had to be Rock City.
I’ve only been to Rock City the one time and I must say it is a place I’d love to go back to for more gigs, I just found it interesting that you decided that was the venue for this milestone.
The other thing that I can’t really talk about in full right now is there’s a big London thing coming soon which is why we didn’t do it in London, a place I consider to be home these days so for it to be outside of London it had to be Rock City.
Any hints as to what you’re planning………..exclusive maybe?
[Laughs] We’re announcing it on Monday (December 5th) so I can’t tell you yet but it’s not far away.
It seems you’ve gone for a more personal touch with the support you’ve picked for your 2,000th show as you have Beans on Toast who you said in your book pushed you to sing as a solo act and The Tailors who’s lead singer Adam Killip, helped influence you by introducing you to country music.
I’ve just got back from our one and only rehearsal and I still consider The Tailors to be a huge influence on my music and when I tell Adam that he kind of blushes and says “Shut up, you’re lying” but it is true because I hadn’t really heard any country music until I heard The Tailors. They only released two records but I listen to them often and we were talking about the setlist because I’ll be joining the band, as their guitarist is in Canada and Adam said “What do you want to play?” and for me I was just like, “Anything! I will play anything, I know them all!” but we’ve hammered out a setlist and as I said it’s our only rehearsal other than sound check on the day.
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I read the story in your book about how you guys met which involved a pub quiz and an arm wrestling match, any chance of a rematch?
Yeah it was at a pub quiz which Jay (Beans On Toast) was running the pub quiz that me and Adam came first in so he made us arm wrestle and I lost but there’s no chance of a rematch because I’m terrible at arm wrestling, it’s really not one of my skills and he’ll beat me again. It was lovely though because I hadn’t met him before and the quiz prize was £100 so he felt bad about it and spent that £100 on getting the two of us drunk so we had a massive bonding session.
Something I’ve noticed in regards to your opening acts, you had Skinny Lister and Will Varley on tour with you last year around the UK and this year they’ve both gone on to headline their own tours around the UK and of course, they are immensely talented but it must feel good for you to be able to give them a platform and get as many people to see them as possible.
The thing is, that’s exactly how I came up in the world by opening for people and I’m militant about picking my support acts partly because I feel responsible for the evening’s entertainment so I don’t want people to spend their money and have to suffer through two terrible bands who bought their way on to the bill but also as I say, a lot of bands gave me a shot and very specifically Noodles from The Offspring pulled me aside and sort of said “The way that you thank us for this is to pay it forward, don’t let the record label or bands buy into the tour” so I’ve always had a hand in who tours with me and I say this to Will all the time and he blushes but I think it’s coming true “In 10 years time will you throw me a pity opening slot when your career has gone whoosh! It’d be appreciated!” and he brushes it off like I don’t know what I’m talking about but I do know what the fuck I’m talking about and I’m trying very hard to get him to let me produce his next album and he keeps saying he’ll think about it and it kind of sounds like an egocentric thing to say but I just really want to work with him.
That would be a very interesting album if you do manage to work together though I often wonder how you’d find the time for some things as I know that once you’ve finished your tour here, you’re heading over the US and it seems you flit between both and it’s interesting that here in the UK you have a hardcore fan base where you can play and sell out venues with 2-3,000 capacity but then go to the US and play a 400 capacity show, what is it that you love about touring the US? Is it an added motivation? Is it that you get two different touring experiences between there and here?
A lot of the time people ask the question “which kind of venues do you prefer playing?” and I enjoy the fact I don’t really have to choose. The tour in January and February is really exciting because we’re doing our first arena show over there and doing venues the same size as we’d play here and headlining for the first time and America is really hard work in a way that I really like, you can’t cheat in America you just have to do the work and I’ve been touring that place for a decade now and we’re finally getting to a place where it’s actually happening and it’s really cool. I just really like playing I don’t really care that much about the context in which I play like in April this year we did a tour around Eastern Europe and it was cool as fuck playing in like, Bratislava to 300 people packed into a sweaty little punk bunker and that was awesome but then we came back from that and played Groezrock Festival and then playing arena shows with Flogging Molly in the states so it’s nice to mix it up.
I have noticed that after the US tour next year you uncharacteristically have some time off or at least not many shows booked so is that time going to be used for rest and relaxation?
There was definitely a time in my life when I was engaged in an arms race with myself to be the hardest working motherfucker in the land and this year has still been intense but we’re chilling out a little bit partly because I realised no one else was competing in this race which is undignified and my back went out but also, I have a home now, I have a place where I live, I have a girlfriend and I realised I was becoming a little bit one dimensional as an example, I love Henry Rollins a lot and he’s a huge inspiration to me but I do sometimes feel a little bit like he should go on holiday, get married, have some kids do you know what I mean?
I’ve heard he can be quite intense.
Yeah I met him very briefly for the first time the other day and it was lovely to meet him but he was very Henry Rollins about everything so yes it made me realise I should learn to relax so I’m spending Christmas with my family and I’m going to go on holiday with my girlfriend and I’m really excited about it, it’s gonna be awesome and I’ll probably still write some songs but other than that, I’m probably not going to do anything.
With you writing songs can we expect any new music from you anytime soon? I know you uploaded a picture on your Instagram about demoing some stuff.
Yes, there’s loads of shit that I’ve found myself in a position where basically I sort of wrote this entire concept album but I’m not sure what to do with it, there’s a lot of things going on in the world right now and I’ve tried quite hard to not be a current affairs sort of song writer in the last few years and I was trying to be more interested in a slightly purer vision of song if you like but the way the world is going right now is kind of unignorable so I have written this concept album, it exists and it will be released one day but suddenly in the last couple of weeks I’ve kind of thought “Fuck, maybe I need to start talking about the world and what’s happening right now” so I haven’t yet decided on anything but essentially I do have a load of songs and now it’s just about deciding what needs to go where.
You recently announced that a documentary film called “Get Better” will be released on December 13th, can you explain the idea around it and why you decided to make this?
Ben Morse who takes photos of us and makes music videos and is a good friend, he put forward the idea of doing a film about the band that never stops touring and the man who never stops kind of thing and when we went into it, we stopped touring because I had a titanic fight with my record label about the making of Positive Songs for Negative People and my artistic integrity was put on the stand in a way, they were trying to push me down a route I wasn’t comfortable with and I fought back and everything got really fucked up because it turns out I deal with stress quite badly so I then went down this really dark rabbit hole personally and Ben kept filming the whole thing and there is a happy ending because the album got made the way that I wanted to make it and started touring again and the film finishes at the Alexandra Palace which was great. There was definitely a moment in time where things were not far off completely collapsing so Ben’s made this film about it and it’s raw, unforgiving and uncomfortable for me to watch because it’s quite an honest documentation of my failings as a human but I think it makes for a more interesting film you know? I think I’m not the person to say whether it’s good or not as I just watch it hiding behind a duvet going “FUCK!” but people who have seen it seemed to enjoy it so hopefully people will enjoy it.
Finally, I just want to touch on the fact that you have the charity Safe Gigs For Women on the road with you, selling merch and raising awareness. How did you get involved with this campaign?
We always try and take some kind of charity/political people out with us, there’s a space and platform there and I think you should use it. We’ve done loads of stuff with Shelter and the Teenage Cancer Trust in the past and I met Tracey (Wise) and she told me about the blog she set up and the experiences she’s had and I get it, I’m a straight white guy and it’s not something I’ve had to deal with directly myself but it makes me furious that we’re still having these conversations in 2016. Part of it for me is that gigs occupy a sort of religious urge in my life and gigs are like my fucking church so don’t do that shit here the world is terrible enough outside so don’t fucking do it in here. Less aggressively I just think that communication is key and if we share our experiences and make sure people have a better time at shows.
The new documentary film ‘Get Better’ is to be released for one night only in cinemas across the UK, click the link for information on which cinemas are showing: http://frank-turner.com/
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls are still touring across the UK, click the link for the remaining dates: http://frank-turner.com/live-gigs/
Safe Gigs For Women are a charity working hard to help make gigs a place for everyone and if you’d like to learn more information on what they do or how you can help/donate, click the link: http://www.sgfw.org.uk/