2,157.

2,157 (At the time of writing) is the number of shows that Frank Turner has amassed under his belt in an almost 20 year period of touring, no small feat when you consider your average live bands touring cycle. Whether as a solo artist or with his band, The Sleeping Souls, Turner and his insatiable hunger for playing live has seen his career go from nestled in a small corner of your local pub to the vast open space of your city’s arena.

On top of being considered as one the most driven and hard working artists, he has also become one of the best songwriters the UK has got to offer, after six albums of folk rock anthems delving in and out of his personal life experiences and creating universally relatable stories of heartbreak and triumph, he is now gearing up to his 7th studio album release, ‘Be More Kind’ available May 4th, an album with which he has been forthright in saying is going to be vastly different to anything he’s ever done before.

As an artist releasing your 7th studio album, there is a certain expectation not to become repetitive but Frank feels he isn’t in danger of that and he still has something to say, the album and title track took influence in the beginning from a poem ‘Leçons des ténèbres‘ written by poet/writer, Clive James with the underlying theme of looking back on your life and wishing you had been more kind: ‘It’s a simple sentiment that isn’t original to Clive James but I’m a huge fan of his work, he’s terminally ill and has actually lived a lot longer than they told him but he wrote a series of poems about death and I’ve always thought he was a magisterial word smith and there’s a number of his later period poems that are incredible but that one in particular you know, “I should have been more kind, it is my fate to find this out but find out too late” it just sort of knocked me off my axis a bit and I know that isn’t making a comment on social media, Trump, Brexit or anything like that but it just struck me as a launch pad for me to talk about other things.’

‘I think my main drive for this record in a funny way is social media and the internet because what we’ve done, collectively as a species is accidentally built a machine for dehumanizing our opponents because you don’t see the people you argue with when you’re online.’ he said, ‘It does not take a historian expert to tell you that when people start dehumanizing their opponents, things start to get pretty bad, pretty quickly and I don’t know what the solution to that is and I don’t for a minute think that 42 minutes of music will change the world but I think it’s something we collectively need to think about to try and come up with some solutions because otherwise, I’m worried.’

While he freely admits that he has spent his fair share of time on social media for “work purposes” it seems that it has become too much and he finds himself pulling away from it all, rising above the noise and looking for a more mindful existence offline: ‘There’s a lot of stunt opinions going on which I don’t think is particularly useful because people want likes, retweets and all that bullshit and you don’t get those things by just saying “I don’t really know” I use Twitter for my “work” and it’s a useful tool for that and I do think there are good things that you can do with it but I’m doing my best to stay off social media, I’ve deleted my personal Facebook account and you know what? I did that and within 24 hours, I felt better about almost every aspect of my life, it was wonderful! I read more, I call people when I wanna know how they’re doing and you know, I realised that you get into social media to get into arguments and showing off, neither of which are particularly edifying ways of spending your time.’

“The world is so consumed with negativity at the moment, social media is just like this forum for people to try and dig holes in each other and it’s just like, why not just give someone kudos for leaning in the right direction? Rather than give them shit for not being perfect.”

 

For any artist, releasing their work out and into the world is a source of anxiety but when you stray away from the path that people are so familiar with musically, it can exasperate the fear but this is something Frank had anticipated and while fans may not necessarily always agree with an artists stylistic ambitions, Turner knows that he has to put his artistic integrity first and foremost, ‘There is quite a large amount of trepidation for me about this record in the build up to its release on a number of different levels, part of me is wondering if everyone is gonna hate it and the other thing is, in my time I’ve seen a many number of bands make a big song and dance about how their doing something new with their record and they put it out and it’s exactly the fucking same, I don’t want to be one of those people. It’s quite hard for me to judge if we’ve been successful with making different sonic decisions, it feels like it to me and certainly I’ve been getting some hate mail about the synthesizers lately to which incidentally, you can’t just hate an instrument, that is so ridiculous.’ he bemoaned

‘I think it’s important to say that any time I’m making music, I do my absolute damndest to not think about anybody else’s opinion, the word “sell-out” gets used enormously and all that “sell-out” means is making music for impure reasons, and what I mean by that is for anything other than your own best judgement and that includes the record label, the fans, the girlfriend, whatever it may be, you make music to be as good as you can make it, according to what you think is good and that’s it, that’s literally all that’s required of me as an artist or in fact, any artist and I think that’s what I’ve done here, there was definitely some uncomfortable moments methodically and technologically, but it felt really good for me trying these new things, with ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’ it was a conscious attempt to go back to sonic first principals, I wanted to make a record that felt like the live show that we do, so we sort of arranged and recorded it like a live show, which was great but we did that so now let’s do something else.’

“I haven’t come round to your house and taken away your copy of Love, Ire & Song, you can still listen to it and indeed, we still play plenty of stuff off all the other albums I’ve done, I really try to make sure that my setlists go across the ages.”

It’s safe to say that Frank is a person who has never shied away from expressing his opinions and view points about life around him and indeed, the world. Many may consider that this album is politically charged and while for some of the songs that statement may ring true but he has balanced it out with writing outwardly about his newly settled lifestyle, ‘I wrote two records in a row about my romantic ineptitude and I think I and the rest of the world have had enough of that for the time being but also, I sorted out my personal life I’m settled down and have a partner now which is wonderful so there’s some positive love songs on the record which again, is new territory for me like I always have people come up to and say “Oh yeah, we played one of your songs at our wedding” and I’m usually just like “Which one?!” so it is fun to be able to right those kind of songs and to write more outwardly.’

Turner’s political musings have been bizarrely put under the microscope ever since 2012 where he gave some candid interviews about where his political ideologies lied within the system and since then, he has kept himself relatively under the radar but has now dipped his toe back into the conversation publicly and while this time his songs such as the anthemic ‘1933’ and the provocatively titled ‘Make America Great Again’ are a little less radical and a little more mature in their message, it may still cause division amongst his audience and beyond, ‘Of course, 2016 fucking happened and we spent a lot of that year in America on tour and I remember walking through the student district in Columbus, Ohio and there were Trump flags everywhere and at that moment I thought “really, the students?!” and I’m not claiming any sense of clare voyance here but in that moment, I remember thinking that it was going to be a lot closer than people thought and then, of course it went the way that it did and with a song like “Make America Great Again” a lot people when they first heard about it were like “Whoa!” but a lot of my English friends said “Well, you’ll only be playing to progressive thinking people anyway.” – Which I’d like to say is not true and I’m kind of proud of that fact, simply because I welcome social and political diversity, in actuality it was around half of the country who voted for Donald Trump so I don’t want to find myself in a position where I’m only playing to half of the country, that’s fucking stupid and although, I don’t agree with Donald Trump and I don’t agree with the GOP, I want those people that do to be in the room when we have these conversations or at the very least, I want those people to feel as welcome as anybody else, having said that, it may be more difficult now with some of the songs on the new record but I like the idea that people could be in the room and we can at least start the conversation from a starting point of common interests.’ he continued, ‘Again, I’m straying dangerously close to saying I’m going to save the world with rock n roll and that is complete bullshit, but there are gonna be some people at the American shows who voted for Trump and that direction and again, that’s one of the main themes of the new record, if you don’t want him to win again, we need to find a way to talk to the people who voted for him because if all we do,  is scream at the people who voted for Donald Trump and call them cunts then it’s going to happen again, and I don’t want that to happen.’

Starting civil conversations was important to me and it’s funny that people are on board with “Be More Kind” as a sentiment as long as people you disagree with are nice to you, but the hard part is to be nice to the people that you disagree with and I mean that to apply to myself and to everyone else, I think it’s an important thing to do.’

 

The Sleeping Souls, Turner’s backing band have always been more comparable to Springsteen’s E Street Band, rather than faceless hired hands and they have been integral to molding Turner’s sound for 10 years and it seems they helped push forward Frank’s vision for what this album should be, ‘I never want to diminish the importance of their roles to me, and it’s important to me that they’re recognised for the contributions to the sounds that we make but having said that, with this record I did take the reigns a little bit more than I have done in a while for a number of reasons, mainly because we were heading into new sonic territory and we did it where we all came to Texas but individually, so the band came one by one which was really cool because it gave me a chance to mind meld but for example, me and Nigel sat down and went through the drums and rather than having someone doing the bass, the guitars at the same time and trying to put it all together we got to just focus on this one part and make the drum parts everything they needed to be and Nigel did a fantastic job and really stepped up to the plate.’ he gushed, ‘and then Tarrant came a long and we did the fucking bass man, it was just great to build section by section and was different to how we made the last record but not actually that dissimilar to how we made Love, Ire & Song which I pretty much played every instrument except for drums and piano on that record so it was a similar kind of vibe. It is though, always hugely important that the contributions of the souls is recognised.’

After the release of the documentary ‘Get Better’, we were given a window into Frank’s personal life as well as his struggle to create an album that his international record label, Polydor Records could get behind and with all that has been said in regards to his swift change of musical direction, you’d be forgiven to think that this would be another battle to fight for his musical integrity, ‘Funnily enough, without getting too deep into the specific politics of it, over the course of ‘Positive Songs (For Negative People)’ I feel like me and the label learned quite a lot about each other and how to get the best out of each other and the good thing about this album is, we’re all being painfully polite to each other a lot of the time, but I feel like I must say that the influence to which Polydor has on what I do isn’t actually that much because I am my own person, but I think they were quite excited about heading in a new direction actually.’

With that being said, what other influences has Turner called upon to create ‘Be More Kind’? ‘I‘ve become very interested in intelligent pop music since reading Simon Reynolds Rip It Up and Start Again: The history of post punk and you read about The Police and Human League and there was definitely this moment, in the Sheffield scene in particular, where it was thought that if you have something to say there’s nothing to be ashamed about presenting it in an interpretable way, and that might just mean enunciating your lyrics clearly but I was intrigued by that approach, and I always listen to bands who could be classified as pop music and always have done but growing up within the punk scene gives you an inherent suspicion of that, which I do think are based on good prinicipals and I’m essentially trying to say that I didn’t go out and think I want to write a pop album to be more successful, because that’s not what it’s about but it’s about engaging with more bolder and brighter tones which was an interesting idea to me and the other massive influence for this record was Bill Withers, who I’m really obsessed with at the moment, and the thing I like about him is his utter dedication to simplicity in his songs and you think about a song like “Lean on Me” as a song, it’s a major scale up and down the first five notes and yet, it’s also one of the greatest songs ever written. Weezer are another band who have been a huge influence on me and if you go back to their earlier records, it’s militantly simplistic and there’s something I really like about that so for instance, when I was writing “Don’t Worry” – the first song on the album, I kept writing big words and kept thinking no, not this time sunshine.’

Turner is back out on the road once again in support of the new album and with 7 albums worth of material and a die hard fan base to consider, a set list that will keep everyone happy can be near impossible but while he isn’t one for not wanting to keep his fans happy, he seems relaxed about the task but still considers what he’s going to play for a large portion of his time before and during his tours, ‘In some ways it’s actually kind of fun, it’s now at a point where I can say in terms of crowd favourites, I can definitely put together two almost entirely separate two hour shows of crowd favourites and that’s pretty fucking cool. I remember thinking about this years ago and imagining being Tom Petty trying to put together a set list, on the one hand it’d be hard but on the other it’d be amazing like “Why don’t we play this incredible fucking timeless classic next?” “Yeah okay, Tom that’s fine!” you know, it’d just be hard for him to write a bad set list.’

‘I won’t lie I do think about set-lists more than is healthy and we’re hoping that the vibe for this tour will be slightly different to the last tour, I started to realise that we were getting into this aggressive head space with our performances, which I think partially comes from touring with bands such as the Dropkick Murphy’s and band’s like that but my set lists just seemed to be getting harder, faster and it just got to a point where I felt I was judging the success of the show by how big the circle pit was. Touring with Jason Isbell for a while helped remind us that that’s not the only value to which you judge a successful show, don’t get me wrong, I do like a circle pit but I just felt like some of the nuances of the quieter songs were getting lost towards the end of the PSFNP (Postive Songs For Negative People) tour.’

Always one to think about selflessly paying it forward and introducing his audience to new music, Frank excitedly talked about the lineup he’s put together for these shows that start at home in the UK, then criss-cross their way across the globe, ‘I think the Homeless Gospel Choir and The Arkells is the best fucking touring line up I’ve ever put together and I’m so proud of it, I fucking love those guys! Arkells are a band we toured with over in Canada and they are massive there, if you haven’t seen them play before they will fucking break you down and build you back up, that’s how good they are!’

Last year saw the introduction of Lost Evenings, a festival built around the idea of giving Turner’s fans a chance to see himself headline four nights with different themes as well as introduce new music into their lives and give bands/artists/charities a platform. Due to its runaway success it will be back this year, taking over Camden’s Roundhouse venue and after selling out once again, it seems bigger ideas are on the horizon, ‘We are going to take it around the world conceptually, it’s quite a portable concept you just need a certain size venue and a stage so I think we’re gonna do one in Boston, Germany which is cool but we decided to do it in the same place again for the second year to firstly, establish it as my thing but when I say that I mean in a sense that it’s me but all of my incredible crew do a lot of hard work and last time round logistically lessons have been learnt and we didn’t know what it took to run a festival, obviously we’ve played a lot of them over the years but to be honest, last year it was kind of a miracle that it went as smoothly as it did, I remember literally two days before the festival somebody kind of just said “………wristbands?” and we were just like “FUCK! We haven’t done anything about wristbands” it was just panic stations, we had like 12,000 people coming and we hadn’t gotten any wristbands so yeah, this year we’re going to be a little bit better prepared.’

‘Be More Kind’ will be available on all platforms from 4th May via Xtra Mile Recordings and Polydor Records. Click the link to pre-order: ‘Be More Kind’

Keep up to date with Frank’s ever growing list of tour dates too – FT tour