For a folksy singer-songwriter, Frank Turner is pretty punk. He cut his teeth in the UK playing with the punk act Million Dead, embarked on his solo career following that band's break-up in 2005 and hasn't looked back since. A true trailblazer, Turner has shared the stage with everyone from the Offspring to Chuck Ragan over the past few years and this week he drops his major label debut, Tape Deck Heart,on Interscope.
Turner's fifth full-length is undeniably the biggest sounding album he's written to date, a fact that shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with the work of producer Rich Costey (Muse, My Chemical Romance). That said, the album still sounds undeniably like Frank Turner and while the arrangements may be more elaborate at its core these songs retain Turner's unique take on songwriting and storytelling which has endeared him to fans.
We caught up with Turner to discuss the approach and process behind Tape Deck Heart, whether he thinks the disc will alienate fans and what "selling out" even means these days—oh, and if you think Turner is guilty of the latter? You're mistaken.
So has anyone asked you what a tape deck is yet?
I haven't heard anyone directly question what it is thus far but then I suppose I've only spoken to journalists. It occurred to me that I probably will shed a tear if that question comes my way. [Laughs.]
You've said your last album, England Keep My Bones, was very much a "band album." Would you say Tape Deck Heart is more personal?
From a musical point of view, this album is very much a band album and I feel like my working relationship with the Sleeping Souls is in a really, really good place these days. Beyond that, from a lyrical perspective, it's a very personal kind of introspective record. There are various reasons why it worked out that way including events in my life. I never want to repeat myself so I didn't want to write another album about England. There's an almost detached thing about England Keep My Bones and I wanted to get something that was a little more roaring this time around.
Lyrically, the album also seems less metaphorical in the sense that there's a lot of talk about dark dance floors and airport bars. Would you say this record is a bit more direct in that sense?
Yeah, I think so. I have a theory that the reason why a lot of bands get less interesting as time goes by is because if you get used the fact that you write a song and then there's a thousand people singing it back to you, the next time you sit down to write a song you might be a little more cautious about what it is you're going to say and how much you're going to reveal. In doing that, I think it's easy to get too generic and retreat too far behind your own front line and that to me is a bad thing. The reason why a lot debut albums are great is because those are songs that are written in your bedroom and you didn't think anyone would be listening, so I kind of wanted to make this record like no one was ever going to hear it.
Knowing your pedigree in the hardcore scene, do you feel like you're going to alienate any of your fans with poppier songs like "The Way I Tend To Be"?
I think in terms of my hardcore fanbase, they'll be fine with it. It's important to say that I try not to care about that kind of thing. What matters is my take on it and I think if you write music for anyone other than yourself then you're full of shit. [Laughs.] I try very hard to write for my own benefit and I'm pleased with the record how it is. There are moments that are poppier than what I've done before but that's what I wanted to do and hopefully people go along with it—but if they don't that's more their problem than mine, really.
What was it like working with a mega-producer like Rich Costey on this album having come from the DIY scene?
It was amazing. Rich is just fantastic because to be a great producer is a difficult thing to describe because it's someone that brings a lot to the table, but it isn't someone who brings their own personality in but getting the songwriter or band to bring more of themselves out of themselves. Rich definitely forced me and my band to dig a lot deeper inside ourselves as far as the performances an thinking about the songs more than we've ever done before and I think he definitely made Tape Deck Heart a better record than it would have otherwise been.
Correspondingly the album sounds remarkably inspired. What makes you approach your music from that fresh perspective without getting nihilistic about the process?
I could go into a discussion about the characteristics of songwriting but for me the moment when you're really doing something that qualifies as art is when you forget all of that shit and suddenly you're writing soothing that feels fresh and it's just coming to you. There are times where I get stuck sitting around thinking modally about what scales or what key change what I'm working on should In incorporate, but the real pure moments of songwriting and the bits you hold onto and make the best parts of the song is when all that technical thinking goes out the window and it sort of arrives and it sounds fucking good.
Speaking of which, this is your major label debut, so I was pleased you still say "fuck" on it a lot.
Obviously I'm working with new label people this time around and I know some of the punks have said slightly snarky things about that but this record was done before we did the deal. So if you're going to accuse me of selling out, you'll have to wait until next time around. [Laughs.]