Deep in the heart, hidden in a back room, sits Frank Turner and several members of The Band of Souls. My photographer snaps pictures incessantly from his corner post on the arm of a sofa. The room is bright and covered with pictures from shows past. The mood is light and jovial. Turner is warm and polite and completely unprepared for my line of questions.
Rock stars sometimes get a bad rap for their interactions with the opposite sex. Part is wild rumors and part is pure fact. Working from the factual side, and based on his song “Ladies of Londontown,” I ask him about the wildest thing he has ever done to get a woman’s attention.
“Being a musician for one. If you mean starting a conversation with somebody, I’m terrible at starting conversations with the opposite sex. That’s kind of what the song is about. Friends of mine used to run some indie clubs and I used to go down and help out. I’d be running around, helping set up the DJ booth. It was kind of a messy scene. Everyone was drunk and high and it was always be full of pretty girls and I would always go home alone. It was like, what am I doing wrong? It might have had to do with, I had really long gross hair at the time. The single most romantic gesture of my adult life is, I flew to New York to take a girl to the cinema without letting her know that’s what I was doing.”
As to the opposite…
”We’ve had a couple of bits of underwear on the stage. I have to say though, that in the twenty first century, underwear on the stage is almost ironic because of the whole Motley Crue sort of thing. I think it’s kind of snide when somebody throws underwear on the stage. That certainly never goes anywhere for me. The very first time someone ever through underwear on the stage was with my old band, Million Dead. I laughingly picked them up and put them in my pocket. I then got dumped by my girlfriend after the show. Not just because of that, but it triggered a fight. I don’t really feel like I spend my life besieged by rabid females. I had a wonderful email the other day from a guy from the states who said hey, a bit of context, I recently came across your stuff and I am really, really into it and I see you’ve got a show coming up in my town and I am going to come to it. A bit more context, I am gay and I think you’re really, really hot. I don’t think you are gay, but if you are, give me a shout. I thought it was such a cool email. I wish that, almost in a way, straight relationships could be that relaxed about it, do you know what I mean? He was just like, I’m dtf.”
Turner is covered in tattoos. He references them in several of his songs. He even goes so far as to say, “If we had the luck to live our lives a second time through, we’d be sure to get the same tattoos.”
“My first tattoo was this one up here (pointing to his arm). It says UKHC. UK Hardcore. Funny thing, people don’t really understand it as a concept in the UK. People over here know hardcore is a type of punk rock. I got that when I was 16 in Camden Town in London by Bugs from “Evil from the Needle.” Bugs is actually something of a legendary tattooist, which I didn’t know until about six years after I had it done. I was chatting with someone and they said “Really, Bugs from Evil from the Needle? That guy had a two year waiting list.” Apparently I caught him on an off day when he had twenty minutes to spare. He is retired now. He is done, so that is kinda cool.”
As to his favorite body art…”It’s hard to have a favorite. I like the whole lucky 13 thing. Tattoo culture either comes generally from the Navy or the circus in the west. In the circus, quite a lot of the time, a lot of ex sailors would end up being the tattooed man. Because carnie people are sort of outcasts, thirteen is unlucky for normal people, so it became the lucky number for the circus. As tradition, if you ask a traditional tattooist, on Friday the thirteenth for a thirteen tattoo, they have to give it to you for free. So, I got that one (shows finger) done on Friday the thirteenth. I like that kind of history with it. Obviously tattoos are way more socially accepted in culture right now and it’s not some sort of out there statement to get a tattoo, but I still like that idea, that it’s a slightly outsider kind of thing. (Laughing) Particularly when you start covering your hands.”
As to going back and getting them all again…
”Yeah. F*ck yeah…Well, I mean (hesitating). I guess that’s a fancy way of saying I don’t waste my time regretting things. This is a tattoo of Texas on my arm. I’m not from Texas, I don’t live in Texas. I did not, before I got it done, have any particular special affinity for Texas, but I got drunk with some of my best friends. It was at SXSW. I saw three of my all time favorite bands in one day. The Van Pelt, Hold Steady and Two Gallants in the same day. It was just amazing. I wouldn’t sit down and decide to get a Texas tattoo, but I have an awesome memory associated with it. I think once you start getting quite a lot of tattoos, in a slightly counter-intuitive way, it’s because I dont care that much what I look like. It’s a funny thing to say because they’re an aesthetic pursuit, I just don’t really give a f*ck. We’ve been talking about our tour tattoo for this tour. We’ve got Koo Koo Kangaroo for the first spot, we’ve got Smith Street Band for main support, who are from Australia, and for reasons that become apparent when you watch Koo Koo’s set, we were talking about getting a kangaroo with a unicorn horn on it. The tour tattoo is stupid, but I just don’t care. Obviously for big visible pieces, I’d like to have things that are serious, but I’ve got a lot of dumb stuff on my leg. I’ve got a Dale Earnhardt tattoo on my leg. “If something is one dimensional and also easily interpreted, it’s probably not all that profound. Some of my favorite songs that I’ve written, I have trouble explaining what they’re about. Like “Fish King Blues” on the new record, I’m not entirely sure what exactly it is that I am trying to say with that song, what it means or what it’s about, but I love it. I am happy with the words to that song. A lot of people can put a million different spins on it and that is fine.”
Festival season is right around the corner. Before you know it, the sun will be shinning again and all things outdoor will reign supreme. As a seasoned performer, Turner has some keen insight as to the importance of playing the circuit.
“When festivals are done well, they serve a great purpose, other that the fact that it’s a fun holiday from reality for most people. The major thing is that you’ve got people who are not going to pay 20 dollars to see you do a headline show that might put their head in the tent where you’re playing. It’s a great way to connect with people in a live forum that isn’t just a headline show. It’s why I like the way we’ve come up, as a support band. I think that we’re good at what we do and if you are good at what you do, you can turn people’s heads at a live show. That said, festivals can be poorly organized and poorly attended. I think it’s an interesting thing, because festival culture in the UK goes back a lot further, but then also, I feel like there has been this boom and indeed bust in the UK in the last five years. Really, like two or three years ago, it felt like there was a thousand new festivals, and then two years ago, there were a ton of festival getting canceled because of bad ticket sales. Everyone went, “Oh, it’s then end of the festival scene. It’s the recession.” It might be part that, but it’s also the fact there are nine million festivals in the UK and not only that, they’ve got all the same bands and there just aren’t enough people to go around and fill these things out. In a way, that bust needed to happen, to clear out dead wood and hopefully what is left with is a stronger and better festival scene with varied bills that will all go well and will all sell out. I think the US might be heading for a similar sort of crunch moment. Every year at the start of festival season, I’m quite excited about it and every year at the end, I’m sick of festivals. I want a f*cking sound check!”
“Polaroid Picture” is a beautiful song that captures a moment, a place and an idea in one fell swoop.
“It takes me to a specific day, which is sort of referenced in the song. There was a venue in London called The Astoria, which was a 2,000 capacity venue, which was banged literally in the dead center of London. I think anybody who is into any rock, indie, alternative, punk, anything like that, went there enough times if you lived anywhere in the southeast of England. I went there more times than I can remember and saw hundreds and hundreds of bands. It was always my ambition to headline that place. I played there a bunch of times, but never headlined. They knocked it down a few years ago, because they’re building this new railway line that goes across the middle of London. Also, the place was a sh*t hole. It was an Old Victorian. I remember being in the back stage room and lifting up a floor panel and this is in a building, and there was water, a pool of water. (Laughing) It was like, that seems…that is…let’s just put that back. I’m just going to get away from that and not think about it. Anyway, everybody knew it was going to close for a long time and suddenly they had the condemnation date which was in five days time and some people put together this last minute show. I called to play, which I did. I went down and played a solo set and I did a whole day of press talking about it. The thing was, at the beginning of the day, I was fully on board with it being a tragedy. I can’t believe its going to be gone and the rest of it. Having talked about the thing, the way you do on a press day, the same thing twelve times in a row, by the end of it, I’d kind of changed my mind a bit. The thing is, Rock and Roll is supposed to be an ephemeral art form. It’s the same thing with CBGB’s closing down. I went to CBGB’s, it was a sh*t hole. It was an over priced, terrible sound, sh*t hole. It’s like, it’s not 1976, so who cares? Rock and Roll is fleeting. It’s a photograph not an oil painting. It’s perishable. It’s about moments. I think that’s something that should be celebrated about it. Rock and Roll is about being young, and hot Summer nights and drinking at the beach. There is something in all of that which are reasons some people have and continue to criticize Rock and Roll, and that to me, actually, is the whole point. The Astoria is gone, and as the song says, there are other rooms across the city where people are going to have nights. The thing that mattered about The Astoria is the gathering of people and the music and all of it coming together. And yes, The Astoria was a place for all of that to happen, but now it’s gone. It’s not the end of art. If you weren’t there, f*ck it, go and make a new there. All of that was a sparking off point for the song.”
The last question asked about Turner’s craziest story from the road. His answer had us all in stitches.
“It’s funny you should ask that this week, because we had ourselves one hell of a first in Norfolk, VA. We had our first ever religious picket. It was such a wonderful thing. The show had started, I was inside the dressing room and and Nigel (nodding to drummer, Nigel Powell) sent out a quick message saying there is a religious picket going on outside. At first I was like, bullsh*t, and then I was like, let’s go and have a look. I was like, oh my God this is so cool, and I ran out. It was two guys who were taking turns to shout. They had a big placard with a picture of Jesus. Somebody told me later they do it at a lot of shows. I can’t say for sure that they were aware that we have a song called “Glory Hallelujah,” which is sort of an atheist song. I don’t know if they are aware of the existence of that song or not. (Laughing) I kind of don’t really care. When you come from the UK, America is so culturally prevalent. Everyone in the UK knows what the senior prom is, despite the fact that they have never been to one, because we don’t have that. We know what American high school is vaguely like because there are endless movies about it. One of the associations, particularly if you grow up listening to punk and metal is religious pickets outside of Marilyn Manson shows or Iron Maiden shows. I feel bad saying this, because I don’t feel like that characterizes the US in anyway, but it is a thing that you guys have that there is nothing like that in the UK. Those people really don’t exist in England. (Laughing) It was like, finally! We got ourselves a deep south, religious picket. I went and was intending to have a conversation with the guy, but he was yelling “Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls, he’s a false prophet.” He was in a mantra state. It was not really a conversation thing. I had my photo taken next to him and I got his little leaflet off of him and I read it. (Laughing) He was like, “souls don’t sleep, souls burn in hell, weeping, wailing, gnashing their teeth.” All of them? Then, what’s the point? Then we went inside and apparently once the show is properly underway, they packed it up and that was that. It was a real milestone for me. I put it on my personal Facebook. I had loads of friends form England saying, “So proud. It’s a big day for you. You’ve really arrived now. If only they’d been burning a copy of one of your CD’s.”