Gibson Showroom, NYC
As I entered the Gibson Showroom, I made my way out of the lobby and through a small crowd of fans and label execs in a room lined with some of the most beautiful guitars I’d ever laid eyes on. Fifty some-odd people were invited to the intimate venue to preview Frank Turner’s sixth LP ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’. The sound of a guitar riff echoing through the hallway led me to a room that could easily be considered a guitar mecca. Our musical culprit was none other than Frank Turner himself, wailing away on one of the guitars from the showcase. I apologized for interrupting his ‘pre-listening party’ session, and waved me in, continuing to play. “Look at that! That’s the fucking greatest sound in the known universe,” he exclaimed as he continued on playing -- like a kid in a candy shop, really.
After an epic mini concert with Turner, we sat down to talk a bit about his new album, working with Butch Walker, and some of his favorite music.
AM: Firstly, let me just say how excited I am for the new album. I’ve been binging on a lot of your records lately, and only came across your covers album ‘The Third Three Years’ today. Incredible album, and it was so awesome to hear your take on some classic tunes.
FT: I read an interview with Evan Dando many years ago -- who I’m a big fan of -- He said that, “being a singer/songwriter involves two separate worlds.” I think that’s a fantastic way of putting it, y’know? I mean, I write songs and I’ll play those songs, but I love playing other peoples’ songs, too. And, I have a reasonably encyclopedic memory of songs, too. It’s always fun trying to find new ways to play other peoples’ songs.
AM: If you could cover any song tonight, which would it be?
FT: Well, I’ve got a large catalogue to choose from, if I’m honest. My favorite band is a Canadian band called the ‘The Weakerthans’. I adore them. Actually, the other day I got lost and woke up in the wrong state. I paid for my passage -- from a friend of a friend to give me a lift from Nashville to Louisville, but under the condition that I play Weakerthans covers in the passenger seat for the whole journey – which I was able to do.
AM: Sounds like a great road trip!
FT: Well, yeah! Two and a half hour drive, a lot of Weakerthans songs.
AM: Butch Walker produced your new alubm. What was that like?
FT: Amazing. Butch was kind of like the key that unlocked the puzzle when it came to the process of making this record. I had this idea of how I wanted to make it, which is linked to the idea of ‘I think debut albums are exciting, and album 6 usually isn’t exciting’. So, I thought, “When bands make debut records, what actually happens is: A bunch of kids who’ve been touring for two years, load their sh*t into a studio, set up and hammer out their live set, and then fu*k off again.” So, I wanted to kind of approach the record like that. It took some time to convince some of the powers that be, and indeed to find a producer that understood what was driving me to that. I went through a few different producers, who initially agreed with my view on things, but ultimately wound up going in the other direction. So, finding Butch and just within 10 minutes of meeting the guy, it was like, “we are going to make MANY records together.” The album came out exactly how I wanted it to be.
AM: I was a little surprised to hear that you had chosen him to produce the new album, just because the path that he’s been going down lately with the artists he’s been working with – Johnny Depp, for example.
FT: Yeah, for sure. But then he’s also like, for me, I was not actually aware that he was a producer, I was just only aware of his solo records. ‘The Spade’, his solo record from 2011, is one of my favorite albums released in the last 5 years. Not just songwriting-wise, but the production on it is fan-fu*king-tabulous. I wondered who produced that, and when I found out that Butch did, I was like, “Really?! WHAT?!”
AM: ‘The Spade’ is definitely special. Favorite of mine, as well.
FT: Right?! One of the first things he said to me when we met up was, “My entire thinking about songwriting and production is based on the first two Weezer records.” I stopped him right there and told him we didn’t have any more to talk about, let’s make a record! We cut the record in 9 days, with barely any overdubs – With ONE exception: All the vocals are ONE take from top to bottom.
AM: That’s pretty immense. A match made in musical heaven with you and Butch, then.
FT: I mean, yeah. It’s definitely unusual nowadays for people to go into a studio and just get it right the way we did. Another thing about it, is that the live show that my band (The Sleeping Souls) and I put on is our strongest suit. We’ve yet to make a record before this one that captures what we do live, the way this one does.
AM: Well you’re definitely doing something right because you’ve added two more nights in NYC when you tour the US in the fall!
FT: It’s really exciting, because I remain a kid from suburban England who America is slightly a mystical land of giants and fairies, and it’s like “I’m in New York for THREE nights?!” It’s always exciting.
AM: How would you best describe the new record?
FT: Well, it’s a record that I had won my battles with – in a way that I’m really happy about. Tape Deck Heart was a record that was about failure and ending and introspection, in terms of subject matter. Musically, it was an intricate structured quite layered album. I think most creative people are reactive to the last thing that they did, so I kind of wanted to go the other way with it. I wanted it to sound like a debut record; I wanted it to be upbeat and in your face. Thematically, it’s a record about picking yourself up when you’ve fallen down, and shaking your fists at God screaming, “Fu*k you, man! It’s gonna take more than that to kill me!” A big image that I’ve had in my head -- which is kind of the focus of the first single of the record (titled: ‘The Next Storm’) -- is a scene from the Wizard of Oz, when they open the storm shutters, and come out and Kansas has been destroyed. But, they’re still alive! There’s cause for hope among the wreckage, and that is a reasonable summation of what the next record is about.
AM: That’s the best answer I could have received. Thank you!
FT: Glad you liked it!
AM: Fan questions! Your flat is on fire, what three things do you save, besides yourself?
FT: That’s a tough one! I’ve got this one guitar at home that was built for me from a tree that was in the village where I was raised. Beyond that, I can kind of take or leave the rest of it – not really possessions focused. I do have a flat, and I’m really proud of the fact that I got that flat by playing the guitar! So I’d be pissed off if the flat was burning down, but once the guitar’s out of there, y’know, stuff doesn’t matter that much.
AM: It’s true. I agree 100%. Last question! What is some of the music you’ve been listening to lately?
FT: Well, my current obsession, actually, is traditional country music – George Jones, Mal Haggard. I’ve got this thought in my head that I might try and record a George Jones style record! I can see label people sweating about that one. In regards to new music, I’ve been listening to a guy from London called Will Varley. I stumbled into a pub and saw him playing and all my friends knew who he was BUT me! I’m trying to make him let me produce his album, but that’s a whole other conversation. I’ve been listening to a lot The Mountain Goats! What a fu*king band! How have I never listened to them before?! Genius.
AM: Thank you so much for your time, Frank. I really appreciate it.
FT: Thank you! Let’s go listen to an album!
Make sure to pick up Frank Turner’s new album ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’, which will be released world wide on 7th August 2015.
Big ‘Thank You’s’ to Frank Turner and Interscope Records.