MUSIC

Britain's Folk-Punk Bard

Singer-songwriter Frank Turner channels hardcore roots and DIY independence into international success

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For the last 10 years, Frank Turner has served as Britain's de facto folk-punk poet. Armed with an acoustic guitar and socially aware songs, the 31-year-old Eton graduate plows similar (if not quite as political) ground as Billy Bragg. But in recent years, particularly on his 2013 album "Tape Deck Heart," Turner's musical perspective has skewed more personal and more pop-edged, which might come as quite the surprise to those who remember his hardcore roots with London band Million Band. But at heart, Turner is the same old punk: He still encourages fans to contact him via his publicly listed personal email, he still believes in hard work, and he still knows how to put his heart on his sleeve.

Folio Weekly: "Tape Deck Heart" featured some of your most straightforward songwriting ever. Was it derived straight from personal experience?

Frank Turner: I try quite hard not to draw any parameters around my writing, which means that if something traumatic happens in my personal life, it's probably going to end up in a song. So yeah, I went through a rough patch in my personal life before writing those songs. But it was arguably self-inflicted [laughs]. Still, when I finished the record, I went, "Damn, I can't believe I talked about this."

F.W.: The title, "Tape Deck Heart," seems kind of nostalgic, though. What meaning do those three words hold for you?

F.T.: Well, I like the title because it's really open-ended. When I wrote it down, it just felt right. It's about music being the center of everything. But I also like the fact that tape decks are kind of shitty — they never really work very well, and I like the implication of the heart not working very well either.

F.W.: The album was also polarizing, turning off many longtime fans with its slicker, more pop-centric presentation. Do you feel it still maintains a connection to your DIY punk roots?

F.T.: I would answer that question with an emphatic "yes." I know there are people that would disagree, and they tell me on a pretty regular basis [laughs]. But for me, DIY means seizing the day — making your own luck. Whether anyone still thinks I'm DIY or not, I'm always insanely busy. There is no free time in my life, and that's how I like it.

F.W.: Has your songwriting process changed since your early days?

F.T.: I don't want to say that writing is easy for me, because it's not; I've spent an entire lifetime wrestling with words and chord changes. But it's not something that I have to sit down and plan — it's like a relentless puzzle in the back of my head that I'm always fiddling with.

F.W.: You've said in interviews that when you were younger, you thought punk rock could change the world. Do you believe your music can have a similar effect?

F.T.: No, that's not something I'm aiming to do in any way. I'm very wary of people who say they're setting out to change the world, because more often than not they haven't actually consulted with the world that they'd like to change. As far as people taking some kind of message from what I do, hopefully it's independence, self-reliance, self-respect and self-creation, which I believe quite strongly in. I wasn't born as a talented singer, guitar player or songwriter. But I made a decision to be those things by working really hard.

F.W.: Are you happy with the self you've created so far? Or do you think you still have a long way to go?

F.T.: I'm going to keep giving it a shot. Obviously I've chosen to work in a fickle business, and whether or not I'll have the luck, talent, physical endurance or popularity to continue to do this for the rest of my life remains to be seen. But I might as well give it shot. 

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