Frank Turner has made the long journey from playing pubs on Holloway Road to kicking off the Olympic Opening Ceremony at the request of film-maker Danny Boyle. Five years of relentless touring and recording led him to selling out the 10,000 capacity Wembley Arena last April. Despite his recent successes, he still embodies his musical philosophy: hard-work, resilience and the idea that no musician is bigger than his audience. I caught up with him to discuss his forthcoming fifth LP Tape Deck Heart, his hardcore side-project Mongol Horde, and whether all his hard work over the years has been worth it.
Your fifth record Tape Deck Heart is out on April 22. What does the record sound like?
I guess it’s erring on the side of being a rock’n'roll album, but in general it’s really not that far removed, stylistically, from what I’ve been doing in recent years. I will say that I think the production is a massive step up for me, we had the opportunity to work with Rich Costey and the man is a fucking genius.
Your last album England Keep My Bones had a hint of being a concept album with many underlying themes of English landscape, culture and mythology. Does Tape Deck Heart have any similar recurring themes?
Yeah it has recurring themes – though it’s important to state that I don’t write towards a theme in a concept record kind of way, I generally let them emerge on their own, and afterwards examine what they might be. There’s a lot of stuff on this record about loss and failure in relationships, about what happens when something that was supposed to be timeless runs out of time.
‘Four Simple Words’ (the first taster of the album and a free Christmas Day give-away from Frank) has an atmospheric, slow opening with a full-band, raucous climax. Was playing with tempo something you’ve consciously decided to do on the forthcoming record?
On that song, sure – I think that song is something of a nod towards Queen, stylistically. But it’s not something that markedly runs through the record as such, I don’t think.
Tape Deck Heart is a fitting title given this week’s news that a major high-street music retailer was facing administration. Is the closure of HMV something which concerns you? Can you see physical music dying out?
I think HMV have been behind the curve for a while now. Physical music is dying out, to a degree – compared to 20 years ago it’s pretty much dead already. But there’s still a place for it, the vinyl revival is pretty cool. People just don’t shop on the high street like they used to, buying on line is much better, easier and cheaper, for the most part.
England Keep My Bones contained three superb bonus tracks. Tape Deck Heart has six. Is it hard debating the track-listing and cutting some out? Do you ever have an urge to slap them all in?
Track-listing an album is a fine art, and usually a pretty agonising process. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to do the extended version for this one – all these songs belong together. That said, I think an album is a piece of art in its own right and can be too long, so it’s worth making the 12-track definitive version. Choosing what makes it and what doesn’t is agonising, though.
You are brilliant at making sure all your songs eventually meet the light of day. Will you be doing a Third Three Years in 2015?
I would imagine so, yes. I like my stuff to be available to those who want it. I have a pile of cool bits and pieces for that already actually, haha.
How does the latest solo album affect your hardcore side-project Mongol Horde? Any plans to write more songs together?
Well, the solo records are my priority. I loved the Mongol Horde shows we did and we will do an album and so on sometime, but it’s just a question of fitting it around my existing commitments.
Your forthcoming tour is based in Academy’s up and down the country. Have you got your sights set on another arena show following the grandiose nature of the Wembley show last April?
I’ll see how these academy shows go first.
You had a crazy 2012. What was the highlight?
I’d say probably the Wembley show. That was pretty special. Boring but true.
‘Four Simple Words’ contains the lyric “someone told me guitar music was going out fashion, I had to laugh”. What new bands excite you this year?
I’m really into Retrospective Soundtrack Players, Larry & His Flask, George Frakes, Underground Railroad… a bunch of stuff.
And lastly, a question which I’ve wanted to ask you since I first heard your song ‘Love, Ire & Song’: has your musical career lived up to what you hoped that it could be?
It has so massively surpassed my expectations. I’m still not entirely convinced it’s actually happening!
Many thanks, Frank. Catch you in the summer.
By James Daniel Rodger
Dance Yrself Clean