The kinds of insights and secrets that come with a career as adventurous as Frank Turner’s are worth their weight in gold. Just before his third sold-out show in a row at Irving Plaza, he sat down with us to reveal his biggest challenges, proudest moments, and even some whiskey-fueled tour stories from his time with Flogging Molly. When the English rocker silently motioned for a drink, a hot cup of tea was summoned from mysterious origins behind the bar. Tracing his tattoos whenever they seeped into his history, Turner unwrapped the unique struggle of having had such a precise vision for his new album, Positive Songs for Negative People.
“I think the thing I’m proudest of is the fact that I won my battles,” he said decisively. “This time around, I knew exactly what the record was going to be. What it was going to sound like, what songs would go on it, what order they would go in, what the front cover was going to look like – everything. From a really, really a long time ago it was a fully-formed idea in my head. Then through the process, there were quite a lot of people who made suggestions, which is always fine. But there were people not being all that cool about the way it was recorded.”
Noting the departure from his more production-driven works, Turner described Positive Songs as “very clean and raw,” and “the hardest record to make easily.” “We made the record live in 9 days, and every vocal take on the record was one take this time,” he explained. “I had some serious fights on my hand with it, and there were some moments where I was not even on speaking terms with various people I worked with. But I didn’t back down at all, ever.”
“At the end of the day, you have to trust your own instincts. The only honest audience is your own best judgement. Don’t be like, ‘oh, do other people like this song?’ or ‘do you think this is a good song?’ – fuck all of that. If you think it’s a good song, it’s a good song, and that’s it. That’s the only way to make art.” But as tough as he is, Turner constantly grounds his words and keeps a wide lens on every subject. “With the struggles in my life, I don’t want to sound like anything I do is particularly difficult in the scheme of human experience, you know what I mean? I haven’t had to get on a boat and cross the mediterranean or anything like that,” he said with a smile.
He did, however, have an interesting time crossing the border when touring with Flogging Molly. “I guess it would surprise people to know that if you get me drunk enough I can rap most of Nation of Millions by Public Enemy – but badly, because I’m the whitest guy in the world,” he confessed. “Flogging Molly, though. Those guys know how to drink. I’ll say that. There was one occasion actually when we were in Detroit on tour with Social D., and we were about to cross the border into Canada. Our tour manager, Casey, was like ‘Everybody just keep your shit together, because once the show’s done, we’re gonna back up and cross the border into Canada at midnight.’ Obviously, when you’re going through immigration you want to have your shit together. And I was like ‘Cool.'”
“But all the guys in Flogging Molly used to live in Detroit, and they all came down to the show. I didn’t know they were coming, but they all showed up, and there’s about 900 people in Flogging Molly. Every single one of them had a shot of Jameson for me – so, we had to cancel the border crossing, basically. I couldn’t even talk anymore. And Casey was kind of like, “Alright, everyone get ready for the border cro-oohhh shit.'”
This tour, however, Turner made an admirable change to focus on his music. “My stopping drinking was related to the fact that I was drinking too much,” he laughed. “But I’m a Jameson man, and I have this argument with the guys in my band endlessly. Jameson is a shooting whiskey, it exists to be drunk very quickly in a shot glass. You wouldn’t fucking shoot a single malt from Adelaide. But they’re all like, ‘Why don’t we get a nice scotch on the ride out?’ And it’s like, because I’m not planning on putting it with ice, and mulling it, and drinking it next to a fire while stroking a dog, you know? I’m planning on going BOOM and then hitting the fucking stage.”
With tea making a classy substitute, he did just that. Celebrating his 1,740th show that night, Frank Turner fired up the plaza with pub-friendly punk anthems that packed a serious punch. As he strolled over shoulders like a god and seduced the crowd with every note, there was no question that his battles had paid off.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley