English singer-songwriter Frank Turner emerged from the post-hardcore punk scene in 2001 as the lead singer of Million Dead, before starting his primarily acoustic-based solo career in 2006. He has since released four full-length albums and has a steadily growing and sizeable fan base. Turner recently gave an email interview to AsiaLIFE, two weeks before he headlines the first Loud Minority Festival in Ho Chi Minh City on 24 March. By Marcus Thaine. Photo by Tara Novak.
Hi Frank, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Have you been to Vietnam before? Is there anything in particular, sights or street food, you want to experience while here?
I was lucky enough to pass through Vietnam on a trip around Southeast Asia when I was about 19 or so. I had an amazing time, and I’ve always wanted to come back, so it’s great to be combining that with music. I don’t have much time in town but I’m excited to eat some real Vietnamese food and catch up with some old friends.
Folk-Punk is a term often associated with your music, however, it’s not a common conjunction of genres we see in music today. How would do you define it?
“Folk Punk” is an interesting term, and I suppose it’s in the right ballpark for describing both what I do and a certain zeitgeist around in the punk scene (especially in the US) right now. That said I’m not that keen on getting too bogged down in genre descriptions. Personally, I just needed to do something new and fresh after years of touring in a punk/hardcore band, and I had an acoustic guitar. There’s something about the rawness, the directness, of just the one unamplified instrument and a voice that is, in its own way, kinda punk. I don’t really analyse what I do if I can avoid it, I prefer to just let music come as and when it likes.
Your last album, England Keep My Bones, was rooted in exploring your English heritage. This year you plan to release your fifth album, Tape Deck Heart. Are the album’s themes an extension of those explored in England Keep My Bones?
I wouldn’t say they’re radically different records, they’re definitely in the same ballpark. They’re not identical though — changing and growing is something I try to do all the time. This record isn’t about England at all — I did that last time round. This album is about self-examination, running through your own faults, about change, and about ending. Something like that.
One of the most distinctive aspects of your music are your powerful, politically driven lyrics. How does this affect your songwriting process?
I actually don’t consider myself to be a politically driven musician. That’s certainly a world I dipped a toe in with maybe three or four songs in the past, but I didn’t enjoy the experience much, and I’d rather focus on the unifying possibilities of music rather than the divisive side these days, that’s much more interesting to me.
Do the lyrics always come first?
There’s no hard and fast rules for writing for me. Sometimes it’s words, sometimes music, sometimes both.
You’ve toured fairly relentlessly for the last few years — is finding the time to write difficult, or has writing on the road become second nature?
I’m lucky enough that writing is still a pretty constant buzzing in my head, it’s not something I struggle with too much. The difficult part is making sure you don’t repeat yourself, that you keep pushing forward in your own furrow.
Last year you played an arena show and this year you’re touring the world, what’s next? Any goals yet to be accomplished?
Oh sure, plenty. Coming to new places like Vietnam is one of them. I also want to get better at what I do, songwriting and performing, there’s always room for improvement.
You also have your hardcore side project, Mongol Horde. How did the band come together and can we expect an album or EP soon? MH is a lot of fun, it’s kind of like scratching an itch for me. I grew up with heavy music and there’s a part of me that will always love the physicality, the aggression of that kind of thing. I also wanted to play in a band with Ben (Dawson) again, he’s one of my oldest friends. We’re hoping to get a record made this year and out, as and when we can manage it.
You can see Frank Turner at the Loud Minority Festival on 24 March at Q4 in District 4. Tickets are VND 350,000 each and can be bought at the Q4 box office, or Asian Kitchen/Alley Cat at 185/22 Pham Ngu Lao. All proceeds go to Green Bamboo Shelter for Boys and Little Rose Warm Shelter for Girls. Email [email protected] for more information.