Frank Turner's good bones
The British singer-songwriter digs into creative mysteries to bring songs to life
Frank Turner collects skeletons.
His skeletons though, are songs. And over the past 11 years, he’s dug up quite a few.
Turner cut his chops in London’s hardcore band Million Dead before the group called it quits in 2005. Then the musician picked up his acoustic guitar and went solo with fiery punk-inspired folk strummings. Since then, Turner has gone from playing tiny bars to some of the U.K.,’s largest venues, including Wembley Stadium, and performing during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Summer Olympics.
He’s come a long way from those solo troubadour days. Turner now travels with a full band—the Sleeping Souls—and is currently on tour supporting his latest and sixth studio album, Positive Songs for Negative People.
“It was quite a sort of long and difficult birth on this album and it’s nice to have it out there,” Turner said during a recent interview, conducted while the artist was stuck in traffic in a New York City taxicab.
For this record, Turner decided he wanted something that sounds like a band’s debut album, with a live, raw feel. Previous efforts, he felt, hadn’t quite managed to capture the full band’s live presence.
After struggling to find a producer that would make his idea a reality, he landed on working with Butch Walker, best known for his work with Southgang and Marvelous Three.
“A common and often-made fair comment made of my stuff is that we’re a better live band than we are on record, and I wanted to change that,” Turner says.
During his solo career Turner has released records at a blistering pace—six in the past eight years, not counting compilations and EPs. Still, despite such speed, the singer-songwriter maintains a certain air of secrecy, mysticism and hallowed respect for the art form.
“Songwriting is still quite a mysterious process to me,” Turner says. “I just … sit in darkened rooms until I have finished songs and I can’t really tell you more than that.”
After that birth of a song, he and the band work up and test different arrangements (“We’re arrangement machines,” Turner said), running them through the paces with a fast, rock feel, or maybe a more traditional folk arrangement. Some songs may go through 19 different stylistic arrangements that may never see the light of day, while others come together immediately.
“Songs are kind of living, breathing things, they’re skeletons that you can hang, slash up in different ways,” Turner said. “Songs kind of tap you on the shoulder, ’This is me, I’m ready to go.’”
Though the title of the album reflects positivity (a title, Turner added, that hopefully comes across as tongue-in-cheek), he doesn’t actively try to pigeonhole his songs while writing.
“I try quite hard not to pre-direct or prejudice songwriting,” Turner said. “I try not to be a music critic before I’ve been a musician. I suspect that that’s the reason why a lot of bands lose their mojo; that they start trying to imagine what the reviews are going to say before they’ve finished writing the song almost.”
Currently on a self-imposed writing break to clear his head after wrapping the last album, Turner says he’s now knee-deep in country music, and learning about African-styled guitar-playing, And, as always, he’s starting to collect bones for future skeletons.
“I’m kind of interested in the idea of something of a stylistically left hand turn for the next record,” he says. “At the same time I never have—and I don’t want to start—forcing what I do creatively.”