Frank Turner is no stranger to being on the road. In fact, he’s spent the last 21 years traveling the globe, including several shows in Nashville over the course of his career.
Turner will once again be performing in Music City when he brings his “No Man's Land” Tour to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center on Monday night. The name of the tour shares the same title of his eighth-studio album, which tells the tale of 13 women across history, telling their story.
Prior to the Monday show, The News spoke with Turner as he was stopped with a broken down vehicle near the Arizona, New Mexico border. While he had some time on his hands, Turner discussed his newest record and how much fun it was working on it as a history buff and songwriter. He also discussed his podcast, his thoughts on the PC/cancel culture and the impact that Nashville has left on him.
Tullahoma News (TN): So how have things been going on this tour run?
Turner: They're going great. At this exact moment in time, we are having a tire change on our bus at a truck stopped somewhere on the Arizona-New Mexico border. So in the short term, things could be going a tiny bit smoother, but that aside, it's going very well.
TN: Well, I'm sorry to take up your time doing this interview, then, if you're dealing with that.
Turner: No, we're sitting around doing nothing. So it's all good, man.
TN: I know on this tour run, you've also got Kayleigh Goldsworthy with you. I got to meet her last year. So how good was it to have her jump on board on this tour?
Turner: I've known Kayleigh for a long time from other bands that she's been in and from her playing with Dave Hause and with Frank Iero and people like that. You know, I've always known that she was growing her own songwriting, you know, and her own thing. And we had her playing at the Lost Evenings Festival that I did in Boston back in May, and she smashed it out the park with that. So, next time we had a tour coming up, I was like "Jump on." And you know, she's an old friend and she's incredibly talented, so it's lovely to have her along.
She's also, I might add, in a car and therefore not at a truck stop.
TN: So she didn't get stranded with you?
Turner: No. I suspect she may well be in Albuquerque already and wondering where on earth we are.
TN: Oh gosh. Well, let's talk about the new album, “No Man's Land.” I guess before we even talk about the writing process and all that, this one, from your perspective, had to be a little bit of fun because I know you're a history buff and obviously a songwriter, so this one had to be great getting to combine the two, right?
Turner: Yeah, definitely. I think that was kind of one of the original motivations for the record was to try and bring together these two obsessions of mine that have always kind of run in parallel. And I mean there are sort of history mentions in other songs of mine here and there, but I've never sort of attempted to bring the two things together in a concentrated fashion before. And so, and I was wondering whether that was even doable.
But the other kind of leading creative thought behind the record is that, you know, I've always written in quite a sort of autobiographical confessional style. I tend to write about my own life and my own experiences and that's all well and good, and I'll do that again in the future. But it just sort of occurred to me what it would be like to try and write a record about other people's lives and other people's experiences. So, and then that fed into the history thing and the project started to come together from that point.
TN: So why did you feel like now was sort of at the time? Obviously, it's something that probably had been in your mind for a while, so why did you feel like now was the time to go ahead and pull the trigger on this topic to make this album?
Turner: The thing about that is that I actually wrote this record before I wrote Be More Kind, and the thing about that is that, as I say, having written in an autobiographical style, the preceding two records… both are extremely kind of autobiographical and a deep self-excoriating in their records about difficult times in my life.
And I felt, having come out with two records that are both about kind of the flip sides of a breakup and the recovery from it, that it was time to move on, you know, in terms of my subject matter. So I started writing that.
Then, 2016 happened. Everyone went crazy both back home and over here, which you'll forgive me for so saying, but it felt like, at that moment in time, I felt duty bound to respond in a more direct way to what was happening in the world than with a record about kind of obscure women from the historical record, as much as I'm happy to make a record about that.
So, I wrote “Be More Kind,” after I wrote “No Man's Land” and recorded that and got that out there. I'm very proud of it that I am, too, but once that was done, it was time to get back on track and back to Plan A.
TN: How long did it take you to write an album like this?
Turner: I mean maybe a year, year and a half all in, but I mean I tend to write while I'm on the road and stuff, so I don't really do concentrated writing periods, that's never a thing that I've felt the need to do. Things tend to show up in a time and manner of their own choosing anyway.
TN: Let’s talk a little bit about the podcast that shares the same name. Each individual episode is a different one of the songs. So talk to me a little bit. Have you had any episodes that immediately jump out as being some of your favorites?
Turner: I mean we decided to do the broadcast simply, because it seems to me that trying to do justice to the entire life of somebody who's worth talking about in three minutes is a bit of a stretch. And plus I felt like some of the lyrics could do with some sort of Cliffs Notes, you know what I mean? So, and then we put it together and the podcast company helps us find the right people to interview.
I mean, to me, the absolute stand out is talking to Sonya Sha'arawi, who was Huda's granddaughter. It was incredible to talk to somebody who was actually related to one of the people that I've written about and who knew her. That was a huge privilege. I think it was an interesting moment, because she's an elderly Egyptian feminist and as such has absolutely no idea who I am, or what I do, or what the music I make is about.
But, she was so receptive, and so interested in what I was doing, and had so much to say, and told me so much about it. The other obvious stand out would be talking to my mum, writing songs with my mom on the record felt like a nice way of rounding it off. And then obviously who else can I talk to for a podcast episode. But my mom is a smart cookie, and she was a teacher for 38 years, and all the rest of it. So she actually went and did like a whole bunch of like research, and we talked about the whole record, and she turned it around, and she was interviewing me and it was pretty funny. She sold me down the river pretty hard on a couple of bits of information from my childhood as well.
TN: So that's definitely going to be a highlight that people need to go check out. Obviously, online, you talked about some of the criticism that you received from making an album like this about women specifically. So I have to ask, as an artist, whenever you receive that criticism, does it maybe dissuade you from taking on something controversial in the future at all?
Turner: I have to be 100 percent honest in answering that and saying that, to some extent, the answer to that question is, "Yes." I'd like it to be no, but you know I'm only human and it's not much fun being on the receiving end of that kind of s-. Particularly when so much of it is so ad hominem, and it's so predictable, and rote almost, you know what I mean? It's like I knew it was coming. I'm not sure I knew it was going to arrive in such a vicious and dumb kind of way.
And the thing is, I need to be careful in saying that, of course, there is valid and interesting criticism, discussion to be had about the record and I don't want to shy away from that, but that's not what 95 percent of what came my way was. You know what I mean?
But having said all that, I mean one of the things that I wish I could explain to a lot of the serious denizens of Twitter is that the purpose of an artist is not to please everybody. Do you know what I mean? The purpose of art is not to suck up to current mores… Art is supposed to be iconoclastic. It's supposed to be independent. And that is something I believe in very fervently. I made this record, and I thought about it a lot while I was making it, and I checked my own bona fides, and my own intentions, and all those kind of thing as best I could. And I'm very proud of it as a piece of art and I will continue to make the art that I want to make going forward. I want to try and do that as best I can.
TN: And speaking to that note, and one of the things that I was lucky enough to see Nick Cave, he's doing these conversations tours and that's one of the things that the audience brought up to him was somebody asked him about the PC and cancel culture that's sort of going on right now. They asked him his thoughts on that, and as an artist, how it maybe hinders or if it's a benefit. He mentioned the good that that culture is doing, but at the same time you mentioned that it hurts the creative process. Do you feel that way as well?
Turner: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I also think that purity is an immature objective to strive for in politics. I think that if you think that purity is desirable or achievable in politics, then you haven't yet encountered the real world in any meaningful way. Which is part of what makes me bored of this whole thing, this striving for purity. It's just a waste of everyone's f- time. Everybody's horrible, life's complicated. In fact, ex-President Obama was talking about this just this morning as far as I saw on the news, you know what I mean? Life is messy. Get over it.
TN: Talk to me a little bit about what this show encompasses versus what the traditional Frank Turner show is?
Turner: Well, I think there were two kinds of directives around planning this tour. One of which I wanted to find the right way of presenting the “No Man's Land” stuff live. I didn't make this record with my regular band and it just seemed a bit weird to me to rehearse it out with them. So, I had the idea of splitting into two sets, so I'm doing a solo set, just storytelling and songs from the new record and then we're going into the older stuff for the second set when the band get up with me.
And then the second thing, which was kind of unrelated to this, but the music I might make, it often gets described as folk punk in quote marks, which is a phrase that I have mixed feelings about. It seems slightly reductive to me, shall we say, but to the extent that that's true, in terms of the life show, for a long time we've been leaning on the punk part of that double barrel for a long time. And we've been playing these shows as very energetic, and very loud, and very much about getting the pit started, you know what I mean? You’ve got bodies flying, and people jumping off s-, and all this kind of thing. I love that and it's a huge part of who I am in what I do. But, it is not the only thing that I and my band know how to do.
We can operate with more nuances and it just for a while we've been considering the merits of trying to do a more nuanced show, a more considered show, and one that plays slightly different songs from the back catalog, and it's more about people listening. Once we started putting the set together, this storytelling angle of the first half of the show spread the second half as well. And it's sort of become a bit like... I mean it's autobiographical to a degree… It's telling some stories about who I am, and what I think, and what I've learned over the years on the road. This is my 21st year on the road this year. So I've hopefully picked up a couple of nuggets of wisdom along the way.
TN: That's always one thing that's always been fascinating to me is that you actually record each show number. When did that start? Is that just something that you just started doing once you started touring or how did that work out?
Turner: My old band that I was in, Million Dead, our drummer and made a list of all the shows that we played and at the time I thought he was out of his mind. And then when the band broke up, I was immediately really grateful that he'd done it, because I had a record of what we'd done and even then I would've had trouble remembering the details of where we'd been and that was now 14 years ago that we broke up. And the idea of telling you anything meaningful about what Million Dead did now, if I didn't have that shows list is kind of insane. So when I started playing solo shows, I just started keeping a list for my own benefit, essentially, just so that I could just mark where I'd been.
I mean I put it on my website, where it still is, but no one really noticed. And then I remember I had my 1000th show coming up, and I decided to throw a bit of a party for it, and I called some friends, said, "I'm going to book my 1000th show." And everyone was like, "1000th what? What are you talking about?" And I explained and everyone was like, "What the f-?"
Then from that point it grew into more of a beast that's out of my control. I mean I tend to announce the show numbers live. And there are some people who have show numbers tattooed on them and this kind of thing. And that's kind of cool… Quantity, is not the same as quality, but at the same time it's nice to be able to point to the list and be like, "I did something with my life."
TN: Obviously, throughout the years you've been able to play Nashville numerous times. So talk to me a little about the impact of getting to play Nashville, specifically. Is there something special about playing the city?
Frank Turner: I mean, Nashville is the name of a town that rings out and the music world for extremely obvious reasons. It's funny, being a British person, Nashville is almost a faintly unrealistic proposition. Do you know what I mean? It's like Nashville's not a real place and then you get there on tour and you're like, "Oh, shit. Okay." So we've been through a bunch of times. We always had a good time. I try and stop by the Country Music Hall of Fame when I can.
I feel like we're building an audience over time there. And Nashville has changed in the time that we've been coming through. We made a record in Nashville one time, Positive Songs. And it's nice. It's one of the privileges of my life to be able to say of quite a few places around the world that I know that place a little bit and I know Nashville a little bit and I'm looking forward to be coming back through.
Tickets for Monday's show at TPAC can be purchased here.