Harry Guerin: On your 2011 album, England Take My Bones, there was a superb - and very raw - song about relationships called Redemption. Was it a springboard to the lyrical content of Tape Deck Heart?
Frank Turner: Kind of, yeah. And very well spotted – you're the first person to ask me that question. Both in terms of the specifics of the subject matter, and also the general direction, that [song] seemed like an avenue I wanted to explore more this time around. So yes, very good spot!
So did you feel less awkward about being so open after that song?
No. It's a weird thing for me: one of the things I tried to do very specifically with this record was to push myself to be as kind of exposed and personal as I could be and not hold anything back. It seemed to me that that was the best way – if you're going to write about that kind of stuff you have to go all the way. Having said that, that of course means that there's a fair amount of stuff on the record that I'm actually quite uncomfortable about being in the public domain, which sounds like a mad thing to say when you're the one who wrote the album and put it out! But art is not necessarily supposed to be comfortable. And I think, in a way, the fact that some of it makes me wince a little bit is a sign that I succeeded in what I set out to do, which was to write something very exposed.
Given that your roots are in punk rock, how did you reconcile doing 42 vocal takes for one song on the album, Tell Tale Signs?
[Laughs] That was an interesting moment, and certainly not something I've done before! It wasn't a case of chopping up in between those 42 vocal takes; we used pretty much the entirety of the last take that I did. Rich Costey, the producer, [it was] the first time working with him. The guy is an absolute genius and I really enjoyed working with him. It took me a while during the 42 times to figure out what it was he was trying to do, and I got really, really annoyed at various points! He was trying to make me sound ragged and make me sound exhausted, I think. And he was searching for a deeper level of performance, which in the end we got. I'm really glad we did.
So was it a bridge in your relationship with Rich?
[Laughs] There was a fair amount of that kind of thing going on in the studio, actually. The main thing Rich brought to the table was him drilling me and my band The Sleeping Souls to push deeper. There were moments where if we'd been recording with someone else there were takes that would've been accepted as being acceptable. And I think that was the thing that Rich brought in: him not letting us settle for anything less than the best possible take, rather than just one that was good enough. The vocal take thing was a good moment in our relationship and building trust with each other. Rich makes amazing records and I wanted to work with him for a long time so there was a degree of acceptance of his working methods from the start!
Well, that brings up a question for any band, punk or otherwise: why would you not make your record sound as good as it could possibly be?
Totally. Sometimes there are bands who go out of their way to make a record that sounds exactly the same as Black Flag's The First Four Years or something like that. It slightly misses the point of what was special about those early Black Flag records. The thing about those [records] is that's all they had and they still managed to make a record that drips with attitude and spite and rage and all the rest of it. If Black Flag were a new band around today – as ridiculous and hypothetical as that may be – they wouldn't make a record that sounds exactly the same because recording technology has improved. There's no point slavishly trying to ape older records; you might as well make it sound... I want my records to sound like a band playing.
On the subject of success, is it very surreal how much things have taken off for you?
Very much so. It's funny; I'm not and do not ever wish to be blasé about things that have happened to me, but in a way I feel I've given up being bamboozled by everything. The point my career's at is so far beyond where I expected it to go, and, indeed, beyond where most of the bands I grew up listening to got to. We did a show at Wembley [Arena] last year. I'd never been to Wembley before because I didn't go to see those kinds of bands. My friend Ben, who was the drummer in my old band Million Dead, put it really well. He said: 'Once you got to the level of headlining at Shepherd's Bush [Empire], I gave up being excited for you around then and now it's just like, Wow, that's completely crazy but it's kind of what you do'. Yes, it's all very surreal and I hope I retain a sense of excitement and wonder and weirdness about the whole thing. I don't want to become used to it in any way, but at the same time I can't spend all day, every day going 'Holy Cow!'
It's the same thing as having your record sounding good: why would you not want to reach as many people as possible?
There's a very traditional British thing of being suspicious of success, which I reject. I want to do well in what I do; I want to succeed in my chosen path in life. I think punk rock has a very, very healthy suspicion of people's motives that is a great part of the foundation of punk rock ethics. But at the same time that very often just spills into automatic rejection of anybody who's successful, which is slightly trying. I've had people telling me that I've sold out because I play bigger shows now or whatever. It's slightly trying because I haven't changed the basic ethics or approach to what I do; it's just there's more people listening.
Do you have a plan to leave this path after a certain period of time or will you be a wandering minstrel into your fifties?
Who knows, and I'm old and wise enough just about to not make too many far-reaching predictions for the rest of my life. At this exact juncture I feel I'd love to do this 'til I'm old. First of all, I may never get the opportunity because it's a fickle business and also, who knows? Maybe in five years' time I'm going to suddenly decide that I have to be a carpenter or an accountant or, indeed, a drum and bass DJ. We'll find out!
Tape Deck Heart is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings.