“By their sixth album bands have either got flabby or gone into a weird experimental phase, I didn’t want to do either” – hmv.com talks to Frank Turner
As his sixth album Positive Songs For Negative People hits shelves (you can preview and purchase it on the right-hand side of the page) Frank Turner finds himself at an odd place in his career. He’s sold out just about every big venue in the UK, played huge slots at every festival you can think of and established a large and incredible fanbase.
So what now? Well, as he tells us in this new interview, he decided to take things right back to the beginning and record the album in just nine days…
Your new album is out today, why did you decide on a summer release?
“We’ve had it finished since December and it took us a little while to get the mastering and mixing right, but it’s been ready for a while. If it was me I’d get it out as soon as I could, but there are many levels of label politics to negotiate.”
You recorded the album in nine days, was that by choice or was that all the time you had?
“No that was definitely the plan. This is my sixth album, not a particularly interesting number, normally it means bands have either got flabby or they’ve gone into a weird experimental phase, I didn’t want to do either of those things, so I started thinking about debut albums and how they were always so full of life and energy. I got to realise that debut albums are basically live albums, you perfect your tracks, you hammer them out in a small room and then you fuck off on tour again. I wanted to borrow that methodology.”
How did you go about doing that?
“We played the songs a lot, we played them in sound checks, at gigs across the world, my plan was always to give them this raw, live feel and I think we’ve managed that.”
You recorded in Nashville, why did you choose to go there?
“We went to Nashville to work with Butch Walker, who produced the album. He was fantastic, he completely bought into the methodology of getting it down quickly. The idea of recording like that wasn’t the record label’s favourite idea and to help satisfy them a bit we went with him as producer. We didn’t go to Nashville to make a Nashville record, it was because he was there, we’d have gone to Timbuktu if that’s where he wanted to go.”
Did you get to see much of the city?
“Not much, we weren’t there long and while we were we worked really hard, but it was a great experience.”
He’s worked on some pretty big records with people like Fall Out Boy and Taylor Swift…
“I don’t have an enormous amount in common with artists like that, sometimes producers have to play different roles. Sometimes they are there to help with arrangements, but me and the Sleeping Souls had all the songs arranged up to the hilt. Butch got the obstacles out of our way and built this great positive energy, he worked and got these incredible performances out of there.”
You recorded in America last time and weren’t all that taken with the experience, were you wary about going back? Or can you just record anywhere?
“I wasn’t really bothered, when we record we work on the task at hand. We stayed in this house about 45 minutes away, so we’d get up and walk to the studio, record and go home. I don’t think the place matters much, it’s the studio and the people.”
You’ve roadtested a lot of these songs and it’s been developed in live shows, does that mean your backing band The Sleeping Souls have had more of an impact? Is this more of a band record?
“Yes and no. One of the things I did want to achieve with this record was capturing how we sound live and we’re a pretty seamless unit because we’ve played together for a while now. But it’s still me writing the songs and then we work on arrangements together, but I still have power of veto. There are a huge part of what I do and this album is more of a collective effort, but there’s a reason why it’s still my name on the front cover.”
They’ve been with you pretty much since the beginning so they must get involved naturally, whether you plan it or not…
“Exactly. When we’re on the road together we’re a band and I must admit that the idea of making it a band, formally, has occurred to me. But in the studio I do still really like doing my songs in the way I want to do them, I always want to be part of a band, I don’t like the idea of just working with session musicians, I want to get a rapport with people and become a really tight unit.”
How did you want this album to move on from Tape Deck Heart?
“I think all creative people are, by nature, reactive. So you always want to rebel against what you did before, it’s certainly the case with me. Tape Deck Heart was a difficult record to make, it was a difficult record to write and a difficult record to talk about, it was a break-up record and it’s a reminder of a tough time in my life because it’s about failure. Writing for this was so liberating because I realised that I’d been able to close that chapter in my life, there are lots of references to storms passing and feeling liberated.”
You’ve said it’s an angrier record too…
“It’s more aggressive. It’s a defiant record, it’s a record that rejects the idea of wallowing in sadness and embraces being proactive.”
Much as you were happy to be through all that, it’s a great source of inspiration, did you worry what you’d end up writing this album about?
“I try not to be too prescriptive about what I’m going to write about. I don’t write concept albums, I write clumps of songs, I’ve never come up with a plot for a musical. There are loads of topics on the record, but it’s definitely way more optimistic.”
When did you decide on the title for the record?
“It comes from a late night, drunken conversation with a friend about exactly what it is I do, not just this record, my whole career. That phrase just popped out really. It’s odd and people have been taking the title in a number of ways. I did a whole bunch of German interviews the other day and everyone was taking it a bit literally, the journalists kept saying: (Adopts German accent) “Oh, who are these negative people? Are you saying your fans are negative people?”. There’s a lot of humour to this title, its tongue is firmly in its cheek.”
Was that always the title?
“Pretty much. I’ve had it for a while. The songs and running order were very set in my mind for this album, it’s a whole concept, which I’m very pleased with.”
When it comes to taking the album out live, do the new songs blend in nicely or will you do them in a block by themselves?
“I think they’ll blend in, we’ve roadtested them a lot and I’ve always been against that idea in the past. But I saw Jamie T play Alexandra Palace and he did it that way and it was great, so I might try it. I’m a very nerdy about setlists.”
Will you be a bit more reserved this time? Your tour schedules are always pretty brutal…
“The tour schedule for Tape Deck Heart was f***ing insane, for the whole of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 it was full on and very tough. I got hurt when my back went out and I think there were a couple of points where everyone had just had enough. I’m definitely getting older so my stamina isn’t what it was. We’ve made a collective agreement, me and my band and the crew, to take more time off and be normal more often. A few years ago there was this real bravado about my tour schedule, to tour harder and longer than anyone else, I realised afterwards the only person I was trying to please was myself. I’ll try not to kill myself with my own ego.”
Are there any songs you don’t play anymore?
“Not really. I always keep a little block in the middle of the set for B-Sides and a few rarities, I try to change that everyday. There are songs I don’t think are very good, which I don’t play, but I won’t say which ones...”
Frank Turner’s new album Positive Songs For Negative People is out now in hmv stores and available to purchase here.