To celebrate Frank’s fourth album being available to buy in the UK - and his launch party at the Barfly - I’ve decided to repost the excellent transcripted goings on between Chris T-T and Frank from my archives. NB: Chris sings on Frank’s new album England Keep My Bones - on the excellent song Rivers - while his own album Love Is Not Rescue, and the recently released Words Fail Me EP, is similarly great.
A while ago - in fact, not long before Frank’s sold out Scala gig in 2008 (I think) - I sat genius Brighton-based singer-songwriter Chris T-T and his good friend Frank Turner down opposite each other and got them to fire questions at each other. One, because I knew they both loved to tease each other over their opposing politics and also because whatever came out was always going to be interesting, insightful and, above all, entertaining. Which it was. I published the article on here back when it was a blogspot, so I feel justified in delivering the entire transcription, but with this disclaimer. I’ve taken the slightly painful decision to lever out the slightly slanderous or libellous stuff as I can’t really justify anyone getting in trouble - even over a joke - for our entertainment. Nevertheless, here it is. Chris and Frank dishing out questions for each other. Fun.
Frank and Chris
F We should do scissor paper stone to see who starts, say 123 and THEN go.
F: I’ll start with one of my serious questions. How important is place and I guess to a lesser extent culture and nationality in songwriting to you in reference to, on the one hand Bruce Springsteen and, the other hand, you writing about England.
C: It’s almost everything. I think that one of the things that I’m not able to do is write without that there like I just couldn’t write a song about a physical place I’ve never been unless it’s a totally crazy story. For me, it’s not so much that one writes ‘here’s a palce and I’m gonna write about it’. It’s that every single song, whatever it’s about, has a place in the back of it for me. I’m really trying hard right now to make a bunch of songs that aren’t about anything and aren’t about a place but that doesn’t work. Each song has a sense of place.
F: So being English is important to you?
C: Oh, massively important. I would always call myself English. But that’s the opposite of being tied to a right wing thing because I definitely believe in open borders and the free movement of people. The Maggie Holland songs about England, A Place Called England, a proper gardener, are the ones where it’s Englishness to do with the land, which you do really well on stuff like Nashville Tennessee and To Take You Home, and it’s that that’s where we’re from and yet there’s this massive cultural weight on us as pop musicians to almost try to pretend to be something else. It’s really important that we don’t.
F: I’m satisfied with your answer.
C: You come from a much more punk/alternative background than me. Do you feel, given that your music is now very tuneful and in some places soft, do you miss the punk thing and do you still think that you’re, two words, wither a punk or an anarchist?
F: Good question. Punk infuses everything I do because I learnt how to play music along with that style and it’s the bedrock of my…it was my doorway into music, both listening and playing basically so I’m never gonna stop thinking about it. When I think about heavier sounds I think of them in a punk way, and when I think about melody… It’s just the bedrock of it and that will never cease to be and I don’t want it to cease to be. I think that it’s a great scene and ethos and something that I’m proud to have put a lot of my life int. Particularly more musically. I guess there are days when I miss the pure rage and aggression but the problem is there’s nothing worse than fake rage and aggression which is kinda why bad hardcore bands are worse than bad bands of any other genre because they’re so awful. So to be in a band like that and make it worthwhile and good you have to be pissed off in the right way, 300 days a year. I just can’t.
C: Something that happened on this tour that I hadn’t seen on previous tour that Iw as part of is that you at the end ditched the guitar and went back into the crowd and I think a lot of fans are really overwhelmed by that being, in a way, being back to Million Dead days but also it’s much more uplifting than it would’ve been a few years ago. It’s like a totally joyous moment.
F: I think that’s true. In Million Dead we were to a certain extent trying to fight the audience. Now I’m just trying to hug them! But punk is vastly important to me and also the other thing is people always ask what punk and folk have in common and I think one of the things they have in common is that they describe both an ethos and a sound and that the two aren’t necessarily linked all the time and I think I incorporate elements of all four into what I do. So you know, I have a bit of punk in my sound and a bit of folk in my sound but I have quite a lot of punk in my ethos and folk in my ethos as well. Would I call myself a punk? It depends on who I’m talking to. If I’m talking to the kind of person who wants me to be a singer-songwriter: yes. If I’m talking to the kind of person who’s a punk scenester warrior writing a ‘zine then: no fucking way. I think the point of punk was that it had a degree of contrarianism in it anyway. So I’d call myself a corporate singer songwriter punk rocker. As for anarchist – I know what you’re fishing for and I’ve got my next question lined up – I’m not sure I would describe myself as an anarchist anymore. What I would say is that my essential first principles that got me thinking about the realm of politics, which was an essential distrust of power and human beings organised into hierarchies aimed at hurting other human beings, those things are STILL my first principles. The difference is that I’ve decided I’m more interested in practicality and pragmatism than in high falutin’ – with no G – idealism. So yeah it’ll be wonderful if we could overthrow the state and have non-heirarchical systems and organisations. It’s not gonna happen. I’ll state this as a simple fact: any attempt to try and make it happen will end in pain and death for lots of normal, innocent, ordinary people. What I think we should do instead is concentrate on ways of minimizing the impact on ordinary people’s lives and allow them to get on with their lives and not be bothered by the state. Then you’ve suddenly got a range of things to talk about that ARE achievable. Like everything from not having ID cards and trying to dismantle the surveillance system we’ve put together in this country on the one hand, trying to remove government from peoples lives, social services. Letting people be freer, health and safety, whatever it might be. To me liberty is the highest intellectual achievement of the humnan race. So, no I’m not an anarchist.
C: It’s a great answer.
F It’s my go now. This question was going to be, ‘why are you such a dirty communist?’ But that’s a joke.
C: That could be your question!
F: My real question is this: this both about music and about politics generally. When people say protest, everybody immediately thinks left wing which to me represents a number of things not least an inherent defeatism in the left. You see what I mean? If all your politics amount to protest…whenever anybody thinks of a political singer, they immediately think they’re left wing. Do you think that political music has to be left wing, do you think leftism has to be a protesting form of politics?
C: I think that protest singing is a traditionally left wing form because the 20th century was dominated by right wing governmental power, in the west at least. The communist regimes in the east, the far east and South America were actually, regardless of whatever media spin was put on it, they were very well contained. The Soviet Union was very contained and popular music as a western artform came out of the United States and slaves coming up from Africa to America and the mixing of European chamber music, blues, country and all that stuff. As such the dominant power at those times, during the development of rock and roll, was right wing so if you had a problem with the power, you were more likely to be left wing. That’s why I think protest singing, particularly out of the 60s folk movement, came up as a left wing rather than a right wing, but to answer your question: protest singing can be in anything. Quite a lot of protest songs that are happening now, particularly the younger generation of songwriters influenced by you, are not left wing remotely. The number of times you hear protest songs about the smoking ban or not being allowed to take cocaine, for instance. Also, before that, in the nineties, Ian Hunter did a brilliant protest album called Rat which is a right-wing protest single. It’s a whole album of too much tax in Britain, I don’t live in Britain any more coz there’s to much tax and there’s too much crime (SNIP! edited despite being humourous). He did that and it was brilliant. But obviously inherently if you’re right wing and a rock musician your music is, by its nature going, to be more within the establishment and you don’t have so much to protest about EXCEPT that now politics itself has all changed. One of the things I’m interested in at the moment is that culture as a whole through the 20th century tended towards the liberal or the left wing and I don’t think that’s true now and I don’t think the people at the very top of culture – the bosses of culture – have realised yet that the predominant youth culture is now far more where you would place yourself – and I don’t wanna put words in your mouth – socially very libertarian, which is thought of as a left-wing thing but isn’t really, and fiscally quite right of centre and I think that the predominant culture moves from all sorts of music, theatre, comedy. The days of the hard left 80s anti-Thatch thing has just gone.
F: Can I just come back on you on that? I think certainly in America a lot of the things you’re saying holds water but one of my problems, and this is a much broader comment, it’s become crystallised in most peoples mind that when they say right wing they mean establishment and when they say left wing they mean anti-establishment which, actually, has nothing to do with what the terms left and right mean. Right wing means in favour of the individual, left wing means in favour of the collective and on that level I think it’s difficult to argue that the world and the establishment was particularly right wing, particularly in the 50s and 60s. Britain for the Welfare State, Britain verging on becoming a socialist country. America you’ve totally got a point. Certainly in Britain, arguably between 1945 and 1979, our govt is quite left wing. Certainly, economically, Keynesian is a left wing idealogy. I’m not putting any value judgements on it but this kinda goes back to the original thing where I always feel like people on the left relegate themselves to being protest and similarly, this is the thing, people have forgotten what the terms left and right mean. Like I say leftism basically, as far as I understand it, means kind of the collective and the state is an agent of good in life an d society whereas right wing means in favour of the individual and against the influence of the state. I think that people, instead of seeing that and sort of seeing where they fall, sort of see if they’re in favour of the government and then paint themselves as left or right accordingly, which is nonsense. I don’t know…this isn’t my question.
C: It’s interesting though. You’re probably right about British govenments although in terms of time there were more Conservative governments, but left wing governments put in changes that were then impossible…once you’ve built the National Health Service there was no way the next Tory government could have torn it down because the people just wouldn’t have allowed it but I don’t disagree on any of that really. My key problem with the right wing idealogy of individualism is that this world is not ruled by all powerful governments who control people’s lives now, this world is ruled by all-powerful international corporations run by small groups of individuals who rule people’s lives to a far greater extent than governments and have none of the checks and balances.
That is a product of right-wing thinking entirely. So what we have; you are very suspicious of the government, rightfully so, you hate ID cards, rightfully so. One of the things that both excites me and frightens me about Frank is that if Frank turned around and said: “Actually I’m openly for Cameron” (Frank laughs) the amount of authenticity, and I know you’re not a massive star yet but you’re on your way, and you look at that and tie it to what is the single fastest growing youth movement in the country - it’s Conservative Future, the group for young Conservatives and one of the reasons that that is is that they’ve been able to detach themselves from social oppression, from moral bigotry of the old school Tory so they are very socially liberal, they’re into their drugs, drink and shagging each other and they don’t quite mind so much if you’re gay - as long as you’re quiet about it - and they like a few black people - here and there - but at the same time, essentially, the problem with the right wing ideology now is that we’re letting the corporations off scot free. That’s the only problem I have with it. You know I agree with you on ID cards and I agree with you a lot about small power although essentially what happens when you start limiting the welfare state is that people at the bottom drop off because they’re failures and they lose their rights. If you start looking at where we’re at now, we’ve got massive poverty around the world - which we don’t mind because it’s foreigners. In fact, the infrastructure in the United States is dangerously close to collapse, and they’ve all got guns. I don’t even think it matters who becomes President. I wrote a little thing yesterday. I think whoever is president in six days time might be the last president of the united states as we see it. I really think we’re really close – four or eight years from now, the United States could easily be in a state of collapse, with individual states seceding and people shooting each other left right and centre.
F: They’re doing that already.
C: It’s beginning and it’s terrifying. I’m not even really answering your question coz I can’t remember what it is.
F: It’s your go.
C: I was gonna ask a musical thing, but I’ll try and stick on the politics thing. You speak a lot about the anti-govt stuff in a a very powerful, moving way. You’re probably gonna be one of the big spokespeople for the no ID thing if it hits us, though it probably won’t now. If it hits, you’ll be there at the frontline. Do you have the same suspicions and negative feelings about private corporations or do you think the concept of a limited company, limited liability, board of directors, profit motive are all things that build into capitalism. Do you think it’s essentially a benign idea?
F: I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s a benign idea but I’d say that to me the profit motive is something I’m more comfortable with than the power motive and that’s the problem I think. Coz basically what we’re talking about here is the balance between control of the private sector or control of the government. Because the only way to limit the power of private corporations is to increase govt. control and it’s, to a certain extent, within the share of what power is, …the questions is: yes corporations do terrible things but the thing about corporations is their aim for the most part, and I’m not disagreeing with you, corporations do terrible, terrible things that as a society we need to address but if you conside that their aim is to make money - that’s not particularly nice or pleasant aim - but first of all I do think that human beings have the tendency to do that kind of thing and I’d rather attempt to kind of like control and deal with people who just want to get rich than people who specifically want to be in control of other people directly. So for that reason I find Gordon Brown infinitely more terrifying as a human being than the head of Barclays bank. I don’t like the head of Barclays bank very much, I’m not gonna invite him to my birthday party, but his aim is to make money for himself and his shareholders which I am not against.
C: That’s legally what his aim has to be. He hasn’t got any flexibility.
F Right he’s not out to legislate us on whether or not I can smoke in a bar. I seriously doubt he gives a shit and I’d rather deal with that than Gordon Brown who I think is an absolutely terrifying human being because he doesn’t seem to be able to get it into his head that some things aren’t his fucking business.
C: I a hundred percent agree with that.
F: One thing I’m very big on is the concept of liberty and freedom and in a a peculiarly English way, I like the way the English conception of freedom is almost based around people minding their own business and I like that, I think that’s a good way.
C: It’s a very polite freedom.
F Yeah it’s like: You know what I do my shit, you do your shit and lets just fucking forget about it. Something that you were saying earlier, one of the things that’s mystified me both in this country, but more strongly in the US, is this historical alliance between social authoritarians and economic libertarians because its complete madness. If your entire economic philosophy is based on people doing whatever they want and leaving people free, why do you care where people put their dicks? So I don’t like the Conservative party under Cameron any more than under anything else because it’s a political party and I don’t like political parties generally anyway but one of the few positives I’d definitely say about it is that they’re a lot less bothered about social authoritarianism in the new conservative party than they were before. And here’s a completely off the cuff remark. I want politicians who have taken drugs making drugs poicy coz otherwise it’s fucking charlatanism.
F: Coz it’s like Ann Widdecombe trying to make policies on anything to do with the family when she’s never had sex. Bollocks. It be like me trying to make up laws for families tax breaks for people have children when I don’t have kids.
C: I totally agree.
F: I want politicians who are skagheads! (LAUGHS) Ex-skagheads.
C: One of the traditions of politicians is that they’re alcoholics but they don’t mention it so maybe as the new era comes through we’ll get a generation of drug takers.
F: I want Castlereigh back. He was great. Worked really, really hard then cut his own head off in 10 Downing Street. If only Gordon Brown would do the same thing.
F: It’s my go. I think we should talk about music more. The music that we make, both of us, let’s be blunt about this, is both quite middle class and quite white and probably predominantly male. I remember when I was younger at a particular phase of my development wishing, hoping, I was gay because that would mean I would be part of a minority.
I just really wanted to be gay and it just didn’t work. Personally, at this point of my life, I’ve reached a state of karmic calmness about the fact that I make white boy guitar rock and I don’t give a shit and I’m not bothered about it. Are you bothered about it?
C: No I’ve never ever been bothered about it at all. Sometimes when I’m having a row with my wife one of the things she calls me is middle class. It just really makes me laugh. My parentage on my mum’s side is really working class but my parentage on my dad’s side is really middle class. It makes a whole mockery of the whole thing really. No it doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t think about it so much as you’ve put it into words.
F: Not just the politics but in terms of influences. All my influences are all white boys with guitars. I like listening to Public Enemy, but it has nothing to do with the music I make.
C: My influences are far more pop- not even influences, music I love I go a lot more into the cheesy mainstream than you do and you’ve still maintained a lot of the hardcore stuff, which I love but definitely aren’t my roots.
F: You know Matt our new keyboard player had never heard of Fugazi? I nearly cried. Emily Barker (then tour support) had never heard of Dinosaur Jr.
F: Yeah I know. I’m starting to hang around with proper…
C: …folk people.
F: They don’t shower and they drink too much.
C: Don’t let them near the cider. It causes problems. I was gonna ask you about songwriting. You said something interesting the other day about lyrics. You definitely, to a greater extent than me, separate lyrics and music in the compositional process. So is it that you write all the lyrics first then go and turn them into songs?
F: No, music always comes first.
C: So you’ve got musical ideas and then..
F: I have phrases that come up and I jot down and I have things I want to write about. One of the funny things is that quite often when I’m coming up with a melody I end up singing something random but that I quite like and I don’t think what on Earth that could possibly relate to in singer-songwriting. I’ve got a new one which is “he cast no shadow in the morning sun” and that’s just how my brain spewed out that melody. (NB: fans will notice this was later tweaked slightly and used in Pass It Along)
C: There’s a new song you introduced last night quite late in the tour that you’ve been soundchecking. You had the music right at the beginning which sounded amazing, but you didn’t have any words. Is that right?
F: Well you see the thing is I had a couple of the lines here and there, anchors. It’s called Live Fast Die Old although my band have started calling it Die Hard With A Vengeance now. It’s definitely a case of lyrics I spend forever on and I kick cases, and tenses and pronouns around ad infinitum.
C: You write almost always about you and very truthfully, I think. Do you ever try writing stories about other things that don’t include you and, if so, do you find that it compromises your truthfulness?
F: I’ll start this by saying you do a lot more of the storytelling which I love and I love it when Springsteen does it and I love that approach to songwriting because I think it’s perfectly possible to tell an emotional and artistic truth through the medium of fiction, I’m just no good at it. I’ve tried and it always turns out a bit shit and, you know, I’m still fucking trying and I’m just not very good. I always feel a bit of a fool singing about stuff that hasn’t really happened. I’m gonna write a concept album sooner or later. I’m gonna write a concept album about me and you.
C: You’ve been a vegetarian for a long time and you’ve recently given up being a vegetarian and gone back to meat. Now that you’ve remembered how great meat is, do you now have a gap of meat you could’ve eaten?
F: No, for a number of reasons. First of all coz I think regrets…look, people say you haven’t got any regrets because you don’t self-examine enough but I’m not gonna waste time wishing I’d done things differently. I’m just gonna change the way I do things now. I think that’s the only sensible way of living life really. Also, I sincerely believed in what I believed at the time. I think one of the things that annoys me in this society is that people aren’t allowed to change their mind especially if they’re any kind of public figure. Not saying I’m a massive public figure but people are still pulling me up on the politics in songs we wrote in Million Dead when I was 19. I’m fucking 26. If you don’t change what you think between 19 and 26 I’d question your higher intelligence. You know what I mean? Fuck, seven years of growing up in the world of course I’m gonna change the way I think about things. In a way I feel quite sorry for Bill Bragg because I think he’s probably sort of slightly hamstring by some shit he said when he was younger as well.
F: My last question for you is a slightly conceptual question which is as statement with a question mark on the end. Sex, drugs and rock and roll?
C: Yes, very much so…please? All three to a very unhealthy degree.
F: Do folk singers have more fun?
C: Folk singers have more fun, because they travel light, they gig more, they play smaller crowds, they do their own merch so they meet everyone after the gig and they often don’t have anywhere to stay. That’s the truth isn’t it, the real trad folk scene that we are kind of a bit suss of is totally full of rabid drug-addled swingers who literally fuck each other at any possible opportunity. I’ve met them I’ve toured with Belllowhead I’m friends with John Bone I know that crowd a little bit from the outside, been a massive fan of real folk music for fifteen years but you just learn that those people aren’t to be messed with. They’re also super-corporate. A folk band of your size Frank, would most definitely have a mobile credit card machine on tour and three merch people or the whole band would come and do merch afterwards coz they know they sell a greater proportion of their stuff on the road than in shops compared with us.
F: I was kinda including us in that description.
C: It’s really interesting, me and you sitting here, coz there are things we can’t say
I’ve only been shit-faced with Frank maybe two or three times in a big way but they’ve always been absolutely awesome. One time, even before we got shit-faced, we saw a moonbow. A genuine moonbow and hardly anyone’s seen one of them. It’s a rainbow on the light of the moon. That’s how inspiring it is to get wasted with Frank.