Frank Turner has a man crush on rock ‘n’ roll. At first he wasn’t aware of it, but thanks to Lucero’s Ben Nichols, the British-born Turner realized that he was head over heels in love. “I think he meant it half as an insult and half as a compliment, but I took it as a compliment — he told me that I was more obsessively in love with rock ‘n’ roll as a concept than anybody he knew,” Turner says. “Just the paradigm, the whole kind of culture, the idea of being young and drunk and in love or old and bitter listening to records at 4 a.m. on Scotch whiskey. Just that whole everything that comes with the paradigm of rock ‘n’ roll is something I’m obsessed with.”
That comes through in his music, in particular his latest release Tape Deck Heart. There’s an earnest but unsparing, anthemic quality that’s poetic yet direct, much like Springsteen at his best. On “Photosynthesis,” Turner promises not to grow up to be “bored and unfulfilled,” because “if all you ever do with your life is photosynthesize, then you’ll deserve every hour of your sleepless nights that you waste wondering when you’re going to die.”
The music of the 30-year-old Turner strikes a keen balance between hopeful idealism and sober Sunday morning regrets.”I’m interested in the way — up to a certain age — the doors of possibility are open in life and then you reach a point in life where suddenly you start making decisions that are irretractable,” Turner says. “Even in your 20s, there’s a fair amount of time to choose your path in life. Then as time goes by, suddenly, the avenues become fewer and farther between because you’ve already made certain decisions … it’s almost like you can slowly draw away from yourself and get an outline of the kind of person you are.”
Turner earned his punk-rock stripes in the London hard-core band Millions Dead. He spent his early 20s with them, releasing two albums and living the hard-living life. It was kind of a switch for a kid with a scholarship to exclusive English boarding school Eton, where he attended classes with Prince William, and who later attended the London School of Economics. Eventually, Turner broke with punk rock. He even had the temerity to suggest that some of his economic beliefs were “rightward,” even though he disavowed the English conservative party, the Tories. In a land where divisions are stark, Turner’s comments blew up in the British press. For a U.S. example, think working-man hero Bruce Springsteen admitting an affinity for Rush Limbaugh and a hatred of unions.
“It’s one of the things that depresses me about the U.K., the class obsession, and it’s one of the things I like about America. People don’t automatically define and judge your entire character based upon what your parents do for a living. It’s fucking depressing to put up with that bullshit in the U.K. It makes me enjoy being in America more some days,” he says.
“I’ve had my fair amount of shit thrown at me and whatever over the years,” he adds. “But I’m trying to be a successful musician, and I feel quite strongly that it’s slightly redundant to spend the first half of your career working your ass off to try and be a public figure, to be popular and successful, and then complaining about what comes with that. I can’t really complain about people having opinions about the things I say in public if I’m going to the effort to have people listen to me.”
And listen they do. In his native land, each of his five albums has done better than the last, with Tape Deck Heart going to No. 2. It landed just outside of the Billboard Top 50 here in America.
Tape Deck Heart is fueled by a breakup, but Turner didn’t want to take the typical approach. This is reflected in the songs “Plain Sailing Weather” and “Wherefore Art Thou Gene Simmons.” In the latter he sings that he resents “the implication that every boy who plays guitar plays women like Gene Simmons” only to later confess to the same sins.
“I’m interested in the idea of writing a break-up album, not 100 percent, but at least partly from the perspective of being the perpetrator rather than the victim,” he says. “I feel like most break-up albums come from the point of view of being the victim, and it takes a fair bit more self-excoriation. It’s an interesting thing to take the spotlight and turn it back on yourself and look at your own flaws. I’m definitely no saint.”
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