I rarely post in English anymore, but maybe I should take it up again. I had the amazing chance to interview Frank Turner during his recent visit to Mexico City, and given that the magazine I work at only publishes stuff in Spanish, I thought I’d give it a shot and post the transcript of said conversation for fellow fans to read. The "official" Gatopardo interview can be found here.
This was Frank’s second visit to Mexico –the first was in Dec. 2015, opening for NOFX–, and he played three very intimate, acoustic sets. One was a private gig for one of those “secret shows” start-ups; a second one was a free admittance, all ages, hour-long set at Foro Indie Rocks; and the third was a show for about 200 people at a bar in a hip Mexico City neighborhood. I had a horrid deadline at work, so I could only attend the third show, but it was absolutely fantastic and I was thrilled. Also, it was because of work that I had the chance to speak with the man himself, so I can’t really complain.
I met Frank at a hipster bazar called Mercado Roma, where we sat for 15 minutes to talk about the rerelease of Sleep Is for the Week, his views on the punk community and his very own natural optimism. Here is the full transcript of that conversation (minus a couple of phrases I couldn’t really transcribe because it was noisy and Frank does talk at a Gilmore Girls-worthy speed)! Hope you guys find it amusing.
MV: First of all, we’re very happy that you’re back in Mexico!
FT: I’m very happy that I’m back here, too.
[Note: Guys, he laughs all the time. He’s the sweetest and he’s continuously laughing and smiling, so even in those parts of the interview where he seems to swear like an angry sailor, he’s just laughing it around.]
MV: I’d like to start with the reissuing of Sleep is for the week. It’s been ten years since that album. It’s been a while. What are your takes on looking back on it and listening to it now?
FT: I had less tattoos and worse hair back then. I think it’s funny because I’ve always felt and it continues to feel that records are strange things because they’re snapshots of living things. Songs continue to kind of just grow a little, move around on the edges and it’s partly how I play, and it’s partly how I interpret the song and whatever, you know? If I listen back to the album version of something like “Father’s Day” or something … like, the way I play that right now is pretty fucking different, or at least to me. It has the same words and the same chords, but it’s… that’s the skeleton of the song and you can dress it up in different ways. So in a way listening back to the record is just like looking at a photo of your kid 10 years ago. It’s kind of interesting, but it doesn’t define how it sums up forever. That’s me! I’m aware; of course that the way the song sounds on the record is usually how that song is defined for most listeners, because that’s how they engage with the songs. On that level it’s kind of interesting, you know, again, sometimes I’m like “Shit! That’s how people hear that song in their head! That’s crazy!”. There are bits of that album that I would do very, very differently if I was making it today, but I’m not, and I’m proud that it was finished. Most of it I really like, but there’s one or two songs where I’m like [groans] “Really?”, but the thing is I’m not gonna say what they are ‘cause every time I do that, it turns out to be the person I’m talking to at the moment’s favorite song ever! And then I’m a dickhead. But yeah, the main thing for me is that when we made that record I was kind of naïve and also not particularly… optimistic I suppose? I thought I was gonna make a record, maybe tour for a year, and that was gonna be that. I didn’t think much was gonna come of it. So the fact that we can have this conversation is pretty cool.
MV: About that optimism… you sound really quite angry in this record, but then again, you’re reflecting on your angrier adolescence, and now you’re kind of reflecting on that from a less angry kind of period in your life. And you’ve always stricken me as a natural optimist…
FT: Despite my best efforts, in a way, the title of my most recent album… it’s not a joke title, but it’s not as, like, very serious as some people think it is. I think it’s definitely kind of… I’m aware of the fact that like most people I know, I want to listen to The Cure and Bauhaus and wear dark clothes and stay indoors and hate everybody, and then it’s like actually… human beings are better than that in my experience. So music often convinces me to be an optimist. Both the music I listen to and the music I write. I mean one of the examples I always think of is I spent fucking years touring without a place to stay arranged, with no money to pay for somewhere to stay at the end of the night. “Can anyone help me out?” I did that for fucking years and they only let me down twice! One of those times was because it was Valentine’s Day and it was because everybody in the audience was a couple and didn’t want to take a stray home with them. One of those times was because I was in Italy and nobody spoke a fucking word of English, so they didn’t know what I was asking, so I slept in the layby. But other than that…
MV: One of the things that strikes me more from the album is that you’re also reflecting on your childhood dreams and it seemed like you hadn’t accomplished any of those, but you’ve gotten to a certain point where you are playing arenas and touring around the world and presumably having a place to sleep after tonight’s show, so how do you feel about those childhood dreams now?
FT: That’s an interesting question! Something I did on my first two records –maybe more on the first one– was I sort of,.. definitely I think I was trying to be old before my time. You know what I mean? I think like I had a sort of an encounter with disillusionment quite early in my life. I don’t mean this to try and get any bonus points by saying this, but I think earlier than most people. Because I fell in love with punk rock as a kind of ideal. No, I didn’t just fell in love, it was my “ran away and joined the circus”. You know what I mean? And I had a very pure idea of what punk rock was, in terms of a physical community and an ethos. And I was deeply disappointed by the time I was 19-20 years old. And that’s quite early to be jaded. So it’s kind of funny because like in a way, part of me thinks: “Shit, I should have waited until now to be saying those kinds of things”. And I do remember writing songs about “I’m getting old” and I was like 25. And some of my older friends were like “Fucking, really, man? Shut up!” But I mean, at the same time –this is kind of going off topic but bare with me, I talk a lot–… something a friend of mine, in fact the very same friend who told me to shut up when I said I was getting older at 25, said something interesting to me the other day. It was that he thought that quite a lot of what I do now with the way that I present my music and the shows, and not just the music but the way that we do stuff like I always choose my own support bands, we have groups like SafeGigs4Women come out with us, there’s like a Frank Turner Army group and he said to me that I was trying to reconstruct that platonic ideal of a punk scene that I got let down by when I was a kid. And I said: “Yeah, I guess you’re right”. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that! Fuck it! In life you have agency over certain things and certain areas and the area that I have agency over is the way that I present my own… the feeling of my shows and I’m going to use that and build something that I think is worthwhile.
MV: I was at RF a couple of years ago and it impressed me that it felt like this ideal community, where people were there for punk music but also knew and helped each other…
FT: This is an interesting sideline and it’s that America has always been better at this shit than England. Punk in England has always been a really bitchy little backstabby scene, always! Right since the fucking very beginning of it and I’m entirely as guilty of that as everyone else. I’m not trying to claim any moral superiority, but like when I first started touring the States, everyone knows everyone and is friends with everyone and it’s really nice. And I was just like “Oh shit! This is just what punk rock is supposed to be!”.
MV: In the past couple of years Mexico has started bringing along more punk bands… we’ve had NOFX, Saves the day, Descendents… you! And you are oddly in the middle of it. How did you become involved with the Mexican punk scene?
FT: The first thing is… I don’t mean this in a bad way, but not intentionally. Before we came here last year… obviously I was keen to come, probably because I wanna know anywhere I haven’t been. Partly because I got a lot of e-mails and so from people in Mexico, who knew my music and that’s fucking awesome, because I’d never been here! I guess thanks the Internet! But also the other thing again talking about how I present myself a lot I wanna be somebody who doesn’t just play America or Canada, the UK and Europe. I wanna be the kind of guy who also plays in Israel and Russia and Mexico and I don’t even like saying it out loud as if to kind of have like any correlations between parts of the world. To me, playing in Mexico is equally as valid as to play in France or anywhere. And so I wanted to come here for those reasons, and then when we came in 2015, we had the best fucking time! We were so tired, we came at the end of the longest year of our fucking lives, and we were here two and a half days or something. Didn’t really do anything other than just fly and play and fly. But the crowd reaction was great! So the reason that I’m here now is because we’re doing a lot of interviews, and press and shows, to try and build a foundation so that I can make Mexico a regular part of my touring schedule. I would really love that, probably because it’s fun. If people want me to play, I’ll play! That is the main part of it, but also, without overly trying to make myself sound like a fucking hero, or something… it feels like the world is pulling drawbridges right now; it’s closing down borders, and I think that … I don’t think musicians singlehandedly change the world, I think that’s pretentious bullshit, but again, the thing that I can do is to go places. Like the Brexit vote in the UK, I have very mixed and complicated feelings about it. But my one reaction to the reality of the vote was to immediately say: “I wanna tour in Europe”, because there was a xenophobic element to the vote, and I wanted to be clear to my friends in Europe that that wasn’t on me. Again, it’s a very small thing and I’m not … I get kind of bored at musicians who say “I’m gonna change the world by playing two hours of rock and roll to people who like me”, but the small thing I can do is say “Yes, I’m here” and go to new places.
MV: And yet, one of your mantras seems to be that Rock and roll can save us all.
FT: Yes! But on an individual basis! That’s the thing like… I always think that… people who think that rock and roll is going to save the world in a sort of overly grand change in history, I think are misguided. Bob Dylan didn’t close the Civil Rights Movement. Chill the fuck out. What Bob Dylan did do was he connected and he put into words the feelings of a whole generation of people in ways that is important and is historical in and of itself. So I feel that music is an incredible powerful force on an individual level, and maybe overtime that filters into society. Just the idea that “I’m going to write a song that’s gonna solve the Israeli-Palestine conflict!” No, you’re not. You’re fucking not. Shut up. [This is said in a cheeky, rather than angry tone] So I think you have to have humility about what you can achieve as an artist. But then once you’ve done that you should go out and do that [a different that].
MV: You’ve just played your 2001th… 2001st show…
FT: I’m not even entirely sure… is it 2001th or 2001st?
MV: Regardless, I love the way that you document every one of them and you give yourself to the audience. Why is it so important to have that thing going on?
FT: Probably because it’s selfish! It’s my favorite fucking thing in the world. I love it! I have the best fucking time. It’s funny, from quite an early age, people would comment on the fact that it looked like I was having a good time onstage. And I’m like “Yeah! Of course! Like what the fuck are you talking about?” I guess it’s more of a British thing, but like there’s so much of the British… at least in my early years I was coming at the same time as a lot of hipster indie rock bands, like Libertines, that kind of stuff. And I got attacked in the British music press a lot of the time for not being ironic and for meaning what I said and looking like I was having fun. And I was like: “None of these things are criticism to me!” You know what I mean? I’m having a fucking blast when I play a show. Why the fuck wouldn’t I? I’m getting to express myself and have my catharsis in a public way that makes other people have a good time, fuck, man! That’s the greatest thing ever, right? I consider myself to be an entertainer, I’m quite proud of that. I think that entertainment and performance are separate parts from songwriting, and I think you can be good at one and bad at the other quite easily. There are a lot of –I’m not gonna name names– mainstream rock and roll bands I’ve played shows with whose music I’m really not into, but motherfucker, can they play a show! I mean can they get a fucking crowd to go wild! And I think, even like the reason Springsteen is [the boss] is because he’s not just a brilliant songwriter, he’s a brilliant performer, too. He can do both, and they’re two separate things. So like I take pride in that sort of craftsmanship almost, you know what I mean? It’s an interesting thing for myself included, for the people when you’re starting out, the idea of being an entertainer is kind of a dirty word, because it’s not “pure art”, whatever that means. The older I get, the more bullshit that seems. Fuck it man, the idea of being able to stand as one person on the stage, in front of how many thousand people or a hundred people or whatever, and try and unify a room, that’s a fucking skill right there. And to the small extent that I have it, I’m proud of it.
MV: And just to wrap it up, because we’re running out of time… How do you define punk rock? What is it to you?
FT: The first thing is humanity has wasted too much effort on answering that question already. I always feel that if the whole of the community of people that consist of punk rock could have taken all that energy and put it towards like organizing a food drive or learning Esperanto, or something like that, the world would be a better place.
To me, punk rock is self-creation. Punk rock is the right to define who you are. So … and when I figured that out, which was comparatively recently, it made a lot of things click for me. The one part about… I’m a huge Henry Rollins fan, and the one part about him I never really got was the [I honestly can’t decipher what he said here, sorry, guys :( ] thing, but actually now I do, because he wasn’t a big [nor here] going “I’m just gonna fucking make myself!” I have the right to create who I am. Laura Jane Grace has the right to create who she is. In a much, much less important and much more bourgeois level, I got shipped off to boarding school by my parents and I said “Fuck that shit! I’m not gonna be that guy, I’m gonna be this”. So, philosophically, to me, punk is the right to self-creation. On a less highfalutin kind of level, but probably a more practical one, my favorite and I think strongest definition of punk comes in an Against Me! lyric on the song “New Wave” –incidentally, New Wave is the best album, fuck the haters!–… are you a fan? Everybody hates that record and that record’s fucking great! On the song “New Wave”, the line is “We can be the bands we wanna hear”. Fuck yeah! That’s what punk means. Punk means if you’re sitting at home and you haven’t yet found a band fucking ticks at your heartstrings, then you form that fucking band! You don’t wait for somebody to do it! You get out, you take a fucking guitar and you form a fucking band. That’s what punk is.
And that’s what my 15 minutes with Frank Turner were. It was the best.
Thanks for reading, guys! Hope you enjoyed.
Here’s a bonus photo of Frank and I after the January 13th show.