2014 was a reflective year for Frank Turner. Alongside a handful of unannounced album shows, there was his book that followed his journey from Million Dead to Wembley Arena, via a series of tour diaries; but his recently released sixth album, ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’ isn’t an album looking back.
“One of the things I’m adamant about is change and the idea of change. The conservatism in a lot of music fans blows my mind,” starts Frank. “Everytime I release something new, somebody somewhere goes ‘It’s not the same as the last one’ and I say ‘I fucking know’. That’s the point. Wouldn’t it be completely mad to spend ten years on tour and come back without having changed at all, as a person. That would make you borderline insensate. If you experience things, you should change and you should grow. I hope this record is different to the previous one and I hope the next one is different to this one. Maybe I’ll make a drum and bass record. Fuck it, why not. Piss everybody off,” he says with a smirk.
“Art is about people learning something about themselves as much as about me. I hope people take something interesting away from the record but maybe everyone will hate it. It’s hard to tell until the dust settles. I’m not all that keen on artists trying to dictate the result of their art. I sometimes get people asking me what songs mean to which the answer is whatever the fuck you want it to mean. You renounce ownership of a song when you release it into the public and that’s a good thing. “
Across Frank’s back catalogue there’s a sense of positivity. That’s thrust to the forefront on ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’, but you could have probably guessed that from the title.
“The last one was so fucking morose,” he explains of this new found focus. “‘Tape Deck Heart’ was a really downbeat record, it was about a really difficult time in my life. Everything kind of fell apart to a degree. It wasn’t just the break up, there was a lot of stuff about me learning how to be more of a public figure. I got my first kicking in the press which was not a particularly pleasant time of my life, not that I‘m trying to martyr myself on that to hard,” he quickly adds. “If you’re going to be a public figure, it’s going to happen. It was quite a dark period but I didn’t want to wallow in that shit. If my songs are directed at anybody, it’s at myself. Pick yourself up, stop being such a moaning prick and get on with your life. It was just liberating not having to write songs about heartbreak anymore.”
“I thought it would be interesting to see how far down that (hyper-confessional) road I could go and there are moments on ‘Tape Deck Heart’ that I’m still uncomfortable about, that I’m still not convinced were a good idea. ‘Anymore’ isn’t a song I’m going to play live anytime soon. It’s an unkind song and that’s something I feel quite weird about.”
It’s not just releasing unkind songs that makes Frank feel odd. His status as a role model is also cause for slight discomfort. “It makes me feel weird. It’s funny because my life is still such a car crash,” he admits. “I get people emailing me for advice on relationships sometimes and I have to reply with ‘I’m really sorry but you’re asking the wrong person’. I’m 33 and single, don’t ask me what the fuck to do with your life. That’s a tragic idea,” he says before adding. “I mean, hopefully people take something positive out of the things I do write but I’m quite wary of people asking me for advice.”
More than most, Frank Turner fans expect a lot from him. It’s something Frank agrees with to a degree but there’s a flip side. In the run up to ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’, almost the whole album has been played live repeatedly, yet footage is surprisingly scarce.
“Some bands say they don’t play new material live because people are pricks or they’ll get security to police the crowd and there’ll be signs saying ‘no cameras’. You know how we managed to get away with that,” he asks. “Before we played the song I’d say ‘hey, this is a new song, please don’t film it and put it on Youtube and it worked because I addressed people as normal human beings. I didn’t immediately approach them like you guys are probably thieving cunts. I like to think it’s because I’ve always tried to be on a level with people. I might be talking out my arse but I like to think it’s because I don’t hold myself above people. Maybe people do expect something but that’s ok.”
As always with Frank Turner, the future beyond his sprawling list of tour dates is uncertain. There’s talk of a new Mongol Horde record in 2016, “I’ve started kicking some riffs about for that,” and perhaps a radical departure but change can already be found across ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’. His growth as an artist is never more apparent than on the powerful, harrowing yet beautiful curtain fall of closing track ‘A Song For Josh’. Written in tribute to a friend lost to suicide, Frank’s ability to convey the swirling mix of emotion is perfectly balanced.
“I think It’s something I needed to address but I suppose, on a subconscious level, the first part (the idea of Frank’s growing confidence as a writer) might be true as well. I don’t think I would have been capable of writing a song like ‘A Song For Josh’ a while back. It’s a weird one. It’s a song I needed to write. When Josh passed I was lucky enough to be on tour with Lucero who were the guys who introduced me to him. I was very fortunate that we were on the road in Europe and everynight for a good while we’d just gather and tell stories about Josh. The song came out of that,” Frank explains. “Hopefully it’ll achieve something.”
Recorded live at the 9:30 Club, the place where Josh worked, ‘A Song For Josh’ gives ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’ added poignancy and direction but, stepping back, it mirrors ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’, the closing track from debut album ‘Sleep Is For The Week’.
“I hesitate to go too far down the road I’m about to go down,” warns Frank before heading down it anyway. “There’s something summatory about this album. It feels like we started with ‘Sleep Is For The Week’ and we got here and that is a body of work. I’m not going to stop doing what I do but I feel like it might be time to do something radically different. I feel like I’ve done a lot of songwriting and lyric writing in the same vein and it’s not that I’m bored of it per se, but it’s important that I don’t get to a point where I might be bored of it. I’m so far away from that point but I don’t want to get close,” Frank concludes. “There’s no greater crime than being bored onstage.