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Frank Turner On Telling The Stories Of ‘No Man’s Land’

Written by Sarah Bellamy on January 29, 2020

In August last year, prolific songwriter Frank Turner released his eighth studio album No Man’s Land. The album was recorded alongside an all-female cast of musicians, with songs focused on the stories of inspirational women who have largely been overlooked by history.

Turner is currently touring Europe in support of Dropkick Murphys and this April he will head down under for a solo headlining tour of Australia and New Zealand, as well as a set at Byron Bay’s Bluesfest.

We caught up with Turner to chat about No Man’s Land, the plan for his upcoming Australian tour, his experience as a podcast host, and his New Year’s resolutions.

Music Feeds: You’ve released a fair few albums over the past decade or so, what motivates you to write so prolifically?

Frank Turner: I guess it like… you know, I operate on the principle that like, if I did [have all the] materials now, you might as well get it out there. Not least because everybody hits writer’s block sooner or later. Bob Dylan gets writer’s block, I think everybody gets writer’s block.

On the one hand, I don’t want to kind of like, just churn it out, but, you know, if I have a set of songs that are ready to go and I have an idea and a way of presenting it, I don’t really see the point in kind of, sitting on it, waiting around. I’ve been fortunate in the last few years that the ideas have kept coming. I’d like to think that if they stopped then I would not just keep like, putting out crap [laughs], but for the time being I’ve got ideas coming.

MF: What inspired you to create your podcast Tales From No Man’s Land?

FT: Well, so, No Man’s Land the album is kind of like… is a history record, and to tell a real historical figure’s life story in three-and-a-half minutes is a challenge, and obviously it’s the challenge I set myself, but it occurred to me while I was writing that it would be cool to find some kind of way of getting deeper into the details – not least because a lot of the lyrics that I wrote were quite kind of, involved, and unless you’re like, a historian of the period, you’re probably not gonna get all of the references I was putting in there.

So, we were thinking about ways of trying to present more detail and more depth to the songs, and it was like, you know, are we gonna put out a record with the longest liner notes in history? Except not that many people buy physical records anymore – and I had some conversations with some TV people, and they were extremely annoying. And what’s cool about the podcasting world is that like, there are no rules, you know what I mean? ‘Cause it’s like, such a new medium. So, I had a meeting with a podcast team and pitched them my idea, and they just said “okay”, and it was like “oh my god, that was so easy!”. So, yeah, we went down that road.

MF: What have been some challenges, or things you’ve found in podcast world that don’t so much exist in the music world?

FT: Well, the first thing I should say is that I’ve been on the receiving end of more podcasts than you’ve had hot dinners, but being in the driving seat of a podcast is a very different thing, and it was a new skill that I had to think about and learn. And like, there’s part of me that really, really wishes I could go back and re-record the first couple of podcasts I did because by the end of the process I got much better at the interview technique, and about you know, getting things out of my guests, or whatever. So, it was definitely a learning experience for me and I came away with a newfound respect for people who actually do podcasting full-time.

MF: It seems like such a cool thing to do, and people do such long podcasts, it must be so interesting.

FT: Well, I was fortunate to have a podcasting company on-site, who did an awful lot of the kind of, boring groundwork for me, so it was pretty easy on that level.

MF: Back to music! On your Instagram, you mentioned your new tour set is “totally different”, how so?

FT: So, the tour that we’re on right now, it’s like, two separate, new ideas, together. I was thinking about how to tour the No Man’s Land record. I worked with an all-female band in the studio and they were great, but I mean, because they’re great they’ve all got their own kind of, day jobs and stuff. I wasn’t really able to put a tour together with them, and also if I’d done that we could only really have done material from that album, you know?

So, I thought that this tour we’d do two sets, and I’m doing like, the first set is me playing solo, playing songs from the new record. The second set is another new idea that we’ve been kicking around… for a long time, which is to play a more, kind of like, storytelling, unplugged, folk-y kind of, stripped-back acoustic set. I mean, it’s still a full band on stage but… just for a long time we’ve operated on the level where we’ve been chasing that kind of, punk rock show, where it’s like high-energy, people jumping off shit, all that kind of thing, and we thought it’d be interesting to try a different approach, different mode. So, it’s kind of… it’s more introspective and more stripped-back, and all the rest of it.

We’re doing both of those things at the same time. It’s really fun, it’s quite a lot of work, I have to say that every night about halfway through the second set, I start thinking ‘which idiot thought two sets a night was a good idea?!’ and the answer, of course, is me. So, it’s my fault, but it is really fun, and it’s a very different show.

MF: What can fans expect from your upcoming performance at Bluesfest?

FT: Well, I mean the first thing, I’m very excited to be coming back to Australia again, it’s always a pleasure. I had a run where I came every year for a few years, and then we had years off and then we were there last year [2018], and now I’m gonna be back next year [2020], and it’s good to be kind of, getting back into the stride of visiting down under more often. It’s a solo run, for various reasons, so, me and my guitar but that’s kind of… it’s kind of old skool, you know? It’s sort of how I started off playing shows, and as much as I adore my band and touring with them and playing with them – one of them is sitting in the room as I say this, so I’m being nice [laughs] – you know, it’s cool to switch it up as well, and to kind of, go back to that original, old skool kind of vibe.

MF: Tell me a little bit more about your upcoming Australian tour, are you playing a bit of old stuff, a bit of new stuff, a bit of a mix?

FT: I mean, you know, it’s going to be my trip to Australia since No Man’s Land was out, so there will be material from that record in the set, for sure. But I am, in my setlist and nowhere else, an unashamed populist. Particularly when you’re talking about, you know, coming down to Australia and New Zealand, like, it’s not often that I get down there, and I think about, you know, that somebody who’d like to get to see me once every two years, they wanna come down and if there’s a song they wanna hear then I wanna play it, you know what I mean? I don’t wanna be [laughs], I don’t wanna be difficult with my audience. So, I will be playing some new material but I will also be playing, like, the hits, for want of a better term.

MF: What’s on the cards for you, musically in 2020? I know you’re doing quite a few tours, do you have anything else planned?

FT: Yeah, so I’m in the middle of writing another record. I mean, that probably won’t be out in 2020, but we may well be in the studio next year, recording that. I’ve got a couple of side projects ticking away. I have a hardcore, kind of, noisecore side project called Möngöl Hörde that is the slowest moving band in history, but we are enthusiastically talking about the idea of maybe writing and recording some more music. We put out one album in 2014, so maybe we can get around to another one, that’d be nice.

And then there are various other things, irons in the fire, but like, it’s gonna be a busy year – as per usual – and I’m looking forward to it!

MF: Awesome! And, final question, do you have any New Year’s resolutions in place?

FT: [Laughs] New Year’s resolutions! I mean, I’m actually feeling pretty good because last year for the first time ever, I made a New Year’s resolution and stuck to it, which was to quit smoking. I’m on the e-cigarettes, but I haven’t been smoking this year and I’m really quite pleasantly surprised by that, ‘cause I have made that New Year’s resolution in the past and not stuck to it.

I don’t know whether that means I’m now in the stride of sticking to New Year’s resolutions, or whether that’s my one that I’m going to stick to in this decade [laughs].

But I mean, I guess… I kind of… I run on and off, and I have this vague idea that I might run a half-marathon, that I’ve been toying with, so maybe I’ll get into something like that!

Frank Turner will play Byron Bay Bluesfest and a handful of sideshows this April. See dates and details below.

Frank Turner 2020 Australian Tour

Friday, 3rd April
Factory Theatre, Sydney
Tickets: Official Website

Saturday, 4th April
Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Tickets: Official Website

Tuesday, 7th April
Rosemount, Perth
Tickets: Official Website

Wednesday, 8th April
Unibar, Adelaide
Tickets: Official Website

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