CALMZINE INTERVIEW: Frank Turner
Daniel Parsons: I've known you for quite a long time now. We first met in June 2006 when you were just starting out on your solo career and I booked you for a show in Brighton. Over the years that followed I put you on a few times, you slept on my sofa, provided vocals on one of my tracks and I beat you at swing ball - but I have never interviewed you, so this is a new one for me. With that in mind let's start with an easy one - where are you right now?
Frank Turner: Phew, an easy start, haha! Right now I'm in Nijmegen, Holland, for the first date of a European tour. It's good to be back in the saddle, even with a bad back and a stand-in guitar player (Dan Allen, great guy).
DP: I used to work in Nijmegen – nice town! This is part of the promotion for your current album 'Tape Deck Heart' which was released in April this year. Six months on, are you happy with how the album has been received?
FT: Generally speaking, yes. Funnily enough I think the reception has improved with time. It's an album that's quite dense, musically and lyrically, and I personally felt that there were some people who missed some of the layers of it on first listen. Songs like ‘Broken Piano’ have taken a while for some people to digest, but, judging from the live reception (which is my barometer of choice for these things), people are warming to the deeper songs on the record now.
DP: And moving into the context of this interview and your new role as an ambassador for CALM, do you want to shed some light on how we ended up here?
FT: Well, we've been friends for a long while. You sent me a link to the piece you wrote for the CALM website about mental health issues, which I read and thought was excellent. You then asked me to share it on my Twitter and Facebook and the like, which I happily did. The reaction was great.
DP: For me, personally, it was humbling to see the comments and feedback it generated and it felt in some small way I helped make a difference. Even after all the positive responses I still feel that some people find it difficult to talk about mental health problems they are experiencing. Do you feel there is more people can do to help others feel confident to speak out?
FT: Well, I suspect it's a battle that will always, on some level, need to be fought. It's a natural reaction, on some levels, to be scared or confused by the issue of mental health and encountering people suffering, or indeed suffering from it yourself.
Throw in male stereotypes and social roles and I don't think it's something that will ever be truly settled. But that's not a cause for pessimism. Much can be, and is being done, to ease the process of talking about mental health, to reduce fear, ignorance and confusion on the issue. I guess the main thing, for me personally, is to be as open as I can about my own experiences with it (both in myself and in my friends) and try and make it as comfortable and open a topic as I can.
DP: In my article I talked about the way I felt I had to hide what was going on in my head. What advice would you give to a young guy who might be going through a bad patch and feels unable to cope or ask for help?
FT: I think the biggest danger, the biggest problem, is that feeling of being trapped, helpless, with no way out and no one to talk to. Actually, a large percentage of the population have experience with at least some of those feelings, and even if they don't, people are generally kinder than you might first think. Talking about your problems is the best thing you can do, confiding in someone. It can be terrifying to make the first leap of starting the discussion, but once you do, you'd be amazed how much weight lifts off you.
DP: I really agree with that view about people being kinder than you’d first think and that’s something I definitely found over the years. You spend a lot of your time on the road and living in what must be quite a surreal world at times. I know there are other musicians who have struggled with this and mental health issues have crept up on them - Adam Duritz, for example, is a big influence on you and has talked about this in the past. What kind of things you do to help you keep grounded? And have any other musicians ever given you any advice that you want to share.
FT: Life on the road at any level is pretty different from life back home (I won't use the term "normal" - there's no such thing). If you throw in the trappings of success and the attendant circus of bullshit that comes with it, then you have a potential recipe for problems. Even before coming out on the road I have had issues in my life with self-harm and depression. Thankfully, my family out on the road are great people to have around, really good at keeping me sane and grounded. I also take a lot from reading people like Henry Rollins, who is great at reminding me that actually, being a professional musician isn't that special a job, I'm surrounded by people who work harder, get paid less and have it tougher than me.
DP: Your lyrics have always had a personal feel about them - with Tape Deck Heart in particular, I know a lot of people have said it’s like having an insight into your private diary. Would you say that having music as an outlet has helped you work though many of life’s situations?
FT: Absolutely. I actually have no idea what I'd do without music as catharsis. Both in terms of writing, which is a great outlet for my pent-up frustrations in life, but also just in listening. Like most people who love music, I have go-to albums for certain moods, times and places. They keep my head together.
DP: My music is very different to yours and I tend not to write lyrics anymore but I use music as a way to relax, unwind, keep sane; it's my outlet - other people write, paint, sketch etc - do you think creativity is important?
FT: Absolutely. It uses the non-rational side of the brain, and that's vital. I grew up as an academic kid, got a scholarship and so on, and spent a lot of time with people telling me I could be a successful lawyer or teacher or whatever. I think a big part of why I latched onto music so hard when it came into my life is that it used a different side of my brain, which kept me sane, stopped me losing myself in logic and numbers. That's true for a lot of people in a lot of different ways.
DP: What would be your final piece of advice for someone, having read this article, related to some of the issues and is now wondering what they should do next?
FT: I guess one of the things is to try and get some perspective. When you're stuck at a dead end and you feel you can't talk to anyone, it's easy to feel like there's no way out. It's not easy to do, by any means, but if you can find a way to breathe, and step back a little, sometimes you can see another way around whatever is blocking your path.
DP: So what’s next for Frank Turner?
FT: More touring, more records!
For all things Frank, go to frank-turner.com
You can read Daniel’s CALM article about his experiences with mental health issues HERE
Also check out ATP’s music: www.melon.org.uk/atp
Read CALMzine online HERE