Frank Turner’s career trajectory makes sense. Sure, few thought the singer of British post-punk band Million Dead would later play the pre-show to the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. But, even while watching his steady climb up the venue chain, his songwriting remained organic: It’s personal, distinctly English, and always inclusive.
As Turner’s solo act is set to take the stage at Varsity Theater on Oct. 7, City Pages caught up with the 33-year-old folk-punk singer to see how this slow but steady growth affects his artistic approach. As he says both below and in the song “Glory Hallelujah,” “We’re all in this together.”
Turner released Positive Songs for Negative People earlier this year on Xtra Mile Recordings. He will play an in-store set at Electric Fetus (advance tickets required) on Oct. 6 and again at Varsity on Oct. 7.
City Pages: You’ve been touring with The Sleeping Souls for a few years now. After playing in bands, followed by truly solo shows, how has the dynamic developed between you and the band? How does it compare to your previous experiences?
Frank Turner: The Sleeping Souls have had a steady lineup since 2008 and, in those seven years, we have done a hell of a lot of shows. We've very much meshed as a unit, as I think you can tell, both from the live shows and from the difference between Poetry of the Deed and Positive Songs.
It's not quite the same as being in Million Dead — this is still in essence a solo project where I'm the boss and, while the Souls are a huge and integral part of what I do and they contribute to the arrangements, recordings, and performances, I call the shots. That's different from Million Dead, which was very much a collective endeavor.
CP: Positive Songs is already your 6th album. What is your approach to songwriting: is it something you keep at constantly, or do you sit down in sessions to work on your different albums. Is the next one already in the works?
FT: Songwriting is, or has been, a reasonably constant process for me. I don't write towards concepts or albums; I just massage the material that I have into meaningful divisions.
As it happens, right now I'm taking my time deciding how I want to move forward from where I am, so things are kind of on hold right now. There's a lot of ideas running around my brain.
CP: Are you looking at changing up your sound or instrumentation or something like that?
FT: Uh, no, not really. I'm not going to divulge on my creative processes until they're finished.
CP: Fair enough. You play Minneapolis every year or two. What are some things that stand out to you when you come through town?
FT: I don't generally get much in the way of downtime on tour; I'm working. Shows have always been good to us there. I discovered Koo Koo Kanga Roo at a festival on the street in St. Paul, and I was pretty stoked to play the Triple Rock. That place is famous.
CP: From what I gather your draw in the U.K. is a bit more “mainstream” than here in the U.S. Is that accurate? Does it feel different from your perspective on stage?
FT: I guess I play to bigger crowds, and my exposure is more mainstream, though I'd hesitate to say anything about the demography of my crowds in the U.K. (or elsewhere). I like to think that I've kept people on board from the early days, even as things have expanded.
CP: One of the biggest takeaways from your live show is the intimacy. Is that a natural thing for you, or have you worked specifically to maintain that as your career progresses?
FT: I suppose it was a natural thing at the start in that I didn't sit down to plan my shows to be any one way or another. I just got up and did what I do. As time has gone by, yes, I have worked on trying to maintain a sense of intimacy as the venues have got bigger. But — if I can say this without being overly self-absorbed — it hasn't been too difficult to do. I think the music I make has a sense of inclusiveness to it anyway.
CP: Is that something you've cultivated over the years and taken from your influences, or is it more of a reflection of your personality that shines through on its own?
FT: I guess it's probably a little of both. I certainly like to think I'm drawing on the ideas and vibe of the hardcore scene that I came up in, where there was a strong sense of community and equality. It wasn't about individual egos or anything like that — we were all in it together.
With: Skinny Lister, Beans on Toast.
When: 6:30 p.m. Wed., Oct. 7
Where: Varsity Theater.
Tickets: $25-$30; more info here.
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