Friday, November 6, 2009
When asked about how he writes his songs, Frank Turner pleads temporary insanity.
“I quite often feel like a schizophrenic killer who comes to be surrounded by corpses holding a bloody knife [and say to myself]; ‘Well I obviously did this, but I don’t remember doing it.'”
When asked about performing his songs, Turner will tell you he’s just playing “good old rock and roll.” It’s the contrast that makes Turner’s music so interesting. From a distance, he is an Englishman singing mild-mannered folk songs to an acoustic guitar. Up close, he is… still an Englishman, but he’s doing more than just singing-- he’s getting you to sing with him.
He first tricks us into letting our guard down with his friendly English accent and delicate melodies, promising easy pop listening with little emotional commitment. But then, as his voice builds, tension and grit nearly buckling under the emotional weight, we can’t help but empathize with the guy. Suddenly we want to buy him a beer and sing right along.
This is true in his pub anthem "A Ballad For Me and My Friends", or in his response to T.S. Elliot's poem "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous" and in the song "Long Live the Queen" about his friend that lost her battle with cancer.
His ability to add fire to folk music comes from his punk rock roots. Turner played in a hardcore punk band from London, England, called Million Dead. With influences ranging from early Bob Dylan to Minor Threat, it was only a matter of time until he found the common thread between the two genres.
“Folk and punk are both pure, simple and direct…they both have something to say.” He screams a lot less these days, but manages to channel a similar energy. “In a way the punk rock scene is being revitalized through acoustically based folk music.” His quiet intensity doesn’t rattle the brain like Million Dead’s electronically charged punk rock did, but by creating a dialogue with the audience, the collective energy has a charge of it’s own.
Even before he discovered punk rock and folk, Turner learned how to bring people together through music. When he was 12 years old, his sister made him learn how to play an entire Counting Crows album on the guitar just so she could sing along with him. The more songs he learned, the more he found himself leading the ensemble.
Whether his songs come from a schizophrenic episode or an overly modest genius, Turner leaves no question about the work ethic involved in his endeavors:
“Some artists will have you think they just lie around in togas while inspiration descends upon them from nubile young women feeding them grapes.” A more accurate description of the writing process, he says, is “it comes from that desperation, that scrabbling for something timeless.”
For Frank Turner that timeless song is one that will make you raise your glass to the human experience and sing along at the top of your lungs.
Frank Turner performs at the Casbah Sunday November 8th at 8 p.m.