Courtesy of Universal Music
On his previous U.S. tour, singer-songwriter Frank Turner says he had what he refers to as a “teachable moment.” He had teamed up punk rockers Flogging Molly, and presidential campaigns were in full swing.
He thought that expressing his disdain for then-Republican candidate Donald Trump would be met with enthusiasm.
“I am a huge fan of the United States. That’s no secret,” he says via phone from a London studio where he’s recording his next album. He performs with Shovels & Rope and Trapper Schoepp at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 9, at the Agora Theatre
. “But it was a confusing and dismaying time for me. I thought perhaps my understanding of the United States wasn’t as well developed as I had thought it had been. It seemed to me that there were people who were angry and talking past each other and not listening to what each other had to say. That’s always a bad thing in my opinion.”
As a result, he scrapped the album he had been working on to write songs that addressed the current political climate.
“I wanted to address what I thought was going on politically and intellectually and the rest of it,” he says. “No one is engaging with the other side’s argument. They’re just pointing out that they’re bad people. That’s not a very adult form of conversation. So much of political discourse these days involves people shouting at each other on both sides, and think that’s problematic.”
He started to write the songs on his laptop because he wanted to take a different approach sonically than he had with his previous effort, 2015’s Positive Songs for Negative People
, which was essentially recorded live.
“The difference this time around was that it was just me,” he explains. “I almost put a ban on working on the songs with my band, and that meant that the songs weren’t fully formed. I wanted to use the studio as an instrument. I hadn’t done that before, and it was a really exciting process. I learned a lot. We played with a lot of technology that I hadn’t worked with before. We started with the vocal and what it needed to be brought to life, and that meant there are moments when there are only two things happening and when there are 25 things happening. I liked that.”
He says recording in Austin with Austin Jenkins and Joshua Block was a positive experience simply because Jenkins and Block, formerly of the rock band White Denim, were familiar with so many different styles of music. The album opens with the brittle ballad “Don’t Worry,” a tune characterized by its soft vocals and gentle guitar riffs. That immediately gives way to the rousing Green Day-like rocker “1933,” a punk-inspired number that finds Turner practically screaming as he sings, “I don’t know what’s going on anymore.” The rest of the album follows suit.
“Early on in the process, it became apparent that the album was going to be very stylistically diverse,” says Turner. “I kept throwing references at [Jenkins and Block], whether it be Bill Withers records or old school hardcore records like Sham 69. There was nothing I could throw out that fazed them. I would throw weird musical references at them, and they’d go, ‘That’s no problem.’ That made me feel like we picked the right people to make the record. We spent as much time talking Nile Rodgers and Chic as we did talking about NOFX.”
There’s always a sense of urgency to Turner’s shows, but this tour in particular will have that going for it.
“It seems like the moment demands that these things be said," says Turner. "There’s a level at which I hope these songs won’t need to be played in 10 years, which would be great. Whether or not that will happen is a different question. Now is the time to say these things and say them proudly. We start off with a song about making America great again because if I don’t put it on my set list, it’s cowardice. Now is the time to make these statements and have these conversations and present this art.”
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