2019 marks the year that singer songwriter/punk mastermind Frank Turner delved into making his first concept record. The record is called “No Man’s Land” and is available wherever you get your music. The album is focused on female historical figures he felt have been under seen or their story is so great it is definitely worth telling. Even though there are so many people that inspired him, Turner could only fit so many onto the album. Some of the songs include stories of more recognizable people such as, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Pannonica de Koenigswarter or better known as Nica. The woman on the front of the New York jazz and bebop scene in the 1950’s. Turner also brings to life stories of women maybe a lot of people didn’t know about such as Dora Hand, the Dodge City Vaudeville singer who was accidentally murdered by a man who loved her. There is also the story of Nannie Doss. An older woman who had mysterious deaths happen all around her that all happened to do with poison. She stayed free until the last murder did her in and she confessed. Not all the songs are happy on “No Man’s Land” but they all tell interesting stories that most people have overlooked.
Although the songs do a great job in telling the story of these women, Turner wanted to take it one step further. He made a podcast to go with each song. The podcast is called “Tales From No Man’s Land”. Turner had a special guest on each episode that were either heavily influenced by the female in the story, or are experts on that person’s history. In one case, he chatted with a family member of the woman in the song. Turner also opens up on the last episode and talks to his Mom about the making of “No Man’s Land”.
Turner will be in town on October 18th, 2019 at the Pantages Theatre. Opening for Turner is singer songwriter, Kayleigh Goldsworthy. The second set will be a solo set by Turner himself playing songs off of No Man’s Land. Then at the end of the night his band, The Sleeping Souls, will come out and play an unplugged set. Tickets are available here.
I got the chance to speak to Turner about his fantastic new album and podcast. The conversation went into multiple areas such as his live show, bands he enjoys today and the Minneapolis music scene.
Cameron Campbell: I’m almost completely done listening to your new podcasts and I have to say love it. There is a ton of depth that brought these women about whom you write, to life. What was your favorite episode in doing this? Any facts that came up that blew your mind and changed your perspective on any of these people?
Frank Turner: I think that talking to Sania Sha’arawi was a privilege and honor. You know, just to speak to somebody who knew one of the people I was writing about rather than just you know getting a story out or whatever. Rather than just being an historian. But knowing the person was directly related to that person was a huge deal actually!
There were facts about that person that I didn’t know before. I don’t know that she kind of completely blew my mind. I think that just having that personal connection was so special. But my favorite part of all of the podcasts was sitting down with people who are real qualified historians. Finding out that I was maybe not wrong, but also not like 100% on the money, with some of the things that I thought about the people. That was always a really fun moment.
CC: Were there any songs that you had written for the album that didn’t quite make the cut to get onto No Man’s Land?
FT: No, I wouldn’t say finished songs. But I had a long list of people that I was reading up about and kind of considering as potential characters to write a song about. The thing is that storytelling is not just summarizing. You need to find your creative angle on the song. For example there is a German aviator called Amelia Earhart who lived this insane life and was such an interesting person. I just couldn’t find that emotional angle to get the story for a song. Which was a shame because I think she’s a fantastic individual who should be remembered and celebrated more. At the end of the day, I could have kept looking forever, really. I mean there’s an endless supply of people to write songs about in this vein. At some point, I had to just call the thing and say: ‘I think I have an album here’.
CC: How did it feel writing a concept album? I know in your discography you haven’t really done that before. How was this different?
FT: (Laughs) Not only have I never done a concept album, I’m pretty sure, somewhere along the line, I promised that I never would! And here we are.
A very wise friend of mine once said to me: ‘One of the ways to long term success is to learn to eat your own words from time to time’. So I’ll take that. I think that the original approach was since this was just my eighth record, I think it is really important for me to keep trying to push myself into the right areas. Find find new create avenues.
I’ve always written in quite a biographical style and the initial idea for this record wasn’t just to write about female historical figures. The initial idea was to write about other peoples’ lives and to not write autobiographically. To try and write from those perspectives. It struck me as an interesting approach and one that I really never engaged with before. So I started to write down history songs about interesting characters, whose stories I felt should be more widely known. After I had about four finished, I realized that they were all about female historical figures. That struck me as kind of an interesting thing, you know? Plus, there’s room for some politics in the back. But I tried to write about lesser known people. And I write about women, that’s obvious. But that’s the thing, I didn’t set out to do that first, it was more about just trying to tell some cool stories.
CC: What I have been telling people, after listening to the podcast, is that it’s just a whole bunch of cool stories. Stories they didn’t teach us in school. All these different stories to explore. I think that’s a really cool thing.
FT: Right exactly. Thank you. One thing I hoped is that this wouldn’t come across as a history record, like “oh my God, haven’t you heard of so and so?”. Cause I hadn’t heard of 99% of the people on this record. I was learning about them as I was writing about them.
CC: Speaking of history, it’s a well known fact throughout your fan base that you’re a history nerd. Do you have time on tour to make history pit stops around the world?
FT: You know, I try to make as many as I can. But there are two things against me. One is my schedule. I spend an enormous amount of my adult life trying to explain to my Mother that I am not on holiday. She’ll be like: ‘Oh, you could go do this or go do that!’ I have to tell her I have shit to do!
The second hurdle is transport, to be honest. We travel in a bus and, you know, the bus has to be parked at 6:00 in the morning. Then it stays where it is. So you have to cab or Uber or whatever. Quite often, somebody will say: ‘Hey, there is this really cool thing only 30 miles away from where I’m stopping.’ I’m like, 30 miles might as well be 5 light years! You’re quite limited in your travel options.
Having said all that, I still do my best to get around the place and see some cool stuff. I got to go to the Pittsburgh museum, last time I was there. I actually got an e-mail the other day from a fan that works in the Washington Monument Department or something. They offered to give me a private guided tour or something. If I can find the time.
CC: We’re really proud of our music scene and its history in the Twin Cities. Any Minnesota bands that you grew up listening to or still listen to?
FT: Hell fucking yeah! And you know who they are. I’m a (Husker) Du fan. I love The Replacements. My all time favorite band is from there, too. The Hold Steady! They claim they are from Brooklyn these days. But they’re not. They’re from the Twin Cities. They’re friends of mine now and I have been fortunate enough to play shows with them; to sing songs with them on stage and that sort of thing. It’s a huge privilege. I fucking adore that band!
CC: They’re a gem. I’ve seen them more times than I can count.
FT: Yeah, I’ve got some of their lyrics tattooed on my back.
CC: Really? Which ones?
FT: I’ve got ‘Damn right He’ll rise again’ on my back. Like it says in the song.
CC: I feel like that’s the one to get.
FT: The first time that I met Craig (Finn), I was super of drunk and I tried to show him my tattoo. Basically, pulled my ass out to him and it turned out to be a complete shit show. Super embarrassed about it. But he is decent enough to pretend that he doesn’t remember this happening.
CC: That’s funny! I feel like that’s a great intro story. My dad introduced my brothers and me to you as teenagers when you opened for Social Distortion at First Avenue. I think it was the Love, Ire and Song tour.
FT: Yeah, I remember that tour. I was very fortunate.
CC: That scene and that room, in and of itself, always seems to amplify everything. To be there with Social D…that’s also incredible.
FT: Yeah, I mean I’d seen Purple Rain and so when we pulled up there we were all pretty excited to play that show.
CC: It’s an incredible venue. Here’s the thing, my father is middle sixties and he’s at your show. I have a way younger brother, who is only twelve years old. For the past couple years, he gets off the school bus with his earbuds and walks up the hill singing Frank Turner songs. How does it feel to have all these generations coming to your shows and getting into your music?
FT: I think it’s awesome! It’s been a feature of what I do. I have a very broad kind of demographic target and I am really proud of it. I couldn’t quite tell you why it has worked out that way. Other than I left playing in hardcore bands and started playing this type of music because I wanted to talk to everybody. Instead of just kind of like angry 21 year olds, wearing black skinny jeans and Against Me! t-shirts. I don’t mean that as a dig. That was me at that time, as well. I mean in my old band we played to those types of people every night and that was our demographic.
But I want to talk to people from different walks of life and different age groups and all the rest of it. And it’s funny. I mean, people say to me they’re a bit embarrassed because they came to the show with their Mom and Dad. And I’m like, that’s fucking amazing! You know, I think that’s so cool! Music at its strongest brings us together in life. So to see different generations, different communities and different walks of life come together is a really wonderful thing.
CC: That’s awesome. Leads me to my next question. My twelve year old brother was really stoked when he heard I was going to talk with you. He wanted to insert one question. He wants to know what bands were you into at his age? What shows were your favorites and made a difference to you growing up?
FT: Well okay, I’ll try and do a short version. The band that kind of changed my life and taught me about rock n roll was weirdly enough, Iron Maiden. My Mom and Dad weren’t into that kind of music at all. I mean they were into church music and stuff. But I rolled across an Iron Maiden record and it kinda just changed my life. After that, the Green Day, Offspring,NOFX stuff kind of got me into punk rock. Then Clash, Pistols, Black Flag. I can be here for ages but these were the important ones.
CC: That’s interesting! I actually just got to see Iron Maiden for the first time. I’d never listened to them, but it kind of blew my mind.
FT: Right? Yeah, they are touring the states right now. Right?
CC: I think we were one of the first stops. It was a wild night.
FT: Awesome! I have seen them a bunch of times. I love that fucking band.
CC: Everyone has their 10 desert islands records. Are there one or two albums you would take that you think might surprise people?
FT: I mean, yeah that’s difficult because like I don’t know what people think about me and my taste of music. And I don’t give a shit. But in terms of my favorite songwriters, definitely Nina Simone is up there and Abba are up there. If you don’t think that Abba is one of the greatest songwriting bands of all time you have no fucking idea what you’re talking about! (laughs). That band was staggeringly brilliant in my opinion.
I love Queen, Regina Spektor and I love Tori Amos and stuff like this. I love a shitload of Motown as well. But, like I say, it’s really quite important to me that I try not to spend too much time thinking about what other people think about my taste in music. People will ask what my guilty pleasure is and I’ll say: ‘I don’t have any guilty pleasures!’. Why should I give a fuck what anybody thinks of my music taste?
CC: That’s how it should be. There’s a ton of music out there and so many different tastes.
FT: Right. This is the other thing and a major part. Life is too fucking short to be down on music you don’t like. I mean there are bands I don’t like and I don’t spend any of my day thinking of them if I can avoid it. I don’t wish them ill. I don’t like the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers very much. But everyone morning they wake up and make Red Hot Chili Pepper fans happy and I think that’s a great thing. I hope they do more of it. I hope they do it for a long time. I was like everybody else, I was one of those angry teenagers that hated on bands I didn’t like, such a fucking waste of energy.
CC: I feel like that’s something that definitely comes with experience in the music world. I’ve shared the stage with bands where it’s not really my thing. But at the end of the day they’re definitely making people happy out there. And they’re doing something that makes themselves happy.
FT: Right. And if there is anybody in the audience who is smiling out there, then it’s worth it.
CC: Any new bands that are capturing your attention? That you’d like to share with everybody and get the word out there about them?
FT: Oh, absolutely a shitload. One of the things I always try to do is bring bands I’m excited about out on tour as our openers. So we’ve got Kayleigh Goldsworthy with us when we hit Minneapolis next month. She is an absolutely incredible songwriter and musician; she’s brilliant. Last night, I got to meet S. T. Manville, who I’ve been into for awhile but who I had never seen or met before. He was a super great dude and his show was staggeringly good last night. So that’s another one to check out.
CC: Awesome. I hope you have a good tour. I’m sure it’s going to be a totally different vibe. I’m really excited for it.
FT: Thanks, man. We were actually in rehearsals today and it is very exciting. I think it is going to blow people away!