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Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls Dates

Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls Biography

Crash bang wallop: Frank Turner has better reason than most to kickstart the new year with a euphoric punk-rock clatter. And that’s exactly what he did with brilliantly contrary and playfully snotty new track No Thank You For The Music, released on his 42nd birthday on 28th December. “It's about the idea that it's good to remind yourself every now and again that being part of underground culture means, among other things, being unpopular,” he explains cheerfully.

So, 2024 is a leap year. That means that this touring musicians' touring musician – a road warrior who’s been out there, playing somewhere, since 1998 and who, after starting gigging when he was 16, didn’t go home for a decade – has one extra day to play with, and play on. And you know he’ll use it.

Mind you: Turner could have done with that calendrical wiggle-room when he was touring his last album, given that he celebrated 2022’s FTHC with an American jaunt that was epic even by his Stakhanovite standards: he and his band The Sleeping Souls did 50 states in 50 days.

“The whole touring cycle for FTHC had a feeling of reinvigoration. A sense of coming out from under, both in terms of the pandemic and a rediscovery of the sense that what I do can be – or in fact should be – fun,” he says now of a long run lent wings by the Number One success of an album that joyously blasted a hardcore uproar (the clue was in the acronym).

That invigoration came, too, from new drummer Callum Green.

“Callum is younger than the rest of us,” he says of a line-up completed by Ben Lloyd (guitar), Tarrant Anderson (bass) and Matt Nasir (piano). “He’s phenomenally talented and brings new energy and a new enthusiasm to touring. He'd never been to America before, and on his first visit he went to 48 states. Which is pretty good! His  enthusiasm put energy back into me and into the rest of the band and the crew. It reminded us how fortunate we are to do what we do and to go to the places we go.”

Turner will plead the fifth on the specifics for now, “but there were some moments before the pandemic where I was taking myself and what I do quite seriously. There wasn't a huge amount of joie de vivre around what I was doing.”

But the 2022/23 touring cycle brought liberation and stimulation for all concerned. “There was definitely a sense of, oh, yeah, this is amazing. This is fun. This is really cool. And there's a different energy to that approach.”

Which brings us to the other reasons why 2024 is Turner’s time. He’s releasing his 10th album. It’s a record he’s, as usual, written himself – but, for the first time in a kaleidoscopic career, he’s produced himself. Not only that, he’s recorded it in his new home studio in he and his wife’s home on Mersea Island, Essex. And, finally, crucially, going back to his roots, he’s releasing it as a fully independent artist.

After a quarter-century in the game, the title of this barnstorming, 14-track album says it all: Frank Turner is Undefeated.

The opening track immediately doubles down on that: “I’m still standing up and there’s nothing you can do!” Turner sings on supremely catchy power-pop belter Do One. “Among other things,” he says with a smile, “that song is the sound of me and my band firing on all cylinders.”

As for how we got to this state of independence… “I'm not going to sit here and say that I regret being on a major label for five records,” Turner begins, telling it with his customary straight-arrow candour and conviction. “I went into that willingly and played the game and enjoyed myself. But the time came to move on.”

To be clear, to stop the snarks in their tracks, he wasn’t dropped. “I completed my deal and was offered an extension, which I turned down. It's very nice to be offered more. But leaving that world was a choice.”

That choice was informed by this music obsessive’s habitual keen-eyed appraisal of both his standing and the wider rock’n’roll landscape. As he puts it: “At this point in my life, working on album 10, at the place where I sit in the music world, it seemed obvious that going back to a more independent setting was the right idea.  

“There's more creative freedom – not that I ever felt necessarily constrained creatively before,” Turner clarifies. “But it would quite often require some pushback on my end to get what I wanted. Whereas now, it's just: I'm producing myself, here's the fucking record and I don't care what you think about singles.”

Hence his choosing as first single proper the aforesaid Do One, which opens with lyrics that dive straight in: “Some people are just going to hate you, no matter what you do, so don’t waste your time trying to change their minds, just be a better you.”

“Well, there's a reason that's also track one," he says of an album bookended by the closing title track, a beautiful, powerful, rousing piano ballad-turned-anthem. "Funnily enough, a friend of mine said to me the other day, after listening to the new record: 'I'm not sure the world was expecting anyone to try and ram Black Flag into Counting Crows over such a protracted period of time. But it seems to be working.’”

Frank Turner will happily take that.

That sense of giddy creative abandon was, again, informed by the arrival of Turner within the ranks of The Sleeping Souls. His abilities and demeanour contributed significantly to the writing and recording of the album

“Callum's like a new toy. There is literally nothing he can't play!” Turner laughs of a skillset instantly apparent on the album’s second track, the larky, 88-second, Pogues-style ramalam of Never Mind The Back Problems. “Having that newfound flexibility and energy was crucial. I still write on my own, and then take things to the band to arrange. But you write with the tools that you know you're going to be working with in mind. We were all in loving, reinvigorated place, and that was major part of the process.”

As well as defiance and celebration, that process also involved reflection. “I wanted to make a record that embraced my status and time of life. Made a virtue of that rather than being nervous or embarrassed about it.

“There are no clichés about the difficult 10th album, so in some ways, that's a liberating statement. But at the same time, I have a duty to justify writing and releasing a 10th album. That's a lot of records for anybody. Also, I’m 42. Which is not a sexy, rock’n’roll age. But all through my career, I've been interested in writers like Loudon Wainwright III or The Hold Steady, people who write about adulthood, essentially.”

As he points out, in a music industry increasingly defined by short-termism and stumps of so-called careers, he’s a veteran. “I've been touring since before satnav! And before mobile phones! Quite often we get to venues and I know them better than the people working there, because I've been playing there for 20 years.

“All of these are things that I want to embrace and rejoice in and, when required, see the funny side off, like on Never Mind The Back Problems.”

Deeper emotional waters are plumbed on Ceasefire. Melding one of Turner’s sweetest vocals with a widescreen rock grandeur and pounding piano, it’s pointedly the album’s longest track,.

“It builds and builds and it was an exciting musical adventure. That's one of my favourite songs on the record, and it's a really important song.” It’s the sole remnant of an idea Turner was briefly exploring: a concept album that was an argument with his 15 year-old-self. “It's genuinely a psychological, mental health problem that I have: I have arguments all the time with hypothetical others – and sometimes lose them. And it's a really unhealthy way of being. My wife often has to say to me: Frank,no one's attacking you right now.”

But as a dyed-in-the-black-denim fan of the genre that made him, Turner can’t help himself. “There's something to be said for the fact that punk rock guilt and Catholic guilt are very similar ideas. You are haunted by this internalised ethical self-questioning. One may become a lapsed punk or a lapsed Catholic. But you're never quite a non-Catholic or a non-punk. It stays with you forever – and, indeed, Ian MacKaye is The Pope!”

That mid-teenage Frank also pops up in the breakneck Girl From the Record Shop, a brilliant Frankenstein's mashup of messrs. Bragg and Costello. Two towering influences, for sure, but Turner wrestles them into something wholly his own.

“Definitely Costello is a huge influence,” he acknowledges. “When I took that song to the band, I basically said: ‘The Attractions, please.’ They were like: ‘Not a problem!’ It is linked thematically, in the sense that that is how I imagined romance when I was 15: walking into a record store and seeing a girl in a Bikini Kill t-shirt, and becoming flabbergasted and speechless.

“My wife hates that song,” he adds, “but to be clear: I'm not actually in love with someone from a record shop!”

The music, of course, was the aphrodisiac, the intoxicating drug. That life-altering love is also at the heart of Letters, a song with breakneck momentum but wistful feeling.

“I do enjoy doing writing that kind of disconnect – it's nice to mess around with context or emotional sentiments. But at the same time, it wasn't quite that calculated in its genesis. It's a song about an old friend, who I lost touch with. It was a very meaningful relationship in my life in the sense that it taught me an awful lot about music. Tape-trading, when I was a kid, helped me learn many things.

“There’s a nostalgia. But a sense of understanding, too. The key line is: 'Both of us know it wasn't love in the end, you were more of a teacher, a distant best friend.' We were kids, so we were of course imagining that we were Romeo and Juliet. But we weren't. She was just somebody who knew a lot more about Black Flag than I did!”

There’s more heartfelt emotional processing on the ambitious syncopated stomper that is Pandemic PTSD. It was, again, a track Turner felt compelled to write.

“There was a big conversation in 2021 and 2022 about lockdown songs and pandemic songs. Everybody's now completely put that aside. But I feel very strongly that everybody and everything is deeply, deeply wounded by what we've spent the last few years going through. Certainly, you look at economics and politics now, this is all damage done by the pandemic. Or at least deeper problems were revealed by it.”

Cue a cathartic agit-punk rabble-rouser that necessarily, vitally addresses that mental and emotional fall-out, whether on trapped-at-home schoolkids or, yes, stage-struck musicians denied the opportunity to do what they loved best.

Outlier, pioneer, punk-rock road-warrior who’d do this 366 days a year if he could: he knew that struggle better than most of his peers. But he is the undefeated Frank Turner, 42 years young, and he’s ready to smash it all over again in 2024. You know he's filled that extra day already.


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