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New Music To Know: Frank Turner, Punk Goes Folk

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By Courtney E. Smith

If a man sets aside his hardcore and punk tendencies in favor of an acoustic guitar, has he lost his ability to rock? Not when that man is Frank Turner.

The lead single off his new album Tape Deck Heart, out April 23, has roots that are traceable down a long line of heartbroken English balladeers. But before you get the wrong idea, just because the man’s singing about a broken heart doesn’t mean he’s written a slow jam. It’s instead one of those rollicking, barroom singalong tributes to heartbreak fueled by the kind of lyrics men spew when they’ve had much too much to drink and find themselves being very honest — and that Turner, in his video, seems to sing through clinched teeth.

“I like that contrast between upbeat music and dark lyrics,” Turner said. “It sounds like a happy song, but it’s clearly not. The album is about unexpected change and a big part of it is relationships ending.”

In a rather rollicking interview with Radio.com, Turner talked about his new record (both the writing and the recording, both metaphorically and literally) and about his place in the British folk-rock phenomenon overtaking America (while giving us some accurate history of that scene in its native Britain).

“I have a theory, right, that around this point in a career, if you’re at a fifth record and you reach a certain level of success, the obvious thing that most bands do at this point is they get more guarded lyrically,” Turner said. “It seemed to me that I needed to do the exact opposite of that.”

And so, he wrote an autobiographical break-up album, thinking of it as if he were the only person who would ever listen to it. He characterizes it as “raw, exposed, self-critical [and] personal” and admits he is “slightly terrified about certain people hearing the album” but considers that a measure of its success, artistically.

“Art isn’t supposed to be comfortable,” Turner said. “And I’m pleased, this is what I wanted to achieve with the record, but it’s raw.”

That rawness is part of Turner’s DNA as a songwriter. He started in the hardcore scene, relishing his exposure to early ’80s U.S. bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat, and says the first band he ever got into was Iron Maiden. He describes himself as “kind of an anarchist” and says he spends a lot of his time wondering “WWHRD? What would Henry Rollins do?”

Turner found Neil Young at 23 and around the same time realized he could achieve a punk mentality and musical intensity with an acoustic guitar, and found himself becoming a tangential part of the U.K. folk scene forming around Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and Noah & the Whale.

“I guess it will be interesting to see if I become any closer associated with them [in the U.S.] than I am back home,” Turner said. “Thus far, I don’t think it’s really happened that way. In this country, I’ve put out three records with Epitaph Records and I feel like I’m quite strongly associated with the punk scene in America which is just fine.”

Folk or punk, the way Turner views it his shows are all-inclusive — in the grand traditions of both genres.

“I’m a professional musician,” he said. “I make the kind of music that I want to make. And if anybody wants to listen, I’ll be grateful for that. I think that getting picky and choosy about who comes to your shows is redundant, personally. For a start, everybody is welcome at my shows. I make folk music. It’s music for everybody.”

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