“I’m a little bit hungover if I’m honest.” Frank Turner begins just as he is want to do, with absolutely no fear or pretence. Carrying on swiftly, he gives sage advice for any future sore heads: “I just built a digger, and now I feel fucking great. If you’re hungover, Lego is fucking amazing because all you have to do is just follow simple instructions and then you get a cool thing at the end.” Fast approaching his two-thousandth gig, you can safely assume he knows his stuff.
New film ‘Get Better: A Film About Frank Turner’ follows Frank’s career during 2014-15; in particular, the tough times he went through both with his record label and personal life. “A month into the filming I stopped working because I had a titanic argument with my label about the making of [2015 album] ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’, and I was in a position where my artistic integrity was on the line. It turns out I handle stress quite badly.”
With his life being the main focus point of a feature-length film, to be seen in cinemas for one night only across the country, Frank admits his experience watching it was “extremely uncomfortable”, through laughter. “It’s a funny thing because the film is, strictly speaking, not my piece of art – it’s [director] Ben Morse’s work. I mean, obviously, it’s about me, and it’s about my life and all the rest of it, but it’s his creative endeavour so in an extremely odd way I’m more of a spectator of the final product even though that is about and entirely concerning me and my life.”
He reveals that the initial idea was to create a documentary about “a year in the life of a man who never stops working”, though thanks to the events that occurred during that time, it ended up a more in-depth and honest film. “I think it’s ended up more interesting, but it’s a less comfortable watch for me,” he says. “[Morse] sent me a rough edit of the film and asked me if there’s anything I wanted to take out, and I said that I’m not going to do that because it’s your work.” This led to an intimacy that may have otherwise been lost. “I sort of thought, I’m not interested in hagiography [art of biography] and there are some music documentaries out there which are completely lickspittle, and I’m not interested in those. I want it to be an honest piece of cinema.”
Music documentaries are largely either a celebration, bringing fans an even more in-depth personal attachment to their favourite artists, or bloated portraits of whatever the audience are told to see. With ‘Get Better’, it’s a warts-and-all approach. “There are a lot of people who say nice things about me in the film which is always lovely, and Ben is very good at capturing the energy of the live shows that we do which is a thing that I’m always keen to document.” He laughs, “that kind of stuff looks cool, but on the flip side there’s my mum talking about me and my failings on the big screen which is an extremely odd thing to watch.”
As such a hard worker, it’s not always easy for Frank to take some respite and reflect, especially when so much time is spent on the road, as is the way of a travelling troubadour. On the shows which have stuck out to him the most, the answer isn’t “always quite as simple as ‘the big ones’,” he says. Rather, it’s the ones where band and crowd meld into one life force and bounce off one another. “I feel very strongly that a good show is a collective endeavour between the audience and the band. We’ve done shows where myself and the band play our arses off and have a bad crowd reaction, and those are not my favourite shows. Similarly, we’ve had shows where we think we’ve sucked and everybody else went crazy. The best ones are where everyone’s on the same frequency.”
Reminiscing about shows within this realm, he says: “One that sticks out in mind is a bar show I did in Connecticut, which I wasn’t expecting anyone to come too, but then it turned out to be absolutely fucking rammed, and everyone went crazy.” He continues: “It’s difficult to pick individual ones just on the fly because in some way I want to say the show two days ago in Leeds was one of my favourite shows we’ve ever done. It was completely insane; the venue started nearly falling apart at the seams because the crowd were crazy.”
While looking back is certainly not a negative, with this major component of his career now being immortalised, Frank sees it as a chance to look forwards. He explains: “In a broader, creative sense, the film is mainly about the events of the making of ‘Positive Songs…’ and there was a feeling with that record that it was emptying out one particular creative cupboard. I feel right now where I am, which is a writing and looking forwards sort of thing, where I feel quite liberated doing something different creatively with the next thing I do.”
Further in the future, he says: “One of the things I’ve been doing recently, in the past couple of years, I’ve been engaged in an arms race with myself about how much I could tour, if I could be the hardest touring guy in the world. It’s quite immature, that approach, and it’s not particularly good for my health: mental or physical.” He elaborates: “The other thing about that is I think I was in danger of becoming a one-dimensional person and being known for one thing. As I’ve got older now, I’ve got a place I live; I have a girlfriend who keeps me sane. I’ve sort of been trying to do things other than be ‘touring artist Frank Turner’. That is not only healthy for my long term sanity, but it gives me more to talk about.”
As for his immediate plans? “I’ve got a whole pile of songs, but I’m in the middle of trying to decide precisely which direction I want to head in next, and I have the luxury of not being in a massive hurry.” He adds: “I wrote a concept album, which I’m not 100% sure if it’s going to be the next thing I do or if that’s going on the shelf because I’ve got a whole other pile of songs. The field is quite open right now in quite a nice way.”
Frank Turner’s documentary ‘Get Better: A Film About Frank Turner’ will premiere in Leicester Square, London tonight, Tuesday 13th December.