Undefeated Shows There Is No Quit in Frank Turner

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The late American feminist/activist Betty Friedan once said, “Aging is not ‘lost youth’ but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” It’s an adage Frank Turner wholeheartedly embraces and is a philosophy he’s imbued into Undefeated, his recently released tenth studio album. Born in Bahrain but raised in Hampshire, England, the punk singer-songwriter has released a collection of songs that embraces the idea of his aging gracefully but not necessarily quietly.

Punk folkie Frank Turner spending a quiet moment in his English garden
(Photo by Shannon Shumaker)

The sentiment is unequivocally stated on the brand-new stomper “No Thank You For the Music” where Turner sings, “Now I’m surprised to report that as I enter my forties, I’ve returned to be an angry man.” And while there might be concerns about creative burnout from a guy who will be playing his 3,000th show on February 26, 2025 (on top of putting out 10 records), it’s been his role serving as a producer/engineer for a number of younger bands in the past three years on the indie label Xtra Mile that has continued firing up his musical engine.

“There’s a part in the life cycle of every rock musician where they buy a leather jacket and start declaiming how rock music is dead,” Turner said. “Ultimately, the best tonic for that which I’ve discovered is to be on the other side of the glass while a bunch of 22-year-olds make their first record and they’re full of piss, vinegar, energy, rage and all that other good stuff. It’s a brilliant wake-up call and reminder that they’ve only just figured out if you play this chord, this chord and that chord, do it fast and shout, that it’s going to sound awesome. It DOES sound awesome and I find I missed out on that experience. And I plan to do more of this, I must say.”

Adding to the inspiration of Turner’s side hustle was the addition of drummer Callum Green to the ranks of The Sleeping Souls, the 42-year-old bandleader’s back-up group.

“He joined after the last record was made and we’ve been touring with that [line-up],” Turner said. “A big influence on the record was kind of getting back into the swing of touring. My band was great anyway, but with the new drummer on board, it’s like we’re a f******* machine. I’m not going to now go out and make a solo record, you know what I mean? I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of a very fancy sports car that’s on fire. [Callum] is a new member of the band and he slid right in.”

Three weeks in the making, Undefeated was recorded last June at Turner’s home studio in the English countryside not too far from the sea, where he and his bandmates would get up for a morning swim before getting to work (“…it was a beautiful, hot summer. [Doing that] was quite idyllic.”) And while Turner’s punk rock bona fides mean he has the vibe of influence of forefathers like Billy Bragg and The Descendents in newer jams like the choppy ear worm “Girl From the Record Shop” and the fiercely political “The Leaders,” he’s also quick to share a seasoned outlook and sound that brings to mind The Hold Steady and Counting Crows. It resonates clearly on the matter-of-fact heartland sing-along gem “Show People” and the semi-autobiographical “East Finchley,” an acoustic ode to the past buttressed by soaring guitars that poignantly ruminates about the path not taken.

Capping it all off is the soaring piano-kissed closing title track that offers a sprig of hope and optimism during hard times that taps into the value of using hardiness and inner strength as fuel to get through to a better place. It’s a mindset Turner very much clings too.

“The best piece of advice I ever really got and its more of a saying than a piece of advice is that a number of people, including my uncle and therapist have mentioned this to me, is that this too shall pass,” Turner said with a laugh. “It’s a great expression. It’s not a universally optimistic thing. It means the good times go too. When things are bad, it’ll pass. When things are good, enjoy it while you can because it will end. I think that’s a really useful bit of advice—just to remember that this too shall pass.”

Always the consummate road warrior as a touring musician, Turner lived up to his reputation by recently breaking the record for most shows played in multiple cities in 24 hours. His 15 gigs broke Hunter Hayes’ record of 10. And while its an impressive feat, Turner admits this UK-based jaunt playing a string of independent record stores got a bit hairy in the end. (“The last few shows got pretty f****** brutal, I have to say. There was a fair amount of, ‘Why are we doing this?’”) But having recharged his batteries, he’s very much looking forward to enthusiastically bringing his punk rock circus to the States.

“We’re promoting a new record, so we’re going to play a bunch of songs from the new record,” Turner explained. “At the same time, I think of setlists from the point of view of an audience member. Every set list I do, I try to have at least one song from every record I’ve done. We’re leading the people to new material, but my game plan for every show is crystallized massive euphoria when everyone really loses their shit. You want some old bangers in the hat and want to make that happen.”

And while 10-year-old Turner cut his teeth on Iron Maiden’s 1981 opus Killers and the guitar instruction book Bert Weedon’s Play In a Day, punk rock acts like The Sex Pistols (“The Sex Pistols are better than The Clash—point blank.”), NOFX, the aforementioned Black Flag and Butthole Surfers very much shaped his musical worldview. That said, he’s very much plugged into a number of newer acts including Metz, Gen and the Degenerates, The OBGMs, Mannequin Pussy and Montreal’s NOBRO (“I heard their record and it was the best record I’ve heard in a long time. They are brilliant and everyone should check them out.”) And while there are those who might say rock and roll is very much a young man’s game, Turner continues to rise the challenge even if at times he feels like his hero Nick Cave who once commented that every time he finishes an album, he feels like the cupboard is bare and he’s scraped the bottom of the barrel.

“That’s the thing about getting older and doing more records—I’m trying to not repeat myself,” Turner said. “What it means is that over time, the craft part of what I do gets easier. I know how to arrange a song. I know how to turn it into a finished piece and how to realize a vision. All the low-hanging fruit of songwriting material is long gone, do you know what I mean? I wrote my break-up songs. It was a joyous experience making this record. Everyone was playing their best and having a good time. There was no conflict within the studio and you’re disappointed about that when you’re the director. But it was just a good time.”

Frank Turner will be appearing on May 26 at The Paramount, 370 New York Ave. Huntington. For more information, visit www.theparamountny.com or call 631-673-7300

 

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