Frank Turner is an English musician with a reputation for always being on tour. He’s taken his folk rock songs to far-flung places such as Slovenia, South Africa and everywhere in between – but you’re as likely to find him playing a jam-packed North London pub as you are to see him headlining Wembley Arena.
We spoke to Frank about what life is like on the road and the impact travel has had on his songwriting. Take a listen to our travel-inspired playlist of his songs while you give it a read…
Where was your last trip?
I’m on a tour right now around the UK, but the last trip I did was to Mexico. We played three shows in four days in Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara. It was an idiotic schedule, but really fun!
Where is your next trip?
After this tour we’re heading to America for a tour that starts in Detroit. We have a few weeks off in between which is nice!
What is your first travel-related memory?
I spent a lot of my childhood visiting Drombeg in North West Scotland. We used to load up the car and drive all day – it’s a long way from Hampshire! We'd also visit North Uist and the Outer Hebrides. It was a magical place to spend time as a kid because it's one of the last really wild parts of the UK. It was wonderful to be in a place that was that uncivilised and ruggedly beautiful.
Aisle or window seat?
I always take the window seat so I can sleep. I make sure I've got my headphones and a book; I sit down, switch off, sleep and get it done.
Do you have any travel habits or rituals? Something you can’t travel without?
I collect Saint Christopher medals from around the world and I always have one on me. When my girlfriend and I go somewhere together we buy a fridge magnet.
Favourite city or country or region?
I'm going to pick the USA. It's very easy to think you know what it’s like because you've watched films and listened to records. To me it's endlessly fascinating and beautiful. It's also built for travel – it's a society predicated on movement. There are only three American states that I am yet to play: South Dakota, Wyoming and Hawaii. My booking agent is aware I want my full 50!
What has been your most challenging travel experience?
I maintain that this is the worst day anyone has ever had on tour... It was 2006 and I left my passport on a bus from Tallinn to Riga – we were heading to Lithuania for a festival. My recovered passport was then stolen and we had to pay the border guards to get it back. At this point we were running really late in my mate’s car and hit a deer at 80 mph, miraculously no one was hurt (except the deer). The car was completely written off.
We then found out the festival had been cancelled so slept in the car overnight until our lift back to Latvia showed up. We had another show that evening on the complete opposite side of Latvia, so boarded a 12-hour bus at 9am having not slept, and arrived just in time for the next show.
What is your best or worst travel souvenir?
I’ve got the Philadelphia Phillies 2013 season flag framed in a glass case at home which is pretty cool. My most prized souvenir from the road is probably a brick from the original Roundhouse in Camden, which I was given after my four-night festival there last year.
Quick, an asteroid is going to hit the earth in one week! Which is the one travel dream you’d rush to fulfil?
That's a difficult question. Russian history is a major obsession of mine, so there is a lot of Russia I'd love to see, but I’d need more than a week! I’d also love to go back to Delphi in Greece. The Greeks believed it was the naval of the world and where history began. I'm not a particularly mystically-minded person but I remember being there thinking, this place feels really special.
You’ve played many impressive venues all over the world. Do you have a favourite and is there somewhere you still really want to play?
My favourite venue in the world is actually Nottingham Rock City, which is why I played my milestone 2000th show there in 2016. It's the largest independent venue left in the UK. Outside of the UK, Emo’s in Austin was always great to play before it closed and The Art’s House in Melbourne. In terms of where I'd like to play, South America and Japan are very high up my list.
As someone who has a reputation for always being on tour, do you prefer to stay put or escape on a ‘proper’ holiday during your rare time off?
I think most touring musicians will tell you that there are difficult conflicts in the way that we live. When you get home from tour all you want to do is sit in a dark room and not do much talking. But your partner or loved ones want to go out or go on holiday and it's like ‘I don't wanna go on holiday right now, I just want to be at home!’. That can be quite difficult – in my past there were relationships that foundered on that rock.
You’re in the midst of a mammoth world tour with your band and crew. How much of an influence do you have on the destinations and itinerary?
I have a booking agent who is responsible for when and where I should play, because it links in to a million different things, such as being in the UK for album release week and hitting the right markets, things like that. I could have as much say over it as I like in theory but there's not much point in me telling the expert what to do. On this tour I made sure we played Southend because I haven't played there for about 10 years and I used to play there all the time.
You write many of your songs while on the road. How influential is travel on your songwriting?
I feel like every band is allowed one record about touring; you can always tell the record that came after a band got successful, because suddenly they write an album about missing people. I've written my fair few songs about travelling, The Road being the obvious example. Songs like Wanderlust and Jet Lag are about the different facets of living an itinerant lifestyle and being far from home.
In my later years I’ve been trying to move away from travel as a subject. I don't want to repeat myself and I think there's a point where that stuff becomes unrelatable for people. But writing songs is a constant, ongoing process for me, so I write lots while on the road.
Do you see the future Frank touring the world as much as you do now?
I like to think so. There was a period of time where I was in this touring arms race, trying to be the hardest touring artist ever and I realised no one else was taking part. I damaged my back and it didn't do wonders for my personal or mental health either. However, I love touring. It's the central thing I do with my life and I wish to do it for as long as I can.
However, there are extra challenges that come with getting older. You can do anything in your twenties; you can drink as much as you like, stay up all night and still play a show the next day. We're currently on the 10-year anniversary of my second record, Love Ire & Song – the tour we did for that was 26 shows in a row. We used to sleep on the floor and share one hotel room; there is no way I could tour like that anymore!
Find out more about Frank Turner, his music and tour details at frank-turner.com and follow his tweets @frankturner.
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