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Frank Turner Album Interview: "I've Literally Never Heard of Drake"

14/08/2015 16:14 BST | Updated 14/08/2016 10:59 BST

Frank Turner ducks out of a greying Fitzrovian afternoon into Gibson Guitar Rooms and is coveted like a lost son by the surrounding staff. In many ways it's the perfect habitat for the North-London singer-songwriter. There's no pretension, little glamour - we're a world away from breakfast cereal-themed cafés. It's about the music, man. Not that Turner is a "real" music bore; he just gets on with it and cares little for trends. He first heard of Drake yesterday (thinks he's "OK"), hails Marillion as pioneers and accidentally hired Pink's producer. We sit down.

The new record Positive Songs For Negative People is being pushed on a year-zero ticket. It's surprising to learn that it's the 33 year-old's sixth album (Beyonce's only released five) and - although the fact the songs were knocked out in ten days 'as live' in the studio partly explains it's debut feel - there also seems to be an attempt to draw a line in the sand on what's gone before.

This, then, is Turners second chance to make a first impression and his inspiration comes from both Supergrass ("Their debut is full of piss and vinegar and I love it.") and Tom Waits, "I do think Closing Time was a really interesting record. He was half way through making it, really struggling and thought 'fuck this' invited all his mates down and played the album live in one go with them in the audience. That's an extreme version of what I was doing but I think there's a nod to it."

Some albums end low key (Definitely Maybe) others begin the same way (Is This It?), PSFNP, however, is bookended by two acoustic tracks that belie the positive theme and keep locked away the (at times) relentlessly upbeat and defiant punch-a-longs that come thick and fast at the top of the record, "I still believe in the album as a whole thing," he says "I couldn't put together a running order with those two songs that made sense without using them as bookends, not least Angel Of Islington as it's the introduction piece to the record".

Turner is conversely both a fan of the album as a body of work (though not necessarily vinyl) and the same internet that has gone a long way to eradicating it. The former as a preference to the cherry-picking culture of Spotify, the latter for its removal of the tastemakers you feel he has long despised, "The internet is anti-authoritarian. I'm guessing you're the same age as me right? When we were kids if a label got a certain radio station (I think he means Radio 1) or magazine (I think he means NME) on side they could announce their band was big. And they would be big!"

He points to none other than Marillion as working the "fan club" model way ahead of anyone else and suddenly I remember as a kid hearing them regularly and mysteriously storming Nottingham's local Top 30, thwarting production-line pop with their proggy offerings, the Radiohead of their day, "They've been doing it since the late 80s - ditch your record label and sell to your fanbase. Radiohead are not far away from that but what people leave out is that they had ten years of label marketing budgets".

With his hardcore background and hard-gigging work ethic, Turner is the antithesis of the blog-hyped indie darling and is amusing when rattled, "It was kind of irritating when some arsehole would announce rock music was dead but now it's particularly stupid. Fuck off!" But, I ask, haven't we lost a shared narrative in music today? We're no longer all singing from the same hymn sheet are we? "Culture is much less monolithic for better or worse and I think it's mainly for better. I mean I was with a friend yesterday who told me about somebody called Drake who I'd literally never heard of. My friend was horrified. Apparently this is a huge gigantic omission on my part except of course it fucking isn't. Who gives a shit! My life was happy and fine before and is happy and fine after. It's kind of increasingly ridiculous to go 'Oh my god you haven't heard this..."

For a positive record (in name and mood) that the last two tracks concern death creates an interesting juxtaposition. "I don't make concept records", but Silent Key (the record's penultimate track) is a concept song no? "Yes but its not a concept record. If one chooses this title for an album its tempting to try and shoe horn every song to fit the title, I didn't want to do that." It might also be unbearable to have 12 positive songs on one record also right? "(Laughs) It might well be, it might well be."

The track in question tackles every eighties school kid's 9/11 - The Challenger space shuttle disaster & the plight of teacher Christa McAuliffe, "It's a song I'm quite proud of. It seemed to be such a fascinating idea that a primary school teacher would die in front of the world's school children on international television." Does he remember it at the time? "I have a vanishingly vague memory of it. I can't quite decide how retrospectively beefed up its been. I remember reading about it a few years ago and thinking that's a fascinating thing and next I was in a wiki-hole with 14 different panels open and reading about oil prices in the 1970s or something. Then I discovered she didn't die when the explosion happened but when the craft hit the water, 2:45 later." The length of a song? "Quite."

Aside from news events of the day, the eighties leave their mark elsewhere on the record. The end of Demons feels like its about to go into Full Fathom Five while Josephine sounds like Robert Smith fronting U2, "There were days when I used to want to sit down and try and write Born To Run but recently its just me writing songs. It means you've either settled into finding your own voice or you've disappeared up your own arse and arguably those two things might be the same thing! But I'm definitely a fan of The Cure and U2 and certainly with the artwork for the album there was a Stiff Records vibe." (The latter was created by Matt De Jong and adds to the fresh angle of the record with a neat evocation of 2-Tone-era sleeves and a nod to the live sound of the record in the aesthetic).

Elsewhere The Opening Act Of Spring feels like a hybrid of The Waterboys and current chart kings Years & Years. Have contemporary acts influenced him? "Well I've never really been all that in touch with the charts and I hope that doesn't sound like I'm trying to be too hipster about it. We had to do the Radio 1 Live Lounge a few years ago and I was going through all these Neil Young songs...but Neil Young wasn't in the Top 40."

There's defiance and a desire on the post-intro trio of songs to get out of the house and embrace life. Has depression left its mark on him? "To a degree. An awful lot of this record is a reaction to events on the previous album, which was an attempt to write a break-up record from the point of view of the perpetrator. So there was that and I injured my back really badly touring (two slipped discs in his lower back). I also had my first bit of kicking in the press. I'm not complaining about it too much but there's no real preparation for it. You've been an underground artist for four albums and then suddenly - oh fuck - everybody hates me on Twitter." You're like the guy that killed the lion! "Yeah, well the tidal puritanism of the internet is an extremely negative force and something I had to learn to get over. A big part of the record for me was surviving those things. When down kind of getting back up." It is a very getting back-up type of record, "Well, there you go," he offers.

This may have something to do with producer Butch Walker and his pop pedigree; something Turner was both unaware of and untroubled by when the recording took place in Nashville last year. "The first thing to say is I had no idea Butch Walker was a producer! I've got his solo records and I liked the sound so mentioned him to my label and they said 'Butch Walker as in the guy that produces Pink?!' He's one of the biggest producers in the fucking universe and they said he's way too expensive you can't work with him and that annoyed me so I went on Facebook and sent him an email. The whole Taylor Swift, Katy Perry wasn't at the forefront." Yes, but think of the collaborations?! "Er, I don't think I'm in that universe somehow."

If Walker has perked up Turner's sound, he's not complaining. Returning to our earlier conversation I mention the underrated second Supergrass album but he's not entirely sold. "I agree, but I'd pick I Should Coco. It's more..." Zippier? "Yes Zippier! That's the word. That's the vibe of this record. None of this ponderous six albums in, writing seven-minute epics about the underside of my shoe." And, in a very 2015 way, I leave Turner plotting to hijack the very pop charts he's never listened to.