Frank Turner is making coffee. The British singer-songwriter, who performed in London's 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, needs a caffeine fix before discussing his upcoming North American tour—kicking off Thursday in Halifax at The Marquee Ballroom. The sound of liquid pouring is audible over the phone from Germany, where he's got a show to promote his latest album, Positive Songs for Negative People.
"We're playing bigger shows here than we ever did before and it's nice to feel that we earned our way up the scale. It's given me time to grow as an artist," says Turner. This brick-by-brick approach has become one of Turner's calling cards: He went from releasing his first solo full-length album in 2007 to booking international tours today.
"Part of me feels kind of bad for a lot of new bands these days because everything peaks on their debut album," he says. "And everybody wants everything to be the most exciting thing immediately, right now, and if it's not then we move on to something else. That's never really been the case for my career and I'm quite pleased about that, almost relieved."
This "slow and steady vibe" is, perhaps, part of why Turner's music maintains such a feel of the common touch, and why he writes lyrics such as "There's no such thing as rock stars, just people that play music." Despite his obvious success, Turner himself doesn't fit the "rock star" bill. With his acoustic guitar and penchant for plaid shirts, he looks more like a British Bruce Springsteen.
For Turner, the image of an English Americana-style musician creates mixed feelings. He doesn't want to be restricted to a specific genre, as they're "usually just something to keep people on internet forums happy."
But, in the early 2000s, he discovered that folky-country sound in a bunch of albums including Springsteen's Nebraska. In particular, he says, "the first frantic Neil Young records" left a lasting impression.
"One of the things that attracted me," Turner says of Americana, "is that you can't hide behind walls of feedback and complicated guitars. It's just you and your guitar, and you play and it's either a good song or a bad song, and the audience judges and there's something almost kind of punk about it."
With Young as such an influence over his work, it's no surprise Turner says he's "excited" to see more of Canada on this tour than he has before, including his first visit to the Maritimes. "We kind of decided to do Canada properly, you know? And I always love doing new places."
But while this is his most extensive Canadian tour to date, Turner is adamant this isn't his deliberate attempt to crack the North American market. He says it is just about sharing his music with as many people as possible and discussing themes and emotions the best way he knows how.
Positive Songs for Negative People deals with "survival and putting things back together after they fall apart," says Turner. "If it was quite easy to explain what something was about, you'd just say it rather than write a song about it."
And the fact that these difficult-to-explain ideas communicate with audiences around the world? Well, that's one of the best parts for Turner: "It's wonderful that simply playing guitar has taught me about the world."
Frank Turner w/Northcote
Thursday, February 18, 10pm
The Marquee Ballroom, 2037 Gottingen Street
$23 adv/$28 door
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