Real Talk – Frank Turner

Frank Turner is in an English Folk icon. However, his take on the modern approach to the folk genre saw him marinate his music with a Punk aesthetic. Stemming from his Hardcore beginnings, the singer-songwriter was at the heart of the London and British Hardcore scene in the late nineties and early two-thousands. After fronting the Hardcore band Million Dead for four years Turner transitioned into performing as a solo artist. Taking his punk songwriting and turning them into a permanently stripped-down arrangement to result in his own unique folk-inspired sound. Turner spoke to Faultline about his in-depth opinions on the evolutionary and changing states of the Hardcore and Punk genres, and how his own personal thoughts and viewpoints stand in the present day.

Do you feel the Hardcore genres’ growth and development boils down to the genres further acceptance decade by decade?

I think it’s an interesting question as to whether hardcore has been more accepted over time, in my experience. There have been moments of greater popularity, of course, but it still feels pretty underground to me. I think the growth and evolution of the scene and its music is more just down to the natural process of a group of creative people questing for new sounds and new ideas.

Upon reflection, do you feel it is strange that straight edge and veganism culture became so prominent with the anarchy of Hardcore Punk. Was the juxtaposition of this lifestyle choice and aggression within genres almost ironic and contradictory?

My experience of hardcore has been that, sadly, it tends more towards the authoritarian than the anarchic, when it comes to politics – Straighedge and Veganism being the obvious examples. That’s not to do those ideas down, I have been both in my time and retain respect for them, and know plenty of people who are completely ecumenical in their approaches to those lifestyle choices, but it’s undeniable that there can be a rich strain of controlling aggression from some corners of the scene with regard to such matters. Personally, I found that anarchism was something I encountered more outside the strictly “Hardcore” scene, more in its own world or the punk world.

Did Hardcore and Punk have to die and become unpopular to return after a few years to see another era and more success than the previous chapter?

I think both genres breathe over time, grow, and collapse, as seems natural to me. Sometimes moments of collapse can herald rethinking and rebirth, in a positive way.

Do you feel fashion in the early formative years of Hardcore reflected the idology of genre? Such as the repulsive attitude towards suburban living and its culture?

I was born in 1981 and got involved in the London hardcore scene in the late 90s. That said, hardcore in the USA was more of a suburban movement than punk, historically. I think that punk and hardcore are ideas that at their very core reject societal authority, so it’s not surprising that they leaned that way politically (not exclusively, it’s worth mentioning). 

Hardcore records, generally, were recorded and made to sound as live as possible. Was this key to the genres identity in the beginning?

I think that had a lot to do with limited budgets more than aesthetic choice really, having read about it. I mean, of course people were chasing an aggressive sound, but as soon as hardcore bands could afford to spend longer in the studio, they generally did.

After the Punk scene had died down in 1979, do you feel the impact of Black Flag was so huge due to the band boiling the Punk genre down to its essence and then enhancing everything about it? Was this the surge fans of Punk needed for a revival even though the result of this was “Hardcore”?

The Clash were taking their music (and ‘punk’ more broadly) into increasingly esoteric musical directions – which is great, in my opinion – but that left an opening for bands to restate the original simplicity and aggression of punk and make it yet more so. The first time I heard Black Flag they blew me away with their focus and drive, their debut “Damaged” is a defining statement by and important, genre-defining band . It was, quite literally, a more hard-core version of the punk I’d been listening to, and I loved it.

Bands starting their own independent labels and pushing for self releases and distribution was a huge element of Hardcore. Why do you think this approach was taken in the first place and gained such respect and support from fans?

I think initially it was out of necessity, but there’s a fair degree of ideology in there as well. None of the major labels were interested in this kind of music at the time, as I understand it, so people had to make their own infrastructure, both in terms of release, distribution and touring. That in turn grew into an article of faith for many.

Bad Brains debut single “Pay to Cum” was massively influential and arguably responsible for the scene on the east coast. Do you feel Bad Brains did the most for Punk in musical history? 

I think Bad Brains were the most important hardcore band musically. They’re genuinely quite hard to account for – they came out of nowhere, both musically and socially, and made a huge impact on everyone (including Black Flag). They were faster, but also more precise, and more aggressive than anything before them, by orders of magnitude. 

The 90’s, interestingly, saw Hardcore and Punk move into an evolutionary state and essentially decay. Bands such as Saves the Day, Lifetime, Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Earth Crisis, Hatebreed and Vorhees all came from Hardcore, even though they contratsed in sounds. Why do you think the beginning of this decade was the timing for all this to unfold?

Because hardcore had been around for a decade already, and people wanted to push the boundaries. That’s natural in any scene, but especially in one that is supposedly based on ideas about rejecting authority and freedom. I think also that the scene divides between metal and hardcore, which were pretty ridiculous anyway, started to crumble around that time.

Punk saw mainstream success in the late nineties. Rancid and Green Day, although two of many, were incredibly popular. Again, do you feel the timing all lined up correctly for these bands and the genre to succeed? Why do you feel these bands achieved more than those from the decade previous?

That’s an interesting question with a long answer – my friend Ian just wrote a whole book about the 90s punk explosion which is worth a read. It has a lot to do with Nirvana – both in terms of them paving the way for more aggressive guitar music in the mainstream, but also because people were pretty exhausted with their nihilism after Cobain’s suicide. I also think that a lot of those bands – Rancid especially, for me – were just better, a cut above, at least at that time. “And Out Come The Wolves” is pretty much a perfect punk album, to me. But also the scene and the infrastructure around it had been building and improving for ten years, so there was more possibility to make an impact.

H2O appeared on Conan, Gallows went on to be signed for one million pounds and Fucked Up appeared on MTV. Why do you feel major labels thought Punk and Hardcore could achieve such populairty? Were they being stupid or overly ambious? 

I think they thought about what they always think about- there was money to be made. Those bands were popular. More often than not, majors are chasing fads rather than creating them.

Do you feel this major label interference resulted in the genres gradually going back to their roots in the years to follow?

I certainly think that it caused a reaction in the underground scene on some levels. That’s a thorny issue for me. I understand the impulse, of course, but there can often be something overly peevish in punk DNA, a knee-jerk hatred of any kind of success. Personally I think it’s great when a band I like does well, but of course, the issue can be more complicated than that. The great thing, in the end, is that people are free to do what they like, so if Gallows and Rancid drove more people to engage in super-DIY underground scenes, either through inspiration or reaction, that’s pretty cool to me.

Hardcore remains a mostly D.I.Y approached genre these days. Do you think it will remain this way or will history repeat itself?

It’ll likely come in waves, as it always has. The first wave of punk was all major label in the end. Husker Du signed a major deal. It comes and it goes. I think, in my old age (ahem) that labels matter less to me than music now. As far as listening to modern hardcore, I wouldn’t for a second claim expertise, and I tend to listen to music much more widely now than I did when I was younger. But I still listen to some here and there. H09909 blew me away in recent years, and there’s a new band from London called Bob Vylan who are fucking excellent.

Interview by Rob Kent

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