How Frank Turner Stays Honest on the Road

Frank Turner performs at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on September 7, 2017.EXPAND
Frank Turner performs at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on September 7, 2017.
Lotte Schrander
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Over the years, England's Frank Turner has had a hard time keeping everyone happy. He's come under fire for his politics, and throughout the years has been called a "sellout" as his popularity has grown and his musical style has shifted from punk to folk. For his part, though, Turner has shaken off the criticism by touring aggressively, being open about his political beliefs, and remaining active and vocal in philanthropic and charitable efforts.

As his style has shifted, Turner has maintained his independent punk-rock ethos, even while performing at some of the world's largest venues.

We caught up with Turner ahead of his Red Rocks show on September 7, with Jason Isbell.

A decade ago, you were touring with a small punk band in small clubs [in the U.S]. Now you're touring in massive venues with a Grammy Award winner. How do you maintain your punk ethos and spirit while performing at this level? How has touring changed for you?

The road, as Townes Van Zandt noted, will keep you free and clean, and indeed honest. I think the work of playing every day has a way of keeping your head out of the clouds, in a good way. You just get on with it and do what you came to do, regardless of any of the exterior nonsense around it. Playing a show in a club has more in common with an arena than it has to separate the two experiences, actually. You're just doing your best to play music, entertain and engage. Touring has changed as I've gotten older; I have to take better care of myself these days — I'm not in my invincible twenties anymore, but then again, we tend to have more creature comforts on the road these days.

You've played the Flogging Molly Cruise in the Bahamas. For people who don't know about this, tell us about it and your experience there.

Our friends in Flogging Molly hire a boat and fill it with drunken maniacs before sailing it around the Caribbean. It's totally mad on paper, and indeed in practice, but somehow it works. I've done it twice, and sincerely hope to do it again sometime.

You've been very vocal about your distaste for our current president. What do you feel your role is as someone from another country in relaying your opinion about the state of our country? Is this from a global perspective, or as someone who has spent so many years traveling around, and familiarizing yourself with, the United States?

The U.S. is the global superpower, so like it or not, people who aren't Americans have a right to an opinion on the subject, because it affects us all. That said, I do my best to be respectful and educated in my opinion on the subject. I've spent a huge amount of time in the USA and been to most of it, and I have a deep-rooted love of America and Americans; it's easily my favorite place outside my home country. I think the current administration is self-evidently a joke, a carnival rip-off, being exposed in slow motion, which, unfortunately, has potentially catastrophic implications for every human. It's a sad time. I try to express my solidarity with my American friends; it's increasingly difficult to find common ground with anyone who still, at this point, supports Trump. But I understand that people are not synonymous with their government. I'm no fan of the current U.K. leaders.

You recently toured the U.K. with Blink-182. You have also opened for a host of other bands that likely helped get you into music. How is the experience of becoming peers and tour mates with people you look up to?

It's very cool, and flattering, and I try never to lose my sense of adolescent wonder at moving in those circles.

You recently traveled to Africa. Tell us about that experience and what you accomplished.

I went to Sierra Leone with a charity called WAYout Arts, who work with street kids and slum kids in one of the poorest countries in the world. They use music and art as a method of engagement with these people, and thus as a gateway to help them learn skills and assert themselves. The work they do is simply wonderful. It's tangibly important for many, many real individuals who have nothing. Being part of it was humbling and exhilarating. I wrote quite a long blog on the experience.

Any more sweet hardcore side projects like Mongol Horde on the horizon?

I have some irons in the fire, sure, as well as perhaps some new Mongol Horde at some point. We shall see. For the most part, I'm concentrating on the next record proper for me.

Jason Isbell with Frank Turner, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, September 7, Red Rocks, 18300 West Alameda Parkway, $40, 720-865-2494.

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