Recently, I have featured Frank Turner on a couple of posts, mainly due to his rousing hymn to atheism, Glory Hallelujah. See the embedded video where Frank is playing at London’s Wembley Arena. It’s incredible to think that some 12,000 people are singing the words “there is no God” in unison. I really advise you listen to the video even though it is not great quality and is recorded on a mobile phone. It is truly rousing!
Frank is a local artist to me – we hail from the same county (Hampshire) in the south of UK. His biography can be found here. I recently managed to get a little interview over the interweb with him. Enjoy!
What is the strongest or most common theme to the music and lyrics you write?
I write in what I would call a confessional style. These are songs about my experience of life, and usually about the harder parts of that. Within that, I guess there’s a fair amount about self-reliance, about love and its failures, and I’ve been known to emphasise the fact that I’m English in my words as well.
If you could change the world in one significant way, what would it be?
To reduce the power of states over their citizenry, and further the old cause of liberty.
How have you changed or grown as a person since your success of the last few years? Do you think you are the same person you were 10 years ago, or fundamentally different people, sharing merely memories etc?
Definitely a different person, I’ve changed a lot in the last 10 years – which is the point, I think. I want to travel and grow and change and experience new things and people and places. It’s not abandoning who I was, but it’s certainly growing up and away from it. My perspective on life changes every day.
Recently you were ‘accused’ of being right-wing (based on an old interview), and you then claimed that you are not Tory but identify more as a political libertarian. What do you think are the core values that underpin what you believe?
I guess I’m basically a classical liberal. I’m a voluntarist, I’m in favour of voluntary collective action and view forced collective action as tyranny. I think people are individuals, glorious different and strange and wonderful. I believe in (negative) freedom as a paramount political value.
Billy Bragg, the quintessential protest songwriter, wrote a piece summing up Frank’s ideological situation here, which is worth a read. It certainly does seem like the era of the protest song has gone, or is taking a hiatus. Perhaps because Britain has essentially been quite comfortable in the last decade of so to the point that no one has felt strongly enough about an issue to feel the need to protest. These times of austerity might, however, produce some kind of need!
What is the strongest argument, for you, against the existence of God?
I don’t really feel, personally, like it’s something that I have to argue; surely the onus is on people who do believe in God to provide evidence for such a non-obvious claim. I have yet to be convinced; I consider holy texts to be kind of inadmissable evidence, if you see what I mean.
How have your reading habits changed as you have got older? What is the book you are most glad that you have read?
I read voraciously. Mostly history, with a little bit of politics, and the occasional foray into literature. My favourite novel is Catch 22 – still an unbeatable masterpiece, for me. Recently, Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist was a fantastic blast of fresh air, sense and rigorous argument which I enjoyed enormously. I’m currently reading Steven Pinker, who is brilliantly counter-intuitive.
Aah, reading. Simply not enough time in the day to even make the slightest dent in my reading list.
What was the last significant thing that really pissed you off?
Uh, being on the end of a twitter / internet witch hunt actually. Doing what I do for a living you have to develop a thick skin, but it’s not much fun being harangued by a legion of sanctimonious, ill-informed, presumptuous charlatan dickheads.
Sounds like a bit of an issue there. I wonder if it was anything to do with the political views held. The Guardian seemed to take umbrage.
In your song “Once We Were Anarchists”, and interviews, you talk about how you were an anarchist but gave up because no one really paid much attention or acted upon it. Is there anything you would or do stand up for even if you knew it had had no effect on the outcome?
That’s a simplification of my feelings on the subject, I’d say. I realised that anarchism was, as far as I could see, entirely self-referential – not only did it not really have any impact on the world for the better, it didn’t really seem to be trying to have one, which makes it pretty redundant as a active political philosophy, to me. There are things I’d stand up for, sure, though as I’ve got older I’ve hot less comfortable with the idealistic notion of “changing the world”. I often encounter people who want to change my world and haven’t actually asked me if I’m in favour of it or not (or indeed anyone else). It gets fairly anti-democratic. The things I feel moved to stand up for are generally things that have to do with protecting our liberties and resisting the encroachments of the state.
England features strongly as a recurring theme in your music. What are your views on national identity and tradition?
Tradition I find very interesting. It’s not really a value-laden word for me, it’s just kind of a fact. What’s interesting is how you interact with it. England has some great traditions, our thread of political liberty is a good thing, for us and the world at large. Obviously there are more challenging parts of our history (empire, Ireland etc.). But you can’t ignore it or sweep it under the rug. I’m not a nationalist, or even a patriot, but I am unquestionably a product of the country in which I was raised, and I’m interested in examining that.
An interesting answer. It seems to me that tradition isn’t a value-laden word, though many think it is. However, as you say, it is important in defining who we are an our cultural differences.
If I were to challenge you to write a song about science, what would you choose to write about and why?
Ha! Great question. I love science (big XKCD fan among other things). I find theoretical physics pretty exciting, not that I fully understand much of it at all (crap at maths, for a start). I guess I’m a big fan of the advances that science has given humanity, modern medicine and so on. The light bulb!
XKCD is indeed fantastic. Anyone who hasn’t checked it out, do so! I presume your answer is the light bulb. Not sure how anthemic such a song would be!
What experiences have you had with believers taking offence at Glory Hallelujah?
I’ve had a few, which is a shame actually. I spent a long time on the lyrics, getting the nuances right. I mean, obviously it’s a deliberately provocative song on some levels; that said, I’m not particularly militant with my atheism, I’m fine if other people want to believe in God. I think of the song as being like a hymn – joyous, collective, and appropriate to its setting (i.e. my shows). I’d hope that religious people can view it in the same way that I view hymns as and when I’m in a church. Most of them do, but occasionally people get upset. I’ve had people giving me shit after gigs, or walking out, and a couple of emails about it (some more coherent than others). It’s not a major thing though.
How has it gone down in the US, where religious sentiment is much more sensitive?
Actually the song has caused much less controversy in the USA than it has in the UK. Pretty much all the complaints I have received about it have come from people in England. I suppose my music is probably exposed to a broader spectrum of people in the UK than in the USA (as I’m more successful at home), but all the same, the idea of the USA being a seething mass of religious nuts is not really based in reality.
How did you feel to see the whole crowd at Wembley Arena belting out the words “There is no God”?
It was a surreal moment, but then most of that show was for me, haha. I don’t think my mum was best pleased, but there it is.
Thanks, Frank, for your time. I look forward to seeing how your career progresses and hope we can do this again in the future! Pop by SIN sometime. In the meantime, I have me some Frank Turner albums to listen to!
If you want to buy any of his albums, please use these links and help raise some blogging funds!
To buy them in the UK: