frank turner toronto

Frank Turner: Poet of the Deed

Singer/songwriter Frank Turner returns to Toronto this week for a pair of solo shows, riding high on the success of Poetry of the Deed, his third full-length release since the demise of his intensely revered band Million Dead. With a free show tonight at the Horseshoe and an opening slot for Ian Blurton & Huron at the Dakota tomorrow night, Frank is making his mark on the Toronto scene.

I met up with the London, England native for a face-to-face at perhaps the most ironic place to interview an anti-establishment, hardcore punk vocalist - Starbucks.

Turner holds a degree in history from the London School of Economics, where he played with Kneejerk before joining post-hardcore act Million Dead in 2001. While critics lumped the group in with the emo and metal buzz bands like Funeral For a Friend, Million Dead were more in the vein of Fugazi, The Jesus Lizard or Refused.

Two critically lauded albums later, the furious quartet imploded and Turner's attention shifted solely to his own blossoming (and predominantly acoustic) solo career. He'd built a steady fan base around the brute force of his previous band, and was eager to distance himself from that scene as rapidly as possible.

"When I started doing solo stuff, I was really like actively distancing myself. Again, not because I didn't want ot be a part of it, but because I didn't want to be the token acoustic guy on the punk scene. It's becoming a bit of a thing nowadays, which is another reason I get kind of get a bit antsy because the concept of a scene generally dismays me greatly."

2009 saw Turner supporting artists like Chuck Ragan, The Gaslight Anthem, the Offspring and Pennywise on massive North American and European tours. In April Frank signed with Epitaph Records for distribution outside of the UK, a move which instantly increased his profile and opened up new markets and audiences in Europe, the US, Canada and beyond.

"Working with Epitaph has been really fantastic. Obviously there's a kind of childhood aspect to it, but it's been amazing in North America and in Europe too actually. I just did my second ever German tour. It was the first time I'd ever done a headline tour in Germany and every show was completely sold out. I felt like the Beatles or something."

A self-proclaimed man of the road, Frank is at home on the stage - from the 2000+ capacity venues he's headlined in London to the frantic house shows he's played in Philly and Toronto. His music will take him to Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong after he wraps up a lengthy US tour with punk rockers Flogging Molly.

Turner exudes a sense of calmness, acceptance and confidence that his songs full embody. His lyrics tell his story - filled with clichĂŠs flipped upside-down and touching on universal topics like growing up, getting old and getting by. His songwriting is frequently compared to that of Billy Bragg, which Turner sees as "a fairly reasonable comparison - better than people comparing me to fucking Damien Rice or James Blunt or something."

Poetry of the Deed is Frank's Epitaph debut, and certainly his most ambitious work to date. Determined to capture the raw intensity and essence of his live shows on record, Frank worked with an outside producer for the first time and fleshed out the songs with his band prior to the recording sessions.

Having already begun the process of writing new material in 2010, Frank is well aware of the natural chemistry that has evolved between himself and his bandmates over the past few years, and has fully embraced the cohesive force between them.

With three solo albums released in the past three years, Frank has maintained a fairly prolific pace that will continue into 2011.

"Irritatingly enough, I don't think I'm going to be able to get an album out in 2010 but to make up for it, first of all we've got a live DVD coming out that I'm quite pleased with cause we've got so much stuff on it. Also, I'm hoping that in 2011 I'm going to put out two albums. Whether or not that's going to happen is another question but basically the next Frank Turner album is in my head and we're starting rehearsals as a band, but I also want to do an album of traditional English songs."

Similar to the idea behind the recent Daniel, Fred & Julie album, Turner's take on the folk standards will be fairly stripped down. He wants to escape the negative connotation of British nationalism and reclaim his English identity, noting that "someone has to step up and pass the songs along, you know?"

Whether you consider yourself a punk, a folk rocker or any variation in between, you'll be hearing a lot more of Frank Turner in the future. Check out him out tonight at the Horseshoe Tavern alongside The Cavaliers, The Treasures and The Nights Below. Then check him out again tomorrow night at the Dakota Tavern alongside Ian Blurton & Huron.

For photos of Frank's gig at the Horseshoe, check out my website.

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