"Punk rock didn't live up to what I hoped that it could be/And all the things that I believed with all my heart when I was young are just coasters for beers and clean surfaces for drugs."
Frank Turner has a point (and not just about the smooth snortable plastic surface of Never Mind the Bollocks). Punk rock did, in fact, fail the 27-year-old Brit, but instead of drinking and sniffing his way into clichéd excess, Turner chose a different path. His youth was spent cutting his teeth and shredding his larynx at the helm of hardcore/screamo act Million Dead—unless you are a British emo kid with Funeral for a Friend posters on your dorm room wall, you probably have not heard of them. But Turner was left by the wayside when the band unceremoniously splintered in 2005. Prior to the split he had toyed with the idea of performing solo, no longer hiding beneath the screams of modern hardcore, and pursuing a musical direction he initially started at a very young age.
"I've been playing guitar and sitting around the kitchen table singing with my friends since I was 12 years old," Turner explains over the phone. "One of the major differences between playing in a hardcore band and playing a solo show is that—as much as I love it—there's quite a lot you can hide behind when you're playing hardcore. If things start going badly onstage you can either just make loads of noise while writhing around on the floor, or you can just blame it on the drummer. When it's just you and the guitar, neither of these options are available."
Without a drummer to take the fall, Turner's callous punk rock persona took a bruising in his initial foray into the folk world. "I have footage from some of those early shows. I don't watch it very often, it makes me sad on the inside," he says. "I spent between a year and 18 months on the road. I was taking the train with a bag of clothes and a guitar case—it was terribly Woody Guthrie. Although, I'll tell you, the romanticism wears off pretty damn fast."
Following his stint on the rails—and all the lumps that came with it—Turner was quick out of the gates with a series of solo releases, but he never quite freed himself from the dubious side-project distinction until last year's Love Ire & Song, which was soon followed by his finest work, the brand new Poetry of the Deed. Throughout the album Turner travels on a well-worn path best traversed by the saintly actions of Joe Strummer and the man-versus-the-world political folk of Billy Bragg. And while Turner is so much more than the product of a pair of lofty influences, he truly does combine the best of both: the wide-eyed hope and optimism of Strummer with the gnashed-teeth rage and eternal heartbreak of Bragg. Poetry opens with "Live Fast Die Old," a ferocious testament—"We can never sell out because we never bought in"—that a reckless rock 'n' roll life can extend far beyond the clichéd 27 years allotted by past musical icons.
The shuffling traveling song "The Road" was the subject of an overly ambitious, if not downright insane, music video where Turner performs 24 shows in 24 hours. While the finished project is probably the most fun you'll ever witness in a single music video, the execution took its toll on Turner. "I was really geared up for it to be really tough, and then the first eight hours were a breeze." But as the shoot dragged on, the act of constantly swapping locations—everything from teenage house parties, sophisticated dinner parties, and record in-stores—began to wear on the exhausted singer. "There was one show we turned up to and there were only three people there; two of them blatantly didn't want to be there and the other was a mega fan."
Much like those who came before him, Turner has a distinct hardwired devotion to the act of playing and sharing music with as many people as humanly possible and never looking at his career path as anything but an absolute blessing. "Every time I see one of those bands who are trying really hard to look like they're not enjoying themselves... if you're not enjoying it, I'm not enjoying it either." He pauses, before adding, "It's a privilege to do this job and I have little time for people who don't see that."