Following the release of the folk-punk singer-songwriter Frank Turner’s fourth Top 3 entry in the UK Charts – this year’s ‘No Man’s Land’ – our scribe Joe Langham grabbed a quick minute with the man himself to talk all about the new album, round-for-round. 

JL: ‘No Man’s Land’ seems to be a musical tonic in a world of growing ignorance. How important is your role as an educator to listeners through your craft?

Frank Turner: I feel like my first duty, on a record, is to be a songwriter, and I hope that these songs stand up on their own for a surface-level listen. But there is, of course, the opportunity to do more within the given medium, and that’s what I’ve done here. I’d hesitate to call myself an “educator” per se, there are able people who do that properly, but I think it’s a good opportunity for me to use the platform I have in life, such as it is, to discuss more interesting topics than just my own feelings and personal life – for one record, at least.

JL: How did immersing yourself within each song’s story/lore help in your songwriting?

FT: The whole project almost began as an exercise in me broadening my songwriting horizons. I wanted to reach outside my own personal experience for subject matter for once, I felt like I’d been confessional enough for the time being. And in the event, taking that different methodological approach was hugely inspirational for me, I felt very creative through the writing of the album. With around half the subjects, there were direct musical lines to be drawn – jazz for Nica, bluegrass and trad country for Dora Hand, orthodox church music for Kassiani and so on. That was really exciting to me, to write holistically like that. But more broadly, the process of researching and trying to vividly imagine each of the people I wrote about was a different and enriching writing experience.

JL: What reaction are you hoping for with the new album?

FT: I’m not sure that writers get to have much say in the reaction. I hope people enjoy it, I hope people learn a little something, I hope it sparks curiosity in some people. But my job is, essentially, to publish and be damned.

JL: Why did you choose to devote your album to the hidden sacrifices of women?

FT: I did not actually start out writing with any gender angle in mind. My idea was to write a history, story-telling record, to tell stories that I felt weren’t currently being told enough, which could bear more public attention. After I had about 5 songs in the can, I realised that they were all about female historical characters. That was interesting to me, and I decided to follow that road. There’s an obvious implicit politics to this, and I’ll stand by that, it says something about our current and past historical record and the way we think about it.

JL: History tends to be “written by the victor”. Is it almost a moral responsibility to celebrate the critical roles women have played in the fabric of every society?

FT: I think if we want to have a proper, thorough understanding of the past, we need to think hard about everyone who lived then, and take them into account, and consider their relationship with the people who have written previous drafts of history. But then, every generation rewrites history to a degree, and reflects many of its own preoccupations in the process. I’m not unhappy to live in a moment in time when we’re culturally concerned with redressing historic injustice and gender imbalance.

JL: What did you learn from the journey of making “No Man’s Land”… ?

FT: I learned a little something about my own skills as a writer; I learned about some amazing musicians and a producer (Catherine) that I hadn’t worked with before. I’ve learned a little bit about how to host a podcast. But most of all, I like to think I’ve gained a more visceral understanding of how off-kilter much of our society is and has been, when it comes to the power relations between the sexes. I don’t want to overstate the case, I can always learn more (and indeed will never have first-hand experience of chauvinism), and it’s not like I was totally oblivious to all this before writing and making the record, but I feel like I’ve walked away with a deeper feeling for the subject than I had before.

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