Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

British singer-songwriter Frank Turner used personal pain to make 'honest art'

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Breakup albums -- those raw, blood-and-guts confessionals that lay every bump and bruise bare -- often rank among an artist's most defining records, often because they're the most honest and the most relatable. Albums such as Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel of Love or, for a more current example, Adele's 21 -- a.k.a. The Breakup Album of Our Time -- help us express our own rage and despair, and they make us feel less alone.

Tape Deck Heart, the fifth full-length album from English folk/punk singer-songwriter Frank Turner, carries this rich musical tradition. Plain-spoken, intimate and strikingly beautiful, it's another breakup album for the best lists.

"I had a really rocky time in my personal life," Turner says, over the phone from a tour stop in Salt Lake City ("I must confess to a small hangover," he admits, Britishly, when we connect).

"There's an element of catharsis, but there's also an element of empathy. It's not me reading my diary, which would be a little much, but (songwriting) is quite cathartic for me."

Of course, breakups involve two people and Turner, 31, was nervous about how Tape Deck Heart would be received in the weeks leading up to its April release. Not only does he name names, it's also an almost uncomfortably detailed account.

"I was nervous -- very much so -- but, to me, it's important to shut out those considerations. How it's going to go over live, how the record is going to sell -- I think as soon as you let those considerations creep in, it's artistic compromise. I was nervous about certain people hearing it, and I received a few irate phone calls. But you have to put those considerations aside when making honest art."

Tape Deck Heart is the first record Turner made outside of the U.K. -- a big deal for a guy whose 2011 album was called England Keep My Bones.

Turner and his backing band, the Sleeping Souls, flew to Los Angeles to work with producer Rich Costey (Muse, Interpol, Nine Inch Nails).

"(Working with Rich) was an interesting experience," Turner says. "He had an unforgiving and unrelenting quest for perfection. He got us to dig deep for these songs and find new sources of inspiration, strength and energy."

That sometimes meant doing a vocal take 42 times. "It was dull and aggravating, but he wanted me to sound exhausted and frustrated. I think we used take 41." Costey was on to something. The song, Tell Tale Signs, begins with Turner exasperatedly sputtering, "Goddamnit, Amy. We're not kids anymore."

Whether Turner would work with him again depends entirely on the album.

"Do I want to make another record like Tape Deck Heart or do I want to do something else? (Tape Deck Heart) was a meticulous record -- at least to my ears. I sort of want to do a dirty punk rock record next. Part of me suspects I shouldn't be so reactive. It might be beneficial to take a few months and breathe."

Still, taking a time out isn't really the Frank Turner way. "I've got a ton of new material, actually," he says. "I want to get on with it. I like the idea of keeping moving and not rusting."

There's little danger of that; Turner & The Sleeping Souls average about 250 shows a year. As a diehard Weakerthans fan, he has a soft spot for playing Winnipeg. In fact, it's safe to expect a cover of the local band at Saturday night's show. He didn't say what song he'll play, but he does have a cat named Virtute tattooed on his left arm...

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 24, 2013 C9

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Updated on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 9:31 AM CDT: adds video, changes headline

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