Frank Turner: We need to stop alienating our opponents and find a way to reach across the political aisle

‘I feel like liberalism is in a pretty sorry state at the moment, which I find gutting, because above all things I’d call myself a liberal’


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Liberalism is not in a good way on both sides of the Atlantic right now, with the Labour party in a continual identity crisis and the Democrats still licking their wounds from the Trump defeat. It’s easy to get disillusioned, and hard to know how to resist/protest/comment on what’s happening in a purposeful and efficacious way.

Frank Turner, for whom politics has always been on his mind and his music, feels similarly conflicted.

“It’s a broad topic, and one that my opinion on changes over time,” he told The Independent. “For example, I’m in the middle of something of a political renaissance in my writing. I’ve purposefully avoided political subject matter for the last few records, but I feel strongly that the world at the moment is demanding comment. 

“I often feel that there’s something pretty dire about rebel posturing and preaching to the converted; but then at the same time, current events are reminding me that art also plays a role as a way of explaining the world, not just challenging it.

“I should add that these are all personal feelings,” he cautioned, “I long ago grew out of telling other people what to do, say or think.”

There is certainly no shortage of opposition to the resurgent Right, which is admonished a thousand times a second on Twitter with just about every slur imaginable, but does this shouting down of our opponents only drive them further into their mindsets?

“I do think that we need to find ways of bridging divides, of bursting bubbles, of reaching across the political aisle,” Frank says.

“I think one of the major flaws of the Democratic campaign in the USA last year was its alienation of its opponents. How is someone described as ‘deplorable’ supposed to cross lines? 

“But it’s hard, because some of the Trump campaign was deplorable. I guess you have to remember to distinguish between people and ideas, between leaders and followers. 

“I do think that abandoning the centre ground is a terrible, terrible idea.”

With opinions and debates polarising, Frank is concerned about the loss of centrism, but amid all the gloom is still able to see an overarching positive trend in the world.

“I feel like liberalism is in a pretty sorry state at the moment, which I find gutting, because above all things I’d call myself a liberal.

“I think the edges of both wings of the political debate are abandoning many of the central faiths of a liberal, pluralistic society, and that doesn’t seem like it’ll end well, to me. I’ve always been a little suspicious of people who bang on about Western policies being awful, ‘fascist’ places, when in fact they are, by historical standards, remarkably free and successful. We will miss centrist liberalism when it’s gone.

“I am worried about the political state of the world, but, economically, things aren’t too shabby. The last 30 years has seen an incredible alleviation of poverty, disease and malnutrition. We should at least take a moment celebrate, and more importantly examine, that phenomenon. Maybe I’m an incorrigible optimist, but I can see both positive and negative trends in the world at the moment.”

Speaking of silver linings, one that is often trotted out at times like this is “well, at least it will create great art”. But are we in danger of now viewing everything through the prism of Trump/Brexit?

“I think that’s probably true of some art, sure, probably my end of it, and as I said before, I feel quite driven to comment at the moment myself,” Frank continues. “That said, I’m sure that the ambient electro scene, or whatever, will bubble along quite happily, and more power to it for that.”

From his musical beginnings in seminal anti-capitalist post-hardcore band Million Dead in 2001 to his current more upbeat vein of folk music, Frank has been touring for most of his adult life. It’s the time spent on motorways, in empty venues after sound check and back on the road after pack down that can lead a lot of bands to split up, so what has kept Frank going?

“Well, it’s basically the only thing I’ve done with my life that I’ve really enjoyed or been any good at. I did my first tour at 16, and have been touring full-time since my early 20s. You get used to it. 

“In fact, the part that I find difficult these days is going home (something I’m trying to do more of, partly because I have a partner now, and partly because I don’t want to be completely one-dimensional!). Not having the regiment of life on the road can be quite challenging, if you’re used to it.”

The nostalgia wave that punk is riding right now has brought back together bands like At the Drive-In and Refused, but don’t expect a new Million Dead tour/album.

“Haha, no thanks – I have no interest in looking backwards like that,” Frank said of a potential reunion. “I’m proud of what we did but it was such a long time ago now it might as well have happened to someone else.”

This weekend he plays brewery Goose Island’s annual festival, but (maybe it’s the years of rider tins backstage) you probably won’t find him knocking back IPA.

“To the horror of a lot of people who run beer festivals or breweries, I like my beer fizzy and light,” he says. “Keep it simple. It means you can keep drinking and stay coherent for longer! However, I am looking forward to sampling some of what Goose Island have to offer too.”

Frank Turner headlines Goose Island’s 312 Day, supported by Son of Dave and Brasstermind, in London at The Yard, Shoreditch this Sunday 12 March.