With a loquacious tongue and an endearing poetic eloquence laced throughout his songwriting, Frank Turner is an Englishman who favors educated aspirations over unrealistic optimism. Titled Be More Kind, the singer-songwriter’s seventh solo studio album has been interpreted as a rebuttal against the current political climate our world is enduring.
Written in the midst of the 2016 United States Presidential election and England’s Brexit and with included songs titled “Make America Great Again” and “1933,” an initial listen would warrant such political assumptions. Upon a second listen (and there will be a second listen), there is a clear indication that despite his liberal lyrical intricacies, the album’s title is actually exactly the message Turner is encouraging.
“I’ve been saying it’s a social record, not a political record,” Turner says of Be More Kind. “It is a record about how we conduct our disagreements.”
The adorably dimpled singer, decorated with a maze of tattoos, admits that though the song “Make America Great Again” might contradict this sentiment, the initial goal for Be More Kind was to create a “non-partisan political record.” He tells me that from a political point of view, humans should disagree with each other. “Any political philosophy that is aiming at an end state without disagreement is totalitarian and indeed infantile. We are going to disagree with each other. The game is to try and figure out the best way of doing that,” he adds.
On Be More Kind, Turner sings about returning to the art of conversing with one another, and not despite, but rather because of our differences. “We have to find ways of finding ground that we can have civil conversations with people we disagree with.” Rooted in realism, he adds, “The thing is that that’s actually hard to do. It’s not a facile statement.” As difficult as that may be, Turner says that there are ways people can make “Little Changes” as an effort to better the world. “I don’t think my record is going to save the world or change the world,” he says. “I want to set myself attainable goals and be realistic and humble about the impact I can have on the world.”
Where Turner has power and control is on stage. There is a specific energy that is palpable at a Frank Turner show, and that is not accidental. Growing up in London, Turner turned to punk rock music as a place of refuge. “I felt utterly alienated by my social surroundings and really awkward and out of place,” he says. “Then I found a place where you could be yourself and make loud music and mosh. That was what I needed and punk will always be that to me,” he adds of finding a community in punk music. Though punk rock can be interpreted a million different ways, and it can be argued whether or not Turner, now an arena-performer, is still “punk,” there is no doubt that his live shows offer the same punk spirit it brought to 15-year-old Turner. “In terms of the sense of community around what I do, I work quite hard on thinking about the atmosphere I’m inculcating at my shows and the vibe and values behind it,” Turner admits.
To take things full-circle, Turner says that part of creating a non-judgmental and welcoming safe space for audiences involves having a conversation. For instance, if an audience member makes someone feel uncomfortable in any way, Turner says he will ensure they get publicly called out. “It’s important to add that you have to believe in the possibility of redemption, otherwise there is no point. Hopefully they will see that this is not how we behave at my show, or outside of it. That is the area I can make an impact on.”
Complete with amenable mosh pits, dedicated crowd-surfers and an overall resurrection of kindness, a Frank Turner show is immeasurably entertaining. Again, this is not an accident. From the atmosphere to the set list, Turner caters to his loyal–and new–fans. With seven solo albums of material to choose from, Turner admits that deciding on a set list weighs on him at times. There are several factors that go into the selection process, from curating responsive highs and lows for the crowd to integrating new music to simply making fans happy. “I’m a bit of a populist when it comes to my set list. I obviously want to play new material but there are certain songs that I would be crucified for not playing,” Turner tells me. Those songs include “Recovery,” “Still Believe,” “Get Better” and “Photosynthesis.”
While he may be bored as hell rehearsing those songs, emphasizing the fact that he does not need to rehearse “Photosynthesis” ever again for as long as he lives, he adds, “To play a song that I wrote in my bedroom 12 years ago and to have people sing along is fucking cool.”
Though Be More Kind may admittedly be a stylistic left-hand turn for Turner, the decision to encourage kindness in order to provoke change feels like the right move. With a bold narrative, the album offers listeners opportunities to think, converse and in the end, do a little bit of moshing as well.