Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Politics, dancing, and heavy metal — an interview with Frank Turner

 “If we’re stuck on this ship and it’s sinking, then we might as well have a parade.”

Frank Turner plays Hoyt Sherman Place on May 4 with
Shovels and Rope co-headlining. Tickets are available no

This line from Love, Ire, & Song pretty much defines Frank Turner for me — or at least the emotion his music and lyrics inspire.

On first pass, Turner might seem to be another protest singer angered with the state of politics and politicians and shouting for revolution. Some of his work fits that that category for sure, but there's also a much more personal and actionable bent to his music.  

So while the revolution is (still) just a T-shirt away (apologies to Billy Bragg), Turner’s version is a bit different than others we’ve been sold.

It's more fun, for starters. The world may be fucked and all of us riding it into oblivion right along with it, but there’s still reason to be kind and loving; to embrace life and music and laughter and friendship, and do what we can to make things better in the remaining time we have.

Rather than raging against the machine and selling revolution, Turner's words and music encourage us to look inward; to fight our own personal revolutions in whatever form they exist.  

Maybe he’s right. Maybe, if we all worked on our own shit rather than cataloging every damn thing that sucks and telling others how to fix themselves, we could make our own worlds a little less horrible. Maybe things could get better. And if they don’t, well, at least we fucking tried, right?

Turner has tried, again and again through his career, to strike the right balance between the personal and the political. And he’s always managed to take this task on with an energy, enthusiasm, and a punk-rock attitude that is contagious, inspiring, catchy, and fun as hell.

Frank Turner, riding the crowd, "borrowed" from Instagram
His latest release, Be More Kind, is a perfect example. Maybe we can’t individually stop global warming or put Donald Trump behind bars, but we can all be more forgiving, communicative, and nicer to each other. And that can go a long way.

This idea is also not just words for Turner. He lives the philosophy as much as he can. His personal blog currently details a trip he made in January to Sierra Leone where he worked with WayOut Arts, a music charity that works with street youth and disadvantaged young people to encourage creative expression and teach skills that will help them succeed. Many of those they assist were combatants during the 10-year conflict in that country.

We won’t go into detail about his experience, but you should definitely have a look at his blog and read the amazing stories he shares there.

Since returning from Sierra Leone, Turner has been prepping for a U.S. tour that kicks off later this month. He’ll be stopping in Des Moines on May 4th at Hoyt Sherman Place, for a show he’ll co-headline with Shovels and Rope. Frank Turner in a venue like Hoyt Sherman is a show you really don’t want to miss.

Despite his busy schedule, Turner agreed to take some time for The Bigfoot Diaries and answer a few questions.

We’ve heard that you're a bit of a metalhead? Who are your favorites? 

“Basically, yes. My first love was Iron Maiden, and for a few years I was buried in metal, particularly thrash. Punk rock took over in my affections after a while, but I still listen to a lot of metal (though I'd hesitate to claim I was an out and out metalhead). Really heavy music scratches an itch for me - Converge are one of my all-time favorites. I love Pantera, Cannibal Corpse, Sabbath, etc.”
Check out Turner's "I Still Believe" here

Your latest album, Be More Kind, seems to focus on change and discovery on a personal level, rather than pointless fighting against a mad world. Was that an intentional progression or natural evolution?
“I was aiming to do something new with this record. I mean, I do that every time, I'm not interested in repeating myself, but this one especially was planned as a departure, both sonically and lyrically. I felt compelled to say something about the world as it currently is, in particular about the collapse in standards in our political discourse, and how worrying I think that is. We need to find ways of having reasonable discussions with people we disagree with, it's vital.”

Along those lines: Mixing pop and politics. What's the use?
“Haha, touché. I think art can be a vehicle for discussion (or anything else you want it to be). This was my two cents for now, I suspect I'll be discussing other things in future.”

Can we expect to see the dance moves you showed in the Little Changes video? Have you gotten any better since then?
“For the record, I was about 10% better at that dance routine than I am in the video, but the director said I needed to be a bit worse to make the gag work. That said, the whole point of the video is that dancing is not, truth be told, my forte. I shake about a bit onstage, but it's not exactly Nureyev.”

Deja Vu — Psychic phenomena or just a glitch in the matrix?
“It's a pretty well-documented mental phenomenon, is it not? Different spheres of the brain working at imperceptibly different speeds.”

What do like most (and least) about touring/traveling in the U.S.?
“I love touring the U.S. I learn so much. It's a huge country that constantly defies expectations and stereotypes in the most wonderful ways. The food that's available in between major cities could use some work, haha.”
Turner in Sierra Leone with WayOut Arts.

How did the trip to Sierra Leone and your work with WayOut Arts come about?"I got involved with WayOut Arts through the Joe Strummer Foundation, who I work with a lot. They've been funding WayOut for years, and a while back they asked me if I wanted to visit Sierra Leone to see what their money was going towards. I said yes, of course, it's a part of the world I'd never been to and knew nothing about. My first visit (which I wrote up extensively on my blog) was an incredible, educational experience. I've been back once since, and hope to go again before long. It's a wonderful place, and there is so much to do there in terms of helping people, so it feels like a very worthwhile use of my time."

We've seen you get tattooed backstage at Wembley and in the Losing Days video. Any interest in getting a new piece in Des Moines? We might know a guy...
“Uh, maybe. I'm getting a little more judicious with my choices on ink right now as I am starting to run out of space (!). But then I can usually be talked into something small and cool.”

Tickets for Frank Turner and the Bouncing Souls, co-headlining with Shovels and Rope are available now at the Hoyt Sherman Box office (1501 Woodland Ave. Des Moines) and at ticketbastard.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Tales from Copenhagen - Part 1

Michael Denner on Black Metal and what's needed for a Mercyful Fate reunion.

Beat Bop Records, Copenhagen, Denmark
I walked into Beat Bop Records in Copenhagen not knowing what to expect. I’d heard that owner Michael Denner (former guitarist for Mercyful Fate and King Diamond) was usually there, so  I’d dragged a couple album covers from Des Moines, through Chicago and Iceland, to Denmark hoping I’d catch him and get them signed.

I walked into the small shop and he was standing behind the counter, just like any other record store clerk in any shop around the world, looking over some paperwork, nodding his head along to the Bon Scott-era AC/DC playing over the shop speakers.

I introduced myself, told him I was a fan and all that, and he was as personable, humble, and welcoming as I’d heard. He seemed genuinely interested in where I was from, what I was doing in Copenhagen, what music I liked, and he was happy to chat about (almost) any subject I broached.

Just hanging with a metal legend, no big deal...
He signed my copies of Melissa, a Live From the Depths of Hell Mercyful Fate bootleg, and my original pressing cover of Abigail — probably my favorite record of all time.

As he looked over the copy he said it was his favorite King Diamond record as well, although he admitted to being blown away by “Them,” the first King Diamond album after his departure from the band.

“I was jealous when ‘Them’ came out and I first heard it,” he said. “It was such a powerful album.”

I asked him about any local black metal that he might have in the shop and he deferred to his son, Sylvester. “That’s his music,” he said. “I don’t know about Black Metal.”

Melissa, Mercyful Fate
Surprised, I mentioned that Mercyful Fate is considered one of the pioneers of the genre; one of the first wave of Black Metal bands in the 1980s that helped launch the genre. He knew this, of course, but he wasn’t interested in taking credit for it.

“People say we started black metal, that we were the first black metal band,” he said. “We liked heavy music, but killing people and burning churches? That was not something I wanted and I wasn’t about that. We didn’t cause those terrible things.”

Still, the shop had a few nice reissues from Mayhem, Bathory, and Dark Throne among rows of doom, death, speed, and thrash metal. I grabbed a couple heavier things that he suggested – a Metal Blade release from Danish band Artillery that he and fellow Mercyful Fate guitarist Hank Shermann provided solos on, and a beautiful original pressing of Dissection’s “Final Genocide.” But the real gems in his shop were the many reissues of scarce and rare older psychedelic and garage rock – the things Denner said were a reflection of his own tastes. There is also a small back room filled with jazz that I didn't even get a chance to look over.

Masters of Evil, Denner/Shermann
While digging through the crates and trying to figure out how much money I could spend, I asked him about the future or Mercyful Fate. Is there a possibility of a reunion like we always hear rumors of?

He told me he still talked to Shermann every day, and that Timi Hansen still lived nearby. (Actually, Shermann might have stopped in the shop while I was there, but I wasn’t sure it was him and didn’t say anything for fear of showing my stupidity).

“I’m open to it, of course” he said without hesitation, though I sensed a “but” coming on…

The "but" was this: When he and Shermann formed the band Denner/Shermann in 2015 they had the same artist who did the classic Mercyful Fate covers do the cover of their album. The similarity is apparent, and in my mind is an appropriate nod to the past work of both guitarists as founding members of Mercyful Fate.

Abigail, King Diamond
According to Denner, King Diamond saw things differently and took action to stop the release of the album because of the artwork. He was unsuccessful, but did manage to stop the sale of T-shirts in the U.S. with the image on it.

“He tried to stop the record then asked me to play with him when he came to Copenhagen just a couple months later and I told him no.” he said. “I’m always open to playing again, but he will have to apologize.”

He said it wasn’t something he talked about in the press and didn’t want the situation blown up as a big deal, but it was clear he felt personally hurt by King's effort, as if dissed by a family member. I'm sure I don't know the entire story, but I'd hope King would make amends and help make a Mercyful Fate reunion at least possible.

Live From the Depths of Hell, Mercyful Fate bootleg
I walked out of Beat Bop that day into a cold and rainy Copenhagen afternoon blown away by Denner's kindness – and also with a big portion of my vacation budget blown. I returned a couple days later and found more things I couldn’t live without and mentioned my appreciation of weird, experimental, and off-the-wall stuff. He had some ideas for me, but I had to go at the time. So he asked me to try to clear an hour out of my vacation to come back and listen to some stuff with him.

Here was a living legend — a guy who played on some of the most amazing and influential metal albums of all time, asking me to come back and dig through records with him. Even my 22-year-old daughter who loves John Mayer and Taylor Swift knew how cool this was and told me I had to come back. I ran out of time before this could happen though, so I guess another trip to Copenhagen is in order.