Frank Turner isn’t interested in making the same record over and over again, even if some of his fans might prefer that he did.
“It’s a very strange thing how concerned some people are about, ‘Oh, it doesn’t sound like the last record,’ ” he said recently from a tour stop in Columbia, Mo. “The obvious answer is, ‘Yes, I know; that’s the . . . point.’ I want to grow and develop, not repeat myself.”
Since fully stepping into the solo spotlight with 2007’s “Sleep Is for the Week” following the 2005 breakup of his post-punk group Million Dead, the London singer-songwriter has progressed rapidly from spare acoustic material to full-blown band workouts. His 2009 album “Poetry of the Deed” featured a set of hard-rocking songs that introduced his touring band on record.
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls
WITH: The Smith Street Band, Koo Koo Kanga Roo
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today
WHERE: Upstate Concert Hall, 1208 Route 146, Clifton Park
HOW MUCH: $20 (doors); $17 (advance)
MORE INFO: 371-0012, www.upstateconcerthall.com
Splitting the difference
The follow-up, and Turner’s breakthrough album, 2011’s “England Keep My Bones,” was again recorded with the band — now dubbed The Sleeping Souls after a lyric in the track “I Am Disappeared.” That album combined the harder-rocking sounds found on “Poetry of the Deed” with more sparse recordings reminiscent of his early albums.
Now Turner is touring behind his fifth record, the deeply personal “Tape Deck Heart,” released in April through Interscope in the U.S. It’s his first album to be distributed by a major label, and, as such, gave him the luxury of time. He recorded with Muse and Nine Inch Nails producer Rich Costey in a leisurely 30 days. The results are considerably more polished than “England Keep My Bones,” while maintaining that album’s varied genre experiments.
“It was an interesting culture clash — we flew to L.A. to make the record, and for us it was a vast acreage of time, 30 days,” Turner said.
“For Rich, it was way too short a time to make an album. But we worked really . . . hard, and just about got the record finished for deadline, for us going back out on tour again. I don’t know; part of me thinks that for the next record I might want to be more spontaneous again, in a way. It’s not like I made the decision before this time — in the past, I never had the opportunity to work in that way.”
While the cleaner sound and major label distribution may have upset some of Turner’s fans, overall the album has been well-received both in the U.K., where his popularity was cemented with a sold-out show at London’s Wembley Arena last year, and in the U.S.
In 2010 he opened for California punk heavyweights Social Distortion at what was then Northern Lights; tonight he’ll return to Upstate Concert Hall as the headliner, buoyed by the stateside success of “Tape Deck Heart’s” bouncy first single, “Recovery.”
“This is the biggest kind of headline tour we’ve ever done, so it’s very gratifying to see the support such a long way from home,” he said.
“It’s interesting as well — ‘Recovery’ is the first time I’ve ever gotten any radio play in this country, so it’s interesting to see how it’s affected the audience. Having new material, it’s a relief, almost — when you’re putting out your fifth record, you hope people pay attention to the new stuff and don’t just gravitate towards the old songs, so when they do, that’s gratifying.”
The current North American tour, which kicked off in October in Cleveland and wraps Nov. 30 in Boston, is also different in that Turner is not playing guitar at any of the shows — something he hasn’t done since his years as Million Dead’s vocalist.
In August, he canceled a number of appearances at European festivals due to a back injury he sustained at Bonnaroo in June. While he recovers, Cahir O’Doherty has been playing acoustic guitar with the rest of The Sleeping Souls — guitarist and mandolinist Ben Lloyd, bassist Tarrant Anderson, keyboardist Matt Nasir and drummer Nigel Powell.
“It’s a pain in the back, I suppose; it’s a pain,” Turner said. “It was pretty grueling, possibly having to cancel shows; it was also extremely . . . painful when my back went out. I have to do two hours of physical rehabilitation every day, and my back still hurts a fair amount of the time, but I’m glad we found a way to keep the tour going.”
The new songs on “Tape Deck Heart” have posed another challenge of sorts for Turner, due to the personal nature of much of the album. Many of the songs — including “Recovery,” an alcohol-fueled breakup song set to a driving beat and catchy chorus — were inspired by the end of Turner’s long-term relationship last year, and find the singer looking inward to his own faults.
“The thing about writing these kind of raw and personal songs is, you hopefully do it in such a way that, as well as being cathartic, it’s potentially empathetic,” he said. “Something like ‘Plain Sailing Weather’ is not a nice song about me personally, but it’s nice to sing it and have it sung back to you by an audience. As a moment of connection, it’s quite redeeming. And a song like ‘Anymore’ was difficult to sing in the studio, just because it’s really . . . raw, and unkind in a way. It’s still not particularly easy to sing that one.”
Another of the song’s slow-burning ballads, “Tell Tale Sign,” was perhaps even more difficult to record, with Costey calling vocal take after vocal take.
“[Costey] drove me and the guys in The Sleeping Souls to dig really . . . deep, to dig deeper than ourselves and find new angles in the songs, new aspects in the material,” Turner said. “It was frustrating — on one song he made me sing it 42 times in a row, and that made me want to kill him. He wanted to tire me out and make me sound exhausted — which I did. But overall, it was an interesting and fun experience.”