Frank Turner is, at his core, a storyteller. Throughout his discography, in bands both hardcore and acoustic, Turner has told hundreds of different anecdotes. Among them are stories of great joy and stories of traumatic heartbreak. For his eighth album, “No Man’s Land,” Turner is telling tales unlike any he has told before.
“I tend to write in an autobiographical and confessional style,” Turner explains. “There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s what I’m known for and what I’m good at. I just thought it would be interesting as a writer to change that up and write from somebody else’s point of view, about other people’s lives and experiences.”
Inspired by a love of history—a flame that has been stoked by years of touring and all the reading time it allows—as well as the long tradition of storytelling songs in folk music, Turner set out to tell tales of historical figures that had been overlooked. The result is an album of 13 songs, all of them about women.
“I got about five songs into writing about stories I thought were cool and were worth sharing and were worth discussing more collectively than we usually do,” Turner says. “And I realized that every song I had so far was about a female historical figure. That seemed really interesting to me. Obviously, there is an implied politics when you are trying to tell undersold stories and you end up just talking about women.” The breadth of “No Man’s Land” is quite extensive. Historically, the timeline of the album stretches from Byzantine Constantinople (“The Hymn of Kassiani”) to the crash of the Challenger (“Silent Key”). Sister Rosetta Tharpe, one of the pioneers of modern music, has a song (“Sister Rosetta”) alongside one about the infamous World War I spy Mata Hari (“The Eye of the Day”). Turner sweetly ends the album with a tribute to his mother (“Rosemary Jane”).
The optics of a man releasing an album filled with songs about women had the potential to kick over a hornet’s nest of controversy, and it is something that Turner considered throughout the entire process. He had discussions with Catherine Marks, his producer. He had discussions with his wife, Jessica Guise. He talked about the project with his sisters. “At the end of the day, I made this record because I had the idea and it seemed like a good one,” Turner says. “Nobody has to like it, but nobody can stop me from doing it either.”
Inevitably, Turner did get some blowback when the album was released. The songwriter had to find a way to differentiate between those who wanted to have an honest discussion about the material and those who essentially spend their time looking for something to be angry about on the internet. “One of the things it seems people have forgotten in our modern society is that it is not the job of the artist to bow to the mob,” Turner says. “To have integrity as an artist is to tell the mob to fuck off and do whatever you want. That’s something I believe in very firmly.”
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