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Frank Turner's "I Still Believe" was introduced to most of the world when he performed it at the opening ceremony for this summer's Olympics. The underground (in America at least) folk-punk singer was asked to musically represent London in the first Olympic Games held in his country in the 30 years he's been alive. "That made my black and cynical heart kind of like . . . There's a flicker of something in there," Turner says.
Musically, the song also represents what it's like to see him perform—a boisterous, barroom anthem that offers musings on the power of music: "And I still believe in the sound, that has the power to raise a temple and tear it down."
In the recording, when the chorus declares, "I still believe," it's met with a crowd loudly echoing the line back. With songs that thrive on music's power to unite, you can be damn sure the crowd will be crawling atop one another, fists raised in enthusiasm, screaming along with his poignant lyrics.
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The songs on his latest album, 2011's England Keep My Bones, are driven by an acoustic guitar and thoughtful, intra- and interpersonal words. He's often seen as a political troubadour, but it's an image Turner has been trying to shake in the years after his left-leaning, former band Million Dead. "[People assume] I'm the Billy Bragg-style socialist or whatever. I'm not," Turner says. "I haven't been for a very long time, and it's not something I've shouted about from the rooftops."
Recently, a British magazine published an attack piece on the singer, using quotes from long-ago interviews out of context to make him appear to be a lefty political activist. "The thing that annoys me the most about it is I'm a musician, for crying out loud," he says. "I'm not an activist; I'm not a political musician. I'm not trying to make anybody agree with me. It's a private matter, as far as I'm concerned. For God's sake, I play guitar—you know what I mean? Get over it."
In early September, Turner and his band flew to Burbank to begin preproduction on his fifth album. "We really kinda chewed up the songs and spat them out. It sounds very good," he says. So far, his biggest trouble seems to be the ever-brutal process of editing two albums' worth of material into one disc, slated to come out in 2013. "The double album is the kiss of death, as far as I'm concerned."
So far, there's no clear direction for this album. "I don't want to get too analytical about it before it's finished because I'm worried if you do that, it becomes too considered, and it loses that sort of, like, freshness you want it to have," he says. "Let it be whatever it wants to be."
The band perform their only California date at the House of Blues in Anaheim. As for what fans can expect: "We're going to be playing a bunch of new stuff at the show . . . so that we can road test it," Turner says. "[But] it's not like I'm going to submit the entire album to popular vote."
This article appeared in print as "England, Keep Your Labels: Fiery folk singer Frank Turner struggles to shrug political stereotypes in his home country."