During strange times strange things happen! Who was expecting a joint album from NOFX and FRANK TURNER? Certainly not us! Below, Frank takes us through the tracks on West Coast vs Wessex...
“Substitute was kind of an important song in my catalogue, in the sense that it was one of the first times that I finished a song that really felt like a country song – in the style of George Jones or Merle Haggard. And what I mean by that is something that’s simple, but really self-contained, and lyrically neat, but not in a trite way. It said exactly what I wanted it to say, and I just felt really good about that song as a writer when I finished it.
“It was also the first song that I heard NOFX’s version of, and it was an amazing thing to hear that vocal tone, guitar tone and drum beat – all the characteristic markings of a NOFX song – be applied to one of my songs. It was a really humbling, wonderful and exhilarating moment. And it sounds like it could be a NOFX song, which blows my mind.”
WORSE THINGS HAPPEN AT SEA
“This song was written at a moment in time when I was trying very hard to be a folk singer, and the original has no real instrumentation on it – certainly no drums or electric guitars, or anything like that. So it’s really cool to hear it translate so well into a punk rock musical environment. It was a very emotional and angry song when I wrote it back in 2006. But in 2006, I had no idea I’d ever hear Fat Mike sing it.
“Their arrangement of the song is very complex, and there’s a lot of tempo changes, stopping and starting, and a lot of rhythmically complex material. And a lot of people tend to dismiss NOFX – and punk in general – as being musically simplistic, but their version of this song is a pretty good riposte to that.”
THATCHER FUCKED THE KIDS
“Thatcher Fucked the Kids is an interesting one: it’s a song in my catalogue that’s been quite thorny, for me, for a long time. When I wrote the song and first started playing it, it was kind of a big hit in my solo career and it certainly opened a lot of doors for me. But some of those doors opened into rooms that I wasn’t all that interested in going into; there’s a certain type of political music scene, and political music show, that I find really boring.
“At the end of the day, I always wanted to be more Adam Duritz than Billy Bragg – with all the respect in the world to Billy. That was never quite what I was aiming to be. And this song is definitely in that vein. So a shit load of people decided I was going to be the next Billy Bragg, and then they started getting angry with me when I didn’t conform to that expectation, which I found deeply irritating. For that reason, it’s a song that I haven’t played much in recent years.
“When I first heard the NOFX version, I was so stoked. One of the things I’ve always said about the song is that I’d love for someone else to just take it and run with it, and make it their own. I never expected the band to do that would be NOFX, but here we are. I’m surprised they didn’t change it to ‘Reagan fucked the kids,’ which would’ve been the obvious switch to me. But lyrically it’s a pretty straight cover, and I thought that was really cool. It’s a really sunny treatment of the track, too: it’s a really upbeat little ska number, which will be good for the summer when it comes out.”
BALLAD OF ME AND MY FRIENDS
“This is something that I haven’t necessarily spoken about out loud that much in the past, but the lyric ‘And we’re definitely going to hell / But we’ll have all the best stories to tell,” is a tiny bit of a steal from NOFX. There was a track on an EP of theirs [The Longest EP] called I’m Going to Hell for This One, and that’s actually where the idea for that lyric sort of evolved from. And as far as I can remember, that lyric is not actually in that song. I remember listening to it and thinking, ‘That’s a fucking swing and a miss isn’t it?’ And it’s such a great sentiment, I remember saying, ‘Fuck it. If he’s not going to use it, I’m going to use it.’
“Obviously it switched around and became about something else entirely, but there’s definitely a bit of NOFX lineage in there. And in terms of the commonalities between my song writing and Mike’s song writing, I think Ballad of Me and My Friends is the perfect example, in the sense that the chord sequence and the melodic structure of that song is very Fat Mike-esque. So it was interesting to me that they chose that one, because I was like, ‘Well, of course you did.’”
“The arrangement that NOFX did of this song is the sound of them pushing their own boundaries, which I love. Mike text me when he’d finished it to say, ‘We’ve given it The Beatles treatment.’ I was like, ‘What does that even mean?’ Now, of course, having heard it, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s what you mean.’ And it’s really cool because apart from the break at the end, it’s not in what you would call the NOFX mould.”
“Broadly speaking, I think people would expect NOFX to take acoustic songs and make them punk, and for me to take punk songs and make them acoustic. But I thought I could subvert that a little bit by me taking one of their only acoustic songs and make it punk in the way that I do punk, which is different to the way that NOFX do punk. So that was kind of fun.”
“With all the respect in the world to Rancid, they didn’t find that thing that I was looking for with their cover of Bob – in terms of rearranging the song and finding a different angle on it. And it’s always been a country song to me: the first four lines could literally be a Merle Haggard song - and I say that as an enormous Merle Haggard fan. It’s so seventies traditional country, it’s ridiculous, and it seemed to me that it deserved that treatment.”
EAT THE MEEK
“This was the hardest song for us to get right. We went through so many different iterations of it, none of which were really landing, and it was starting to get quite frustrating. The breakthrough was the word Fugazi. I said to Tarrant [Anderson] and Nigel [Powell] - the rhythm section of The Sleeping Souls - ‘What if we play this like Fugazi?’ Then Nige kicked into this fucking amazing beat.
“The Bob arrangement was so easy that it just fell straight in, no problem. Scavenger Type was pretty easy as well. Eat the Meek was a little bit trickier, but once we got that rhythm section pumping it was like, ‘OK. Here we go.’ And we kept the chords going so that Ben [Lloyd] could go to town on his weird guitar work that he excels at. This is my favourite track off our side of this record.”
“For this one we said, ‘Let’s just do one that’s in our wheelhouse.’ And we decided to make it sound like the songs of mine that I’m known for. So we went down that road for Perfect Government. And it was a lot of fun, but because of that this was a really easily song to figure out, and it really didn’t take long to throw the arrangement together because everyone just did the kind of shit they usually do.
“But it’s always been one of my favourite NOFX songs, not least because it’s got a degree of anger to it that I love: ‘You point your fucking finger / You racist, you bigot / But that’s not the problem / Now is it?’ As a 15-year-old hearing that for the first time, it grabbed me, because that bite is exactly what I was looking for in punk rock. And I had so much fun singing this one, because I got to record a song that I’ve known like the back of my hand since I was a kid.”
FALLING IN LOVE
“When I sent Mike the mix of this song, he called me back straight away and was like, ‘This is the fucking best song on the split by miles.’ The recording methodology for the rest of the record was we tracked the drums in our rehearsal space, and then we tracked guitars and bass as we were on tour with the Dropkick Murphys in February. But this song is just me – and Tim Brennan from the Dropkicks playing accordion.
“Tracking vocals when you’re on tour is always something that’s a bit weird, because quite often you have tour voice and you’re tired. But I decided to take advantage of that. We had a day off in Germany, and I took my laptop and an acoustic guitar up to my bedroom, and I pretty much just put a blanket over my head and decided to let the tiredness in my voice take centre stage. And I sung it way lower than I usually sing.
“What I also wanted to do, by taking away any element of ‘punk’ from it, was demonstrate what a great fucking song it is, regardless of genre considerations. It’s a beautiful lyric, and a beautiful melody, and I wanted to let that shine by putting as little on it as I could. So it’s just an acoustic guitar, a couple of noise synths, a little accordion from Tim, and my vocals – and that’s it.”
West Coast vs. Wessex is available now through Fat Wreck Records.
Read an exclusive 4-page interview with Frank and Fat Mike from NOFX in the new edition of Vive Le Rock! out now!