“I work better with some dysfunction and adversity to go up against,” explains Vincent Turner (better known as Frankmusik) intensely, talking to himself as much as to us. He’s actually remembering the making of his first album – “Complete Me,” his cult 2009 hit which just happens to be one of Pop Lifer’s favourite records of the last five years – but he could just as easily be talking about his present situation.
Vince, its fair to say, has had a tricky couple of years. Five years ago he was bankrolled and heavily hyped by a record label which nonetheless seemed unsure what to do with him, especially when the album didn’t become the overnight smash hit it should have been. Though, to be fair, Vince seemed unsure what to do with himself.
What he opted for was fleeing to Los Angeles within three months of the record’s release, where he recorded a follow up which breathed new life into the “difficult second album” cliché. In the last year he’s been dropped by Island halfway through a tour, quixotically changed his name to Vincent Did It and back again, and is licking his wounds from a traumatic relationship “that fell apart as quickly as it came together.” If adversity truly fuels Frankmusik’s best work, then his third record will be quite something.
Vince certainly has his hunger back: “as soon as I’ve got the record I’m happy with, there’ll be no fucking stopping me,” he declares. “And everyone can go whistle.” From most other pop singers without a deal this would sound like an empty threat or a hollow boast (try and imagine Shayne Ward saying it for full hilarious effect).
Two things make Vince different. The first is that his talent is unquestionable: the piano prodigy’s first album was uneven but also utterly distinctive, energetic, bristlingly modern, surprisingly soulful and brimming with glorious day-glo pop melodies. The second is that he has just sneak-released a new song, “Captain”, which sees him not just recapture his early zip and verve (largely MIA from his second album) but add rocket fuel. It’s one of the best things he’s ever done and the most addictive, energetic, adorably hyperactive pop song we heard in 2012. To call it exciting would be a massive understatement.
“Get the fuck out while you still can.”
Just five days earlier, things hadn’t looked so optimistic. Vince came back to England in large part to escape the fall out from his recent break up, a fall out which had begun to leak into public with some unwise Tweeting. As he’ll admit with a disarming honesty that crops up throughout our interviews, his Mum had insisted he come back. “I had ex-stuff, and she was, like, ‘get the fuck out while you still can, or before you do something stupid like throw yourself off a balcony.’ I was losing my mind.”
Having dutifully agreed, Vince – who seems driven by a constant, itchy need to stay busy – immediately booked a couple of low key homecoming acoustic shows. Pop Lifer was one of a few fans lucky enough to get in, but Vince’s downbeat frame of mind was obvious from his discouraging opening words, “Hope you enjoy the new songs, they’re very depressing.”
He wasn’t entirely wrong. Though he introduced the set with a playful burst of beatboxing and showed off his piano panache and seriously underestimated vocal power, it was hard to reconcile a stark, heartbroken piano ballad like “Shores” with the zip and fizz of his earliest singles. It was also hard to escape the suspicion that, post-Adele, the world has more than enough heartbroken piano ballads to be getting on with.
Fortunately for pop, Vince was coming to the same conclusion. The next day he sat down in his bedsit studio (actually part of the Croydon family home he grew up in, where this interview and photoshoot took place) and wrote “Captain.”
“Basically,” he confesses, “I spent the last year writing a bunch of moody ballads for no other reason than that I’d lost my identity, I didn’t know how I should sound any more. “Captain” was my effort to make the kind of song I would have made in this room five years ago. I just sat here and took it as far as I could.”
“I want this music to be fun, to have energy, to be alive.”
The result has been a burst of feverish activity from a newly energised Vince. The first time we meet he impulsively decides halfway through the interview that he’s going to start his third album from scratch, using “Captain” as the blueprint. “I want to get excited about the sound again,” he insists. “I want this music to be fun, to have energy, to be alive.”
We meet again four days later. Given that he has spent much of the past year changing his mind and musical direction we half expected him to have done another volte face, but if anything Vince seems even more excited. When we meet him he’s in the middle of writing a new track with a fresh talent with the wonderful name of Sorrel Nation, and has already demoed another new track called “Cake” which he plays to us as gleefully as a child who can’t wait to show off his new Christmas present. “Cake” is even more delirious than “Captain”, full of skittering beats, skidding synths and giddy melodies – and that’s before Vince has added a proper chorus.
He then plays us the title track to the forthcoming “You Are Here” album, a massive 80s-style power ballad with shuddering drums, epic synths, multi-tracked backing vocals and what may be a few kitchen sinks lurking somewhere in the mix. Given that Frankmusik was partly introduced to the world as part of the painfully hip Shoreditch “nu-rave” scene it sounds insanely unfashionable. “Yeah, but I don’t give a fuck about trends,” he laughs (and as a glance at his singles collection in above photographs will confirm) “I never have, actually, so why should I start now?”
Vince credits his Mum with giving him this obstinate attitude, along with much else. “My Mum had awesome taste in 80s electropop and that was all I grew up listening to. ABC, Yazoo, Thompson Twins, stuff like that. So even before I knew what I liked I had this synth driven music in my life,” he explains, waving in the direction of his 7” record collection. “And all the way through my life my Mum’s basically sat back and said ‘I’m not really worried, you’re going to do fine no matter what you do’, which had a lot to do with me deciding to make the music I want to make. That all started to fall apart when I started listening to people who weren’t my mother, who thought they knew better because they worked at a label.”
When we ask whether he’s referring to “Do It In The AM”, his misfiring second album, he immediately replies, “Both albums, actually. I didn’t know who I was when I was doing the first or the second record because I was holding on for dear life, waiting for the ride to end. But in the last year, after being dropped, I’ve learnt so much. And one thing I’ve learnt is that there are some people who would make music whether or not the spotlight is on them, and I’m one of them. This is no longer a rollercoaster I’m riding on which everybody else is controlling. This is the life I have chosen for myself.”
“Music is a very difficult industry to fail or make a comeback in”
For all that he has learnt from the experience, Vince admits to feeling “damaged” by his record company run-ins, and is clearly still angry about much of it. “Well, one thing I will always stick two fingers up at the industry for is that you’re allowed to fail in other industries and businesses, but music is a very difficult industry to fail in or make a comeback in. Look at the film industry, where actors are allowed to make any number of dud films but are still glorified. Like Brad Pitt, with that fucking terrible “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” rip off, “Toon Town”. He’s still revered. But if I release a dud album, then I am done, I am done.”
If his attitude towards his setbacks sounds a little contradictory, that’s because Vince is a contradictory character. This may partly be down to his unusual upbringing. “I lived this weird, polarised life, where I had the privilege of going to private school for free, because my grandfather was a mason and they paid for me, but I lived on a council estate. So the rich kids all knew I lived on a council estate and I never got invited to their parties, and all the kids on the council estates thought I was a stuck up posh prick and didn’t want to know me either. So I think that’s had a lot to do with my social butterfly, meandering self – I never really fitted in anywhere so I had nothing to lose by taking my own path.”
Vince’s contradictory nature surfaces frequently in conversation. One moment he’ll insist “I fucking love the second album”, the next wince at the very mention of its lead single. One moment he’ll be happy to snipe at his peers (“Lana Del Rey is too pretty to have experienced that much pain,” he laughs), the next he’ll be loyally championing everyone he’s worked with, from Stuart Price (“total fucking sweetheart”) to Ellie Goulding (“the last person I worked with who really gave me butterflies.”)
One thing which remains consistent, however, is his unashamed love of pop music, and the seriousness with which he takes it (you might think this would be a given from a pop singer, but you’d be surprised). If talk turns to artists he likes he can spin off into rhapsodies, whether it be famous acts like Kate Bush (“so gifted… my Dad was so obsessed with her, he named his company after her”) and Electric Light Orchestra (“still my favourite band of all time, the production is just insane”) or cultier outfits like Late Of The Pier (“probably my favourite record of the last ten years, I wish they’d stuck at it”).
It’s the same passion which lies behind his frequent contempt for the record industry: “They’ve stopped signing talent and started signing puppets”, he argues, admittedly not the first to do so. “Most record companies have been taken over by people who are supposed to be good businessmen, but I don’t think they’re even that actually.” Nor is he impressed by predictions that guitar music is about to make a comeback. “Computers and laptops are the guitars for our generation. We should be moving away from the arcane methods of making music, guitar bands have been around for about 100 years. And before that we had lutists.”
“Stay single, stay hungry and tour my arse off.”
Of course, if guitars do make a comeback that could mean that once again Vince finds himself in the wrong time and the wrong place with the wrong sound, but he insists that he doesn’t care so much about fame any more. “I’m glad it didn’t go massive for me like some people expected it to,” he says. “Because I’ve learnt from it all.” We aren’t sure we entirely believe him – we sense that there are a lot of people Vince would dearly like to prove wrong – but we do believe that he’s given up on chasing success at the expense of his idiosyncratic music, as he seemed to on “Do It In The AM”. “Some of the disasters that happened to me on both albums was this A&R process, of” – he adopts a mocking monotone – “song selection, demographic, what’s the single…
“But that wasn’t what got me attention in the first place. So I could ask myself, do I try and make something which appeals to the crowd which remembers the second album? Or the crowd which remember the first EP? But the question I’ve really got to answer is what pleases me and that’s the music I haven’t heard yet, tracks like “Captain”, this fucking mad sugar rush of stuff you haven’t heard before. I’m never going to do dubstep, I’m never going to make minimal house, I’m never gonna be Cascada or Swedish House Mafia. I only ever got some success because I did things my way” – he laughingly sings a bar or two in an impressive Sinatra croon – “and I have to get back to that place.”
He points to the career of Nate Ruess, lead singer of the irritatingly uncapitalised fun, who has also endured hype, commercial disappointment, name changes and being dropped by a record company, only to score a huge US number 1 at age 30. “He’s seen as someone who has only just become successful. But he’s always been successful, he’s been making music. He’s become famous is what people mean. And there’s a difference. I am successful right now in that I’m making music, I can travel wherever I want to and I don’t answer to anyone. You can’t stop me unless you cut off my hands. And then I’ll learn to play piano with my feet.”
We hope Vince sticks to his game plan for 2013. As we’ve written here before, pop music is in a lamentable state at the moment. When stars of the stature of will.i.am and Britney Spears can release a record which goes through the motions as joylessly as “Scream And Shout” without any apparent shame, and hundreds of thousands of people buy it and make it a hit, its obvious we desperately need pop stars with talent and passion like his. More selfishly, we really believe that if Vince can turn the noise he hears in his head into a record, without letting anyone else interfere, it could end up being something quite exceptional and thrilling.
We leave Vince in contagiously enthusiastic form, already Tweeting fans about his latest plans, and phoning up old London friends to help him fill in the newly vacated space in the upcoming third record. “Tomorrow I really start album 3. Fucking excited,” he Tweets the world. As a parting shot, we ask him if he has any New Year’s resolutions. “Yeah,” he says, “work harder, ask many questions, know many things, stay single, stay hungry and tour my arse off with an album that I can talk more happily about in three years time.” He laughs and then closes his front door, returning to his studio with plans and pop music on his mind.