“Annie Who” By The Franks
Where I happen to reside if I were to talk about my “feelings” , most chaps would look as if they’d wish the ground would swallow them up or give me a look of pure disgust , they would then refuse to make eye contact and spend the remainder of the evening talking about football, wrestling, Jeremy Clarkson (thank god for commas! ) and power tools. Of course we all know football was invented to enable men to talk to each other and avoid shameful discussions involving sentiment or complex personal issues , it does however provide a structure in which men can reveal certain basic emotions… happiness and joy can be described thus “ I was over The moon” upset and despair can be reduced to “I was as sick as a parrot “ or simply the word “Gutted” accompanied with a remorseful shake of the head. Cognitive therapy is offered in the form of an alcoholic beverage “Have another Pint mate” “you need to get lashed mate” etc . Now in case you haven’t noticed I rather like music, it’s something that I’ve always been passionate about and have loved ever since I can remember. Sadly many of my peer group think it’s a bit “gay” or that I really should grow up . Ironically this reaction usually comes from grown men who think that it is all right to spend a Saturday afternoon watching a group of young lads run around in shorts chasing a pigs bladder and praying that they score. One chap presented me with these unsolicited pearls of wisdom ..“that music lark is a bit gay , it’s for kids and drama students, cept for U2 who can still do it, you wanna grow up mate and get down the match”, this is a person who ironically spent three months learning to sew , in order to produce a banner that he could proudly unfurl at the Merseyside Derby bearing the legend “Steven Gerrard Is A Hom” When his wife left him due to the fact he’d been spending all his money and time on football and in the pub I rang him to see how he was, he told me he was “gutted” and as “sick as a parrott” …. I offered to buy him a pint !
Thankfully not all chaps are as emotionally stunted, and music can be a wonderful way to express your feelings. I’ve always been more drawn to music that comes from the heart, Ive not much time for manufactured guff. The sort of music that still costs you a fair few bob but provides all the emotional depth of a cheap fumble down a back alley. Nor do I have much time for pretentious drivel that merely seeks to impress how well read you are, or middle class home county boys trying too hard to be “edgy.” For me music has true meaning when its delivered by people who produce it because they love it and because they have something to say about situations we can all relate to .. It is not merely used as vehicle to become famous. Expressing yourself through music is not something you can learn from a manual or from studying theories or developing formulas, it goes a lot deeper than that .. Which leads me on to The Franks, a band who sing from the heart and deliver songs of raw emotion dealing with , regret futility, isolation, anger and beauty (pretty much all the emotions I experience whence looking in the mirror ) Guitars slice through soaring heartfelt vocals which quite frankly make me want to swagger about my local Aldi chewing gum, wearing raybans and a leather jacket and being all mysterious and poetic,like. but sadly in my case I’d just look like I was a bit of a t**t. I therefore resolved to interview the band instead ……..
VP: So you knew each other from school, and then last year where individually scattered across Europe, glamorous cities such as Paris, Madrid Edinburgh and erm Sunderland. How on earth did you come up with an albums worth of material Under these circumstances?
MIKE: Well, whenever there was a break in our term abroad e.g. Christmas, easter, summer we would be back in London, in the lounge (the ‘special’ room in my house where it all comes together) working on Jamie’s ideas and bringing them to life…at times for up to 12 hours a day. Jamie’s initial idea would always get Dean and myself perked up and then for the rest of the day, vocal/ guitar parts ideas and developments would just seamlessly grow out of each other, eventually concluding – ‘wow. we have a pretty good song on our hands.’ When we were separated, I would often be in contact with Jamie and he would play down the phone or send me rough recordings over the net of new ideas, which would then get my mind ticking and thinking until our next chance to meet together. I hated my year in Paris, simply because I was so desperate to be at home working on these ideas and doing what I was so desperate to be doing! I think the distance has benefited us in the long run though as it has allowed an accumulation of so many different ideas.
JAMIE: I’m thinking of ideas and tunes and potential material for songs 24/7, and it at times benefited the song because you’d leave an idea and come back to it a couple months later and see if it was something worth pursuing… so, in a sense, it proved a test for the material’s longevity. I’d say it was an advantage of being apart and afterwards, we had a pool of great ideas which then turned into songs which we could draw on. To be honest, we probably have 2 or 3 albums worth of ideas which could become songs. There’s also something inspiring about a distance or a gap that has to be bridged, and you know an idea can never fully come into fruition until…there was something tantalizing about an idea left, just left with me on an acoustic which in my head had the potential to find its, you know, full potential with a full band…Sometimes it’s true you lose faith in an idea, but most of the time you know straight away if something’s great.
DEAN: Yea. I certainly do think it was the fact that we were all so far apart from each other that made us so enthusiastic about getting back together and back writing.
VP: Where did the Album’s title “Suzy Cant Spell” come from?
JAMIE: I don’t know… sort of a cutting satirical homage to the music industry, not that it has made any impact or not that anyone knows it or us yet, but nevertheless it was called that because it had a nice ring to it and because the story behind it is as follows… I met a record executive in a pub who promised us the world and he had a receptionist called Suzy, whose spelling in her correspondence to us left a lot to uh be desired. We thought it was fitting name for our debut- well it probably won’t be our debut- but our first self-produced album… the moral being if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Having said that, I’m sure he’s waiting in the wings somewhere just like all the music industry hyenas are.
MIKE: Ahh, Suzy !! What was funny about this was that we could never understand the tone of the message, or clarify exactly what the message entailed since she never used any punctuation and frequently mis-spelt key words! Hence, it once cropped up conversationally: ‘well we’ve got no way of knowing…Suzy can’t spell’. We took it from there. I suppose it has an extra poignancy since it embodies those youthful hopes and dreams, and the feeling that we were so very close to a big deal and a major breakthrough…as it turns out, nothing ever came of Mr Sony exec…and the fight goes on!
VP: You were initially called Semi-Royal Blood (sound like something from the Da Vinci code) what made you change your name? who came up with it, and why?
JAMIE: The reason we changed it is precisely that- it sounded like something out of the Da Vinci Code. Michael came up with it by flicking through a novel by Emily Bronte called The Spell. It was certainly a name that we knew no one else would have. But gradually it dawned on us that that might not be a good thing. At the end of the day, we thought it was a bit too “try-hard” and eventually went for a name as neutral as possible. I mean, any name is going to conjure up associations with something, but at least if people think boring and it’s not, you’ve got a chance to win them over. Yea, The Franks…I didn’t really want anything associated, I feel icky having anything associated with myself or my name in a band. If I were a solo artist I’d probably come up with a pseudonym.
MIKE: Funny this question should follow question 2! We changed the name because Mr Sony exec advised us to…he said “Semi Royal Blood” sounds like a horror movie. We were simultaneously starting to doubt the name anyway, and it the slightly try-hard feel it had to it. The name was never going to stick…after a good gig we would frequently be approached: “I really liked your show, what did you say you are called…half royals?
DEAN:. We all seemed to like it at first, it was better than our previous name and seemed to hold a sense of mystery, but over time we just realised that it was a bit of a risky name as it conjured up images in people’s minds before they even heard our music. For that reason we went with The Franks, which is a much more neutral name. I think Mike came up with that one too, though it comes from Jamie’s nickname (Frank), and it at least lets the music speak for itself.
VP: You toured Americas East Coast in 2006, how did you enjoy that experience?
JAMIE: How did I enjoy it? It was a bizarre… experience but definitely a worthwhile one. Although the crowds weren’t what we expected, we learned about each other as people and … it didn’t leave us with any romantic or glamorous notions of touring, but in a sense I think it was good because it firstly kept our feet on the ground and secondly…it directed the passion where it should be I guess, which is to the music. Having said that, we had our fun and our laughs. And even winning a few people over at 1:30 in the morning at a New York venue was a small victory. Actually I think it’s an aspect of the music industry that all musicians should see- how it is at the bottom because then you appreciate things when you get to the top-( not that we’re anywhere near there…!)
MIKE: I could actually, write a dissertation on this question. Such were the ups and downs, the laughs – the cries, the surreal events that unfolded. Lets just say we blindly took up an offer from a poor man in New Jersey who found us on the internet, to live in his garage and play a few shows to inappropriate crowds. Of course there was the promise of playing packed out venues in New York, but this man didn’t have a clue what he was doing. One of the highlights was driving (a round trip of 7 hours) to Maryland, where we unloaded our stuff at a red neck biker joint. After a few chronic sounding songs through our home-made and DIY set-up p.a. system, the long haired bikers demanded some : ‘The Clash’, to which we could only respond with a cover of ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay. This promptly signalled an early end to our night as our manager was threatened (with one of those: you’re going to lose your head charades) for us to pack up and get the hell out of their town. It was originally intended to be a 3 hour set! Other highlights involved, fearing murder from our host when he found out we had set up a separate myspace for our new band name and material (the franks) as we didn’t want him knowing about the stuff and him getting his hands on it. Playing a set at 3am in the gun capital of America ‘Trenton’ – risking it all in a support slot for the most promising local talent: a solo artist confined to a wheelchair dubbed ‘Velvet Crayon’ who could play 13 instruments at once, despite having no arms or legs. I could go on for hours, but aside from coming dangerously close to a thunder bolt which struck inches from our car on the motorway and heading off to the beach for some relief and to get drunk, only to find we’d booked up a hotel residence in New Jersey’s only ‘dry town’. We couldn’t even drown our sorrows. It was a trip we all have fond memories of though, and was, without doubt a huge step forward in terms of the time we spent together bonding, the songs that were written and the inspiration first-hand of a country with a quite astounding way-of-life.
DEAN: Music, beach, band from London, American girls, our British accents…I think you see where this is going! Aside from all the fun though it was such an important phase in our career since it was a real transitional period for us where we began to develop our sound and to bond as a group.
VP : Sounds like there’s a bit of heartbreak going on within some of the songs, are these personal, or from observing others?
JAMIE: Hmm heartbreak personal or observational…a bit of both. I find it quite easy to conjure up tragic scenarios, which could affect all of us including myself. So… the lyrics in many ways are I guess a psychological defence mechanisms for the future. Let me try and explain this. I see music as a refuge and a container of tragedy. When you feel bad, or depressed, you can turn to music to make you feel better. It has that sort of unique power. But it sort of makes sense I suppose; you go to something even more depressing than you’re feeling to make you feel better… But what I think our songs do have is the mix of tragedy and comedy. A lot of the songs have that, tongue-in-cheekiness about them. So yea, obviously there are things I’ve experienced which the lyrics reflect and they reflect reality genuinely and others are my conjuring up scenarios that might happen in the future and these songs will be the songs maybe that other people or even I, would listen to in the future. Well I guess, other people would listen to them now- but maybe I would listen to them in the future. When I sit down to write lyrics…not that I’m sitting at a table with my pen in my hand, it’s completely the other way around- more often than not it’s an image or a phrase that comes into my head and you just know at that moment- you just know whether its –( all I can do is speak for myself )- whether it strikes a chord within me and hopefully strike a chord with a few other people. Though that’s not what I’m trying to do. You do have to write music for yourself it is a very personal thing.
MIKE: Yeah Jamie is the aching soul behind the music and I must say that whilst some of our tracks our fun loving rock music, certain others have a special edge: a tone and mood that can only be the product of first-hand heart-wrenching experiences.
DEAN: Yes Jamie writes 99% of the lyrics. I think I’ve maybe come up with 2 lines of our current album – both from lyrics I’ve misheard others sing! Despite this though, I try to find my own way to relate to our lyrics so that I can get more into playing the songs live – I think that this is really important.
VP: What sort of music are you all into?
JAMIE: Ummmm, anything with a powerful strong melody. (Laughs). That’s it.
MIKE: We’re not worlds apart in our taste of music. I, personally, grew up inspired by the music of the 90s both in England and in the States: The likes of The Manic Street Preachers, early Ash/ Radiohead/ Idlewild/ My Vitriol as well as the slightly heavier tones of Incubus, Deftones etc from the states… Generally hard-hitting melodic rock music. A special fondness for the Smiths also, without which, I don’t think I would have made it through my year in Paris.
DEAN: I’m into all sorts really, though I’m not a massive fan of RnB or hip-hop. I’d have to say that my favourite artists are Frank Sinatra, Idlewild, The Beatles and Panic! At The Disco, though I’m trying to force myself to like as much as possible from the current indie scene. I like to think that I have a varied music taste, and I guess I just listen to whatever I’m in the mood for!
VP:You are relocating To Edinburgh (my favourite city) next year Any reason why you picked there and not London?
JAMIE: Next year I will be in my final year at Edinburgh University studying English literature and rather than jump into the uncertain world of rock n roll just yet, I wanted to finish my interesting degree. Uhh, and as the others, they’ve finished, and they were good enough to agree to come up here. We’ll be back home in London this summer though.
MIKE: By all moving to Edinburgh, we can – for the first time in our history – be able to effectively live together, working solidly on honing our sound and gigging.
DEAN: As mentioned the main objective for next year is for us to all be together. So as Jamie still has one more year at Uni , we’re moving up there to be with him. Aren’t we such nice guys?
VP: What are your plans for 2008; you have a slot at Glasto I believe.
JAMIE: Yes we do. We’re very much looking forward to it. In fact, what I particularly like about Glastonbury compared to some of the other festivals around… first it’s in a beautiful part of the UK, and secondly, its whole ethic, I know they don’t pay bands as much as other places…actually we were very generously paid by our standards, but the discrepancy between an unsigned band and a more developed artist is less than other festivals, and I basically think their heart is in the right place. Hopefully it’s the first appearance of many and we’ll gradually make our way up the stage size over the next couple years. Would be great to play the Pyramid stage in a few years- that’s our goal I guess. We’ll be recording some new material in the summer and playing some other festivals and generally searching for that perfect song or… musical bliss- that ever-elusive perfect song! So the plan is definitely one of musical development, which will hopefully tie in with other successes.
MIKE: The summer should be full of opportunities, we are hoping to play the Nottingham University Summer Party, a range of charity gigs as well as an industry showcase in both Dundee and London. We are yet to hear back from most of the other festivals we applied to, but we are hoping to have a very busy summer.
DEAN: Glasto Yes ! And we’re very much looking forward to it. We’re still finalising our summer plans, but they should involve loads more gigs and some recording as well. 2008, or maybe 2009, could be the year of The Franks!
VP: What have been your highlights of being together as a band thus far?
JAMIE: Highlights….um…I think the moment in a rehearsal where a song sort of comes together… it seems as though it’s magic, obviously not, but everybody knows what the song should be, how the song should be. And I think those moments are too rare, and I think the aim of a great band is to be consistent with them, and to try to replicate those moments as often as possible. They’re why I’m in a band. I think if any artist were honest, I think capturing those moments as often as possible is a hard thing to do. Like a great football player. And being recognized for things like the Glastonbury competition is just well not validation in a sense but you know a small sign that other people see what we see and hopefully feel what we feel.
MIKE: Without doubt moments in rehearsal: when a song is played and flies for the first time. Having prepared the parts, we bring it to the live rehearsal space, often unsure quite how it’s going to sound. And there have been numerous times where it just exceeds our expectations; we all break into smiles and realise we’re onto something very special indeed. It’s an indescribable feeling – just sheer adrenaline and excitement. I would also have to mention the conception of ‘Pride or Passion’. We entered the rehearsal space in order to rehearse the set we had planned. However, Jamie played a few chords…and then somehow, Dean, the drums and myself all came in spontaneously at the same time and played a song, that didn’t exist prior, straight through. It was the most surreal moment of my life – I guess it was just a time when we were so completely on the same wave length that we were able to create the song as it was in fact happening, if that makes any sense. It is now an irreplaceable song which we use to open our live sets. You can hear it at www.thefranksuk.com.
DEAN: It’s probably hard to pinpoint specific moments, though of course receiving phone calls about Glastonbury and Radio 1 felt great! I’d have to say that it’s the little moments when someone comes up with an idea in a song and we all realise that it’s great that provide us with a real feeling of ‘ok, this is good!’.
VP: Which musical genre would you say was the one you all disagreed on the most?
JAMIE: I like folk music and other acoustic-based slow music…and mournful Scottish Highlands music… that the others don’t. But this doesn’t really affect our music. In our flat we tend to have Beethoven’s piano concertos playing constantly. But I think the thing of being in a band, a great band anyway, is finding that sort of negotiation between what everybody likes without necessarily trying to fit within a certain genre. I just like something that inspires me which has lyrics or a melody which bring out something within me, often a negative or painful emotion although we always find pleasure in painful emotion to an extent. So genre can sometimes be less divisive.
MIKE: This is a funny one. Well Jamie and Dean have the argumentative tendencies of a married couple (or at least they used to). I believe that Dean’s dislike of Jamie’s inclination to folk music is on perfect par with Jamie’s resentment of Dean’s fondness for American new-age punk like Simple Plan, Fall Out Boy etc. We all meet somewhere in the middle though and I’m sure it benefits the overall sound.
DEAN: …I suppose it’s just the current indie scene. Some of us hate it and some are influenced by others and end up equally disliking it! When you’re writing your own songs, sometimes it’s difficult to really appreciate other bands in the same genre as you, but it’s so important to keep an open mind since they’re obviously doing something right to be in that position!
VP: Tell us a joke.
JAMIE: (Laughs) Knock Knock.
Umm. No actually not that one. Why did the chicken cross the road?
I dunno either. Actually, I don’t think jokes are funny. I think people are funniest when they’re not trying to be funny… !
DEAN : How do you get a guitarist to play quieter?
Give him sheet music.
MIKE: Paul Terry (the ginger ‘James’ in the 90s Hollywood production of James and the Giant Peach) used to play bass for this band. No lie.
(stick to the music lads! )
Management: Kate White