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Ad Frank - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 13 / 1 / 2002

Ad Frank - Interview


Ad Frank's second solo album, 'Mr Fancypants', is the flagship first release of the new Boston independent label, Stop Pop and Roll. Stop Pop and Roll offers what it describes as "dark music to bright

Ad Frank's second solo album, 'Mr Fancypants', is the flagship first release of the new Boston independent label, Stop Pop and Roll. Stop Pop and Roll offers what it describes as "dark music to bright people", and 'Mr Fancypants', which came out in April, slots into this category perfectly. Described by one critic as chronicling "a difficult journey through the throes of a difficult relationship", its songs tell of heartbreak, loss, despair and suicide, while Frank's baritone and theatrical vocals have meanwhile drawn him comparisions with David Bowie, John Cale, Leonard Cohen and Bryan Ferry. An impressive mixture of late seventies jagged new wave guitar sounds and eighties synthesised beats, 'Mr Fancypants' balances self pity with a sharp self-deprecating wit and a sense of the absurd. Far from being a depressing experience, however, it is, despite its dour subject matter, an oddly refreshing work, so tongue-in-cheek and offbeat that it is both invigorating, and also the best work to date in Frank's long and accomplished career . Frank, who is 34, began his musical career in the late eighties fronting a local Boston outfit, Miles Dethmuffin. Miles Dethmuffin had a hard-edged pop sound, but were also reminiscent of Blondie, Television and the Cars, and recorded two albums together, 'Nine Volt Grape' in 1990 and 'Clutter' in 1994, both of which were produced by Paul Q Koldarie who has also worked with Hole and Radiohead, While the group was a popular local act and was predicted by many for better things, it, despite receiving good press in both Britain and Ireland, was never able to make the break outside its native city. When its guitarist Kevin Coombes dropped out in 1996, the band, stripping down to a three piece, switched names to Permafrost, and recorded a final CD 'In Harm's Way' in 1997, but split up shortly afterwards when the album was badly promoted by its record company, the Los Angeles based label Emperor Norton. Frank recorded his first solo CD in 1999, which is simply entitled 'Ad Frank' and, though less focused, is in a similar vein to 'Mr Fancypants'. It was released on Stop Pop and Roll owner, Aaron Tap's previous record label, Jackass Records. Both albums have sold moderately well and received critical acclaim in Eastern America and Canada. "It certainly wasn't my intention to make a concept album" Ad Frank reflects, talking to Pennyblackmusic about "Mr Fancypants'. "I only meant to get out the best songs that I had available, but it can be listened to that way. I'll admit to that, and if someone wants to read that into it, that's fine by me. I don't really think I'm clever or ambitious enough though to execute something like that on purpose." 'Mr Fancypants' opens dramatically with the chilling 'Last Night Mark Eitzel Saved My Life' in which, against the backdrop of a softly buzzing synthesiser, an emotionally battered and world weary Frank morosely howls "Nobody suffers like I do". This concept of suffering and pain is stretched out further on the remaining tracks on the album. 'U Hauls and Ryders', despite vibrant guitar and keyboard work, captures the anguish of a husband who has had his wife run out on him after just a few brief months of marriage. On 'I Have Seen the Moments of My Greatness Flicker', a Brechtian style cabaret pop number, its amoral protagonist, who has lied, backstabbed and trampled over other people, in a vain attempt to push his way to the top, realises with an abject horror that. not only has he got nowhere, but he has also "pissed away my youth". The last track meanwhile is a synthesised cover of the "garage folk" act Paul K and the Weathermen's tale of love gone disastrously wrong 'Leave Me in Tears'. "On one hand I would have to say that all of it is based on personal experience" reflects Frank. "In terms of why I like it, and what I had in mind when I was singing it, it certainly is." "The caveat I would add though is to say that's is not at all autobiographical. If you can bear the comparision, I think that nobody assumes that Freddy Mercury killed the man he was singing about having killed on 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. At some point in his life he must have been able to easily imagine thoough what it must have felt like to have killed a man, and to be hated and despised for it." "Generally when I'm songwriting I'm doing it simply to try to get an idea down on paper and on tape where I can hear it and see it and read it" he adds. "That certainly has a lot to do with my motivation for releasing it. I don't think I would bother dragging myself out into the world if I thought that I was just going to make people sad or to be sad for me. Nor would I do it if I thought they were going to think of the songs as being just strictly about me. I would hope instead they would read themselves into the songs, and have them instead to some extent be about them." 'Mr Fancypants' is laced with a bittersweet, reflective irony. The title of 'Last Night Mark Eitzel Saved My Life' alone is suggestive of great humour and Frank's wracked performance on this opening number is just exaggerated enough to become tongue-in-cheek. The hapless hero of 'U Hauls and Ryders' main distress at the collapse of his marriage is that he and his estranged wife won't be able to spend every alternate Christmas at each other's in-laws. On 'Bay of Fundy', a suicide song, its jilted and distraught protagonist decides to drown himself at a fishing beauty spot on the United States and Canadian border, because one of his grandfathers comes from Maine, and the other from Halifax in Nova Scotia. 'I Have Seen the Moments of My Greatness Flicker' and 'Leave Me in Tears' are meanwhile both preeningly, ridiculously camp, and equally vainglorious. "I would hope that most of the album comes across as humorous" says Frank. "I'm amazed at how seriously a lot of people take it. With both this album, and the last one, I've had several different people , mostly women, cpme up and say that various tracks on the records had brought them to tears. I don't see that way though. The opening track on this one I think is especially funny. "Noone suffers like I do"-That's a ridiculous statement to make. I would hope that noone is hanging onto every word I say." "I don't see the songs as miserablist" he continues. "I see them as a positive thing, a venting of emotion, and I think the music more reflects the joy of releasing pain rather than the agony of experiencing it." In the past, when he was fronting his two previous bands, Frank's ambition was to play to a large audience and to be a rock star. Now though, that he is older, he is content to work on a smaller scale to the modest budget of Stop Pop and Roll, releasing the CDs he wants to make in a less pressured atmosphere. "When I was in Miles Dethmuffin and Permafrost, we were definitely trying to make it" Frank reflects. " That was the goal. The goal increasingly was to get signed, rather than to make the best music we could. I don't really have the ambition anymore to just get in the van and to go out and play shows for five people, just for the love of it anymore." "Being in my thirties and in an industry that is signing people in their teens, I think that it is a kind phenomenon actually that allows people of my age, not necessarily to give up on that, but to put the priority of where it ought to be in the first place, and to make good songs and good records, and to hope that someone out there will like it." "Stop, Pop and Roll are a good partner" he says "And essentially that is what I need from a label-the same kind of thing that I once needed from my band mates, just somebody to divide up the work with and to help me get it done. When Aaron told me that the theme of the label and its focus would be dark pop, and that he wanted me to be their flagship release and to represent what the label was about, I was really delighted about that. The record itself is what I wanted. I still listen to it and I am still really happy with it." At the moment Frank is working on recording demos for his next album, which, yet untitled, he hopes to release on Stop Pop and Roll next year. It seems that his unique blend of theatricalism and humour will continue to muse, baffle and entertain the indie rock world for a long time to come.

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Ad Frank - Interview

Ad Frank - Interview

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Mr Fancypants (2001)
One of the unsung heroes of rock, Ad Frank has often seemed on the verge of breaking through into the mainstream, but has never quite got the lucky breaks his talent deserves to do so. The former fron

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