Q&A: Frankie Rose On Her Excellent New Album Herein Wild
This week Frankie Rose will release Herein Wild, her third proper solo record and arguably (I’ll argue it, anyway) the best thing she’s ever done. Though it rarely goes without mentioning that Rose spent several years playing with the likes of Crystal Stilts and Dum Dum Girls before striking out on her own, her solo material — as is greatly evidenced on Herein Wild — veers into much more dreamy, blissed-out new wave synth zones than any of the more jangly, reverby rock bands with whom she’s previously shared her time. Coming on the heels of 2012’s excellent Interstellar, Rose’s new album clearly establishes her as a true force to be reckoned with, even if she still occasionally has her doubts. I met up with her at a Brooklyn coffee shop to discuss her colorful past, her very exciting present, and what she hopes to be doing by the time she gets around to making album No. 10.
STEREOGUM: Weirdly, in the past week or so, I’ve interviewed people from almost every single band that you’ve ever played in about whatever their current project is — I talked to Crystal Stilts yesterday and I talked to Dee Dee a couple weeks ago about her forthcoming new record.
ROSE: Nice! I love all of those folks.
STEREOGUM: When you left those bands and started putting out music on your own, were you surprised by the reaction you got?
ROSE: I don’t think anyone cared too much about the first album at all. It’s weird because I think I got a lot of good press but I think it was just because I was part of the Vivian Girls and everyone loved the Vivian Girls, but I don’t think it was because the record was all that spectacular. The record certainly didn’t sell at all — it’s scary. They’re still trying to make money with that one. So the fact that they gave me a second chance with Interstellar and that people cared as much about that one was super shocking to me because I feel like the first one passed under the radar. That people even care at all continues to be shocking to me. [Laughs]
STEREOGUM: Was the expectation that because of the kind of bands that you had played in previously, you would be doing something in that same vein? Some kind of lo-fi, jingly-jangly kind of thing?
ROSE: I think the first one kind of was. That one would have done a lot better if it had come out two years before it did. It was a little bit late on the zeitgeist of what people were interested in. I don’t think it’s a bad record, but I don’t think it was an amazing record either. It was my best effort for a first-time solo artist. By the time Interstellar came around, I knew I wanted to do something different. I was definitely listening to different music — I wanted to mess with electronic drums. So that’s why I thought it was going to be really strange and people were going to hate it but it ended up being the opposite.
STEREOGUM: Of the time spent playing in those different bands, were you sort of just dying to go off and do your own thing?
ROSE: I was doing it at the same time. And learning — I feel like I learned something from every single one of those bands. What I liked, what I didn’t like, what I thought was great and what I would do differently. Like JB from Crystal Stilts — he’s a master guitarist and I had never thought so much about guitar sounds before I met him. That was a huge thing I took away from Crystal Stilts, for example. I feel like every single band was a lesson to me. I don’t think I was actively studying or anything, but when the time came for me to start doing what I wanted to do, what I wanted to do made sense.
STEREOGUM: What’s your usual way of working when it comes to songwriting — do you have a preferred method?
ROSE: I usually just go in a room and have a guitar. If it can sound good on an acoustic guitar and it has a good melody and you can hear where the chorus is and where you want the bridge to be, then it seems like it is working. I immediately hear harmonies and whether I’d want to switch out the guitar with a synth. Everything starts as the worst demo in the world that I would never share with anybody. From there, I’ll usually get ideas of what I want to do in the studio and from there on out it’s trial-and-error. That’s why this album was really tricky because it was on such a timeline that I didn’t have six months. On the other hand, this record is awesome because it’s such a complete vision of a record by accident — it is what it is because it was all made at one time. It’s a Polaroid shot of what I was going through emotionally. That was really nice because I had never done that before.
STEREOGUM: What’s the saying that bands always have? That they have their whole lives to make their first record and then four months to make their second one.
ROSE: And it better not be doo doo! But actually I consider this my second one. It was scary coming off that first record. I actually didn’t think I was going to make another one.
STEREOGUM: What was your experience like for that record? You did a cycle of touring for it.
ROSE: A short one.
STEREOGUM: Was it not a positive thing?
ROSE: It died out pretty intensely by the end of the year. For something to last through the year and retain people’s interest … I don’t even know who does that. Grimes did. I do not feel like it did for me and it was kind of hard because I would have liked to have done more touring. It took me a long time to get into the creative mindset that I could just make another record. The previous one took me a long time.
STEREOGUM: When it comes to studio stuff, are you kind of a jack-of-all-trades and play a lot of different things?
ROSE: I play everything really crappy. So yes. But I’m not opposed or against having people help. Not everyone does everything the way I hear it and I certainly cannot. The best thing that I can do is make the guitar sound right. I’m good at that. That’s my talent. And I can play all the one line stuff. But if something can play something better than me, I’d rather they come in and do it. All I care about is the end result.
STEREOGUM: Does your live band also play on the record?
ROSE: Drew, my lead guitar player, she played a little and she sings. But it’s mostly me and Michael Cheever, who really is a jack-of-all-trade guy.
STEREOGUM: Where did you record?
ROSE: A private studio is Fort Greene. It’s a home studio.
STEREOGUM: I was listening to the record while I was doing stuff around my house and was trying to figure out what it reminded me of and I think it’s not so much the specific sound of it but the vibe of it is sort of … Like the records that were very formative to me in the 120 Minutes era of like British alternative rock during the late ’80s … that’s the feeling it gives me.
ROSE: Then I’ve done my job! I’ll be 35 in January and that’s what I loved. That was my older cousins’ generation a little bit more than mine, but that’s what I gravitated to. That was quintessential to me … so that’s what sticks with me.
STEREOGUM: I like that there’s a lot of soft edges in the music — there’s something very pillowy around the music in these songs. Does that make sense?
ROSE: Totally. I have a frame of reference that’s built into my brain of what I like, but I never say I would like this to sound like this — you know what I mean? Especially on this record. I didn’t want anyone who listens to this to say, “Oh, she loves Echo And The Bunnymen or this song sounds like the Wake.” I tried to be self-referential on this one.
STEREOGUM: Sometimes being in a situation where you’re doing things really fast, it’s kind of like connecting the truest circuit that goes directly from your feelings to your fingers. You operate on instinct when you don’t have time to second-guess everything. You become less self-conscious sometimes when you are required to work quickly. Was that the case with this album?
ROSE: That’s how I feel about this record. I’m not trying to sound like that or this, but I certainly do like this kick drum a lot so these are the drum sounds that I like and what I’d want to listen to. I feel myself maturing a little bit, I hope. The goal is to just be Frankie Rose, not Frankie Rose Does Echo And The Bunnymen.
STEREOGUM: Is it your feeling that these songs are a lot more personal?
ROSE: Way. Because I’m an on-the-fly lyric writer, I don’t sit around and write poetry. I’m not that person at all. On this record, they actually mean something as opposed to trying to not mean something, which has never happened before and was totally on accident. It’s way more personal than I’ve ever been. And I didn’t comb very deep and they’re not smartly written necessarily, it’s just that they are honest.
STEREOGUM: How does it feel to perform them?
ROSE: I don’t know yet! Right now, it’s still so technical that it hasn’t started to become fun yet. I can’t wait for that day. Hopefully we get it before we start touring. For every record release, there’s always been at least one different person in the band so it’s always terrifying. I’d love to become one of those bands that tour for nine months and they’re amazing because no one has any apprehension or nervousness on stage. I don’t know how it’s going to manifest itself on the stage. I just think of things technically — things will mean something to me in the moment that I’m doing them — like in the studio or on that day I wrote them — and then I’m like eh.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned something earlier about the difference between the way people think about bands as opposed to the way they think about solo artists—and that it can make it harder to get bookings sometimes if people think of you as a female singer/songwriter rather than a rock band. I guess I can understand where it comes from, especially when there are a million singer-songwriters out there, but I never thought about the difficulty that would pose in terms of perception …
ROSE: I think it’s a thing. This is just my theory, I don’t know. And I think I’m lucky that I have a funny name that sounds like a band name. If my name was Jimmy Smith or something, that would be a problem. But I don’t know … I definitely need a band. One person is boring … I don’t get it.
STEREOGUM: Did you always play in bands even when you were really young? When did you start doing music?
ROSE: When I was 23 or something … I always wanted to. In middle school, I had girls that I’d play around on instruments with. We thought we made up the name The Offspring until we called into KROC and they told us that was already the name of a band … so that was really disappointing [laughs] … but I didn’t actually start playing in punk bands until I was 23. I played the drums with Grass Widow.
STEREOGUM: If you hadn’t ended up doing music, what do you think you would have done?
ROSE: Bartender or waitress for sure! [Laughs] I didn’t think I was going to do anything different. You’re really lucky if you get to go to college in this country—and even if you do, you better become a doctor or something otherwise you’ll just get to be in debt for the rest of your life. That just wasn’t on my agenda.
STEREOGUM: How did you end up in New York?
ROSE: I just got tired of being in San Francisco. It’s a really tiny town there. And I was there through the first dot.com boom and got kicked over to the other side of the Bay when things got too expensive. Then I moved back when it had become fun again after all the dot.coms failed. I really started playing music then, but I was also a bike messenger for six years. That was the job that I had the longest. I delivered food when I first moved to New York too. On my first day, I rolled up to somebody on a bike and he said, “Do you know Freddy? He just got ran over! He’s dead!” And I knew that it was too much for me. Too crazy and dangerous. But I did deliver food to Steve Buscemi once and he was very nice. I feel like I’d be doing a service job, probably. I feel super lucky that I have this opportunity, but I do work really hard. I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t work — it’s my job. I treat it like my job and I always try to improve. The stakes are high for me because I don’t want to serve coffee again!
STEREOGUM: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned during your time as a professional musician?
ROSE: You have to like your band — you have to hang out with people that you like and love. That’s really important and, for the most part, I did. Your band is going to break up otherwise. I don’t know if I’ll ever make a record like this last one again. The timeframe was crazy and I just feel like I need time and space to be able to see how I feel about things. Sometimes I have a month or two to sit there and listen to things. It was anxiety-ridden for me with such high stakes and working on a timeline. So I’m going to really try not to do that again. I’m just going to start now on the next record and start chipping away at it. For the next one, I want to work in a different studio and take things a lot slower. Who knows …
STEREOGUM: For what it’s worth, nothing about this new record sounds forced or rushed or belabored to me.
ROSE: Probably because I absolutely pulled my hair out. I did not sleep for a month and a half. I worried and I barely slept. We did sometimes fourteen-hour days and we had three days off in a month and a half. If I wasn’t in the studio, then I was sitting there obsessing about what was happening because this record had to be turned in by a certain time. And I feel like I got what I wanted from it, but it was super hard. But it’s great though … gosh, it’s the best. Knowing that you’re going to make a record and that it’s going to be done and then you have this thing that you give to the world to judge. Which is also really hard — that’s actually the hardest thing for me. I wish I could just go away to a desert island when a record comes out.
STEREOGUM: Your last record was really well loved. That must have been gratifying.
ROSE: It really was. I think it’s super weird to make this thing … I don’t see how filmmakers do it. To me, that sounds insane. You’re putting something out there that you worked so hard on and most people will just take it and dump on it. I’m just making an album — it’s hard, but it’s not like making a feature film. But you’re just kind of waiting to see what other people are going to say about this thing that you made that you pulled your hair out over and cried over for however long. We kind of have to be crazy — it’s a different kind of hard work. And I think it’s no wonder that people become addicted to drugs or something because it’s a different kind of pain. I guess you don’t really have a choice … I mean, you have a choice but it’s part of it — you just have to put yourself out there.
STEREOGUM: How was the experience of transitioning from being in a band to being in a solo act?
ROSE: It’s ongoing and I’m learning everyday. It went from horrible and hard to finally figuring it out and finally figuring out the kind of band leader that I want to be. Like what works and doesn’t work when your name is on something, but you still need all of these other people. It feels really strange to be here and not some of my band mates to be here with me because they worked really hard to be in my band with my name on it. I like what occurred or what I heard happened with Bon Iver that he has the same band and they’re all really great friends and, if he gets a show and they give him money, he just splits it evenly with them. That’s a really neat way to do things. I would like it to be like that–like The Bad Seeds or something — to have that kind of kinmanship with your band. I only think I did become a solo person because it’s easier to make a record that way. And it’s much easier for one person to make the decision than four. And I never wanted a band that would break up — I can’t break up with myself. That’s the only reason why because I do love collaborating. So I try to be really nice and make my band mates happy but it’s hard. I prefer this though as opposed to fighting with somebody.
STEREOGUM: It must be interesting because you have a perspective having been in a bunch of bands.
ROSE: I’ve seen things work and I’ve seen things really not work. And if I delved into that too much, I’d either be talking shit or … not really talking shit but my opinions and every band I’ve been in is so different. It’s like another family and some of them are dysfunctional.
STEREOGUM: When I talk to young bands, I always ask if they’ve toured together yet because that’s the real test. I think when you’re younger, it’s still enough of a novelty …
ROSE: It’s not romantic. We call people under 25 fetuses. No one in my band is young — we’re all crusty oldies, which is great. We’re just doing our jobs and trying to have fun and being mellow. Everything changes — now in about a year or even under a year. Bands break up because they think it’s going to be like that forever.
STEREOGUM: Bands often struggle with the “newness” factor … you can only be “new” for so long, and then people are onto the next hot new thing …
ROSE: Something that I’ve had to come to terms with is that in every tagline, it always says “indie rock veteran” or even worse “garage rock veteran” which is even worse. But veteran … I don’t feel like that at all. I feel like a tiny little baby fetus in the music world but I do feel like I’m never going to be the next hot new thing again. We’ll find out, I guess. One can only hope that you have a career like PJ Harvey or Neko Case or these ladies that have been around and have made so many albums. That’s where I want to be eventually — like maybe on my tenth album I’ll just use one synthesizer and see what happens.
STEREOGUM: Do you enjoy this side of things—the weird press and promotional side of being a recording artist?
ROSE: I feel like I give a pretty casual interview — I don’t know what I say or oftentimes I’ll be surprised by what I think people will put into the story compared with what they actually put in there. Something that’s been a story frame that people have grabbed onto is something that was casually mentioned in a Billboard interview or something — that I went to a high school of the arts and that I was in there with Matt Morrison from Glee and I did a bunch of musicals. For some reason, that’s been grasped onto and now it’s in every interview that I’m a musical theater geek who went to high school with Matt Morrison and it’s ruining my life now! Like … this is not what I want to be associated with at all … musical theater is not cool!
STEREOGUM: Ha! Well, there are worse things that could be said …
ROSE: That’s true. I shouldn’t complain. I could be called a singer/songwriter who plays garage rock all day long. [Laughs]
Herein Wild is out 9/24 via Fat Possum.