Band To Watch: Storefront Church

Lili Pepper

Band To Watch: Storefront Church

Lili Pepper

Lukas Frank is well aware that he only has so much control over the Storefront Church narrative at this point. The 27-year old doesn’t like the term “hired gun” and also admits it’s the best way to describe his role as a touring drummer for Portugal. The Man and Kitten prior to striking out on his own. It’s 2021, so if you basically spent 20 minutes in the same room as Phoebe Bridgers, that’s going in the one-sheet. In 2017, the two co-wrote a song that appeared on the Netflix southwestern drama Godless, so “one-time Phoebe Bridgers collaborator” is a main talking point. Both of them found that tag to be humorously reductive: “Years of playing in her mom’s basement counts for nothing now,” Frank jokes. DIIV’s Cole Smith appears on the opener and lead single of Storefront Church’s debut album As We Pass, another high-profile association that fails to fully explain the depth and longevity of their partnership. But if Frank is defined by his connections thus far, that’s really the entire point of his debut album As We Pass. “With this album, my life started to be about community vs. staying isolated.”

Frank estimates that a Storefront Church team photo encompassing everyone who contributed in some capacity would exceed 20 people — including his go-to collaborators Waylon Rector (Kitten), Jay Rudolph (Weyes Blood), and Henry Kwapis (Dijon). While Frank feels that he’s just getting started learning how to commingle his disparate influences and partnerships, As We Pass still boasts a distinct, singular vision. Radiohead was a formative band for Frank, he’s now obsessed with Scott Walker, and his vocals are somewhere in between, a sonorous croon that doesn’t sound like much else out there in 2021. Whether dabbling in piano balladry or digitally distorted post-punk, As We Pass is imbued with a panoramic sweep and heft that solidifies his place amongst more typically doomsaying label mates at Sargent House — “I’m the soft boy,” he laughs. If there’s an anachronistic, dignified air to As We Pass, it really isn’t an album that was meant for 2021. Frank estimates that it’s been done for at least two years, time spent shopping the album to labels, linking up with Sargent House, and then trying to find a release date that wouldn’t coincide with a natural or national disaster. He’s already a few weeks away from recording LP2.

Frank grew up in Pasadena and has stayed within Los Angeles his whole life — he considers “LA album” the most generous compliment you can pay to As We Pass. It’s the most accurate one as well; the baritone guitars and sweeping strings truly earn the well-worn qualifiers of “Western” and “cinematic,” equally evocative of David Lynch, Ennio Morricone, or There Will Be Blood. The existential, apocalyptic dread explored on As We Pass likewise feels endemic to a region where residents can literally watch the hills catch on fire and houses slide into the ocean; the post-societal visions of “After The Alphabet” quote directly from Frank’s poetic hero W.S. Merwin, and the lyrics are stocked with surrealist imagery of bloated bodies floating above palm trees amidst mundane evocations of the 2 and 5 freeways, Huntington Beach and The Grove.

But it’s also “Los Angeles” and “communal” in the way I remember LA, where artists and actors seem to end up in one’s social circle almost by accident. Frank started getting session work as a drummer at the age of 18 and quickly realized he was too opinionated to last in that role. “I found myself in this position over and over again where I had a lot of opinions about where things should be going, even vocal parts — stuff that wasn’t my jurisdiction,” Frank recalls. “You might as well just do it yourself if you have all these strong opinions about how things are supposed to be going.” Frank began singing at 20, solely a placeholder — “I was thinking I’d get a friend to sing… oh, I’ll pitch these to Phoebe or something.” But as Frank became emotionally invested in his own words, “She was maybe the first person I played a song for,” he says. “Because she’s so critical and I knew that she’d be brutal with me.”

He would later enlist his childhood friend Max Wortman, A&R at Terrible Records, as another unwitting sounding board, playing demos in the car together without mentioning they were actually his. Wortman became his earliest champion, helping to shop the record around before signing with Sargent House, a connection he likewise attributes to his friendships with Deafheaven and Smith. “George [Clarke] and I used to go to the climbing gym together,” Frank notes, admitting that his workout regimen is nowhere near as intense as some of his labelmates. “We used to have these heart-to-hearts while we were horribly climbing up these walls.”

Meanwhile, Frank and Smith first met after they were paired against each other at a Magic: The Gathering tournament in Koreatown. “I’d like the record to reflect that I won,” Frank bluntly states, before sheepishly admitting that he had to ask Smith what band he was in and what instruments he played before making the connection that he was the guy whose music was in steady rotation during the years he worked at Silverlake Ramen. “It was immediately, ‘I guess we should hang out,’ because we’re both musicians, we’re both newly sober and playing Magic.” The two now co-host a podcast where they interview artists while playing Magic, and Frank credits Smith with being the prime musical catalyst pushing him to finish the record: “We’re hanging out constantly, we might as well make some music.”

On a spiritual basis, As We Pass is the inverse of Storefront Church’s self-titled EP from 2017 — “this private, drug-induced, lonesome thing” that Frank initially intended to record by himself and release anonymously. Storefront Church and As We Pass are linked by “Lying To Actors,” which Frank calls “the most alcoholic song on there,” a tragicomic drunkalogue of intoxicated driving, police run-ins, callow small talk, and being real fake to people paid to be fake real. Latest single “Total Stranger” presents his most fully realized narrator: “I wanted to create this pathetic loser,” Frank notes, and also to write something that could be mistaken for a love song if you’re not paying attention — though it’s hard to ignore the classic country leanings of the second verse: “I never was enough/ She took the dog and the children something that you’d never do/ I never was enough/ I’ll sign the damn papers when I’m good and ready.”

Frank cannily goes in and out of character throughout As We Pass — the jazzbo sway of “The Beach” speaks to his teenage years as both a bebop obsessive and a cultural contrarian, “sad nostalgia” for school-mandated trips to Huntington Beach, wishing he could be back at home watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force and FLCL on Adult Swim. These memories partially inform the very metal cover art: a bus in flames, suspended in air, linking to a lyric from “Us Against Us” (“You were born on a moving bus/ Headed for the cliffs again”). “I oscillate between the extremes of being very pessimistic and very hopeful,” Frank muses, and the most ostensibly political song (“Faction Under The Grove”) imagines a splinter sect using apathy as a form of rebellion — “This is our chance to make it right/ This is our chance to let it fade” functions as the thesis statement of As We Pass. “This album is about endings and the process of things ending, and that is one thing that I ruminate on often,” Frank says, having built his own sustainable community as the individual people in As We Pass irreversibly head towards oblivion.

As We Pass is out 5/21 on Sargent House. Pre-order it here.

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