Monday, September 19, 2011

Frankmusik Interview: On Do It In The A.M., Erasure, and the perfect Pop Record

Frankmusik is a really exciting artist for me to be able to interview.  His music helped kick start my initial interest in electronic music and the 80s revival.  His track "3 Little Words" off his record Complete Me, along with its awesome retro-feel video was the start of my own personal music evolution.  Not only was "3 Little Words" great, but the rest of the record was an awesome collection of beautifully mixed vintage and new elements, as it featured old-school chip tune style sounds, as well as borderline show-tune piano all expertly crafted. To this date, Frankmusik has inspired many, but no one else has come close to his unique style of beautiful vocals over warm synths, catchy hooks, and classic piano.

Of course, when I heard FM had moved to L.A. for his next record (if I recall correctly, I remember him tweeting in 2009 how if Complete Me wasn't a hit, he wanted to move to L.A. and make a pop record) I was a little concerned.  In my opinion, he'd have to change drastically for US radio.  Was the singer selling out?  My concerns grew when his collaborations with Far East Movement, who are very much in the rap/pop realm of the US currently, landed him on Jimmy Kimmel Live.  Was FM trying to be the next US pop star? Would he trade his awesome original niche for a taste of some stateside fame and boring electropop?  I voiced these concerns via Twitter and that's when FM first got in contact with me.

A little over a month ago, I chatted with Frankmusik about his new record, Do It In The A.M., but didn't get enough information at the time for a proper interview.  After seeing him in Philadelphia, he promised to finish up some follow up questions I had sent him via email.  The first set below are from our chat over Skype, and the second half is from our email correspondance.  I've edited the Skype chat a bit to make it more readable and taken out some dialogue, but there was no edits to the words.  Enjoy!

Via Skype:

I think there's concern in the electronic music community-- and some of your fans that your new stuff might be in favor of getting popular than what everyone knows and loves you for. I don't think people want another Complete Me but you were the guy that made 80s fresh again for alot of us.
FM: "Well my life has changed dramatically. I'm not a guy who just signed a record deal for the money. I am now a grown artist with one album under my belt. I have made a much more commercial record and what ever the "purists" think, it's actually 20 times harder to make a pop record than some niche, haircut, quirky, trendy, "I liked him before he sold out record". Ask any electro bedroom producer to write an incredible pop song and you will get little results, more often than not.  I am taking on the challenge and that excites me and drives my creativity."

So you think it's a quest for the perfect pop record?
"For me, yes.  I set myself apart by always putting songs in the middle of my productions. If I wanted to be solely an electronica artist I would never have had the itch to write hooks. Or at least try to write hooks."

I think some people are seeing it as a make more money record. Because CM wasn't a number 1. But no great record is a number 1, not anymore.
"Well I am trying to change that. Before we talk any further about integrity lets just look at who you are talking to. I am not some cookie cutter pop singer.  I write everything myself. I now produce/arrange and edit all of my work. Now tell me, how my pop acts do that? I think I can hold my head quite high in terms of the integrity argument compared to most other artists in mainstream pop."

Yeah that's absolutely true.  I don't think people think of it like that, I didn't really.
"No, most people don't give a damn who produces the songs or writes them, that's the problem. They are faceless. Well, sadly, I am the whole of the factory and the shop front and the salesman. Its a lot to do and more than anyone can fully understand.  I am far from perfect, and I claim to know very little. And I find it much easier to see the possibilities in others than in myself, but my god I try to push every angle as hard as I can, but I am slowing down and taking on a different approach to my pop career.  Firstly, I am taking on more production work. I have just produced the whole of Erasures new album,  I am getting married next year, and I am taking my solo career a lot less seriously. Hence the more pop route as I have nothing to loose. I can make a trendy insane journey of an album after this record of pop songs. I am not limited. I choose to limit myself to a project and see it through."

So do it in the AM is your pop record
"Yeah. its my, I moved to LA to do what ever the hell I wanted record."

And whatever comes after, after the producing others, marriage that could be the sequal to CM?
"Yep. Bare in mind, I have been massively doing "old frankmusik" else where. For example,,"

There's just a lot of fear in fans that someone like you-- who made a beloved, quirky awesome first record, would turn and sell his soul for fame.
"Hahahahaha. Fame. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I have a soon to be wife, 2 studios on either side of the world, soon to have a Jeep Sahara and tour the whole of america with Erasure. Fame is laughable in comparison. You have to see that I am trying to survive a weird industry there are hardly any white male solo artists who do straight up pop out there. At the moment, its all urban or beardy guitar bands, haha. I never made any money period."

Off CM?
"Yeah that album cost a TON to make, more money than I would have allowed if I had my way.  I make my money from producing other acts and remix work. I left the UK because of their lack of understanding me. Trust me, I know how easy it is to judge my position but if I just wanted to make "cool" shit all day long I could do that by jacking off with my whole David Smith collection whilst recording in logic, but that gets me nowhere fast.

This is my fave thing I have done prior to thsi new album that I think you will like,"

You were mr. mouth and then you were frankmusik
"Yep I beatboxed and make musik for fun."

So you just taught yourself?

On Reason/Logic?
"Protools first. You see I don't LEARN I feel."

Sure, sure.
"No seriously vibe is the operative word and what a gay word it is but its true."

Via Email:

What is your gear collection like now?
"Hardware: Blue baby bottle microphone x2. UA 1176. Avalon 737. David Smith Mopho. David Smith Prophet 8 special edition. Yamaha Motif. Access Virus Ti. Korg DS 8. Roland SH 101. Micro Korg.

Software: Top Secret."

Tell me a bit about what kind of synths you're using on Do it in the AM (the album)-- are you using mostly soft synths? hardware synths? Which ones? What is your favorite?
"Mostly Software. Mostly the Nexus 2. But I don't use it in a normal way. I resample it. I never use the presets as they are."

You've just produced the new Erasure LP. What is it like working with Vince Clarke, an old synth legend? Your haircut today is similar to his in the 80s…
"I only had a week with Vince in Maine. It was incredible to be surrounded by that much gear. But really it was about Vince. His energy is the best. Calm, funny, collected and quietly confident. A true gent."

Did you guys use a lot of old analog synths for that record?
"I used a mixture of my gear. But Vince sent me analog parts to drop in over my production."

You're constantly giving away free tunes these days-- just a couple days ago you released an acoustic version of Cut Me Down, and a couple months ago you released an album's worth of tracks called "Long Live Frankmusik". What's your philosophy here? Are they extra little demos you've finished? Are you trying to draw new fans?
"I just make musik. For myself. How it reaches people doesn't really bother me."

One of my favorites of the freebies was "Our Discovery", a tribute to Daft Punk. Are they your favorite? They seem to influence everyone today in dance.
"Daft Punk are amazing. Always were, always will be."

What have you got planned for the upcoming tour? Hopefully you're getting a decent sized set. Are you going to do new songs and some Long Live Frankmusik tracks? Mix in some old tracks?
"My set is a mixture of songs from my first album. A couple of songs from my new album and a fair amount of covers that the Erasure crowd would like."

You've always got a ton of piano in your tracks-- is that real piano, or samples? Do you usually write your tracks on piano first?
"I use 3 pianos. Software only."

Do you have any production/ writing tips for the youngsters getting into electronic music?
"Practice. Be tasteful and practice some more."

What comes next after your big tour?
"Touring the UK with Erasure!"

What's in store for the future of frankmusik?
"More musik."

Be sure to check out Frankmusik's new record, Do It In The A.M., out September 27th.  You can preorder it here on iTunes!

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