Where You Go, There You Are: Talking with Frankie Rose
by Shannon Jay
Frankie Rose replied right back to my direct text message request to be interviewed -- going as far to say she just gets excited to even be asked anymore. Despite being a major player in the indie scene for over a decade, the the former Vivian/Dum Dum Girl doesn’t need all those fancy managers, or anyone else for that matter.
“When you’re steering the ship, I think things go a lot more smoothly more often, you’ve only got one person that’s deciding - ME! And i like that.”
“Everything!” Rose responded when I asked what has changed in the music industry since she got her start, “I feel like a grandma now.”
“These young bands, they talk about their ‘brand’ or whatever, that’s not something we were thinking about, it was about the music you were making. There wasn’t this gross capitalist slant of ‘I’m trying to sell you something,’ it continues to not be a part of my conversation. I’m just gonna make what i’m gonna make,” she said, “and if you can wrap your head around it and you like it that’s awesome; I don’t know how affective that is at reaching people, maybe it’s not, but i’m also okay with that.”
“Our first tour we didn’t even have a cellphone in the car, we used an atlas to get places,” she said of life on the road with punk band Shitstorm, far from the “very luxurious” situation carrying her from Kansas to St Louis when I called. “we’ll play 3 nights and then take time off,” she said of opening for Alvvays, “I’ve never been so rested in my life.”
Rose deserves to rest, working odd jobs throughout her career, the worst during her attempted escape to LA a few years back. “I was working out of an ice cream truck,” she said, “it was really dumb.” Personal tragedy, financial hardships, and uncertainty in her musical career might’ve been the dumbest part, because Rose actually likes sacrificing free time. Too much and she said “you start to take advantage of that, you think you have all the time in the world to do things.”
“There’s been years where I could have not had a job but I like having something to do that’s very structured.” In early 2000s New York, she tended bar while making music. “During the day, like a ‘Cheers’ happy hour bartender -- I don’t like drunk people,” she specified, “I’m not the most social person, I won't go out a lot, so to be behind a bar keeps me social.”
Introversion may have drove Rose to go solo, and made LA all the more alluring. “I think I had some idea that I would have this space when I went to LA, and time, and isolation -- but in a positive way, which turned out to be in a negative way,” Rose said. It was the time on her own she could’ve been alluding to on the opening track of what she thought would be her last release, 'Herein Wild.'
“I was reaching my decade of being in New York, and it was after a kind of dark record cycle,” she said of time surrounding the 2013 release, “I was really disenchanted and I was like, ‘I’m never gonna make another record again!’ I felt trapped in New York.”
She fled to her hometown of LA to be free, but expectation of paradise turned into an entrapment of her own creation. This feeling inspired her latest album’s title, ‘Cage Tropical,’ her first in 4 years. “It started out there just at my house making demos and recording stuff in my closet that I turned into a vocal booth,” she said, concluding recording after taking refuge in New York after being out west a little over a year. “It’s great there and it works for a lot of people, but not for me.”
“You have to figure out what inspires you,” she said about bouncing back, finding music the most discouraging source “If I’m blocked, I can’t sit there and listen to music, I’ll tear it apart; it’s like using my brain and the creative energy inside my body; I need to try something else because it’s all the same manna.”
Instead, she went to art museums, watched films, and engrossed herself in “things that were inspiring to me in another way, things that I thought made the world beautiful and made me want to make something.” Influences encompassed her “fascination with magic -- things that can blow my mind or make me look at things in a different way,” citing outer space and “whales in the ocean” as sources of awe.
“Pain is a great motivator,” which she induced by binging paranormal broadcasts from the recently deceased Art Bell. Initially exploiting her existential dread, it eventually inspired her to pen a song in his name. “I never send my music to anyone ever,” she said, “but I did email him, I never got a response - wish I had now.”
With her latest record, ‘Cage Tropical,’ she’s able to reflect on a need to escape but inability to escape yourself. “Now I’m so totally in a different space, but at the time I was confused,” she said, but the record ends on a brighter note “Ultimately I was able to get back to New York and some of that changed… there’s some pop songs on there too that are happier and on the other side.”
While the albums are being made, however, Rose isn’t sure what they’re about until years later. “Every record I make is a little bit of a time capsule,” she said, “sometimes it’s not so laid out, especially my lyric writing, it’s never like ‘this is a love song, this is what this is about,’ but it’s more a feeling of what i’m having at the time.”
“I was really heartbroken about music, so lonely, I find it to be a very lonely place for me, and I’m so grateful for that experience now and I got through the other side of it -- and you can’t really take that away.”
“My tastes are changing,” Rose referred to the use of synths on the record, “they’re becoming more interesting to me than guitars, they’re like an endless puzzle.” Serving as a simpler setup and less people to manage, it’s made Rose’s recent tour with Alvvays carefree.
“With touring it’s kind of like a mixed bag, there’s so many different factors that can make something a horrible tour where you decide you never want to play music again, or an amazing tour where you come back inspired and happy to be doing it -- luckily that’s this tour,” she said, rearing to get back to New York and make a new record, however long it takes. “When you decide something like that, it’s like looking up Mt. Everest, you’re like ‘i’m gonna climb this mountain, it’s gonna take a long time, who knows,’ but i have the desire.”
It’s a long way from where she was roughly 3 years earlier. “I was really heartbroken about music, so lonely, I find it to be a very lonely place for me, and I’m so grateful for that experience now and I got through the other side of it -- and you can’t really take that away.”
“It was no easy feat,” she said of attempting to heal. “There was no one thing, I wanted to get through it so bad, I was willing to do anything it took to get through that heartbreak. That can sometimes mean doing uncool things like therapy, acupuncture, changing your diet, going to self help group -- humbling things.”
"take it easy on yourself, living's not an easy thing to do"
Not one thing worked for Rose, but together all realms of self care got her through. “There was a time where I pushed open every door and nothing would work, nothing made me feel better, it takes whats it takes,” she said, hopefully. “Maybe someone will hear that and it will help.”
“I don’t think that you can rush healing, grief takes it’s own time,” she said, “it took what it took, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“I keep throwing in these terrible chiches i’m sorry,” she interrupts herself, “I feel like I basically just wrote you a self help book," a reflection of self criticism engrained in her process.
“I’m my own worst enemy, I’m really great at beating myself up -- ‘I feel terrible, and I suck for feeling terrible, I shouldn't feel terrible, why do I feel terrible' -- I should, I should, I should,” her inner monologue echos, “but i say just take it easy on yourself, living’s not an easy thing.”
We end our chat on a fantasy of an all-female music festival. “I think we need a giant festival that’s not run by crazy conservative whackos, but where the women do everything, and I don’t mean like Lilith Fair,” but where cool chicks headline and females organize, run, and engineer. It’d be a far cry from problematic organizers like Coachella's founder. “It’s appalling, it’s disgusting,” she dictates her disgust, “luckily they don’t like me.” I offered assistance in her dream, met with an enthusiastic “I’m serious, I would totally do that.”
Thus, readers, I leave you with one question -- who's down to fund Frankiefest?