Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chicago band Furious Frank bringing new energy to scene


Whether you call their music klezmer punk or fractured folk, one thing is for sure - Chicago band Furious Frank, www.furiousfrank.net, is injecting a new sense of vibrancy into the music scene.

Furious Frank's sophomore album, "The Map & the Territory," was released this week, and the band will perform at a record release party March 31 at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., Chicago.

Four Star Brass Band and Descarga also are on the bill. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are $10, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Furious Frank frontman Mason Payne about the new album.

Q - What goals did you have for "The Map & the Territory?"

The main goal is always to allow everyone to quit their day jobs. So, no different here. 

But musically, the goal was to have a more collaborative album. To let the songs develop for a while and to get all of our ideas onto each track wherever possible. It helped that we were able to put together our own studio and take our time on each song. 

That hurt too, obviously. Any time you give a band that much time and access, the project gets long and the tracks many. Dustin Delage, who did the final mixes and mastering, did a good job easing back some of that overkill and getting the songs back to their natural roots. 

Q - Is the album's name a reference to the novel by Michel Houellebecq?

It is a reference to how music - lyrics, instrumentation, volume, tempo, orchestration - is perceived. How it is made personal. Whether music stands alone or whether it describes something. Or both.

That is not to say we are not readers of Mr. Houellebecq. But no reference should be inferred.

Q - Were you trying to build off your first album, "The Hobocamp Mud Show?"

We wanted to build off of certain aspects of it. As it was our first album, it represented the band at an early stage, trying different ideas, seeing how we fit together as nine musicians with nine different musical backgrounds. 

The new album is far more representative of a band that has been together for nearly five years. Though it certainly has a variety of styles, it’s far less schizophrenic than "Hobocamp" was. It really builds from certain songs on the first album I think, songs that we particularly enjoy playing.

Q - In creating Furious Frank, what did you set out to do?

To create something fun and new. To push us outside of our comfort zones stylistically and see if we can find a sound that we can identify with. 

In the end, I think the primary goal is to sound as little like anything else as possible, but to sound as precisely like ourselves. I also wanted to run a concertina through a Marshall.
Q - Do you think you've accomplished your goals?

It’s always a work in progress. We are very proud of this album, but we are already very excited about what we can do next. 

There is always a fear that we will begin to settle into a pattern, to start cranking out songs for the sake of volume. I am encouraged, sometimes, at the sheer number of songs we develop and then reject. 

It tells me that we have, collectively, developed an ear for what Furious Frank is, or at least what it isn’t.

Q - How did you go about assembling the band?

You know, I’m not entirely sure I understand how it came to be. It was an idea, an idea that really was a vague basis for a starting point for a band.

This idea of a “carny band,” which really means nothing when you think about it. To me, I think all it meant was an organized chaos. It meant collecting whoever you could get with the solitary idea of putting on a show. 

What that show would be, what instruments would be involved, what sound would be created, all of that would work itself out.
Q - I'm sure you've heard the band described in many different ways. How would you describe the band?

Yes. We’ve heard klezmer punk, Ameri-Mexicana, gypsy rock. The best one I’ve heard so far was fractured folk. 

I’ve given up on describing the music to some degree. The band itself was best described by Travis. Or maybe it was Jason. Anyway, some people like to fish, we like to do this.
Q - Who are your biggest musical influences?

There are seven of us now. Ten on the album. So that question is a bit of a beast. 

I don’t know that we can honestly coalesce around any in particular. But if I think about who we cover, the kind of lyrics we write and how we think about them, some musicians that come to mind are Steve Goodman, The Mountain Goats, Kris Kristofferson and Tom Waits

From a personal point of view, I think this band was formed in my mind after seeing Manu Chao at Lollapalooza in 2006. I think I lost my mind at that show. 

Q - It seems like the band really has fun on stage. Do you think the band is at its best on stage?

I think most every band would claim that. We love playing onstage and I think the closer our connection with the audience, the better we play. 

We’ve had what I felt were great onstage performances, but we’ve also had some of our best times just playing in a crowd of people, where someone might wander up with some instrument and join in for a while, or some kids are suddenly dancing around the drummer, where the lines of “stage” and “audience” get less defined. 

Those opportunities are few and far between, unfortunately.

Q - What do you think the band brings to the Chicago music scene?

We believe in the kind of show where you don’t always know what comes next. We really like the idea of playing with other bands, other musicians, other performers who might not seem to fit the bill. 

We have struggled with booking at times in some cities because clubs can’t figure out whom to pair us with. “Good bands” is the right answer. If we can get this scene to cross-pollinate a bit more, we will have brought something worthwhile.

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