FRANKIE IN LOS ANGELES, AUGUST 2015. PHOTOS: JASON BARBAGELOTT. STYLING: DANI + EMMA. HAIR: CAILE NOBLE AT JED ROOT USING KERATASE. MAKEUP: KAT REYES AT JED ROOT USING CHANEL. MANICURE: KAIT MOST AT CLOUTIER REMIX USING CHANEL LE VERNIS.
“It’s a balance of that ’70s and ’90s duality that I love so much—half pop, half ‘I’m going to cry,'” singer-songwriter Frankie says of her music. In February, the musician’s single “Problems Problems” circumvented the internet, reached number two on HypeMachine, and was later included on her debut EP Dreamstate, which was released at the end of August via RCA. Although the Oakland, California native has been singing ever since she can remember, she began writing her own songs around age 10—some of which were even considered for Dreamstate. “I would write songs about whatever happened that day, and they’re not horrible. It was my therapy,” she recalls. From then on, she began learning instruments, including the piano, guitar, ukelele, and dulcimer, all of which continue finding their ways into her pop anthems. When these instruments are combined with upbeat melodies, her oftentimes sad lyricism attains an air of hopefulness.
Over the summer, we met the artist in New York before the EP’s release, where she charmed us with exuberant energy. Less than a week later, she sent us a handmade and handwritten card, and we soon caught up with her over the phone to learn more. This week, she’s back in New York for CMJ, playing two shows: one tonight at Mercury Lounge and another on Friday at Bowery Ballroom.
BASED: Los Angeles
FROM: Oakland, California
AROUND AGE 10… My mom noticed I could sing, so she was like, “I want to put you in piano lessons.” So I did piano lessons every week for three years; I hated it so much. Then I remember when Michelle Branch and Avril Lavigne first came out and I saw these girls playing guitar and singing. At the time I was looking up to The Spice Girls and Britney, which is totally fine, but I would look in the mirror doing their choreography and I was like, “Why don’t I look as good as them dancing? Why can I not pull this off?” So then I saw Michelle Branch and Avril Lavigne and was like, “Whoa, I think could totally rock to that, that seems like my type of girl.” So I told my mom I was going to quit piano and teach myself the guitar. I got a guitar and taught myself three chords; I wrote every song and possible outcome with only knowing three chords. [laughs] I would come home from school, immediately go into my room, not talk to anybody, and jam with myself. When I went to college one of my instruments was classical guitar so I learned how to play classical really well. Guitar changed my life, for sure.
WORKING WITH PETROS: I met him in college my first year. He was a few years older, but also from Oakland. We actually grew up five minutes away from each other but had never met. So when I met him in school I had heard of his band that was pretty well known in the Bay Area. I was like, “I’ve never been to your show, but I’ve heard you guys and you’re awesome. Let’s be friends.” We got really close and were always working on music together. I would play him songs and he would play me songs. Sometimes we would write together, but it was always for other people. When he graduated and moved to L.A. he was like, “Frankoie, you’ve got to come down here after you graduate. I feel like we could really do something special.” So after I moved down was the first time we started working on something musically just for us and that’s everything you hear on the EP.
MOVING TO L.A.: There’s something really intimidating but also inspiring about the scene in L.A. When I was in Oakland, I kind of felt like I was in my own musical bubble because I didn’t really know that many people around me who were going out like I was. I was always the girl who was “playing guitar and singing” in college. So when I came down to L.A. [and found] so many other people doing this, it was a little intimidating at first. But then I was like, “No this is awesome, we’re all in it together.” I took that, got really inspired, and started to write better songs for myself. I guess I didn’t settle for anything. I think before, if I was in my room writing, I would’ve been like, “Yeah that’s a fine chorus, yeah lets go with that,” but in L.A. I was like, “Yeah it’s a fine chorus but how can I make it better?”
THE OLD AND NEW: My mom controlled all the music in the car growing up. She would play Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles—you name it, she played it. It was all I knew growing up. I think hearing those singer-songwriters from a really young age made me more honest in my song writing, more confessional. But then when I would come home and turn on the TV, I would see Britney and The Spice Girls with the in-your-face pop, which was as equally inspiring and eye catching. I kind of try to mix those two different genres together with my music. I did it subconsciously, and then one day I analyzed it and was like, “Oh! This is what’s going on.”
I still love those in your face pop moments, cause almost any child in the ’90s will either love Britney or want to hang out with the Spice Girls. We don’t know why, but they were everything to us. So I still love having those top-production moments, including what I wear on stage. At the end of the day I write every single song on my stories, my confessions; they’re pockets of my life. That’s the only way I know how to write. Even my pop songs are true. With “Chaos,” which was the last song on the EP, I wanted to really emphasize that singer-songwriter side of me. I didn’t want any production; I wanted it to be very minimal and just have my voice and showcase my words. I try to balance those two worlds well, because they are equally inspiring to me.
ASIDE FROM MUSIC: I love capturing memories and like every creative medium possible. I try to dip my toe in. I’m definitely inspired by looking at the world and capturing as much as I can. I’m also really inspired by food; I love cooking. [laughs] I’m Cuban and Spanish, but I have an Italian palette. So I can make any one-pot-wonder you ask and whip it into a cool pasta or something. I’m obsessed with cooking.
DREAMSTATE: One night when I was falling asleep—it was that moment where you aren’t thinking about anything, you’re literally right about to fall asleep—I don’t know why, but suddenly I started paying attention to my brain and I was spitting out full lyrics and melodies. I grabbed my phone and started singing into my phone. I woke up and flushed everything out. It became the first song that went onto the EP. So then I started paying attention to those moments and kind of allowing myself to let the songs come to me—trying to be in that mental state where you’re really open to whatever. Whatever comes to me, I’m down to explore it. It’s kind of nice not being tied to an instrument, too. There was more freedom to it that way. That’s how I’ve been writing the album too.