Frankie Rose is Center Stage
PHOTO COURTESY OF FRANKIE ROSE AND THE OUTS
You might think that Frankie Rose was commitment-phobic. Since transplanting herself from California to Brooklyn several years ago, she’s brought her considerable skills as a drummer and vocalist, and her undeniable charisma, to a series of buzz-generating bands: first, as an original member of the lo-fo latter-day Shangri-La’s the Vivian Girls, then with the shoegaze pop act Crystal Stilts, and most recently as the touring drummer with LA’s Dum Dum Girls.
Each situation had its charms, and Rose says it wasn’t so much dissatisfaction with any of those gigs that caused her to hop from band to band. The point is, she wanted her own thing—with her own songs. Now, with this week’s release of the self-titled debut album from Frankie Rose and the Outs on Slumberland, she’s got it. It’s a collection of songs that move Rose a few steps away from the hazy pop she’s been associated into even dreamier places, evoking comparisons to the Cocteau Twins. Frankie wrote the songs during a cold Brooklyn winter, and recorded them in the spring with the Outs–guitarist Margot Bianca, bassist Caroline Yes, and drummer Kate Ryan (Rose has moved out from behind the drum kit to play guitar and sing). We met up with Bianca, Yes and Miss Frankie Rose herself recently in Brooklyn to talk changes, challenges, and how, even in 2010, the “all-girl” thing can prove to be a hurdle.
JOHN NORRIS: Frankie, you’ve been a key part of three significant bands in the last couple of years, but this is something different.
FRANKIE ROSE: Oh yeah this is amazing. Getting to make my own record, there’s no feeling like that. Everyone in the band is on the record, but yeah, it’s a whole different story than playing the drums in a band.
NORRIS: And in fact you’re not playing drums–you stepped up to the front. Was that a tough transition?
ROSE: Yeah, at first. I think it took a while for me to acclimate to being in the front, actually. I was so used to being in the back, and having to actually engage with the audience was a completely different story. But honestly I was just sick of the drums. I was just like, “I can’t play drums anymore.” And I love playing the guitar and it’s something I haven’t had the chance to get better at, and, so this is exactly what I wanted to do.
NORRIS: Margot, how did you end up being part of the band?
MARGOT BIANCA: I’ve known Frankie since, well, since before the Vivian Girls. I played in punk bands, Caroline and Frankie had played together and then I saw Vivian Girls’ first show. So I’ve known her, but we didn’t really start playing together until this band.
NORRIS: Which was a year ago?
CAROLINE YES: Yeah, almost exactly.
NORRIS: And Caroline, you guys had known each other, you and Frankie?
YES: We’ve played together briefly, bedroom projects before the Vivian Girls started, and Margot and I have known each other for a while and played together and we’ve all supported each other in different projects, so coming together this was an excellent group of people. I was actually playing in another project at the time, and Frankie was like “What if you guys were like my backup band, and it’s gonna be like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers?” She was like, “I’ve got Margot to play guitar, do you want to come and back me up?” So for me that was like, how could I refuse?
NORRIS: So Frankie what about the need to have a band? Because you released a solo single last year, credited to just you. Is there is a reason you wanted to put together a band, rather than just make a solo record?
ROSE: Yeah I mean, I like being in a band. I think it’s important to have a group of people and work as a team, I think it makes life more interesting. Yes, I know solo artists who hire musicians to go with them on tour and I’m just not really interested in that. I’d rather have a band of people that I care about out there with me. You know, their heart is more in it, it makes for a better show, and it’s more fun.
NORRIS: So, “Candy” is the first video, and without giving away too much, for a bright and bouncy song it’s pretty dark.
ROSE: Yeah my friend Vice Cooler did that, um, it’s kinda creepy. It’s the exact opposite of the way the song sounds.
NORRIS: And you’re doing a bit of acting in it?
ROSE: I’m in it but I sort of made him take me out of it a lot. I wasn’t so jazzed about being on camera too much. Or I was like “why don’t you just show half my face? Or a quarter? Or my eyeball instead of my whole face?”
NORRIS: I think when a lot of people write about you, the story begins with Vivian Girls. But you were in California before that for most of your life?
ROSE: Yeah, Southern California and then twelve years in San Francisco and Oakland.
NORRIS: And bands out there?
ROSE: I had one band called Shit Storm, but they are now Grass Widow. Who just put out an album on Kill Rock Stars and it’s awesome and I love them. So that was my first band really.
NORRIS: And you guys grew up in the East?
BIANCA: Yeah, I grew up in New York.
YES: I grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
NORRIS: Yeah? Merge country.
YES: Yeah. Totally. That’s what I grew up on.
NORRIS: Speaking of Grass Widow, and Dum Dum Girls and Vivian Girls, there’s still a real tendency, even in this supposedly enlightened indie world, to pit female bands against one another. I was at this Captured Tracks outdoor thing last year, Vivian Girls were there as well as Dum Dum Girls and I remember there was this thing among some people of “oh now it’s gonna be the girls against the girls” kind of thing. Almost like they wanted to see a mud wrestling match.
ROSE: No, it really is like Mad Men. It really is. And it’s so funny, I don’t know “all-girl band” is a really funny phrase to me. Because how often do you hear someone say “I’m going to see three all-male bands tonight”? “And it’s gonna be awesome!”
NORRIS: Yeah, or “an all-Asian band”?
ROSE: Yeah, “I’m gonna go see an all-black band tonight.” It’s really crazy. I mean there are enough female musicians out there now that I feel like it should be not an issue. But it really does seem like if you have a majority women, or if you are an all-women band, it doesn’t matter, the music doesn’t get listened to. You are seen as making the same kind of music. And it’s ridiculous.
NORRIS: Caroline, for you is there a difference in terms of just band dynamics when you’re in an all-female band? Do you prefer one or the other?
YES: I mean, I think there’s stereotypes about both. I mean there’s stereotypes about dirty boys on the road, and there was plenty of that when we’re on the road. It’s like “man we’re sick of crashing on these dirty couches.” I think there’s stereotypes both ways, and they’re not ever necessarily true. I know plenty of clean guys who just want to read after the show.
BIANCA: I think there’s also this expectation that women are not gonna get along with each other.
ROSE: That we’re “catty.”
BIANCA: And I guess it’s a good narrative but we’re all, we’ve moved on. We’re really into our female friends and network. I spent time, I started out playing with women only. And I thought it was gonna be really different playing with men. But they’re just as sensitive. If not more so, at times.
NORRIS: I know you said that it’s important that people see you as capable, competent players so that you don’t get that ‘oh well at least they’re cute’ reaction.
ROSE: Oh yeah, that’s horrible. I think we’re in “post-riot grrrl” now, maybe?
YES: All I have to say is wasn’t post riot-grrrl 10 years ago, I mean haven’t we moved a bit beyond that? My attitude about all that stuff is you just have to rise above it, and we just have to hold ourselves to our own standards and be the best musicians that we can be. And I know that I’m playing with excellent musicians.
NORRIS: Frankie I know there have been a couple of times as you transitioned from band to band in the last few years that you were doing double duty–first with the Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts –which I know wasn’t so easy.
ROSE: Oh, I was losing my mind during that time. It was impossible to be in two bands at that level.
NORRIS: And then earlier this year, when you were trying to finish the Outs record, and you were still touring with Dum Dum Girls.
ROSE: It reached a point when I remember I was like “I’ve got to put in my resignation letter because I can’t do it.” Because we did South by Southwest with both bands and I was like ‘I can’t do this!’ I think I played like 13 shows in three days. They were off at the swimming hole eating barbecue and I was like losing my mind.
NORRIS: So how will things be different with this band?
ROSE: First of all, rule number one is I want everyone to have a really good time, the entire time. I want it to be fun, to be light, I don’t want anyone’s livelihood to be threatened. Because that definitely happens a lot, not just to me, I see it happen to a lot of people who are in bands. So we’re gonna be careful with the touring and make sure everything is done responsibly and make sure that everyone can keep their jobs, or make sure that we can take care of everyone.
NORRIS: I’m sure that this is a more fulfilling situation than those other bands, but at the same time do you feel like those three brought you to a good place in terms of being “ready” to do your own thing and do it right?
ROSE: I do feel ready and I hate to keep saying it, but I don’t think I could do it if I was just by myself. Margot and Caroline and Kate are key to this–I’ll say that over and over again.