It’s atypically easy dealing with Frankie Rose. “I don’t like middle-men,” she tells me over a Skype video chat. “I guess you could say I am a control freak, but I find middle-men often make things much more complicated.” And she’s true to her word, in organizing our interview, I’m given her personal email and we arrange a date instantaneously. Frankie Rose responds unbelievably quickly to emails. If only it was always as simple.
I notice that Frankie’s messages end with the illuminating subscript “sent from Outer Space.” While I presume it’s in keeping with her new album being entitled Interstellar, when she tells me she “really does live in a little Williamsburg bubble,” I enquire as to whether the suburb of Brooklyn has actually floated off beyond Earth’s atmosphere. “It has,” she giggles. “We are a little light on the oxygen side, but it feels nice.”
Even if she is a little oxygen-deprived, Frankie Rose is a whirlwind of insight and opinion. Formerly a founding member in each of Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts and Dum Dum Girls, a 2010 solo debut Frankie Rose And The Outs began to explore her own musical vision. However, freshly shorn of The Outs, Interstellar is a major leap into new sonic territory. The fuzzy guitars have been replaced by majestic synth lines to create a set of huge-sounding songs. Prior to the interview, I’ve already embarrassed myself somewhat by admitting – via Twitter – that the stand-out track ‘Pair Of Wings’ regularly reduces me to full-on weeping. “Yeah, I saw that. I retweeted it to two thousand people,” Frankie laughs, somewhat unhelpfully.
“I wanted to make a spectacular recording,” Frankie tells me when I ask about the initial vision for Interstellar. “I maybe wanted that to happen on the first record, but I didn’t have the resources to do it. Also, I had an amazing producer on this record so I was able to learn a lot of how to make a record huge-sounding. So, I went into the studio knowing I wanted to make a cinematic record that was almost like a soundtrack.”
“I would love to someday be part of movie-making,” Frankie continues. “It seems such an insane feat. If I think about spending 65 days in a studio, it just pales into comparison against someone making something like Lord Of The Rings which is a widescreen epic.”
While Interstellar is – in its own way – also a widescreen epic, the aforementioned “amazing” producer was remixer extraordinaire, Le Chev, who had previously worked with Lemonade, Narcisse, Passion Pit and on Frankie’s own track ‘Candy’. “He is a dance music guy and I think, honestly, he had only ever heard one song by The Cure in his entire life,” Frankie explains. “We share no references; I grew up listening to Crass and he grew up listening to R Kelly.”
While I suggest that she ‘wins’ on that particular musical showdown (“yeah, I think so too”) I’m intrigued at how the relationship worked so well. “I thought it was an odd mix for sure, but what made it work was, one, he was a great friend of mine from before we started working and two, he has got an incredible ear. If you have someone who is a real producer, they can make your vision happen, regardless of what it is.”
As I’m a kindly old soul, I express concern as to the whereabouts of The Outs. “I think they are playing music together somewhere,” Frankie reveals. I admit my relief that they are not locked away in a cupboard. “Ha! No, they were my live band. I think there was a perception that they were on the first record but they weren’t. They were great girls but I needed a different line-up to be able to perform this record as it is pretty complicated. I’m really grateful for all their work.”
While Interstellar should see Frankie reach out to a larger audience, she has long been a mainstay of the fertile Brooklyn music scene. Originally raised in Southern California by parents “who listened to Phil Collins, although my dad would tear up when he talked about seeing Jefferson Airplane live,” our teenage heroine would spend days hanging out at record stores. “I was a fan of music across the board and I would go to all the shows, no matter what it was,” Frankie recalls. “I’d be a great A&R person, actually.”
Her initial musical love was a certain morose Mancunian. “The first album that I bought on my own was when I think I was 11 and it was The Smiths’ Hatful Of Hollow. I would lock myself in my room for hours – I was a huge Smiths fan. It’s funny, because all my little girlfriends love The Smiths too.”
The interview then digresses for several minutes, as we swap stories about our mutual love of The Smiths and I try to impress Frankie by telling her that, as a child, I lived a few hundred yards from Morrissey’s family home. However, Frankie is keener to expand on Morrissey’s impact on her parent’s country of birth. “There is this phenomenon of Mexicans who love Morrissey. I was one of these young Latina ladies, and my mother loves Morrissey too. Maybe there is something about his crooning voice and the romanticism – ‘romantica’ is a big cultural thing in Mexico.” To be fair, that is more interesting than the location of my childhood residence.
Frankie then moved across America and began to make music, primarily as a drummer, with a number of seminal Brooklyn groups. To an outsider, that scene can seem overwhelming and just a tad amorphous. I wonder out loud as to whether the sonic leap of Interstellar is, in part, a means of distancing Rose from the complex webs of guitar bands and stop the obvious comparisons. “I think so,” she candidly admits. “Those comparisons may have happened with my last record a little bit. But, with this one, for anyone to draw parallels with that stuff would be strange. I don’t think that it sounds anything like that. It is mostly synth-based and almost no guitar on the whole record and barely any fuzz. There is some nice reverb but I don’t think anything is like a ‘wash’. I’m glad for the scene, but I don’t want to be ever lumped into it, ever, honestly.”
“My ultimate goal would be to stand alone and keep making records that are different, better and more original. The people I really look up to are really original artists that don’t sound like anyone else, like, for example, Kate Bush. No one sounds like Kate Bush. Or St Vincent, or PJ Harvey. They are unique and original. I would like to be like that one day.”
As Frankie reels of a list of fabulous female artists, I cannot help but think about the additional scrutiny placed on women in music. Personally, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the vicious nature of the recent criticism aimed at Lana Del Rey and suggest to Frankie that someone like the Grammy-winning Bon Iver must have it easier. “Oh yeah, for sure. I don’t even know what Justin Vernon looks like,” Frankie says.
I apologise for this spontaneous digression into the plight of Ms Del Rey, but Frankie has the bit between her teeth. “I have a lot to say about this actually. She doesn’t offend me in any way and I like the song ‘Video Games’ and whether she wrote it is irrelevant – it is a fine song. But, what I find really disturbing is it seems like female pop stars are around to be hated upon. It seems like men and women – across the board – feel it is okay for misogyny to rear its head via these pop stars. I don’t know why it is okay because it is fine to not like someone but to completely tear them apart is at a level I just don’t understand. But, in the end, she has been a success and I think she wanted to be a pop star and she has got it. Personally, I’m not one for a lot of attention.”
I ask Frankie whether she spends a lot of time thinking about the image she is projecting. “Yeah, but I am pretty shy so that’s always a hard one for me. It’s always a struggle for me because I am really more interested in recording and being in a studio and I am much less interested in being on stage or having my picture taken. I try and look presentable but my press promos have me practically in the dark. It is a little bit of a source of stress for me.” Indeed, Frankie isn’t just simply in the dark during our interview; she appears as a motionless blue square on my computer screen as her webcam “isn’t working properly.”
But that’s okay; it must be tough getting a connection in Outer Space.
Interstellar is out on the 19 March via Memphis Industries.