Title: The Frames
Author: Andy Basire
Source: Making Music
Publish date: July 1999
Andy Basire goes to the airport to check out Glen & David from The Frames
It’s a sure sign a band’s fortunes are changing for the better when the only time you can actually get to talk to them is in the hour changeover between landing at Heathrow from Ireland and then jetting straight out again to the US. Not that everything’s running smoothly…
I’ve managed to find David Odium, guitarist and part-time producer of the rather, er, fluid Irish collective (currently including violinist Cullum Mac Con Iomaire and Jo Doyle on bass). But Glen Hansard, other guitarist, main songwriter and lynchpin of the Frames, has been experiencing a ‘bit of a cock up’ in the ticket department.
“I don’t fuckin’ believe it,” Glen laughs. “I arrived at the airport earlier, handed in my ticket and this woman was like, ‘Where were you then?’.” Seems his flight was yesterday. “So I went to y’man at the airline and said, ‘Look I’m the greatest fuckin’ idiot you’ve met this month’, and he was like ‘No, no, no, everyone makes mistakes’. I’m now on the five o’clock flight.” He slumps into his seat, about as relieved and relaxed as a man who’s yet to book in for this second leg can be. We’ve got about 30 minutes.
BREAD & BUTTER
Spend any time at all in Ireland and you’ll undoubtedly come across an impromptu gathering of musicians playing for either small change or just the sheer hell of it. So it’s no real surprise to find that Glen and David first met while busking in Dublin.
“There was this huge collection of pipers, violinists and about 800 guitarists and mandolin players,” David laughs.
“It was quite famous actually,” says Glen. “Corner of Grafton Street every Saturday. Van The Man [ie Morrison] would come down. There was definitely a vibe there.”
“It really is a good place to learn to capture an audience,” David adds, “it literally is your bread & butter, and it’s only if you can get people to stop and listen that they might shell out their 20p or whatever.”
Making the next natural step, Glen then started approaching record companies with a demo tape, and eventually got a nibble from Island.
“After busking from 1984-88, I got a deal in ‘89. But I didn’t want to be a solo singer, so I was going to my mates and saying, ‘Look, we’re going to make a record’.”
David: “Then the record company asked if we’d thought of anyone to produce it but we didn’t really know what a producer did.”
“I was a big fan of the Pixies, so I just said, ‘How about the guy that did ‘Doolittle’ - I didn’t even know his name,” Glen chuckles [Gil Norton - facts ed]. “That first one was all Leonard Cohen and Neil Young influences, but also loads of mad stuff, and the two sides of the coin didn’t really sit together. Even on the second album we were still doing both very quiet songs and very intense stuff as well. It’s only now I think the two things are beginning to come together.”
New album ‘Dance The Devil’ is without doubt the most fully realised Frames record to date, avoiding the one-heavy-one-gentle track approach of their good-but-flawed earlier efforts ‘Another Love Song’ and ‘Fitzcarraldo’. Sounding not unlike dEUS (whose guitarist Craig Ward Glen and David hope to work with soon], it melds the harsher and the smoother aspects of the Frames sound more naturally. It also incorporates lots of ‘found sounds’ - not unlike two other Frames influences Tom Waits and Grandaddy - from in and around Black Box studios in France, where they recorded.
Glen grins: “Tom Waits would probably be the greatest influence of anyone, but that whole idea of natural recording… See we were recording in a barn, really, just a big open space. All the recording stuff had been ripped out of the Chicago Recording Company, where they recorded some Motown stuff. Steve Albini recommended the place to us.
“I guess it’s the whole idea of field recordings - just documenting what’s going on, rather than it being a laboratory. So many studios have a sterile feel to them. But we did a deal with this place and we were there for two months, and ended up trying to record things outside.”
The experience is obviously one David remembers fondly. “We’d go off for lunch and when you got back there’d be four mikes stands supporting this huge big tube and a mike stuck down the end of it,” he says, grinning, “some of that stuff worked really well.”
Glen: “The other great thing about this place was it had this corner with suitcases full of nonsense, like guitar pickups wired into microphones that you could hit.”
“And the greatest collection of guitar pedals - like an Electric Mistress and a 1967 Jim Dunlop wah-wah,” David beams.
Glen is nodding furiously: “Loads of lovely old Vox amps, AC15s and Invaders,” he says. ‘You could arrive at this studio with nothing and just start recording.”
“They had this thing called a Flikinger desk,” David laughs, “the whackiest thing you’ve ever seen - covered in these little buttons…”
“…and one of those tape machines that takes a while to get going [Glen makes a noise like a creaking door]. You just can’t get that sort of thing with digital recording. But it was a marriage of two great mediums really, ‘cos we were getting that lovely analogue sound and we also had ProTools with us so we could take all that great old fat sound and then use the digital editing facilities.”
Mind you, the record company were apparently less than enamoured with the final results, as David recalls.
“We gave it to ZTT and they said it was too pedestrian and morose sounding,” he smiles ruefully. “That was about a year-and-a-half ago. So we went away and did some more tracks, and in the end we only used about half of the first sessions. In fact “Plateau” is the only original recording from then.
“There’s stuff on the album that has three different drummers recorded in three different countries over a year-and-a-half,” he frowns, “which is a bit stupid really. In fact at the time it was a bloody nightmare. We were spending thousands of pounds redoing it - we even got to the point of considering leaving stuff we weren’t entirely happy with on the record.”
Glen: “But in retrospect I think they were probably right - they are a pop label and they need to be able to sell the record, and although we were very proud of what we’d given them, it probably wouldn’t have sold a whole lot. And what we’ve ended up with is a really good healthy balance. We were always worried it would sound like a compromised record, and it doesn’t.”
Glen is getting a bit twitchy as he still hasn’t checked in and his flight (which he’s lucky to have at all) leaves in less than an hour. Just time to bring up the thorny issue of his biggest bite out of the fame cherry to date, in the Alan Parker film of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments. Great fun at the time but something of a pain in the arse now, given that he’s constantly expected to explain why he left such a successful band to muck around with this side project (one can only assume the same people also think Bet Lynch was a real barmaid). The smile disappears and his voice takes on a resigned, ‘bugger, I thought I’d got away with it this time’ sort of tone.
“It still crops up and it’s pretty sad really. Unfortunately I can’t get it off press releases.” I mention that I was told I probably shouldn’t bring it up.
“If they didn’t want you to use it they wouldn’t have kept the fucking thing on the press release,” he sneers. “It just doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m doing now. I did have a really great time doing it, but it was just three months of my life - it was just like pulling into a garage, buying a few sweets and having a cup of tea, then getting back on the road, y’know? Every so often I’m reminded that I stopped back there, but this is now.”