Building up your own history
Dublin's The Frames are back with a new album and continuing their constant gigging, with a view that success would probably break them up.
The future is looking bright for The Frames. Although being dropped by your record label is usually time for anything but a celebration, Glen Hansard tells me that the band are delighted to have their freedom back. Last year, they released their latest album, "Dance the Devil", on ZTT. Although it was recorded not long after their 1996 album, "Fitzcarraldo", arguments between the band and ZTT over two songs held up the album's release for over two years. The two songs were 'god bless mom' and 'The Pavement Song', an alternative version of which has since been released independently on Plateau Records. Now that they can finally do things their way, instead of using their energy to battle against a record company, things are starting to happen quickly. They are currently touring Ireland to get some money together because, newly free from ZTT, they want to record and release an album in the next few months.
"We have an album's worth of material in us, but we just couldn't record a note while signed to ZTT as it would have belonged to them. We plan to start recording in a house in Kerry from the end of February with Craig Ward, the guitarist from Belgian band, dEUS."
The Frames have never made an album this way before and Glen is looking forward to it. And, considering they no longer have a record label, another plus factor is that "it won't cost very much - just renting the house and some mics".
This can only be good news for all The Frames fans out there, who have kept faith during the long gaps between albums. The fact that The Frames have always been known as an electrifying live band who tour frequently has kept their old fans happy and won them many new ones. This was shown in the Hot Press Readers Poll. Glen was very happy when he heard that "Dance the Devil" was voted best album. The Frames were only beaten into second place in the live band section by the ever-present David Gray. Due to their constant touring and gigging, they have a large, and exceptionally devoted, following throughout Ireland.
Having been on the road for the best part of ten years, Glen realises that it's not something that all Irish bands do any more. "When we first started there was a structure in Ireland for a band to go out of Dublin and play proper gigs. That seems to have died off a lot. Word of mouth has really been the bedrock The Frames have sailed upon, it's been everything to do with our success up to now."
Even if there were delays between the albums you could be guaranteed that The Frames would be appearing at a venue near you a couple of times a year. "Although there have been slack periods and successful periods, I think what's been great for The Frames is that, anytime we've done a gig, there's always been people at it.'
As far as Glen is concerned, coming first in the Hot Press Readers Poll matters. "It's real people making phonecalls and writing emails to vote' rather than the corporate lovefest that was the Hot Press Awards Ceremony, celebrating the Ireland of Westlife and Boyzone. In a country that's so potent musically and creatively, it's embarrassing that bands such as Westlife and the Corrs were the ones that whipped up every award".
He thinks it's ridiculous that The Frames were nominated in the same categories (Best Irish Band, Best Irish Album) as the Corrs. "We don't travel in the same world, we're not in the same building...so if it comes to racing against the Corrs I don't want to take part." While strange images of Andrea and Glen racing for the prize come unbidden to mind, there's a more serious side to this. "I would rather not get involved because I don't feel we can win in those circumstances, and we wouldn't necessarily want to." He also finds it very interesting that the Hot Press Readers poll so blatantly contradicts the Hot Press Awards.
At the end of the day, Glen is happy with the public response to "Dance the Devil", despite what he feels were rather "lukewarm" responses from some sections of the press. The Frames have never had an easy time of it and, at this stage, Glen doesn't think that they would be particularly comfortable with a mass of success. In fact, he thinks it would be bad for the band. "I always have this theory that if The Frames see any success, we'll split up." Glen, somewhat idealistically, feels that they exist in adversity and, in many ways, this struggle is what keeps them going.
On the current tour the Chicago band, Songs: Ohia are supporting The Frames. Glen came across Songs: Ohia by accident while touring America. He heard their album playing in a record store by chance and bought it. He liked it so much that he emailed Songs: Ohia's Jason Molina, telling him that he was with a band in Dublin and wondering if they would be interested in coming over to play a gig. Despite the fact that it's being done on a shoestring and Glen made it clear that they could only put them up and pay their fare, Jason was all for it. He also suggested that Songs: Ohia and The Frames release a split 7" together at some stage in the future. This really appeals to Glen, as he likes to work with "people who make things into an event".
The Frames have always paid a lot of attention to the details, putting a lot of work into the design of things like posters and flyers. Glen did the "Dance the Devil" artwork himself. As part of their tour before Christmas, they released an EP on Independent Records with the Jubilee Allstars, David Kitt and Dave Cleary. Called "Come On Up To The House, the EP also includes the video for 'Star Star**', which was shot in New York last year. By releasing special once-off pieces like this, Glen feels that you build up your own history.
"It's like sending little boats out and hoping that they come back heaped up with gold." At this stage it looks like some of those boats are finally making their way back home.
by Caroline Hennessy