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Brutally Frank

Frank Black and the Catholics: Set to release two new albums this fall.

No one ever sets out to conduct the world's worst interview, in much the same way every 10-car pileup on the freeway was once just a bunch of guys and gals on their way to work. Certainly Frank Black should make for a fascinating read -- he's a brilliant singer-songwriter who could take that True Value circular most of us would just throw away and find a dozen compelling song ideas inside. Who wouldn't want to hear a Frank Black song called "Stud Sensor"? Or "Ratchet Socket Adapter"? Anyone for "Ball Peen Hammer No. 2"? Yes, and more, please!

So I must stress that the fault here lies not with our star. Once reputed to be a tough bastard to interview, the former Black Francis has mellowed considerably since his exodus from the Pixies nearly a decade ago.

A combination of things -- keeping company with his stellar band, the Catholics, for three solid albums; ex-bandmate/nemesis Kim Deal vanishing more thoroughly than Chandra Levy; not singing in that high-pitched Peter Lorre voice anymore -- have all factored into a more than accommodating latter-day Frank Black. For this exchange, he rivaled Job in the patience department, gamely dealing with a shorting-out cell phone and politely asking if even the lamest of questions could be repeated. Questions so trite that my brain had to separate itself from my body, almost in protest. Listening back to the recorded interview, I can remember the exact point of departure where my spirit was floating above the telephone receiver looking down and wondering, "Did he really ask Frank how much he liked his record label?"

But, if I may cite that car-wreck analogy again, lots of people really enjoy a big, twisted, smoking heap of metal. Maybe people like you, who'd love nothing more than to swerve into the embankment, spiral into the ditch and conduct your own world's worst interview.

Keep in mind that it's vitally important that you find an interview subject whose work you greatly admire, otherwise it's not such a tragedy when it all deteriorates into a steaming pile of dung.

Is it really going to make the experience of listening to Ratt albums any less pleasurable knowing that Steve Pearcy thinks you're dumber than a box of pins? Does it really ruin one's day if you and the drummer for Goldfish Don't Bounce never hit it off? Nothing could hurt as much as playing Teenager of the Year or Come On Pilgrim for the rest of your life and remembering "oh, yeah, you're the guy who asked him if he liked his record label."

STAGE ONE: DENIAL

Everything is rosy in stage one; both sides have reasonable faith the interview will go off without a disaster. Recall Don't Look Back, in which Bob Dylan tears every journalist's head off except the one from South African Radio, because he thinks a black man will have more sense than the NME.

And what happens, the South African wastes his time testing his recorder for mike impedance for the next 10 minutes! If the artist is keen to work in some plugs for a current project or tour, it'll happen in stage one. Black's in-town show, a double bill with Mike Watt at Nita's Hideaway, should sell out handily even without the world's worst interview to promote it.

But the fact that there was no new Frank Black and the Catholics album on hand to promote meant there would be little to differentiate this article from last year's interview with Black in this publication, which more than already adequately covered his last excellent CD, Dogs in the Sand, and the whole "recording-live-to-two-track" process the Catholics have kept up for three straight albums. For the benefit of Black's many fans hungry for any new tidbit of information, the following quotes were gathered during launch. The elemental questions have been excised to save time, space and to give you some practice asking them yourself before we careen into Stage Two. Here are Frank's answers:

"I think in September, I'm just guessing. I've got a couple of records coming out. One of them is a long album, it's got about 18 songs and that's called Black Letter Days. The other one's a shorter program with 12 songs and it's called Devil's Workshop. I believe they'll be released simultaneously."

In response to a question about whether this was similar to Guns n' Roses' simultaneous 1991 release of two albums: "No, it's not part one and two. It's just two records with two different lineups. One was recorded in a loft and one was just recorded in a rehearsal space."

"Some of it's kinda country, some of it's kinda funky. I dunno, you just have to hear them when the record companies send out the promos."

 

"Right now it's the same lineup as Dogs in the Sand except Rich Gilbert's not playing with us at the moment 'cause he's out on tour with someone else."

"On the first Frank Black and the Catholics album, there are two tape edits. And we didn't want to think anything of it. And on Pistolero we did one tape edit. And with Dogs in the Sand we tried to be totally pure, no tape edits. And that's where we remain."

"It's more of whoever's available that day as opposed to being real planned out. It's like, 'Hey, Moris Tepper, come down to the studio.' And when he does, he ends up on the record."

STAGE TWO: SOMEBODY GRAB THE WHEEL!

Having run out of pertinent questions in stage one, and having already read a press packet of really good questions other people asked and have had answered, there remain these alternatives:

A) Ask the same questions yet again and pretend you've never read the other articles.

B) Ask the FAQ and hope the answer has changed significantly since the last time he was born.

C) Think of really tedious questions no one else would bother asking.

Both A and B are redundant, but once you hear the first dead silence, which happened after my first foray into C territory (trying to engage Frank Black in a discussion on Celine Dion's comeback), there was no choice but to try to restore some semblance of professionalism to the interview. Hence the questions about doing Pixies songs, a Pixies reunion and the dreaded record-label discussion.

"We always do a few Pixies songs. It's different every night."

"Is there pressure to do a Pixies reunion? No, not really. It depends on what you mean by pressure (he laughs). I get asked once in a while. I usually say no. (Laughs again.) No pressure at all."

"I guess I would characterize it as a good relationship. I like being on indie labels in general. There are benefits. 'Cause there's less baloney. You make records, you put 'em out and there's not a whole lot of chitchat about how long they're gonna delay it for. They're just interested in putting it out and seeing what it will do as opposed to a big label -- they tend to fret over things more. A lot more."

"After Cult of Ray, American Records had some financial difficulties for a couple of years. That kind of spilled down to me, so I had to leave. Because they were kind of paralyzed by their financial difficulties -- the same reason that I left spinART records, although I think I'm going back to them."

"Record companies have difficulty with money, and when it affects you, you have to leave. That's happened to me a couple of times."

"Interscope wouldn't touch me with a 10-foot pole."

STAGE THREE

A few dumb forays into small talk like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ("Naw, I hate that shit. I can't stand those kind of programs, especially when they're related to rock 'n' roll. I don't like any award ceremonies.), 9-11 ("I haven't been out on the road except for a couple of shows. I can't say I really notice any differences as of yet.), Elvis Costello ("I haven't listened to any of his new releases.") and a question so entangled in idiocy I don't even think it was a question so much as a strangled plea for help (something about a lifetime achievement award for indie rock, which he answered with one eye audibly on the clock), we were in big trouble now. We were dangerously close to the Chris Farley celebrity interview, where the late portly star asks Paul McCartney, "Remember when everyone thought you were dead? You remember that? That was a hoax, right?"

And then I remembered the e-mail questionnaire. The one friends forward to you just so they can name you "The least likely to respond to this e-mail." Thinking quickly, I figure if the interview really has turned out to be the bust I think it is, at least I can make up for the other five friends I won't be forwarding this e-mail to and just give 'em Frank Black's answers instead.

Here's where I think Frank started enjoying himself. I started to remember how the muscle in my tongue can work in collusion with the brain, and you, the fan, learn something about Frank Black that none of the articles in the hefty press packet even touched upon.

1. IF YOU COULD BUILD YOUR HOUSE ANYWHERE, WHERE WOULD IT BE? "I'll take the south of France, maybe close to Spain."

 

2. WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE ARTICLE OF CLOTHING? "Shoes."

3. WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE PHYSICAL FEATURE? "My head."

4. WHAT'S THE LAST CD THAT YOU BOUGHT? Reaches down in car before proudly pulling out From Cakewalk to Ragtime 1898 to 1916. Sort of like pre-jazz ragtime stuff.

5. WHERE'S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE PLACE TO BE? "I guess I'm not crazy hanging around in the ladies' underwear department 'cause I always feel kinda awkward waiting for my wife, and other women think you're hanging out there to, like, hit on them and stuff. I'm, like, where can I find a place to sit where I can blend in and not bother anyone?"

6. WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE TV SHOW? "Well, that's currently on The Jon Stewart Show and favorite all time I guess Twilight Zone or something like that."

7. WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE KITCHEN APPLIANCE? "Good sharp knife.

8. WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MEMORY? "Lying by the stream in springtime."

9. WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH? "Mr. Show."

10. WHAT MAKES YOU REALLY ANGRY? We'll come back to that one.

11. IF YOU COULD PLAY ANY INSTRUMENT, WHAT WOULD IT BE? "I'd be happy to be a piano player."

12. FAVORITE FAST FOOD RESTAURANT? "Del Taco." (Without hesitation, I might add.)

13. SCARIEST MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE? "Maybe getting thrown out of my bed on the Queen Elizabeth II by gale force winds 10 or 12 years ago."

14. DO YOU BELIEVE IN AFTERLIFE? "Pass."

15. FAVORITE CHILDREN'S BOOK? "Where the Wild Things Are."

16. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SEASON? "Autumn."

17. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE HOUSEHOLD CHORE? "Taking out the trash."

18. THE SONG YOU WISHED YOU HAD WRITTEN? "Changing of the Guards" by Bob Dylan. (Black also gave thumbs-up to the new Dylan album.)

19. DO YOU PREFER CATS OR DOGS? "I have both."

20. WHAT'S IN THE TRUNK OF YOUR CAR? "I got an '86 Cadillac; it's chock-full of shit."

21. IF YOU COULD HAVE ONE SUPER POWER, WHAT WOULD IT BE -- INVISIBILITY OR FLIGHT? "I guess the voyeur in me will go for invisibility."

22. IF YOU HAD A TATTOO, WHAT WOULD IT BE? "Maybe a nude of my wife."

23. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DAY? "I don't really buy into that whole calendar thing in general. I prefer just daytime and nighttime."

24. USING ONLY ONE WORD, DESCRIBE YOURSELF. "A Marsist."

25. FAVORITE SONG FADEOUT: (Starting to regain some confidence, I veered off the scripted questions, which meant this query demanded an even longer explanation than the question of "Favorite Day" did. And that's when I reached deep down and pulled out a genuine Chris Farley moment if ever there was one. "Remember when you did the fadeout on 'Number 13' on Doolittle? D'ya remember that? That was really cool.")

Black thought about that for a moment and then said, "Ditto. That's a really good one."


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