Two years ago, when Frankie Rose started talking about following her breakthrough debut album with a synth-pop record, friends assumed she was joking.
As the drummer for Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts, and Dum Dum Girls, Rose was at the center of a 1960s girl pop revival even before her first solo outing, so an if-it-ain't-broke strategy of sticking with reverby guitars and bittersweet melodies would've been welcomed by her record label and fans alike.
But Rose had no interest in sticking to the formula. She reached out to her friend and dance producer Le Chev, even though the pair had essentially zero shared ground musically outside of an utterly transformative remix he had made of her 2010 single "Candy."
"I think he'd never heard a Smiths song, but at the same time, he showed me so much stuff I didn't know existed," Rose says.
The result of Le Chev and Rose's unlikely collaboration is Interstellar, an album that offers both pulsating dance beats and ethereal tones, every bit as otherworldly and bravely exploratory as the title suggests.
"It was sort of an experiment. I really didn't know if this was going to be too weird, too out there. I wasn't sure what I was going to end up with," Rose says. "I knew I didn't want to make the same album twice. I was ready to put the guitars to bed. I wanted synths and I wanted to make my weirdo version of a synth-pop record."
Though she didn't have an exact sound in mind at the start, Rose knew it would be a gamble turning over so much creative control and making a giant leap stylistically.
"I knew I didn't want a self-produced record. I need to learn from somebody who had a totally different skill set from me," she says. "It was a really big decision for me to do it with him because I knew it could potentially go bad. But he was really great. He's really heavy handed and would make bold decisions. I really needed somebody to do that and then also be fine with me saying 'That's too much.'"
The strong reviews (Pitchfork's coveted Best New Music tag among them) that followed Interstellar's Feb. 21 release keyed in on the vibrancy of songs like "Pair of Wings," "Know Me" and "Night Swim" and the album's sense of imagination and yearning for new ground. Playing Interstellar live, however, has taken plenty of trial and error.
"This whole tour is a giant experiment because this album is hard to interpret it live," she says. "When you have synths in the game it's such a moody record that recreating it live has been a challenge. I had to come to some middle ground. It's not just going to sound just like the album or not just sound like a rock 'n' roll band."
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Switching things up - from drummer to guitarist, from rock to dance and especially from bandmate to songwriter - has been a thrill for Rose, who describes her slow musical evolution as a series of surprises.
"Every album I've been a part of making has been a learning experience, one on top of the other. I just never had an itch to be a musician. That was not even on my plate," she says. "Even realizing I was able to write a song was a surprise to me when I was first able to do that. It's the thing that's kept my interest the most because it's eternally a challenge and I find the most joy in it. There's no limit to what you can do. Who knows what the next album will sound like?"
Frankie Rose is scheduled to perform Monday, April 16 at Rhythm Room.