Some bands are fireworks, some wine. Some burn brightly and die quickly, others need time to develop their full bouquet. Ireland's The Frames came out of the gate with a vengeance, led by the powerful, elegant voice of teenage front man Glen Hansard, who'd quit school at 13 and begun busking. But shortly after The Frames signed a deal with then-powerhouse Island Records in 1990, Hansard secured a starring role in The Commitments, about an up-and-coming Irish band.
As a result, the band took a while to find its musical voice. Veering between atmospheric Irish folk and passionate anthemic rock in the vein of local favorite sons U2, The Frames developed a reputation for their live shows, which carried them through the '90s when label troubles and lineup changes beset the band.
"We've always trusted the idea that if we get people into a room, there is no reason why they won't come back to see you again," says violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire, the only original member aside from Hansard. "That, more so than any TV or radio, has been the reason for our slow and steady progress. The fanfare and the trumpets -- that tends to fade when it happens right off."
The tide began to turn for The Frames with their haunting 2001 release For the Birds, which boasted a crisp, less over-produced sound than previous albums. They produced part of that album themselves (with help from Steve Albini), and it was a terrific primer for the latest release, Burn the Maps, which they produced entirely on their own. A pretty, majestic album, it's reminiscent at times of The Delgados or The Waterboys.
"The form of the album happened over a series of sessions -- that's where the ideas came -- but the execution of it was quite quick . . . the songs fit together into a coherent body of work," Mac Con Iomaire says. "For the first time, there's a better balance between the loud kind of rock element and the introspective folky moments. It's always been something that made it difficult for people to categorize us -- and now I think we're enjoying that freedom rather than taking it as a curse."
Burn the Maps' title reflects the band's sense that this album marks a new beginning of sorts, especially after all the past setbacks that had become a constant source of inquiry.
"Because we've been around so long, people just want to talk about your past, and after a while that gets exhausting," says Mac Con Iomaire. "What's most satisfying about where we are at the moment is I think we're at our best musically that we've ever been, and we're in a position to enjoy it. We're a bit older and not as impressionable. We're a bit more secure in ourselves, and we have a good bit of perspective."
With that perspective, Mac Con Iomaire has advice for rising stars and fellow Scots Franz Ferdinand about the youthful indiscretions of booze, drugs and women:
"I think you have to do that at some point," he offers. "There's always recovery!"
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