An Interview with Frankie valet
Isobel Abbott-Dethrow sat down with the St. Louis band Frankie valet and talked to members Jack, Jake, Alison, and Gram.
Isobel: How and when was Frankie valet formed?
Jake: Gram and I played songs together; I didn’t want to play songs alone, so I had Gram come along with me. Our first gig was a KWUR stack session, which was sort of how I met Jack. Our friend Daniel played tambourine and eventually it kind of morphed, with some different folks coming in, like these folks (Jack and Alison).
Gram: I quit music for a summer and then more people joined–naturally–so the band could stay together. Then, I came back and we had two drummers for a while… that was awesome. We just kept switching instruments; Jack was playing bass.
Jack: I played guitar, then bass, then guitar again.
G: We just kept switching… Jack stopped playing bass, then Al played bass. We had keyboarders at one time or two.
Jack: The timeline now: around September 2016, Jake starts writing songs on guitar, then in October 2016, Jake and I meet at the Way Out Club. Jake and Gram went to high school together, Alison and I went to college together. When Gram stopped, I joined in Summer 2017 on guitar; Jim was also on guitar, Other Jake was on bass, and Matt was on drums, but Jim and Other Jake back to college, and I went on bass. Gram then came back, so there were two drummers, a bassist, and guitarist.
Jake: That lasted for a long enough time, about a year.
Gram: I feel like that was more or less the formation of the original Frankie valet. That’s when the name changed, we were Sleepeasies.
Jack: So Frankie valet was us four. Then in June, Matt left, Alison came on bass, and I went to guitar.
Jake: The rest is the future.
Alison: I agree with Jack’s story.
Jack: This is now a two and a half-year-old project.
Gram: We’re approaching one year with this lineup.
I: Do you guys have any personal influences?
Jack: For my guitar playing, I really love J Mascis. I don’t really play guitar like him that much, I just really love him and think about how he would play things, then I play it differently. Because I started playing guitar in this band after Jake, a lot of guitar parts I’ve been writing have been super Jake influenced, also because I write with Jake a lot. Songwriting-wise, Strange Ranger. The Spirit of the Beehive’s guitar is the only thing I have actively tried corporating into playing in the last six months.
Gram: As far as influences for drumming, I’d probably say the other local bands, also drummers that I saw play at Co-op basements at Washington University. I try not to think about drums as much these days. If I’m going to take influence for drums, it’s going to be how someone plays guitar or piano, because I don’t trust drummers. Mitski rocks.
Jake: For my guitar playing, I like Buck Meek a lot from Big Thief. But my sound is like a Kevin Shields rip-off, which is great. My Bloody Valentine is in there. I was more of a bass player before this band, so a lot of my stuff mostly comes from the Motown bass melodies and arrangements from old soul records. I played jazz, as well. Arrangements and the way song parts work together is important for me. I try to think about it wholistically–all the parts fitting together–as much as I can for my quarter of [the band]… trying to fit in where I can, but not be too crazy. Although, I do like Big Muff–Big Muff is my biggest influence.
Alison: I don’t know if I can say that I have any direct bass influences, I’ve kind of been winging it because I’m new with this. With music in general, if I try to write songs I normally think about female singers that I like, such as Florence and Phoebe Bridgers.
I: On your album, Stop Apologizing, I felt there was a bunch of energy, but it was all kept intact and not wild or incredibly noisy. I enjoyed the balance of mellowness and high activity, and its combination sometimes, like in “April” and “Something to Do With A Mouth.” What is the songwriting and composition process like?
Jack: Recently, it’s been different. Stop Apologizing was a very different songwriting experience than the album we just recorded. Stop Apologizing was a lot of things that Jake had written that were pretty fleshed out in terms of song structure and melody that we then put our own parts to. The collaborative process was there; Jake and Alison started writing songs back in March or February of last year. I’ve been writing a lot with them, too. But, a lot of that stuff still comes into practice, not any real structure, just a lot of ideas. Gram has an incredible ear for structure, and just thinking, “How is this going to fit together?”, making parts sound like parts. It’s been super collaborative these days, and I think we want it to be more collaborative, but just based on how schedules are we don’t always have three hours to sit down and work on a song.
Jake: The turning point for that was before our tour last summer. At the practice before we left for the trip, we worked on one song for about four hours. That was the first time I think it really changed, where as a group we all worked on something.
Gram: That song is going to be on the new album.
Alison: We all wrote a song together at my lake house, as well. A lot of the times, I’d say that when we are not together, it’s usually that someone has an idea and that’s where it starts, usually with lyrics.
I: What is your favorite song to perform live?
Jack: It so depends on the day for me.
Jake: I like “Try Not to Think.”
Jack: That’s consistently my favorite.
Jake: There’s some really good lyrics Jack wrote.
Jack: Jake and I wrote the bones of that song in Tower Grove Park.
Gram: I don’t know if I have favorite songs, but I have favorite moments. There’s little, tiny changes that I love in every song.
Jack: My favorite one recently has been “Soft Skin.”
Jake: That one is super fun to play. You get two tempo changes. There’s a lot of tempo changes these days in our songs.
I: I saw that you guys played in my hometown, Belleville, at Balance Coffee & Tea back in the summer. I did not think that place could be used as a music venue until I saw that happened. What was that night like?
Alison: It’s super funny, because Gram wasn’t there. I don’t know if we practiced before the show. It was kind of rough for me. I was thinking, “How do I keep rhythm?!”
Jake: As far as our performance went, it was definitely weird, but the show itself was really cool. The venue really worked for that kind of function.
Jack: We were leaving for tour the next day, it was kind of last minute. We had a show in Cincinnati the next day.
Gram: We left for tour that night; I couldn’t be there because I had to work.
Jack: We drove there overnight after we played at Balance. Our friend George from American Poetry Club was playing there, and he said we should also play.
Jake: It was on the 4th of July.
Jack: We got Imo’s after, and it was really tight.
Alison: That was my first Imo’s.
Gram: The fireworks were beautiful that night on the road.
I: Where has been your favorite place to perform on tour?
Jack: My favorite show of the summer tour was Boston, partially because it was nice to see family and friends. I’m from there. Also, we made a lot of money that night, tons of people came and we sold a lot of shirts. People were really into it. Also a lot of kids we met that night were awesome. Of the spring tour we just did, Athens, Georgia. I really liked Athens.
Jake: Athens was cool.
Gram: I thought Philadelphia was cool.
Alison: We played in a fancy bar. That was fun, too.
Jake: Oh yeah, in Knoxville.
Alison: I liked the Mockbee (in Cincinnati) a lot.
Jack: Cincinnati’s great; we’ve played in Cincinnati about three times now.
Alison: Two of the times have been in friends’ basements, which has been a time. It’s fun, but it’s different.
I: Do you have any favorite STL bands to perform with?
Gram: Yes… there’s so many good St. Louis bands.
Jake: One of my favorites that we have not performed with is Glued.
Jack: I really like Yuppy these days. We’ve played with them before, but only as a duo.
Gram: There’s so many awesome bands–Details is good–they’re all great.
Jack: Little Big Bangs was one of the shows I was most excited for, because they’re so good. They’re just nice kids.
Jake: I love Cricket Fish, and that’s a band we will not perform with. We share a drummer. It’s physically impossible to perform with them. Gram can only be in one place at one time.
Gram: I don’t like double shows because you only get luck for the first show, maybe the second. You’re like a deflated balloon. It’s difficult to switch headspaces. Being the drummer of those two bands, I don’t want to sound the exact same, and I can’t help but have a shared element. In thirty minutes, it just does not work.
I: Since I got a platform to express my love for the STL scene, I’ve always wanted to bring attention to Foam and its current financial crisis, because of how vital Foam is for STL bands and audiences alike. How has Foam impacted you guys?
Gram: Positively. Apparently in high school, I said that the dream was to play Foam. Then we made it, but I forgot I had said it. Jake reminded me that my dreams were fulfilled.
Jack: It’s really easy to have the mindset of, “Oh, it’s just another Foam show, whatever,” because so many shows are at Foam. But the fact that so many of the DIY shows are at Foam is pretty crazy. It’s that accessible to book shows there. I remember the first time I played was with some friends and we were in our underwear. It was August, and none of our friends were back to school yet. I remember that the curtains behind the stage were open and these two women just thought it was hilarious. They stood outside and laughed for half our set. But that was so cool that Foam offered the opportunity to play there, and every band playing now has played there at some point. It is so important that space exists. It’s really great for booking, too, because that makes my job easier.
Jake: I think it’s cool because the folks that work at Foam are amazing. Everyone shares a common appreciation for music that is not corporate, national, big label whatnot.
Gram: There is a very organic air around that place, especially when bands play. The bass drum is not microphoned generally. There’s not a big production, and I really like that. You can hear how the band sounds at practice, versus having to deal with sound men and soundcheck. I always love playing at Foam.
Alison: It’s a good middle ground. Someone else is in on it, but you have most of the control.
Jake: Likewise, we’ve seen brand new bands that nobody knows, also big bands.
Jack: We’re playing with two of our favorite bands there in a month: Strange Ranger and the Spirit of the Beehive.
Alison: I think of the Spirit of the Beehive as such a legitimate band that it’s amazing.
Jake: Foam rocks. Hopefully they can make it out of their financial situation.
Alison: We need Foam.
I: Are you guys working on any new projects?
Gram: We have a new album coming out. It’s done more or less.
Jack: Seven of the nine songs were done in January and we recorded the last two a month ago. Mixing is happening, then it will be done.
Jake: We are trying to get that out on–
Gram: Don’t say any dates.
Jack: Sometime in the next five years.
Jake: Keep your eyes open, your ears peeled.
Jack: If you have seen any of our sets it’s the only songs we have played. Realistically though, the summer.
Jake: Or fall at the latest.