Frankmusik - Bigger than hype
Vincent Frank, aka Frankmusik, has received plenty of positive press attention already, but he's confident that he doesn't need it. Rob Sharp meets an assured new talent
Friday 15 May 2009
In a recording studio in Putney, south-west London, Vincent Frank, also known as Frankmusik, stands behind a stack of keyboards. His head is bowed to one side as he focuses on belting out the words to his new single, "Better Off as Two". Alongside him, Mika's former musical director Mike Choi plays another keyboard, and towards the back of the room, Martin Carling (who drums with Groove Armada) is busily keeping pace.
If you were to sit down on a sofa opposite this group of merry bandits, you would be close to the spot occupied a week previously by Frankmusik's fellow pop time-traveller La Roux. Frank, 23, says she snuck in secretly to size up her competition, and if the hype is to be believed, the flame-haired NME favourite has reason to be worried (Frank told the NME last month that he thought she was "La Rude"). MTV call Frank a "hotly tipped solo star" and elsewhere he has been called a "bleeptastic alien", though this was two years ago, when he says he had only produced early demos. Since then he has DJ'd with the Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac, charmed Choi and Carling along with several high-ranking record-company execs, hitchhiked from Loch Ness to Brighton using just his MySpace friends, and unleashed a richly received EP on the world in November, "3 Little Words". The press release which accompanied the "3 Little Words" release was written by Paul Morley, and drew comparisons between Frankmusik and the "art-crazed, high-minded, perfectionist pop stars" of the 1980s, such as Soft Cell and the Human League. Now, Frank's hotly awaited album is to be released in July, and he is currently shooting the video to his next single, "Confusion Girl", also out in July.
"One thing I have always said to the label [Island Records] and myself is that I want to get there as a result of actual success," says Frank, exhaling cigarette smoke and sitting on a battered sofa outside the studio. "People who came down to the Barfly gig [a recent performance in Camden] could see for themselves. Hype is a dangerous thing. I feel sorry for people who have to deal with so much of it. It's only the beginning of the year – it's a waiting game now." He peppers his speech with brazen statements of intent. The Barfly gig was sponsored by Time Out. "Thanks for that but I never read your magazine," he said on stage, a two-fingered salute to every hype-maker in the room.
Frank had a "stiff Victorian upbringing" at the hands of his grandfather, who sent him to a series of public schools, two of which he was expelled from. He says he was asked to leave one of these institutions because of "attention problems"; he also claims one headmaster slapped him because he was so annoying. His mother was adopted, apparently, and became pregnant with Frank after a decade of suffering from agoraphobia. Apart from that, he told The Sunday Times last month that his uncle was one of the first people in Britain to have a sex change, and that his mum and dad split up on their wedding day, at the reception.
Such vicissitudes don't come across when you meet him – he seems together and vastly ambitious. Regarding the music, he says he had a classical musical education, supplemented by his mother's late-1970s disco and 1980s pop singles. He was forbidden from listening to more modern music, which might help explain the time warp in his sound.
"I listened to music from 10 years before I was born," he continues. "I grew up with that and kind of developed my own love for house music in my mid-teens when I heard the Daft Punk Homework album in 1997." He says he bought himself a sound studio when he was 17. And he began beatboxing, too, which was presumably not an easy transition. Despite his style – he looks like a character from a William Gibson novel – he is still extremely well spoken.
"The reception I got bothered me to the point where I gave it up," he says. "It was just people from the beatbox community being possessive. They didn't like intruders like me. One time it was horrific. I had the whole front row saying I was rubbish before I had even started. The thing is, you are up against people who are ignorant. All you can say is that you are trying to make music. I don't need to prove what I can do to anyone but myself. These people aren't worth fighting – they already have their own battle going on within themselves."
He took the name Frank two years ago when his grandfather passed on (it isn't clear whether this is a stage name or officially adopted). He says that although a lot of his music sounds 1980s, he has only co-opted the "essence" of the period rather than the clichés (that said, the video to "3 Little Words" features him prancing around an oversized keyboard like Tom Hanks in Big). "That was when we were struggling with who I was. We just wanted to put out something that was crazy and bonkers and it was a lot of fun to do. The next single's video is a lot higher standard and there's no gimmick or naked woman and it's just me performing. It's a lot more pop."
"3 Little Words" is not a romantic paean to telling a loved one how you feel. Besides his mother, his other muse is his ex-girlfriend Olivia, whom he met on their last day at St Martin's College of Art. They fell into a relationship when he was at the London College of Fashion and she was at Glasgow University.
"'3 Little Words' is about not being able say 'I love you'," he explains. "The whole album is about Olivia. "However horrific the outcome of that relationship, it was deeply passionate. We were rowing the whole time. I never communicated my feelings with her, I communicated it in the studio. Regarding the songs, I try to keep things bittersweet. I want to trick the listener into something that is moody but packaged quite colourfully. My ex hates all the interviews I do because she thinks people will look for her online but I've gone past caring what she thinks." He says finding things to write about is difficult when things are going well, saying he can understand why artists such as Amy Winehouse go off the rails.
What of the future? "I wouldn't mind getting into some acting. For anyone to stay creative you have to live a bit of life," he concludes. "Things become calculated as soon as you know a method. It's not play, it's an equation. If you throw yourself into a different creative dilemma, you are using a different part of your brain. So you have to work stuff out and problem solve. If I have nothing to talk about and sing about, I need to go out and live." By the sounds of it, he's done plenty of that already.
Frankmusik plays at the Selfridges 100 Celebrations on 22 May and supports Pet Shop Boys in June
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