(klick the above link to read the actual feature on STARVOX)
of Fire, or, My Day at Disneyland with Frank the Baptist
~by Lucas Lanthier (CINEMA STRANGE)
Inclement heat bolstered by the big yellow grimace of our local star had teamed up with a sweaty, smelly throng of tourists in order to daunt this intrepid reporter and cow him from his mission, which was to ask Frank, THE Frank of Frank the Baptist, a bunch of silly questions in the middle of what turned out to be the ultimate proving ground: Our local bastion of corporate-America-defined fun and the only place on earth where deep-fried dough sprinkled with sugar will set you back $2.75. Disneyland. Its the natural choice for a not quite clutter-free, not quite distraction-free, and not quite churro-free chitchat about modern music.
So far, Frank has had two EPs on the market, plus a CD that collected them into one for those economy-minded citizens. Recently signed to the fledgling Strobelight records, their first label release is forthcoming. Theyve been making frequent forays out of their San Diego lair and into outlying territories since the late nineties, and every step has caused an echo of praise to resound from the various tribes of hill people and forest-dwellers that catch them in concert. The Baptist plays gothic rock with conventional instruments, but with more hooks and catchy melodies than a fly fisherman humming themes from the Nutcracker Suite. But Franks music swells and bends its way free of mere catchiness. Four out of five laboratory apes have been observed humming the chorus to the Baptists Echoes of Never hours after initial exposure. And as it turns out, even higher primates are susceptible to the uncanny tenacity of Franks melodies. This music tunnels in through the ears, makes a burrow in the soft, spongy gray tissue of the brain, lays eggs with a top-hat-shaped ovipositor, and then allows the larval offspring to repeat the cries of the parent until their mandibles are silenced by the next invasion. With that, let us turn to the mating habits of the common silkworm. Or, even better, lets go on the Matterhorn roller coaster and ask Frank a question.
(Questions asked while hurtling down an enormous, fake, snow-covered mountain in a bobsled, dodging an enormous, fake, snow-covered Yeti.)
Lucas: You've been called "the King of Hooks". Does this refer to your music, your fishing skills, or your nasty bedroom habits?
Frank: Ive never heard that, but cool. I can think of a lot worse things to be called. Ive been a vegetarian for about 12 or 13 years but when I was a youngster I was a crabbin & fishin maniac. I had a rowboat with an outboard engine that I was out in all the time lootin & a-plunderin. If it refers to nasty bedroom habits then I guess women do talk about their exploits. If it is about our music then Im afraid Im still perplexed. Im not a schooled musician. I started writing my own songs because I couldnt play anyone elses. Ive just always been a lover of music.
Lucas: What's the band lineup these days?
Frank: Rockin Tommy Fuhr on Guitar, Rob Sulfur on Bass, Dave Hamersma on Drums, and I sing and play guitar.
Lucas: Have you ever considered a one-man band?
Frank: You mean like the guy who plays the accordion while a drum set is hooked to his feet as he bites a horn while his monkey dances? Or like a Trent Reznor-type who hires studio and live musicians?
Lucas: I mean like a horn-biting monkey who dances like Trent Reznor. If youre ever in that sort of market, Id like to represent you.
(Next up, it was a hell-bent, balls-to-the-wall, brain-warping sortie on the notorious and widow-making Snow White ride, which is almost as bad as the Pinocchio ride, for those of you who are unaware. Just ask any four-year-old.)
Lucas: Tell me, my son, do you write all the music, or is it collaborative?
Frank: I bring songs to the table, usually guitar melodies with vocals, and we play around with them. I usually really like what the other guys come up with when we explore. Although I may write all the songs I would say its collaborative because I encourage everyone to come up with their own pieces to what I write. Only from time to time do I have suggestions to what they bring up. Each member is an ingredient in the magic potion. If an ingredient is missing, no magic.
Lucas: Do you have a consistent compositional technique or do you write songs anytime, anywhere?
Frank: Anytime anywhere. Sometimes a melody comes into mind first, sometimes lyrics do. Sometimes its not in the head and comes out when sitting around playing.
Lucas: Thats cool. Your creativity strikes randomly.
(Our path then led us to the Pirates of the Caribbean, upon which ride a serious debate ensued, the details of which are documented hereunder.)
Lucas: In a fight, who do you think would win: a Caribbean pirate, Indiana Jones, or Mr. Toad?
Frank: Im not sure who would win but I know a Pirate of the Caribbean would have the most fun doing it. Indiana Jones stresses out too much in the face of danger and just look at these guys (referring to a couple of saucy buccaneers, crossing blades on the battlements of a fort).... theyve been having the same cutlass fight for the last 60 years or so, theyre having a blast. These guys are having a hearty laugh at everything and are most alive and in the moment when the shit hits the fan. Look at this guy (referring to a ruddy-cheeked cavalier, in the midst of a full-scale township pillage).... Hes drinking right from the barrel as this guy lights the powder keg that hes sitting on. Theyre running around having a hell of a time while the place is going up in flames. Its quite the atmosphere they create and call home. I think Im puttin my money on the Pirate.
Lucas: Okay, but lets look at Mister Toad real quick. On his ride, right off the bat you see a portrait of him in boxing gear. Then, after joyriding through town in a model-T, he gets sent to hell and back, literally, and once hes emerged from the ninth circle of the inferno, the only thing he needs to set him right again is a beer, served up by a smiling barkeep at the end of the ride. Thats pretty impressive... However, I do have the feeling that any given pirate would take a swig of rum, shrug at Mister Toad and all of his flirtations with danger, call him a landlubber and then send a cannonball through his parlor before making off with Mrs. Toad. I guess my moneys on the pirate, too. So, tell me about this fantabulous Strobelight record deal! I know theyre based in Austria what sort of chaps are they?
Frank: The guys at Strobelight are great. We were wary of working with a label for quite a while. I used to work for one as the art guy and the fact that it basically turns an art form into a crop and ruins any vision turned my stomach and made me shy away from it. These guys are musicians, DJs, all around music junkies and supporters of the scene first and foremost, business second. I like that order of importance as well as admire their driving need to make things happen.
Lucas: Well, good luck with that business venture! Now, regarding your concerts. When playing live, do you keep any good luck charms underneath your top hat?
Frank: Just a head full of nothing but what is going on at that moment. We do have a habit of doing a shot of whiskey together on stage before we play. Oh wait. Youre not talking about the lamp are you?
Lucas: The lamp you keep on the guitar amp all the time? No, no. I mean under your hat, under your hat. I'm drunk as hell. Any comment?
Frank: We pillage and plunder were really a fright, drink up me hearties Yo Ho!
Lucas: Think back to when you were ten years old. If you could have had any band on the planet to play at your birthday party, who would it have been?
Frank: Probably Men At Work or something like that.
Lucas: Let's go on Star Tours and scream like ninnies.
Frank: OK, well be right by Space Mountain, love the intro to that song. After that can we go back to the Haunted Mansion again? There is a Nightmare Before Christmas store we passed just outside of Pirates that we missed while jabbering.
(Okay, Star Tours out of the way, it was Haunted Mansion time again! Somehow, in the midst of all the blood-curdling animatronics and ghostly projections, we were able to keep focused.)
Lucas: You guys seem to be the shining stars from out of olde San Diego towne. What's the scene like down there?
Frank: Music Scene in general or Goth/deathrock? Some really good Goth Dance clubs and the live thing and Deathrock thing is growing.
Lucas: What's your preferred method of disposing of the bodies of would-be competitors?
Frank: Competitors of what? I came from a punk rock/hardcore background while growing up and there was more of a community between and within the bands. I dont get jealous when someone does well, envious maybe sometimes and I usually tell them so. I look back on those days with fondness. I remember another friend from the scene who hooked me up with my first Misfits and Samhain recordings; it was all over from there. It was the gals that introduced me to Goth after that. Notice how I skirted the body disposal subject? Dead men tell no tales and a good magician never gives up his tricks!
Lucas: My respect. Do the spinning teacups make you sick?
Frank: No! I love the teacups and dont mind spinning. (Ive left Bats feeling that way.) (Referring to the infamous Long Beach deathrock club Release the Bats.)
Lucas: What about roller coasters?
Frank: I live for roller coasters. There are some new ones at Magic Mountain that are amazing. We should go there next time and Ill interview you.
Lucas: Its a deal, me hearty. Any upcoming tours?
Frank: We are working with the label and promoters to get over to Europe. We may try to play Pagan Love songs in the fall for our friends the Thyssen brothers. We would like to play there first for symbolic reasons as well as the fact that it is supposed to be an all time great club.
Lucas: Did you ever pretend you were Mary from "Little House on the Prairie", or was that just me?
Frank: Im sure it wasnt just you. I pretended to be an Indian when we played cowboys and Indians. They looked cool and were into cool things. Horseback riding, tomahawks, bows and arrows. I never did get that flaming arrow thing down like in the Shirley Temple movies. I like how planetary and low to the ground they got too. They really paid attention to things I thought were important.
Lucas: In closing, give us a few hints as to what the FTB master plan has in store for us.
Frank: Were going to follow our path and live till we die (who knows when thatll be).
And from there it was all a blur of churros, child-screams of roller-coaster delight, full-scale mind-altering Disney rides à la Alice in Wonderland, and hours of inane chitchat about everything from eastern religion to the international rules of sea salvage. Okay, bottom line: my Disneyland partners going to have an album out soon, and I recommend you buy it. His brand of gothic rock adds a refreshing flavor to the west-coast scene, and unless Salome asks for his head, I think we can expect to be hearing much more from and about Frank the Baptist.