Indie music’s primary colours are on display in this interview; see what happened when Ed Crane discussed pizza, cardboard cut-outs and Ian Hislop with the Sunderland group who are all style, no substance.
Middlesbrough has a lot of problems: the economy is stagnant, the population is decreasing, and the accent is impenetrable. In the midst of this, however, the indie music scene is flourishing. Frankie & the Heartstrings are at its forefront: their album sold well earlier at its release at the beginning of 2011, and they are in the process of taking over the world. Their summer has been the usual whirlwind of the major UK festivals, followed by a tour of Australia and Japan in September. I spoke to drummer Dave Harper (and the rest of the band by proxy – they were sitting next to him in the car) about fans, pizza, style, life on tour, and the North East.
Frankie and the Heartstrings, like many lesser-known indie bands, have a tremendously loyal following. They even have their own fan-club. Dave described their perfect fan as “susceptible, stupider than us, pliable, beautiful; although its mostly just middle aged men who want to suck us off”: the slightly bitter ingratitude might be ascribed to the fact that Dave is happily married, and in his mid-30s. For a band that had a rapid rise out of Northern obscurity, suddenly having hoards of strangers screaming for them has had a pretty huge effect. “There was a big cardboard cut-out of us standing next to the Kings of Leon, in Japan. That was pretty surreal.” The band has also had some trouble getting used to the bizarre mundanity of celebrity: they once spotted Prince eating a bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes.
Their sound is probably not innovative, and probably not normally my kind of thing. The lyrics are numbingly superficial, and straight out of a rhyming dictionary: “well it’s about time that we made a stand / and started playing together in our own band / and its about time that we got things done / so we could do anything and then have some fun”. Musically, they sound like The Holloways, or The Fratellis, or any other generic jangly indie-poppers: they would have been big in 2005. However, their sound is infectiously enthusiastic and unrelentingly charming. In many ways, a complete absence of substance is the point of Frankie and the Heartstrings. Their tracks are effortlessly sing-along-able, and instantly memorable. If you don’t know the band, you probably do know one of their tracks without even realizing it. Their title track from their recent album, ‘Hunger’, was recently featured on the Dominoes ‘Its What We Do’ advert, which tried to make Dominoes look as though it was actually nice. They didn’t get any free pizza – apparently their band manager embezzled it. I asked them if they minded selling out: “It’s really just the band’s function – we don’t get much for record deals, so we have to make revenue in other ways. We don’t really care how many cocks we have to suck”.
I obviously had to ask the band what their favourite pizza toppings were. Steven Dennis said “Meatballs”, Dave Harper said “Lego”, Mick Ross said “Misery”, and Michael McKnight said “Zoe Deschanel”.
Frankie Francis, the band’s eponymous lead singer, has been named by GQ as the 32nd best dressed man in the country: style has always been something that has defined Frankie and the Heartstrings. However, they are insistent it isn’t something that is premeditated: Dave told me “he dresses like a twat – he’d either get beaten up or raped going to my school dressed like that”.
Frankie and the Heartstrings are known as one of the best live bands in the country, and they have an incredibly hectic schedule. They are known for their energy and humour on stage, and as such, their recording career has taken a back-seat. Their second album is in the pipeline, though they only get half a day per week to go to the studio in their underpants: they have about eight songs, inspired by the Wu Tang Clan and Ian Hislop. It has a tentative release date of 2046. Although admittedly at this point in the interview the ‘Mackem’ accent (it isn’t Geordie) got a bit hard to follow.
The Sunderland music scene is definitely one to watch: there is apparently no sense of rivalry or competition amongst bands. The size, compared to Newcastle for instance, creates an intimate breeding ground for indie bands. Their tip for the future is The Lake Poets (myspace.com/thelakepoets), an acoustic indie-folk group from the city.
Frankie and the Heartstrings are definitely a band to go and see: they are hilarious and likeable. You could do far worse.