[drɪŋks wɪð] The Frank & The Earnest

Okay, first band interview, kind of. Phew. And, very fittingly (you’ll see why in a bit, don’t worry), with two people that live in a different time zone. And those two don’t even live in the same country. I mean, they’re close, under Canadian circumstances, but still. You’ll see.

The Frank & The Earnest 1
from left to right: West, Max, Franz, Julian, Lukas

We’re in Brussels, Belgium, and then in Berlin, Germany. Well, when I say we, I mean Franz is in Brussels, and Lukas in Berlin. I’m in Vancouver. Duh. Funnily enough, both Franz and Lukas are originally from Dresden. Which is where I’m from. Not that it matters, as we didn’t meet there, and this isn’t about me anyhow, but still.

Anyhow. We’re talking (separately, because in addition to different timezones, there’s also different work schedules) about The Frank & The Earnest. And about their new and, sort of, third album, “Radiate”. We’re also talking about distances covered, time-wise as well as space-wise and creativity-wise, if that makes any sense (it will, eventually. You’ll see). We’re drinking coffee and smoothies (note the colour difference, please) in Canada, and Whiskey in Berlin, and Formula in Brussels. Ada, Franz’ daughter, that is. But for the sake of this article and the blog’s title let’s just say that’s the drink of choice. So much more fun than beer. For Ada, anyhow.

Ohne Titel.001

While I’m writing this, I’m listening to the first two albums, “Away“, and then “Reset“, and then, once again, to “Radiate“. It’s pretty mind-blowing that even now, five years after the first album was released, with a pretty different group of people and under a slightly different name, and featuring a fairly different style, this conglomerate of people around Franz (thank you, Franz Ferdinand, for making this an internationally pronouncable name, by the way!) is still going strong. It seems an unlikely setup: During this time, Franz has lived in Nepal, New York, Thailand and travelled through most of Asia overland on his way home. Lukas, the other almost constant in the project’s history (he used to be referred to as “this other guy” on the first album, “Away”, but we’ll get to that. You’ll see.) has been mostly in Berlin, but recently also in Australia, and before that in San Francisco and – and here’s another one of those fun connections – Vancouver! So has Franz, by the way. Way back when. Anyhow.

The whole thing started out under the name Franz & Frau Schneider, and then the other guy, aka Lukas, joined them. Also way back, when this blog was still part of another blog and written in German, I interviewed Franz and Lukas, and said Frau Schneider, about their second album, “Reset”. That was in 2015. Other than recording two LPs they also had two tours through western Europe under their belts, and were about to do embark on another one. Meanwhile, some of the original members had acquired “real lives”, as it’s been referred to ever since: Jobs, families in the making, that kinda stuff. Regardless, they managed to meet up at least once a year to play some fine music together, and continue to do so. Thank you, internet and globalisation.

It’s an interesting way to play especially this kind of music: Very hand-made, in the earlier stages very acoustic (including a stand-up bass and accordions!), with lots of harmonies and a general feeling of togetherness. And one thing becomes pretty obvious as I’m talking to Franz and Lukas now: If this was gonna be more of a full-time, musical career, I’m-gonna-live-off-of-this kinda deal, it wouldn’t work. The way all three albums came into existence is proof of that: The first one is an assembly of Franz’ work of seven years prior to recording. Thematically, as the title “Away” suggests, it talks a lot about traveling, wanting to be somewhere (and maybe someone) else. To me, it carries a strong sense of longing. “Reset”, which was published two years later, is still very much a traveling album, lyrically, but the direction seems a bit clearer, more focused. Which may have to do with the fact that all twelve songs on the album were written with the goal of recording an album within a year. That’s a different kind of writing process than just collecting gems along the way with no time pressure whatsoever.

And now “Radiate”. The decision to get together and record a new studio album was made in December 2017. Recording sessions happened in April 2018. When Franz rallied the current version of the band, now under the new name, he had one finished song. In the end, there were, yet again, twelve. Some of them were completed while Franz, Lukas, Julian Gramm (who’s banging out those amazing guitar solos) and drummer West aka Felix Franz (yes, another Franz. This, like, never happens) were in that old farmhouse somewhere in Eastern Germany. With “too much beer, too much whiskey and too much garlic pasta”, Lukas says. Lucky for us, music doesn’t carry smells. Yet.

Musically, the album sounds “a lot more like it’s a band”. A lot more electronic, and everyone “finally has the room” to expand their craft, to solo, to shine. In this, Franz and Lukas agree. As in a lot of other things, really, other than how they became friends and fellow musicians. Which, I’m not gonna lie, made me laugh a lot, as I was listening to both of them separately praising each other.

The Frank & The Earnest 2

They met because they were sharing a practice space in their hometown, Dresden. This was around 2006. Franz was then playing with his second Band, Philia, which was the first band he ever played guitar in. Originally, he started off as a bassist, which he got to be again on “Radiate” after not really touching his bass much for years. That he became a bass player first came to be because he borrowed a friends Discman (I’m gonna link this just in case some of you don’t remember those) during recess and “Californication” (can’t help you if you don’t remember that, sorry!) was playing. Instantly he knew: This is what I want to do!

“I sat there, feeling as if I was high. I had never experienced anything like this before: That a song can make you feel like you’re flying. That’s when I knew.”

The next song that came on was “Around the World”, which settled the instrument of choice for Franz. He founded his first band when he was 13, with a singer that “looked exactly like Kurt Cobain”, which never hurts, I suppose. Another band later, Philia came to existence, where Franz didn’t only pick up the guitar, but also wrote all the lyrics – but he wasn’t quite ready to sing them yet.

This finally happened with Clocks to Zero, whose members were partially poached from Lukas’ old band, Self-Fulfillin’ Prophecy. With whom Franz was actually impressed: “When I heard their song Morninglight, I didn’t believe this was a local band. Lukas had this big American vocal sound…”. Franz had come back from his trip to Canada and was in search for a new band, and Lukas was about to go there, so both Christoph, the co-founder of Self-Fulfillin’ Prophecy, and Helge, their bassist, became part of Franz’ new project. When Lukas came back, a year later, he asked if he could sing backing vocals for them.

“I almost said no. Because Lukas can actually sing! I thought it would be embarrassing for me to have him sing backing vocals.”

Oh, the modesty. Thankfully, Franz got over himself, because who knows if we had three beautiful albums to listen to today if he hadn’t.

This is that funny moment where I get to hear two very different sides of the same story, because Lukas tells me he came back from Canada, and brazenly asked to be part of his old band again, “like the jealous ex-band member that I was”. And then just never left Franz alone (Lukas’ words, not mine), and eventually followed him to Paderborn to study and become part of yet another of Franz’ band projects, because this is where Franz & Frau Schneider und dieser Andere started out. Alas, different story, same result, everyone happy.

Lukas, meanwhile, indeed probably has the most profound vocal education of the entire makeup. He started out in the legendary Dresden Kreuzchor, an institution in German choir and classical music in general. Eight years he was part of it, and got to travel to such exotic places as South America and Japan. Then, at the age of 16, he thought being part of a boys choir just wasn’t cool enough anymore, and left. To co-found the aforementioned Self-Fulfillin’ Prophecy. They had a good run until Lukas went across the Atlantic, which their EP and some truly amazing Youtube-footage is proof of (if you speak German, that is).

Now, Lukas is working in film and Franz is getting his PHD in Brussels, whilst being the ambassador of Formula at home. Times change. Franz, very much hiding his light under a bushel these days, says he still doesn’t understand why all these awesome musicians that are part of The Frank & The Earnest family, are still doing it. To mention only a few: Julian, for example, actually is a professional musician, and travels the world a lot, but still takes time off to tour or record with them “because he wants to”. Franz’ brother Max managed to not only contribute some of the vocals, guitar and key tracks, but also  somehow mix the entire album, whilst also having a full time job, and his own band project [pi!]. The tracks were accumulated not only during that week in Saxony, but also in Australia with Gemma and in New York with Eli (both trumpet), and then some more in Brussels, and Dresden, and the Netherlands, that just as a side-note. Lukas is working for the Berlinale non-stop, nine months a year, and tries to travel as much as possible the remaining three. And it’s not like Franz is underemployed, either. Which didn’t keep him from driving out to the Netherlands to record with Anne for “Radiate”. Who is a guy, in case you were wondering, and played keys for this album as well as for “Nepals best (because only) country band” in Kathmandu, Franz says. That’s how they met, by the way. In case you were wondering. Julian was in on that, too.

The Frank & The Earnest
photo cred: Ben Zank

And so, through time and space, so to speak, and different styles, there still is a band, however fluid, and dreams of coming tours and more albums, and a bunch of new beautiful, sometimes funny (“Barbara”), sometimes truly heartwarming (“Into Place” – especially when you know it was written for Lukas) tracks to listen to. Somehow, there always seems to be a time and place for the music. And isn’t that what we’re here for, really?


All the links to The Frank & The Earnest:

Website ~ Facebook ~ Bandcamp ~ Spotify ~ Youtube

Oh. And should you happen to be in or around Dresden in January 2019, you should not miss out on the truly rare chance of seeing The Frank & The Earnest live: On January 15th, at Societaetstheater Dresden!


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