Here we are again. Two years after their last album “Radiate”, Frank a.k.a. Franz Rothe and his friends did it again, transcended time- and spatial differences and put together another record. Like last time, they gathered in that old mill somewhere in rural Germany, locked themselves in for a week in June (is that a bit morbid, now that lockdown has become so much part of our daily reality?) and tadaa – out comes “Sincerely”.
That’s as far as the similarities go, though.
The first thing that strikes me as I listen to the secret playlist, pre-release (yes, I feel very special about that, thank you very much) is how it sounds quite different from anything Frank has put out so far. I guess if I wanted to make life easy for myself, I could just say it’s more mature. And maybe that’s part of it – the fact that we’re all aging, and life is becoming more, shall we say, settled. Frank, for instance, has become a Dad a second time recently, Lukas also has a child now… life moves faster every day, it seems.
Another thing that was different this time was that, unlike before, the creation of this record was more of a collaborative process. While Franz still wrote and pre-recorded most of the songs for demo purposes, a lot of the final piecemeal was done in the “studio”. Which presented a whole new challenge for Franz: To allow for changes to be made, after listening to a certain lick for all this time… and to recognize that what, say, Julian made of it actually sounded a lot better. (To which Franz adds: “Julian’s licks ALWAYS sound better than mine.”)
Lyrically, the choruses, usually containing the core message of the songs, were pretty much done when they started recording. Lukas had come for a visit in Brussels sometime in 2019 for a week to co-write a few of the songs, and to hash some of the harmonies out (by the way – all those gospel-esque choirs you hear are 99% Lukas. Franz was “allowed” to chime in on some of the lower parts, but it’s mostly due to Lukas’ incredible vocal range that you get that feeling of listening to a bunch of people singing in harmony).
I must admit I would have been a little concerned about Franz’ private state of affairs, as it sounds a little like a “breakup album”, as Franz himself terms it (in the same breath reassuring me that it’s not). And then he lets me in on a song-writing secret: It’s not really so much about the words, especially in the verses – a lot of it is “filling material”, so to speak: Finding words that fill out the song. Which is hard to believe, especially when I listen to “But then Again”, which is pretty fucking brilliant, I think – the way he plays with the words to create rhythm (apparently Lukas had to be woken up at 7 am in the morning, to listen to Franz’ first ever recorded rap verse on a F&TE production), and also conveys this bittersweet place where you’re kind of over someone, but not really…
So what is it, then, that Franz & friends (in this constellation comprised of Lukas Hoffmann, who I spoke to on our last chat on “Radiate”, Julian Gramm and West (aka Felix Franz), plus West’s and Franz’ Dads on a couple of songs, playing keys) want to say with this record?
“It’s an album from musicians who didn’t become musicians”, Franz says. And while that’s true for most of them (only Julian is currently living off his art), it definitely doesn’t sound like it. Despite his best efforts to “put his light under the Scheffel”, as we would say in Germany (and I don’t know what a Scheffel is, or what the appropriate translation would be in English – but I have a feeling you get the idea), I feel that a lot of effort and care went into this album, as in the ones before. I think it speaks to how big a part life music plays in each of these four guys’ lives has if they can come together, and within a week create something this cohesive and put-together. Including the videos to the first three singles.
Trying out a new style was a very conscious decision for this record, which is another thing that makes it different from prior projects, that were more of a compilation of stuff that was kind of “flying around” in Franz’ brain:
“I constantly sing in my head but 99% of the time it’s stuff like jingle versions of my shopping lists – which is extremely annoying. So on the one hand you try really hard to tune out. But at the same time you think, what if there’s the hook for a cool song somewhere between all that noise? I think, for me that’s song-writing in a nutshell.”
So this time, the intention was to sound more like the “music that I like to listen to”. Which has been a lot of soul, R’n’B and Lawrence. And – and this was particularly important to Franz – that “down below, it’s a HipHop album”.
Being committed to this new approach and style, Franz felt that they were a lot more critical with their work, really hashing out those harmonies, and building on the instrumentals – one more thing that was different in the past, where they would often start with the vocals, and building the musical framework around them. And despite their different musical preferences and backgrounds (West is usually a Metal- and Stoner Rock drummer and “has never in his life played HipHop”, yet he “is grooving like a big old bear, if a big old bear could play the drums”; and Julian feels most at home playing Blues), the conditions under which they recorded “Sincerely” motivated them to push each other, expand their horizons and boundaries.
“Sincerely”, the song that gave the album its title (which, you guessed it, is also a first) also sums up the essence of the record: Maybe a little weary, but really mostly just not taking itself too seriously, all the while just wanting to make some good music. I don’t know about you, but I think it worked.