PledgeMusic were lucky enough to grab a few minutes with Frank Black to discuss the new Frank Black And The Catholics Complete Recordings boxset.
PM – Were you surprised by some of the old material when you were putting this collection together?
FB – Not really. I suppose that as they were all recorded live, there is the familiar sound and memory of me, the band, the extra musicians, each represented by their instrument, each represented by the muscle memory of having done many takes of the song, and in the case of songs we played on the road a lot, the muscle memory of having performed it hundreds of times. When I hear back a Catholics recording it is very familiar, almost intimate, like it happened last week.
PM – How do you feel about releasing “Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day” after 15 years? What were your reasons for shelving it back in 2000?
FB – I guess my first feeling is that it doesn’t feel like it’s been 15 years! It was a very memorable session in a warehouse studio in San Francisco. We were sun fatigued from having been doing a long outdoor photo session for Dog In The Sand. I thought most of the performances were great. There were a couple of bad notes on the Del Shannon song Sister Isabelle, which we had attempted about a thousand times at other sessions; I could never quite hit the high note of the vocal melody; I think that track has been excluded in the boxed set again. Originally I was excited about the results of the session to the degree that I had a load of CDs of it burned and passed a few out on the road. I still have a small stack of these CDs in my office. But ultimately at that time it was decided that there were one too many flaws in the session to release it as a complete LP. We used a lot of the songs as B-sides and bonus tracks. If the reader is wondering why we didn’t just fix a few bad notes, I should remind that as with all of the Frank Black And The Catholics sessions this was recorded live to 1 track or 2 track. There was no mixing or overdubbing. Whatever was performed was what was on the tape without manipulation. So, as in the case of Sister Isabelle, if I didn’t hit that high note it was back to the top again. I think enough of that session is represented here in the boxed set to give a real sense of the session.
PM – As a contributor to the Stuckist movement, do you apply its principles – in particular ‘a quest for authenticity’ – to your music? Does recording live to 2-track tape add to a recording’s authenticity?
FB – Well, as with any art, there are no rules, so I don’t want to get too hung up on the authentic power of live recordings being somehow superior to other types of recordings. Having said that, when there is less processing in any art you are allowing the listener or viewer to be closer to the person or persons who made the art, closer to their mental processes. More processing means more distance. Distance can be well done as well, and intimacy can be poorly executed. I suppose flawed intimacy doesn’t give the impression that you’re trying to hide anything, which might make it more honorable for some people (me!). It’s more naked and open. This is a big part of Stuckist art. It is open and willing to fail.
PM – Do you listen to music whilst you paint? If so, what?
FB – Yes, I do. A lot of Erik Satie, but also some pop music, like Baxter Dury. I like very much the soundtrack music from Fassbinder films which was done by a guy called Peer Raben. I like 50’s jazz.
PM – After writing and recording the FBATC material and working in that way, did it change the way you approached the more recent Pixies recordings?
FB – Yes, recording live has helped me on every session I’ve done since. I’m much more consistent with my playing and singing. Also, I’m very comfortable recording in a performance based situation with other musicians.
PM – What considerations brought you to choose PledgeMusic as a means of releasing this incredible box-set of all of the recordings done by ‘ Frank Black And The Catholics’?
FB – Frankly, I really needed the help. I have a small imprint, and I’ve released a few oddball items through it, but this project was physically so large that I fear it would have financially decimated me if I had done the production myself. Also, the PledgeMusic platform is comforting in the sense that it is so precise in its gauge of how many customers there actually are in the world. It would be nice to think we are entering an era where manufacture numbers represents the actual numbers of customers. Overstock is depressing for everyone.
PM – If Frank Black & The Catholics were starting out now in 2015, what would a young Frank Black think of the current streaming debate in which artists seem to have little voice nor influence?
FB – I would probably feel the same. I tend to feel these things are all part of “showbiz”. You can’t fight every trend or situation. If you don’t like something you usually have the option of opting out and doing it another way. It might push you to the margins, but sometimes the margins is where the good stuff is happening. While I personally enjoy the ease of streaming music when I listen, I think it would great if more art went completely off the grid. I think technology culture can be a bit self-congratulatory and lazy. Yet here I am participating fully. I wrestle with these things.
Frank Black And The Catholics "Complete Recordings Boxset” will be released on April 6th (three weeks later than originally planned, due to extended manufacturing schedules) and can still be ordered from http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/frankblackboxset