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One detail stood out when West Coast fuzz-pop band Dum Dum Girls played a thunderous set opening for Vampire Weekend at Radio City Music Hall last month: Frankie Rose wasn’t there. The hometown noise-pop go-to drummer had apparently quit the band to focus on her own project, Frankie Rose and the Outs, who stop at Coco 66 this week on a tour promoting their new self-titled debut, a tight set of tunes rife with reverb and ghostly harmonies.
The record is Rose’s latest step in her pursuit of perfectly washed-out dream pop; her Dum Dum departure wouldn’t be terribly notable if this weren’t the third fast-rising band she has ditched in as many years. The others are Vivian Girls, who Rose co-founded in 2006, and Crystal Stilts, who she joined in 2007, both popular indie-pop outfits that made her a venerable fixture on the fuzzed-out circuit. “But now I’m known for quitting bands,” she says, head in hands, at the kitchen table in her South Williamsburg loft. “So many people have asked me, ‘Why would you leave a popular band? They’re doing amazing stuff. They’re going to tour and see the world.’ But I just had to do my thing.” She also points out that the bands she’s played in are merely Pitchfork-famous, and don’t make much money—at least not yet.
“She makes some crazy decisions,” says Crystal Stilts bassist Kyle Forester by phone a few days later. “Like, maybe she could’ve worked it out with Vivian Girls.” Rose—who makes clear that her motives are creative, not commercial—says no way. Though she started the band, named it after her mother, provided material (notably the early single “Where Do You Run to”), and helped craft the trio’s beloved tunnel-punk sound, she quickly realized her aesthetic was closer to that of the more refined Crystal Stilts, whose JB Townsend she met a few months after joining the Vivians; when being in both bands got too stressful circa 2008, her loyalty tilted to the Stilts. (Incidentally, her Vivian Girls replacement, Ali Koehler, recently left that band to play in Best Coast; her former bandmates declined to comment for this article.)
“I 100 percent love everything JB does,” Rose says of her Crystal Stilts stint, at least. Forester cites her solid drumming skills—audible on the surf-rock single “Love Is a Wave”—as a unifying factor during her time in the hard-touring band. Still, Rose was “just the drummer,” as she put it. By the end of 2009, she had formed the Outs, released a single, and led their live debut, singing lead and playing guitar. Their haunting pop sound is a logical continuation of her stylistic trajectory: There are ’60s-style female harmonies (like the Dum Dums), darkly distorted guitars (like Vivian Girls), and a nice wash of reverb (like Crystal Stilts). “Frankie is adamant about where things should sit in the mix,” says Outs guitarist Margot Bianca. “She wants this huge drum sound, and then the vocals are just like another instrument.” As a songwriter, too, Rose had finally found the creative outlet she craved.
But the two-band scenario would repeat itself earlier this year, when Rose agreed to play in the original version of the Dum Dums while simultaneously launching the Outs, an arrangement that found her playing 13 shows in three days at South by Southwest this spring. “I had a panic attack,” she recalls. “I just started crying in the bathroom.”
Again, Rose made a choice: No question, she would rather front her own band at Coco 66 than play drums in someone else’s at Radio City Music Hall. “A drummer is replaceable,” she says. “It could have been anybody.” Although that’s not exactly what DDG leader Dee Dee (neé Kristin Gundred) said earlier this year, when Rose was still in the band: “I built this band under the pretense that Frankie would play with me,” admitted the singer/guitarist, who also played drums in a popular band, San Diego’s Grand Ole Party, before quitting to start her own act.
In terms of the incestuous Brooklyn music scene, Forester points out, Rose’s band-hopping isn’t that unusual. But it’s hard to think of another indie musician who has emerged as a frontperson after vacating the drum stool for a fast-rising band, unless you count Dee Dee herself. In a way, the two are opposite-coast counterparts, though Rose probably wouldn’t put it that way. She was a little annoyed by a recent Times review that compared the two bands’ musical ability and fashion sense, as presented at a shared bill they played when Rose was still pulling double duty. “I just have a terrible fear of being lumped in,” she says now.
Overall, though, Rose is quite content with her new arrangement. “I couldn’t be happier,” she says, then pauses for a minute and looks around the smelly kitchen she shares with four roommates. “Well, maybe being on a commercial would make me happier,” she adds. “Yeah, a bag of money would be good.”
Frankie and the Outs play Coco 66 October 22 and the Music Hall of Williamsburg with Dum Dum Girls November 1