Q&A: Frankie Rose Talks C86, Vivian Girls, And How Making Music Is Sorta Like Painting


A few weeks ago, when working on a feature about the Brooklyn indie scene and Simon Reynolds’s new (and seemingly omnipresent) book Retromania, I had the chance to talk briefly with Frankie Rose (formerly of Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts, currently of Frankie Rose and the Outs) about twee pop the borderline-retro influence bands like The Shop Assistants and Primal Scream have had on her own work. Tomorrow, she plays Glasslands Gallery with Montreal’s Dirty Beaches, which makes today an opportune time to post our chat.

Why do you think this sound—whatever you want to call it, the twee/lo-fi/C86-influenced sound—why has that become increasingly popular over the last few years, at least since the release of the first Vivian Girls record?

I think about this a lot, and I have no idea. I’m trying to think back to what was going on at the time in music. What was big two years ago in New York? For whatever reason I think that record was refreshing; it was reminiscent of C86 and was something that no one was doing. It wasn’t particularly original. I’m not gonna say at all that we were doing mindblowingly original. I just thought it was something that we could do, something that was within our skill sets. And not have it sound terrible. Why it moved people in that moment, I’m not sure because I’d beg to differ if anyone was saying, “This is new and exciting,” because it really wasn’t. People have been doing—I kind of loathe the term at this point—lo-fi since, well, Velvet Underground, you know? Guided by Voices.

When you were making that record, were you looking back specifically to a certain sound, like, say, C86 or something similar?

I think that was my influence more than the other girls. I think that, yeah, The Shop Assistants in particular was one of the bands that was a big influence. Primal Scream and The Shop Assistants. I have a lot of different influences, but that was something that I thought was, yeah, within our skill set. Shop Assistants and Black Tambourine, and Black Tambourine were definitely influenced, I think, by The Shop Assistants. The Raincoats, all that kind of that, dare I say, amatuer-y sounding wonkiness.

So when you were looking to those artists, did it ever cross your mind that this might be construed as retro? Or is just like, you had influences and built on what they were doing with what you were doing?

People ask about influences, and, like, “Is your music retro.” I just sort of make an analogy with painters. Maybe I love a certain painter, a famous painter—I know nothing about painting by the way—but say I had a favorite painter, and I was making a painting. Maybe those influences would show up in my painting, but that doesn’t mean I’m trying to be exactly like that painter. Maybe you could see, oh, she uses this color palette. That’s sort of how I like to look at music. I love reverb, I love a lot things that people have done long before me. As far as making new sounds and making new ideas, I don’t think I was trying to do that, and I don’t think I’m doing that now. But my influences are going to pop up in my painting, or in my music. Does that make any sense?

Yeah—less like you wanted to make a record that sounded as if it were from 19whatever than just looking at people who had done something similar or with similar skill sets? That sort of “this is what we can do” attitude.

Yes, “this is what we can do,” that was a huge thing. Now it’s a little bit different, I feel like. The time period is a little different, and I have a little more access to what I can do. And what I can do is changing, it’s changing all the time. I have a new palette of colors, and I feel like I can draw from so many more places than I could three years ago. So of course, this is gonna change the final outcome.

I’m kind of interested, for the sake of piece I’m writing, with what technology you first came across these bands we’ve been talking about? Like, did you hear them first on vinyl, or find them in a record store, or just downloaded their mp3s off rapidshare or whatever?

Before I even was on Slumberland Records, I was a fan of Slumberland Records, and those were than bands that influenced Slumberland Records, since that label has always been trying to put out bands that reference that kind of stuff. That’s how I first heard of say, C86. And some of those bands on that cassette I’m not even familiar with, they’re just so obscure. The big ones to me were Primal Scream, for sure, and Shop Assistants.

Frankie Rose plays Glasslands tomorrow with Dirty Beaches and Lantern.