Frankie Rose on Going to Beauty School, Her New Album, and What Indie Really Means
Frankie Rose has a great new album out, it's called Love as Projection. I've enjoyed her music throughout the years and, if you've been reading the newsletter for a while, you know I love checking in with indie artists that blew up in the 2007-2015 span to see how things are going, what they think of the past, etc. Frankie is always a blast to talk to, I think we had a good convo here that you're all going to enjoy.
You told me over email while we were setting this up that you just quit your job.
Yeah, I sure did. It was one of the most horrible jobs I've ever done, other than the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck in Los Angeles, which would just spontaneously break down in the middle of the highway. I'm not exaggerating. I was so desperate for a job there. I'm also night-blind, which means I can't see well at night, but I did it anyway—which was horrifying.
Are you still in L.A.?
Hell no! I was only there for a year. Everyone thinks I'm still there, but I was only there for a year and three horrible months.
Where are you living now?
I'm back in old Williamsburg.
What was the job that you quit?
I was an assistant at a hair salon. I went to beauty school during COVID because I'm one of the people who just couldn't make money as a musician. We were all pretty screwed—couldn't tour, couldn't do anything, couldn't even make the record! The record is two and a half years old, because of the pressing plant backup, which I'm sure you know about. So I was like, "I know! I'll go to beauty school, that's a great idea." I'm a punk, I've been cutting all my friends' hair since forever, and my own hair too. It was a really insane experience.
Being a salon apprentice is not cool. They expect you to be an apprentice before you can be on the floor any place as an actual stylist. They just want you to wash tons of hair, sweep tons of hair, and be demeaned by everyone. I think there's some cultural hazing, and I threw in the towel. It's too much for me!
Did you start going back to school during the pandemic?
Towards the end, this whole last year really—while I was waiting for my turn at the pressing plant, essentially.
I feel like, for a lot of people who weren't thinking about this previously, the pandemic was this moment where a lot of people were like, "You know what? I'm not gonna put up with being treated like shit anymore."
I feel like I did the opposite. "You know what? I feel like being treated like shit." [Laughs]
Do you think you're still going to pursue working in a salon in some way?
I don't know. It's so funny, because it just happened—but I don't think I like salons. I think they're horrible places, to be honest with you. You know what, Larry? That's a really good question, because I'm also asking myself this. I'm hoping I can just stay on tour. Can I be a musician again? That would be awesome.
I like this record a lot, by the way.
Great! I worked really hard on it. It's weird to have it out, it's like a time capsule and I don't know how I even feel about it anymore. Since I finished it, I worked on a side project, and some songs for another record, so it just feels older to me now.
Help me trace the overall gestation of the album.
We definitely wrapped it up...see, I feel like I'm gonna give false information. I know everyone says this, but doesn't it feel like time was so weird during COVID?
I don't even know where it went. I'm suddenly three years older, and I feel like I'm just coming out of it. We must've wrapped it up towards the middle of COVID? I don't remember. There was still weird stuff going on. It did give me time, though. It was my normal process—I did it all in my crappy home studio, and then I went to someone else's nicer home studio to finish it. It was an amazing guy who volunteered his space, Brandt Gassman. This guy Howie Beno, who worked on a bunch of Ministry albums, was gonna work on it with us, but then he passed away. He's an amazing producer. Not from COVID, just a fluke thing. So it ended up with me and Brandt finishing this thing.
You didn't get a chance to work with Howie at all before he passed?
There's one cool piano part in a song that made it in there because I was like, "That's sick!" But no.
I feel like one thing that's happening is that everything is really fucked up when it comes to musicians making and releasing music. Even the act of playing and promoting it is really broken now.
Oh, most definitely. I have so much to say. It's a different world from even five or six years ago. What aspect should I even talk about? It's really insane.
Let's start with the processing plant stuff.
Please stop me if I have the wrong information. Didn't giant labels press a zillion copies of, like, Rumours and the Adele album?
That did happen. It's been a thing. The Billie Eilish vinyl orders too.
Yeah, and I'm on a small label, so Slumberland only gets a certain number of spots. His schedule was immediately pushed, and I didn't even believe this record was going to come out. I was like, "Yeah, right." I didn't even believe it was gonna happen because I was in line for so long, and two and a half years later it's all happening! But it was really frustrating, and that's why I was like, "This is just not happening anymore. I need to figure out something else to do with my life." Become a drug and alcohol counselor or something, I don't know. Beauty school, ugh. I wouldn't recommend it.
I don't think I would do well there, personally. But I definitely understand that impulse. I feel that every goddamn day that I'm alive. You mentioned wanting to get back on the road and tour. What was your relationship like with touring pre-pandemic?
I love touring. If I could just be touring all the time, I would. I love it. Any opportunity to do it, I will. I'll open for anyone, I don't give a shit. I don't care. Let's do it. I like support slots. I am doing a headlining tour, which I feel bittersweet about. I mean, I'll do it, but. I'm going out with SRSQ, who I'm a big fan of, so we're gonna team up and do that this summer, and I'm excited. But promotion stuff is crazy. I'm pretty sure you just have to go viral on TikTok, and I'm not gonna do that. I'm not gonna talk to the camera, sorry. I'm too old! [Laughs]
The ease of which young people talk to the camera...I'm like, "How the fuck is this natural for you?"
It's so natural. I am on TikTok, but merely as a creepy observer, and it's so amazing to me. People write TikToks about "the millenial pause" or the "shake and talk," and it's so natural for these kids to pick up the camera and talk at it like it's another person. I never thought about that in my life, mostly because I don't pick up the camera and just start talking to it. I don't know, I got my first computer when I was 25.
How did it feel for you when things were shutting down?
I just didn't think it would last as long for things to get back to "normal," just like everybody else—not that things are "normal" now. But that was pretty shocking. During the actual pandemic, I felt like I was very taken care of. I had a safe place to be, I made a record that was a little side project that I had, and it actually came out before this one, which was really weird. The actual pandemic time for me was okay. But the after part, this last year, has been...interesting.
What's been the strangest change you've had to navigate? I feel like no one wants to talk about it, but everything feels really fucked up and strange still.
It is fucked up and strange! And it's really fucked up for working class people, and I'm gonna put myself in that category, because I am very much a working class person. I don't have money coming in! Eggs, blah blah blah, can't afford to live, nobody's tipping, if you're a service person, forget it. I feel like we're all being forced to eat shit for whatever reason. I mean, I have theories, but. That's the problem. I know I'm gonna be called a doomer for this, but it feels like everything is disintegrating really fast, right?
Yeah. As soon as we all got the vaccine, it did feel like society wanted to speed things up and do some really crazy shit, even as we were all like, "No, no, no!"
"You know what? We've decided you need to eat shit even more, just to make everything so much worse for you." I'm sure some people are doing great! Maybe?
I was thinking about that...who's coming out of this doing great, and why? I feel like the people who are doing great are either assholes or fucked up, if I'm being real.
Did much change for the professional managerial class? They always seem to be making the same amount of money. I only have my own experience, but maybe shit rolls downhill for them too and they're being forced to work 20 hours a day.
A lot of richer musicians had nothing to do in that first year, so they'd be doing a lot more interviews.
I love that for them.
I'd be talking to Tommy Lee and I'd say, "What did you do today?" And he'd be like, "I just did eight things in my huge house," and I'd be like, "Man, fuck you."
A lot of people can just check out, especially if you're born into money—or if you're a nepo baby. Did you watch The White Lotus?
I did, yeah.
You know when they're sitting at the table and they ask if [Aubrey Plaza] is having children and she's like, "No, everything is so fucked," and they're like, "What are you talking about?" [Laughs] I'm pretty sure there's a lot of people that just live in that space. Bless their hearts.
When your first few records came out, the landscape for "indie" music and coverage of music was a lot different.
Oh my God, Pitchfork could make you or break you! It's insane! I also feel like that's a terrible thing. [Laughs]
Yeah, people benefited a lot from that time, but there were plenty of bad things about it too. What were the pluses and minuses for you?
I feel like I have a really special viewpoint, because I feel like I did get taken out by Pitchfork, too. When Interstellar came out in 2012—the same day as Grimes' record—I wasn't expecting anything. I didn't have a band. I wasn't ready for everything that happened after that. In eight days we were thrown all this money. "Come to SXSW!" We played the Google YouTube stage, which was the worst thing that ever happened to me. There was all this nonstop press and tour offers. It was incredible! All off a Best New Music Pitchfork review. That would never happen today. I don't think any publication has that much power.
I don't even know what the equivalent would be at this point.
There's nothing. Do people even look at Pitchfork anymore? I'm sorry if that's rude.
I don't think they look at it for that. They're still invested in tastemaking, but I don't think it's what people are going to it for now. Around that time, you could see cult of personality aspects emerging when it came to the press and indie musicians. With people like Grimes, there was as much focus—maybe more—on who they were versus what the music sounded like. I've talked to a lot of people about being weary of that experience, what was it like for you?
It was bad for me, because I'm incredibly shy and I don't want anyone to take my picture. It didn't work in my favor! [Laughs] I'd do it, but I don't think it played very well. I'm just not that guy. I think you have to be able to market yourself really well and know your audience—and, now more than ever, that's all that's important. I don't think the music really matters at all. I really do not think so. If you have a personality and a sellable, marketable idea along with a 30-second clip that goes viral, you're gonna be selling out Terminal 5. That's how it is now.
When it comes to the actual music, you're somebody that sounds like you understand the origins and lineage of indie-pop. When did you first start engaging with that stuff?
Since I was a kid. I'm 44 now, and I loved K Records stuff like That Dog when I was 15. The C86 stuff was a little bit later for me, in my twenties. That damaged stuff—I call it damaged stuff—is just what moved me at the time. When we started Vivian Girls, I was like, "This is something we could totally do." None of us were amazing players, so it was in our reach when it came to what we could pull off. So that stuff's always been a soundtrack for me—not as much anymore, not at all really, but I do love it.
It's funny how "indie-pop" is a commonly used term in music writing now. People call Harry Styles indie-pop, and I'm like, "What the fuck are we even talking about here?"
That's every definition of every genre of music now. I'm sure to young people, the idea of "indie" has a totally different meaning now. "Alt" too. If you grew up in the '90s, that had its own meaning, but it's completely changed now. I think they're wrong, and I've seen some pretty funny stuff about it. I've been put in a lot of "indie" playlists on Spotify, and I'm pretty shocked by it.
Why are you shocked by that?
I don't know. When I think of "indie" I think of...I don't know what I think of. Not my music. What is "indie" to you?
The last time someone asked me this, I said, "I don't know." When I call things "indie" at this point, I feel like I'm describing...something that's making somebody money somewhere?
Like, when I talk about musicians who are making music with complete independence, I'll usually say "They're releasing music independently." But if I call something "indie" I'm usually thinking of, like, Phoebe Bridgers, or Tame Impala. Very successful, huge bands. "Indie" is a sales term now I think, the way it's always been in the UK. But, look, my brain has atrophied from working in all of this.
Same. I wish I had my own answer for you, because it would probably be wrong.
One more thing I wanted to ask you is about your full-length cover of the Cure's Seventeen Seconds. I actually said to a friend about the new record, "It sounds a little like the Cure to me," and she said, "I thought that too, actually." I feel like the Cure are especially timeless at this point. Why is that?
They have tracks! They have songs! They are amazing, and it is such a mood. It's such a vibe, a complete vision. That's what makes the Cure timeless. Obviously, they're one of my favorite bands in the world. In the end, it's really just about the songs. They're timeless.