Photo Credit: Bob Sweeney
A decade ago Frankie and Robbie were both wandering around Berklee hoping to find a friend they could put their all into. When they met, their love of music was obvious but it was their shared fondness of another creative outlet to be admired that sealed the deal. You’ll find out what that was soon enough, as well as more about the snowstorm that inspired Thebandivory, and what’s to come as they – and the rest of the world – hit pause for a minute.
Kendra: It’s easy for students at Berklee to find common ground, but what was the first non-musical thing you two bonded over?
Frankie: It’s funny to say but the first non-musical bonding moment was our love for drag queens. You have to understand that Berklee’s queer community, especially 10 years ago, was very limited. So having someone who understood the irreverent nature of drag queens was important in making the creative process fun.
Robbie: Well, the LGBTQ+ community at Berklee is relatively small so finding another gay person who wasn’t an Adam Lambert impersonator was probably the first impetus of us meeting for me.
Kendra: So many people are staying inside to be safe, and you two are no stranger to that. Several years ago y’all had to do just that when a blizzard came through, and that in turn helped get this group started. Do you have a personal space in your heart for blizzards now because of that or could you have done without all that snow?
Frankie: While I’m incredibly grateful for that snowstorm being the catalyst for creating ThebandIvory, my tropical ass can’t handle the extreme tundra that is Boston. We definitely see a California move in our future.
Robbie: That particular snow has a soft spot in my heart. I had never seen anything like that before, where street level is the same as the top of the fire hydrants. But no, I’m not a fan of snow once it’s on the ground generally.
Kendra: It has been five years since you dropped your debut ‘The Beast.’ Since then, what growth have you noticed about your musical partner?
Frankie: Growth comes in many forms and Robbie’s growth has been layered. It goes without saying that he’s a skilled instrumentalist (covering a whole rhythm section) but the most growth I’ve seen is his confidence and in honoring what the song needs. Many producers create what THEY think sounds good but he lets the songs guide him. It’s a selfless act to put your ego aside and truly create from a place of capturing truth sonically.
Robbie: The biggest thing, musically, is that he’s completely expanded to a whole new set of instruments. We dabbled a little in strings on our EP (on ‘This World’ we had some guest musicians playing the string parts) but over the last five years Frankie taught himself (with the help of maybe like half a dozen lessons) to be a professional string player, so we’re really able to orchestrate with wild abandon now because Frankie basically has the orchestra at his fingertips.
Kendra: Let’s talk about “Factory Song (Hey Oh, Goodbye).” I feel like we’re all going through this to some degree right now; a never-ending cycle of sadness. Other than creating music, how do you shake those bad feelings, especially when practicing social distancing and staying home?
Frankie: I like to say I work with undiagnosed “functional ADD.” It lets me focus deeply but on many different things. Currently, I’m refining my sewing chops designing and making looks for future shows, restoring old instruments I’ve acquired over the years (too many flutes and clarinets in our basement!), making linocut relief prints for band merch all while learning how to embroider. I’m a bit of a creative freak and absolutely love that I get to use all my skills in ThebandIvory. It’s honestly all a way to distract myself from the existential hurricane outside.
Robbie: Exercise helps, just getting out in the sun helps. Finding things that are the opposite of dark and twisted, like ‘Mario Kart,’ helps. Laughing helps, so enjoying a funny show or podcast or whatever. Just finding something to get me off of my phone and social media that captures my attention for more than a couple minutes.
Kendra: When I pressed play on “Factory Song (Hey Oh, Goodbye)” I didn’t know where to place you and that’s sort of the style nowadays. So many artists are breaking free of genre constrictions. Do you think that has anything to do with brick and mortar record stores and their genre sections, becoming a thing of the past?
Robbie: It’s a few things, I think. Technology lets people take their music in their own hands, so a lot of people (us included) produce their music at home, where you can experiment without the clock running on studio time. Another thing is that there are only 12 notes (in Western music), right? There are only so many combinations of things before we start repeating ourselves. And a lot of bands make a career repeating themselves but a lot more of us strive to make something new and better every time that pushes the envelope beyond what we’ve done before. And because music tastes are less curated by radio stations, and we have access to literally almost any music at any time, we can be influenced by more. We can find the common threads and use those to bend the idea of the “genre.” Which, sort of, in a long, round-about way, answers your question “No, and also yes.” I think the downfall of terrestrial radio has more to do with it than record stores, but it’s all related.
Frankie: My theory on this is that people who don’t have a lot of money can make records that would have cost an unfathomable amount of money before. So different people (people of color, people without a lot of financial resources) have voices where they wouldn’t have before because most of us can come up with the money for a home recording set up that costs the same as, like, 5 hours of studio time with an engineer. So we get to express ourselves where we wouldn’t have been able to before, and not only that we can express ourselves honestly.
Kendra: Usually, this is where I ask people what they have planned in the coming months but with the world in a strange place right now, plans aren’t as concrete as they typically are. You can go ahead and let us know what you have tentatively planned but can you also share a song that never fails to get you through when the world around you feels like a mess?
Robbie: Yeah, obviously we had to re-evaluate our goals since we wanted to play some cool shows and festivals this year. But now we are hyper-focused on getting our album finished in the next couple months for a hypothetical August/September release, but ya know – we’ll see.
I contemplated this song question for a while, but the one I keep coming back to is “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John. It could be because we just watched ‘Almost Famous’ a few days ago. But that movie is like 20-years-old now, so anytime I hear that song it takes me there, and I think about the power that song had to take such a tense moment and turn it into a moment of bonding and human connection. I think we should all just listen to “Tiny Dancer” on repeat for a while. But don’t discount anything from ‘Madman Across the Water.’
Frankie: Even though we have to press pause on playing in-person anytime soon this does open up a window of time to finish our album. Recording with an open time table is freeing plus Its comfortable recording orchestrations while in jammies. It’s great to see the music industry using the “virtual world” to spread good vibes.
The song that gets me out of any rut is “I Want to Dance with Somebody” performed by Whitney Houston. I know I know it’s not a musical trailblazer but that’s one of many reasons why I love it so much. It’s fun, vibrant, it’s colorful! As soon as those first few beats hit I want to jump out of my seat and dance with her. The irony dawns on me now while I literally dance with nobody.