When Boise last saw one of Ireland's biggest musical exports The Frames, it was October 2005, and they were touring behind their record Burn the Maps. They were initially scheduled to play a gig with Idaho native Josh Ritter when the show fell through at the last minute.
The Frames called The Record Exchange (TRX) with one day's notice and asked if they could play an in-store. TRX answered with an enthusiastic "Yes!" and a day later, The Frames treated Boise to a passionate, rollicking concert that converted new fans and solidified a long lasting friendship between The Frames and TRX. The band deftly navigated new tunes, old standards, and the occasional, off the cuff, covers—including a poignant, slowed down version of "Ring of Fire."
At the show, The Frames leader Glen Hansard told the crowd of his love for Boise and, in particular, TRX. He said the record store was one of the first places they had seen their releases when they were on tour with Damien Rice a year earlier.
This year, TRX is celebrating its 30th anniversary—a milestone that brings smiles to the faces of music lovers all over the valley. In light of the accomplishment, the store got a facelift of sorts, including a sleek new sign and an entertaining orange and red mural. To formally celebrate, TRX decided to put on a concert at The Egyptian. Their first choice for the headliner was a no-brainer says Joy Hart, marketing and promotions manager for TRX. They knew it had to be The Frames. Turns out The Frames were already planning a return to Boise.
"The Frames' label rep called us last year to let us know that The Frames' only request for their upcoming US tour was to get routed through Boise so they could play TRX again," says Hart. "That's pretty huge."
It's been a whirlwind year for Hansard and The Frames. For starters, they just released The Cost, which has been touted as a showcase of the band's dynamic live sound. When asked by Billboard about making The Cost, Hansard said they recorded the album without any overdubs to get more of the live vibe on tape. "[The Cost] came out pretty much exactly as I hoped," Hansard told Billboard. "We went into the studio and set up a rule that we were only going to record everything absolutely live so if anyone f*cked up, we started again. It's made for a very spacious and, I suppose, honest depiction of each tune. I think there's an intensity in it that has not been there for a while." When asked about the overall sound of the record, Hansard continued, "So, when I say mellow, does it sound like a bunch of people who have kind of hit a point and chilled out? No. I've been listening to a lot of Gordon Lightfoot [and] early Elton John records and for me the sound I wanted was to be really simple. But in terms of mellow, I think there's an intensity to us and without wanting to use the 'M' word, I think it's a bit more mature."
Hansard didn't just make a new record with The Frames last year—he also starred in an award-winning movie. The movie, Once, features Hansard as a busker on the streets of Ireland. It won the World Cinema Audience Award—Dramatic at Sundance this year. That wasn't Hansard's only brush with cinema. He was also featured in the movie The Commitments, but Once was that is very true to Glen's life as he still enjoys playing the busker from time to time, saying it's a great way to get to know a new town.
In addition to starring in a movie, Hansard also released the album The Swell Season, with Once co-star Marketa Irglova. The record is a piano, guitar and vocal affair that shows up, in pieces, throughout Once.
But Hansard is only one-fifth of The Frames, and The Frames are only one-half of TRX's celebration—the opening band, Menomena (their name is pronounced like The Muppet Show song: "mah na mah na") will also be playing their critically-lauded style of melodic musings for Boise concert goers. Hart says of Menomena, "They are one of our favorite new bands. We're always looking for new bands to turn Boise on to."
Portland's Menomena is made up of members Brent Knopf on guitar, keyboards and glockenspiel; Justin Harris on bass, guitar, baritone sax and alto sax; and Danny Seim on percussion. Fresh off their much-written-about performance at SXSW this year, the band, three albums into their career, is receiving a lot of great press. Their newest album, Friend and Foe, is a study of varied modular pop and shifting song structure that, according to Pitchfork Media, "brims with many spine-tingling music moments." The album also features incredibly detailed cover art made by Blankets author/graphic novelist Craig Thompson. In a recent phone interview with Boise Weekly (below), Knopf said about the album art, "There are tons and tons of layers with puzzles and tricks with the packaging. It's fun because we can sit back and as more people delve into it they find out more and e-mail us."
With all the great press the band has been getting, one might think they been creating a scrapbook of all their praise. Turns out that is not the case. Knopf says they are excited about the press that they have been getting, but that ultimately, "We don't think too much about it."
When asked how the band translates their occasionally dense studio sound to a live setting, Knopf replied with laughter, "Catastrophically—we end every night by cutting ourselves and bleeding all over the stage." Travis Ritter, a writer for The Seattle Weekly who has seen Menomena live, said of a recent Crocodile Café gig, "Through their enriched multi-instrumental talents, like Brett Knopf, the piano/bell/shaker/guitar player/laptopper who seemed to do everything at once, Menomena proved that they are indeed a really good live band."
It all adds up to an engaging show for Boise concert goers. Hart says the show will also feature a drawing for a bike. "We have a Fat Tire Cruiser that we are raffling off for the Idaho Velodrome and Cycling Park," says Hart. The bike is a nod to Hansard's love of bicycles (The Frames name stems from the fact that Hansard used to collect bicycle frames when he worked in a bike shop in Ireland). Hart assures us that TRX has even more tricks up their sleeve to celebrate 30 years in business. "This is part one a few big events that TRX will hold in celebration of 30 years in Boise," says Hart with a sly smile.
The Frames with Menomena, 8 p.m., $18 advance, $20 door. Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St., 208-345-0454.
An Interview with Menomena's Brent Knopf
By Ryan Peck
If you haven't heard Menomena, you will. A Portland band that finds home on the excellent label Barsuk, their brand of modular pop is equal parts experimental and hooky. Filter magazine said of the band's new release, Friend and Foe, "This just might be what we've waited for." Boise Weekly had the chance to talk via telephone with Menomena keyboardist/ singer Brent Knopf between sound-checks at a recent Little Rock, Arkansas gig. We gained a little insight into what makes the band tick including influences ranging from the '80s band Journey, the mesmerizing writing of the Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges, and chocolate--dark chocolate. For a taste of what the band sounds like see: http://www.barsuk.com/shop/bark060.
Boise Weekly: Your records have a lot going on—how do you pull your studio sound off live?
Brent Knopf: Catastrophically—we end every night by cutting ourselves and bleeding all over the stage (laughter). No, there is a lot going on. We all play multiple instruments—there are tons of instruments on the stage. [We have] Moogs, guitars, basses ... I play glockenspiel on a tune ... and we all sing. It keeps us keep pretty active.
Any backing tracks?
No backing tracks. We haven't resorted to using the tracks. We use guitar pedal looping devices minimally. We'll set up a loop on a song off our first record, "Strongest Man in the World". All in all though, it's pretty miniscule. There are a couple of instances where we use samples, but we trigger them in real time.
Can you talk about the uniqueness of your recording method?
We have this program called Digital Looping Recorder [Deeler]. It is like a glorified guitar looping device. We get it going and take turns adding stuff to it; by the time we are done we have 12 or so ideas down that we can archive. Then, a couple of years down the road we go back to these archives to help arrange songs. It doesn't do any of the arranging for us, it just captures ideas.
Songwriting is collaborative then?
Completely. We didn't preordain to be that way. But now it is all equal as far as how much we all we contribute.
You are the current darlings of Pitchfork. They gave your new record an 8.5—a really high score. Then they end the review wondering if you'll be able to top Friend and Foe on your next release. Maybe there is some backlash coming up?
We have pretty lucky to get kind words rather than harsh words from them. What's funny about it is that they gave us a better score on first record. It kind of cracks me up ... other than being thankful for the kind words, we don't think too much about it.
How do feel being paired with The Frames?
They are one of those bands that I have been meaning to check out. I don't really have my finger on the pulse of what's going on these days. I am still listening to Journey [laughs].
Yeah, they played in town and they were great. Them and Phil Collins.
Right, the purveyor of the big gated drum sound in the '80s.
"In the Air Tonight" is such a cool song.
It's an thrilling time for indie music. Bands like Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse, and The Shins are showing up at the top of the Billboard charts.
I wouldn't put us in the same category as them—they are all superstars. It's really exciting though. Only every so often does music that I respect
get the sales that it deserves. We are in an exciting time when bands that deserve it are getting it. I think it is great that people are turning to indie labels. It bodes very well for the future of music.
I read that Friend and Foe was your answer to TV On The Radio's Return to Cookie Mountain. Just like Pet Sounds was an answer to the Beatle's Revolver.
[Laughs] Amusing, flattering and completely untrue. We hadn't heard [Return to Cookie Mountain] when we were making Friend and Foe. To be compared to them—I take it as a good thing. We respect TV On The Radio. It's one of those zeitgeist things. We get compared to them a lot.
A lot of times a reviewer will compare us to a band that we have never heard of. Sly and the Family Stone was a comparison a few years ago—and I had never heard of them. Now they are one of my favorite bands. It's always fun to get compared to bands you never heard of and then go check them out.
You guys produce yourself?
We produce, engineer, record, mix ... everything except for mastering. We can't afford it any other way.
Talk about the album artwork on Friend and Foe.
The credit goes to the graphic novelist that took our ideas farther: Craig Thompson. He is basically a genius. He lives in Portland. He is a friend of Danny's [Seimen] and a surfing buddy of Justin's [Harris]. We gave him a few ideas and he took them and ran. There are tons and tons of layers with puzzles and tricks with the packaging. It's fun because we can sit back and as more people delve into it they find out more and e-mail us.
Back to songwriting, you guys mess around a lot with song structure—is it linear, or do you take parts and cobble them together?
We just piece together a song. We'll use those loops we archived for ideas. We never think about songs in terms of choruses, verses, middle eight. We are trying to find something that, to our ears, sounds compelling and cool to listen to.
Of course, the standard question: Who are your influences?
Let's see. I guess, you know, he problem is that we all have different influences. I really can't speak for Danny or Justin. PJ Harvey is a big one for me, I think she is fantastic. There is a really diverse range from country to heavy metal. I think one of the biggest influences for this record was an Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges. He wrote short fiction. One of his collections is Ficciones. I have gone back to it several times in my life and each time it makes my mind sparkle. Another influence is chocolate, because I eat a lot of chocolate. Dark chocolate ...
Menomena: Friend and Foe
By Brian Mayer
When I first heard the name Menomena I was confused and still am. Is it a play on words meaning phenomenal men, or is it a linguistic trick, a semi-phonetic spelling a toddler would use while trying to pronounce phenomena? I'm not sure of either, but I am sure that the name is fitting. Like the name, Menomena's music is somewhat hard to place. It is not entirely original, nor common, rather, this band takes hook-laden pop as the anchor to a somewhat jazzy experimental ship. Menomena comes across as a band that embraces all kinds of things. As the title of Portland, Oregon-based group's latest album, Friend and Foe, suggests; the record is about binary opposites and is itself a collection of the good and the bad. While some of their experiments come through shining, still others feel undone and a little rushed through production.
One example of a good robot, is the track "Muscle 'n' Flo." This Flaming Lips-inspired gem feels like it might fall into a billion pieces any second, but is held together by poppy vocals, bright drums and haunting piano. An example of the evil robot is the track "Air Aid." While this track contains many of the same elements and instrumentation it feels contrived and unfinished. Don't get me wrong: this album has plenty to enjoy, but it also has a tendency to lose relevance at seemingly crucial parts. Friend and Foe is a delight for breaking up the continuous stream of overly sensitive and ordinary rock music. I think this album is a good experiment, but I am curious to what Menomena will bring up from the lab on future recordings