Monday, October 12, 2015

Q and A With California Singer/Songwriter Frankie Bourne

I'm a few months behind on finding Frankie Bourne's debut album Californicana. That means I'm a few months behind in getting to listen to it. Better late than never.

I had the opportunity to conduct a Q and A with Frankie recently. His answers to my questions were so thoughtful and thorough, I don't know how much I can add. But I'll try.

Frankie is California through and through, so you'll find out below, but it's not the glamour and glitz Hollywood and L.A. California. It's the 70's laid back California rock. It's the Bakersfield sound influences. It's the 60's and 70's Bay Area scene. But then there is so much more.

There is a strong blues influence. And not that it's an influence, but the music of Frankie Bourne would be appreciated by anyone who is a fan of Texas/Red Dirt music. I guess that's where I felt most connected. It's real music, played by a real singer/songwriter with real instruments for real people.

We delved into genres a bit in the interview. Regular readers know how I feel about that. There are so many different influences represented in the songs, Frankie Bourne cannot be contained by one genre. And that, to me, is a good thing.

I've already written too much. Frankie says it much better than I can. He's lived it.

Here are the results of the Q and A:

First of all, thank you for doing this.
I’m going to jump right in. There is a lot of texture in your music. There’s blues, there’s country and then there is stuff that is uniquely Frankie Bourne. How does that all come about?

Great question. And that’s a great word to describe it: texture. In fact, that was the dominant word being constantly used in the studio when making this record. I’d say it comes about from the variation of influences. My musical influences kind of go backward to a lot of different eras in American music that preceded my career as a songwriter; 1960’s and 1970’s rock and roll, Southern Rock, 1990’s alternative rock, and even old delta blues from the 1930’s and 1940’s. My point being I’ve always gravitated towards rootsy music; music laced with acoustic string instruments and crunchy electric guitars. I love the simplicity and melodic texture of that kind of music. And while they’re similar in that regard, those different eras of music are all uniquely different. So I think the distinctive combination of those different influences kind of defines my sound. Part Alt-Country, part Alt-Rock, part Singer-Songwriter, part Blues-Rock… the list goes on. But I’d like to think that my music is always inevitably ingrained with the universal texture of rootsy American music. I always strive to sound like myself, so I go about writing from a more organic approach, which I think automatically makes my music authentic, no matter what I’m listening to at the time that I’m writing.

Given that I live right in the middle of the Red Dirt scene, you music seems like it would fit in quite well. But you come by that honestly. Will you elaborate?

I’m a rebel at heart, and a romantic. I’ve always been really inspired by the notion of American folklore; the vagabond, the wanderlust, the traveler. From the godfather Robert Johnson jumping freight trains throughout the South, to the theme of the rock and roll band on the road, I’ve definitely always gravitated towards the Kerouac On The Road theme. I think that theme is sort of the basis for most Americana musicians. It’s a lifestyle from which the song stories are born.

As a native Californian, I’ve been blessed to grow up and live in a massive, beautiful and inspiring place with a lot of unique regions to travel to. And since I was 18 I’ve been bouncing around those many regions of California, making my way up and down the coast. The collection of experiences throughout that process plays a large part in my storytelling as a songwriter, so I think I can relate to the idea of the Outlaw Country type of character that is loosely associated with the Red Dirt scene, like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. Though I’d like to think of myself as the young Californian version of that type of rebellious character, writing and playing original music in the 21st century that’s inspired by the adventures of travelling through vastly historical Californian landscapes.

I don’t even know what genres are anymore. The only genre I care about is called “music I like”. Californicana. That’s the name of your debut album. Is that a term that you would also use to describe your music? And if so, what does that mean to you?

The title Californicana came about during my attempt to define my music as California-style Americana rock music. I was raised on a lot of music from the Los Angeles 1970’s singer-songwriter scene, like the Eagles, Jackson Browne, and Neil Young, and at the same time, as a Bay Area guy I was always listening to the Doobie Brothers. It’s an iconic California 70’s rock sound that has a very noticeable influence on my music. It’s rock and roll, it’s blues rock, it’s country rock, it’s acoustic rock, but it’s always got that Californian edge to it. My point being it’s got a distinctive flavor; it ain’t Southern Rock, and it’s not the Stones. It’s got that good vibrations, rootsy melodic rock sound that I’m all about.

So I guess I would describe my music as Californicana, because that’s exactly what I’m going for – California Americana. Though with the state of the music industry, it’s important to have some direction, so I make a point to still utilize more dominantly known genres to market my music. While I don’t like to confine my music to a limited range of genres, you sort of have to. As an indie musician in the 21st century, you need to work within those constraints to give your music direction, in terms of the business side of it. I’ve always leaned on the Americana genre, which is defined as a genre made up of multiple older genres of American music, particularly blues, folk, rock and roll, country and R&B. And yet while I love (and am influenced by) those genres, I also appreciate other genres like Alternative Rock, singer-songwriter acoustic genres, and anything dominantly melodic, from power pop to hip hop. So I round out all those influences into just a couple of genres to best define my rootsy based alternative music. I like to call it Americana/Alt-Rock.

When you write songs, do you collaborate at all, or is it all you, all the time?

It’s pretty much all me all the time. I’ve been playing music since I taught myself the drums and guitar at age 12, and from there I went on to play in a lot of bands throughout high school and college. A lot of bands that didn’t really go anywhere, which always left me frustrated, because at the end of the day I was working hard to get projects going that didn’t advance me as an individual. That’s why I chose to focus on guitar a lot more and writing my own songs and pushing my music as a solo artist, back when I was like 18. I like to write from a personal place (like many of my 70’s singer-songwriter influences did), and I’ve always found it to be a really natural process. I’m also really influenced by more contemporary singer-songwriters that write in a very similar way, Ryan Adams being one of them. I relate to him a lot not just from the Americana genre or the solo artist approach of writing from a personal place, but he’s also a self taught guy that has a very passionate and “I don’t give a fuck” attitude about his music. He does what he wants, and doesn’t alter his music or his approach or his image for anyone or anything. I’m sure a lot of artists buy into the concerns they’re fed about upholding their popularity by trying to write catchy songs; hits. But I, like Ryan Adams, just write what comes out, and take it in the directions I want, or the directions that the song naturally want to go. And in the end you get a collage of songs that are all unique in their own way because they have that authenticity. They’re not trying to sound like someone else, or a top 100 radio hit.

But that’s not to say that I’m opposed to writing with other people, and I don’t deny for a second that putting two or more songwriters together can be the ingredients for some amazing songs. I think Glen Frey and Don Henley are the clearest proof of that given how many well-known songs they wrote together while playing in a band. And I’ve written some songs with other people that I’m proud of. And I’m all for creative criticism and I value feedback. But when you’re the only one in control of something, it has a bit more purity by being solely yours, for a multitude of reasons, all of which I probably can’t explain here. For me, it’s more rewarding to know that it’s my song. There’s also an intimacy thing about writing a song on an acoustic, alone in your room at the end of the bed, uninterrupted. It’s always been like therapy for me. Whether I’m happy, sad, confused or angry, I can express myself in a song by telling the story of what’s going on in my head, in my own cryptic way. I never forget the experience because the song lives on, but I get a rewarding sense of closure on the experience because I worked through it by working hard to carefully mold my feelings about it into a song that I can play whenever I want.

I grew up when you listened to the radio or bought physical copies of music. Times are much different in 2015. It’s much easier to get music out there, but conversely, with so much out there it seems much harder to get noticed. How do you navigate today’s music scene?

I too grew up when you went to the record store and bought CD’s of the music you like. To this day I still listen to vinyl records on an analog record player, because I’m an old soul and a retroist. But you hit the nail on the head. In this new digital age (which is really not all that new anymore), there are endless tools at the fingertips of even the most broke artists, which I think is great. But as a result there is more content being created then ever before, and what’s worse it that thanks to the internet, there’s now a massively flooded market online. And it’s not even close to all being on the same level. For example, someone can mess around with Garageband on an iPad while waiting for their flight at LAX for 40 minutes and then export the music and upload it to SoundCloud or YouTube where it will go on to live forever. Then someone like myself can work very hard over a long period of time writing and producing thought out work that defines them and their career, and then upload it to the same streaming services, and not be recognized as any more important or more worthy of a listen or recognition than the people just messing around with tools of the digital age. I laugh when people of older generations tell me about their relative or friend with statements like, “You gotta check them out, they’re on YouTube!” as if posting media to YouTube is somehow a form of success or a right of passage.

The way I navigate today’s music scene is I make a point to professionally mirror my image across all my social media platforms, so as to be taken seriously by anyone who comes across my music online. That way, I don’t look like the guy that made one song one day, made a MySpace account and uploaded the song, and haven’t logged back in for 7 years. That way I have a constantly up-to-date and professional presence online so I can be properly differentiated from all the other clutter online. And it works, to some extent, because I get hit up often by bloggers, PR people and other musicians who find me online, because they can easily distinguish that I’m active. But it’s tough when there’s so much content out there.

From my years of hard work at navigating how to succeed in this business now, I’ve come to the realization that the key to success is live performance. Record sales are almost completely gone, I’ve just stated the disadvantages of the internet, and the mainstream labels put millions of dollars into marketing the same handful of celebrity types that you’re sick of seeing on the sides of buses, and nominated for the same awards. I mean, when you’re telling me that Kanye West, Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj are the only ones up for best songwriter or best album of the year, the industry is clearly in a bad place. So many incredible albums came out this year that won’t get the exposure they deserve because the business force feeds us only the aforementioned artists like Starbucks coffee. It’s all business, and it’s lost an attention to creativity and authenticity.

But I still firmly believe in the power of live performance. After finishing my album I very aggressively played everywhere I could in Los Angeles, and as often as possible. Now, all the way up to the 1990’s or even early 2000’s, there were A&R people who’s sole job was to go out at night and explore live music scenes in search or acts worthy of signing to their label. That’s how bands got discovered, and got deals, and got on the radio. And now even that’s gone, leaving indie artists like myself to find our own way (or not) to making a living and finding success in this insane business. So it’s definitely a constant uphill battle, though I still believe most in live performance because that’s where I gain the most fans and sell the most records. I think you can touch people in the strongest way by them hearing you perform live. It’s more intimate then discovering your recordings on Spotify. I recently just embarked on a solo acoustic tour in support of the album, covering the state of California from top to bottom. Along the way, I was thrilled to discover that there are a lot of people out there that really enjoyed my music, who bought my CD, listened to show, applauded and came up to talk to me afterwards. That experience alone proves to me that there is an audience for my music out there, which gives me a lot of hope and inspiration to keep going.

What is on the horizon for Frankie Bourne, both near and far?

I just relocated back to Northern California, and I’m thrilled to be home. So in terms of the near, I plan to very aggressively continue performing live up here where I’ve always had a really strong following in the many regions of the Bay Area. After almost 6 years in LA I’m thrilled to be back in a smaller scene where someone as tenacious as myself can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Right now I’m focused on continuing to build my California audience, from the Bay Area to LA and everywhere in-between. I also plan to record another album as soon as possible with a lot of new material that I’m really excited about, which upon completion would be followed by an aggressive tour to support it. In the long term, I want to be as prolific as I know I can be, and continue to make records as often as possible, while also travelling to perform them for as many audiences as I can get in front of. I’ve wanted to do what I’m doing now since I was 14 years old, so I’m in this for the long haul. I’ll be working hard to continue to actualize this dream for the rest of my life. Not just because I want, but because I have to.

Who is the one artist/band that you never had the chance to see that you would hop in that “Back To The Future” Delorean to catch live?

That’s an awesome question. I’d floor it 88mph in the Delorean to see one of the Allman Brothers Live at Fillmore East shows, solely to get to see them in their moment with Duane on slide guitar before he died. I’ve seen Gregg Allman a number of times now with his awesome band, and I’m still blown away by the guy. He’s a huge inspiration to me as a songwriter. But to see him with Duane and the Brothers in their moment in 1971 would be incredible.

Best cartoon theme song?

The Simpsons, hands down. I can’t think of a single other theme song that is as catchy as that one.

If Stevie Ray Vaughan were alive today…
Oh wow. I would definitely make a point to not only see him live but get front row seats, just to get to watch his hands fly up and down the neck of that Stratocaster.

Deserted island. Three albums. Which ones do you have?

Another awesome question. You could ask me this every day for a week and I’d probably tell you different albums each time. Off the top of my head right now, I’d say The Doobie Brothers album The Captain and Me. That record will never, ever get old. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite Ryan Adams album, but I really discovered him for the first time with his 2001 album Gold which doesn’t have a bad song on it, so I’d probably have to have that one too. And third, and most importantly, I’d have Robert Johnson’s The Complete Recordings, because without those songs, we wouldn’t have rock and roll.

Frankie Bourne links:

Here is the official video for "Common Ground" from the album Califoricana:

1 comment:

  1. I love his music! Reminds me of the alt rock that was on the radio when I was in high school, but, yes with that rock/blues and a touch of country. Thanks for sharing!

    I appreciate his answer to your question (an excellent question!) about the challenges of being a musician in the "digital age." Very thoughtful.