Over a number of years, and with a number of Albums to their credit, The Frames have developed into one of Ireland’s best loved rock bands. Formed around the nucleus of singer/songwriter Glen Hansard (who, though he may wish to forget it, played the role of Outspan, the guitarist in Alan Parker’s film The Committments), the band have always seemed on the verge of being hugely successful, but due to a number of record label fallouts, and fate, they’ve never really translated their success to outside Ireland. While taking a break from recording their fifth studio album, Bassist Joseph Doyle spoke to Andrew Lawless about songs, success, and the ever changing world of the record industry.
You’re currently recording your fifth studio album, what’s it sounding like?
There's still a little bit to do. We've been sort of doing it in installments. It's definitely getting there, but we've been quite busy so every time we come back we have to take some time to work out where we were, and to try and figure out what we're trying to do basically!
I don't think it'll be like for the birds , it's been a while since that record came out and we've definitely changed a bit as a band. There's a huge amount of songs from the last few years and there are definitely some songs that are sort of a natural progression from for the birds, but we haven't decided finally what songs we're going to go with. I think probably that some of the songs that are similar to stuff that was on for the birds won't make it on to the finished product. It'll probably be more of a band orientated record, whereas I think for the birds was more sort of Glen's songs and then us backing him up
In an earlier interview with Glen, at around the time of for the birds he talked about a band reluctance to do that kind of slower, downbeat, type of record – is that, or was that the case?
I think maybe in the distant past there was – you know, maybe around the time of Fitzcaraldo I think at the time we made for the birds we just liked that whole bunch of songs, we were more than happy to go and do those and make it very low-key. In actual fact the whole idea behind it was to make an intimate, quiet, low-key sort of record. One song in particular “Giving me wings”, the whole idea was recording it, that we were going to play it as quietly as we possibly could.
Prior to that, you were kind of known as this powerful, dynamic, and definitely loud, rock band – how did your established audience react to such a quiet record?
It depends – I'm guessing you're talking about the audience in Ireland, because the other records haven't really been out anywhere else. I think we've grown so much since for the birds that a lot of the people that come to see us now, that was probably the record where they heard us and got into us. The amount of people who bought our records shot up with that record – it was very different certainly to dance the devil the previous record, and we were aware of that at the time but we just thought at the time “We like this record – this is the record we wanted to make, and if we lose half our audience that's fine. We don't have a problem with that” and as it turns out it's been quite the opposite so..
It's a difficult one when you're making records. We suffer from a kind of PMT – a pre-musical tension(laughs). I think it's always a good thing to go “look, it doesn't matter what people think, we should just make whatever record we think we want to make” and that's basically what we do now.
At the same time then you need a load of confidence in what you’re doing in the studio. Again, in the same interview with Glen, he mentioned how on the release of for the birds he’d lost all perspective and was terrified that in fact it was all a big mistake!
Yeh, that's what I mean by the pre, or post Musical tension, whichever you like. I think we're definitely not the best in that respect, in that we hover between “It's brilliant” and “I don't know if I really like it” in ourselves – and that's hard enough to deal with without wondering will anyone else like it. Glen made a good analogy before and it definitely holds true with this record, more so than with for the birds, it's like painting a picture and then being left in a room with it for a year, you know you're going to change it, you're going to be unsure about it. I think it's taken quite a long time to make this record in so far as we haven't had the budget , the big chunks of time to do it- so when we go back to things we have second thoughts. We'll get there though (Laughs)
How do you go about writing the songs? Is it that Glen comes with 90% of the song written or..?
For the most part that's the way it works. I mean obviously with for the birds you can hear it – when you listen to the record, that they're pretty much complete songs a lot of them, before we got to them, before we even started playing them as a band – apart from Santa Maria and that kind of stuff which is very much a sort of a band thing. On this record there's probably 60 or 70% of songs that are similar in that respect – that's the way it works. I mean the thing is with Glen that he's really fuckin good at it. When you come in with a song yourself you're kind of going “Oh God, I don't know” – it's a bit daunting you know! Myself and Colm have one or two where we wrote the music and then it would have been myself and Glen sitting there and I'd have some music, he'd have some music and we'd sort of put it together and talk about it. Glen always writes the lyrics anyway
There's no question then of someone else coming in with a lyric?
No, it's totally open to do it, it's just whether anyone is sort of , I don't know if any of us have any better songs than the ones he comes out with you know
Tell us about the recording at the moment – who’s working on it?
At the moment almost all of it's being done by ourselves– when we started doing it, we started doing a session with David Odlum (ex-guitarist), and Dave had obviously worked on all the stuff we'd done before – so we did some stuff with him and that was the very start of it, and since then we've pretty much been doing all of it ourselves. We've done a lot of it in Chicago in Electrical Audio where we'd recorded before with Steve Albini, and this time we just went in ourselves and engineered it ourselves, with Rob our guitarist now, he's a really good engineer. So we've been pretty much recording it all ourselves and as far as the final piecing it together and mixing goes, I imagine we'll have some other people involved. I don't want to name names yet though. We'll get a fresh pair of ears in – to get a bit of perspective. When you've lived with the songs for awhile, you probably get a bit too close to them to be objective. You need someone new to come in and to say “Here's what I think”, and to hopefully re-inspire you a bit.