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Arts and Entertainment

Anonymity Is The New Fame: Meet Frankel

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Frankel1.jpg
Frankel I Photo: Alex Manning


Frankel I Photo: Alex Manning
Three weeks ago, someone handed me a copy of Frankel's latest album, Anonymity Is The New Fame. I was floored. Here was a songwriter who wove intricate lyrics in between lovely melodies that captured your imagination. It was the sort of album that required you to lie on the floor, stare at the ceiling, and absorb its stories. Naturally, my next move was an internet search for the date of his next live show. As it turns out, it's "never". That's right - never.

I figured I must have heard wrong. I mean, what kind of artist puts out a record and then doesn't tour? So I went straight to his PR people to get the skinny. It was worse than I feared. Not only does he never tour, he rarely plays any gigs at all. Occasionally he'll show up at an art gallery or an open mic and play an impromptu show, but that's it. Undaunted I asked for an interview. "Nope, he doesn't do those either," they told me. But I begged, whined, and generally was a complete pain in the ass, and after two weeks they relented. Yesterday, Frankel or as he's usually known Michael Orendy, granted me an hour of his time to geek out about his new album. Here's some of what was said.


Frankel - Anonymity Is The New Fame


I heard you never do interviews.
That's true. I don't like being the center of attention.

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Well, I appreciate you talking with us.
(laughs) Yup, I'm breaking radio silence, just for you.

Well, I appreciate that. Let's start at the beginning. What made you pick up an instrument?

The first instrument I ever played was an organ. My parents had one in our living room growing up. It had a headphone jack, so they wouldn't have to listen to me while I fiddled around on it and they could read their books in peace. I would plug in the headphones and push all of the knobs and buttons and bass pedals. It was great.

Did you have lessons?

Nope, they just let me loose. It wasn't until I started to get sort of the hang of it I guess that they thought about getting me some lessons. By that point I had decided that I really wanted to play the piano, and so I begged and groveled and eventually my parents ditched the organ and bought a piano for me. I took piano lessons for two or three years. I never really learned to read music. I just kind of faked it.

Why did you stop?

It was the recitals that really put the nail on the coffin. I hated those.

I read somewhere that you named yourself after a particularly cruel piece of orthodontia that you used to wear as a kid. Why name yourself after head gear?
All the good band names are taken.

Who's name would you steal then?
(laughs) I hadn't thought about that. Wilco, maybe. That's a pretty good name. I think I knew it was going to be a one man band from the beginning, but I didn't want to use my own name and it's tough to come up with band names, so I chose Frankel. I think I have a lot baggage with that orthodontic brace. It was like a medieval torture device. You should Google search it. I think the name is really sort of therapy for me, turning something with such awful memories into some redemption music that feels good.

Do you write about teeth ever?

Yeah, actually. On the first album Lullaby For The Passerby if there is one word or theme to describe the album it would probably be: teeth. There are maybe four songs that reference them. I obviously have some sort of obsession with with teeth.

Are you still flying solo or have you added members to Frankel?
I pretty much played all of the instruments on the album myself with the exception of the drums, which my friend, Kevin Stevens, was kind enough to play for me. We have been in bands together before, so it was a good fit.

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Frankel I Photo: Alex Manning
Did you let him have some input on how the song was going to sound?
I gave him carte blanche. Yeah, he's great. He was listening to the demos I had made of the songs, which had either no drums or a cheesy drum machine, and he really made them his own. And he did it all in two days! It was amazing. He filled in the little sections of vocal phrasing and complimented what the other instruments are doing. It was really a treat to listen to. I had another friend play the drums on the album before this one and it turned out great. You lose a little bit of control, but it always sounds great. I played the drums on my first EP which was called Chatterbox and I could really tell the difference. It was just kind of one dimensional. There's a really big difference between having a good drummer and having a jack of all trades, master of none do it.

Where did you record Anonymity Is The New Fame?
At my home studio. I know this adds to my Howard Hughes tendencies. (laughs) There's a couple things I did at another studio called Grandma's Warehouse, which nobody's seemed to heard of. It's this small studio in Echo Park right by Pehrspace. They have this gorgeous, early 1900s grand piano and I really wanted that piano on the record, so went over there a couple of times. The small upright piano in my house just wasn't going to do it.

Where did you write "Anonymity Is The New Fame"?
I used to live in Koreatown in a building that is a lot like the one on the cover of the album. It was a very New York type of building. There were people in the next rooms above you, below you, everywhere really, but nobody knew anyone. I mean you recognized them in the hall way, and there were nods and waves, but I don't think I knew most of my neighbors names. I liked that part about it. Being anonymous. I was thinking about the idea of anonymity. Do you know the London graffiti artist, Banksy?

Sure.
Well he once said that in the future everyone will be anonymous for fifteen minutes. You know, a play on Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame? I think it's true. Especially now with Twitter and Facebook and the web and reality TV, it's almost more special if no one knows you. It's really hard for me to be the center of attention or just being out there a lot. Maybe I'm just getting old, but the idea of going out eight nights a week to networking just sounds awful.

What song are you most proud of on the album?
I think maybe "Ticket Machine" and "Weather Balloon." Those came out really nicely.

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Who is "Ticket Machine" about?
(laughs) I don't know if I should give this stuff away. Let's just say it's someone I'm a big fan of. I think it's probably the nicest song I've ever written. It was kind of the turning point for me, actually. You haven't heard any of my new stuff, but the songs I'm writing now are getting a little kinder. That song is a good one for me. It has my favorite sort of elements in it texture wise and it's got an odd structure to it. I don't want to sound like I'm bragging or anything, but that song is really what I hope for accomplish in a pop song. If you can say something important in three minutes, then you've done something. Or at least that's the goal anyway. People like to sniff at pop music a lot, but I think it's really a challenge.


Frankel - Ticket Machine


What success are you celebrating in "Weather Balloon"?
That lyric might even be too vague for even me to know. I'm not sure about that one. Good question too...um...it's more like when little successes come along, you need to take the time to stop for a minute and raise a glass and appreciate it. Anyone who's driven to do something believes that things aren't happening fast enough or that their work isn't smart enough, but they never really appreciate the things that go right. This song is about celebrating these things before returning to being driven.

Why don't you tour?

I've done a lot of it with other peoples bands and it's really fun doing it with a bunch of people, but for this album I think I'd rather to just be at home. Maybe it's because I'm not eighteen anymore, but the idea of going to different cities and playing for two people and finding a floor to crash on, just does not sound fun anymore. It's almost embarrassing to say it, but if there was some kind of machine behind me with money setting things up that would be one thing, but for the moment I would rather stay in town. There are a lot of really nice venues right here.

What was the worst show you ever played?
It was one of the first few shows I ever played. I was actually playing with a few friends of mine in this band and the drummer invited his parents to the show. This was a long time ago. You know when you're just starting out and you don't know much, and you're not very established, people will just put you on a bill with anybody. There will be a rap band before you and a speed metal band after. Anyhow, the band that was on before us was this dark metal band and the lead singer decided to cover himself in a layer of red paint and then a layer of glue. Then he went on stage and started pulling the glue off in giant chunks. It was disgusting. It looked like skin with the red paint looking like open sores underneath. I think he went on to become a special effects guy, but my friends' parents were mortified. You couldn't have handpicked a more offensive band. I felt so bad for my friend and his parents, who were suffering. It had to have been the worst show ever.

Did his parents come to another show after that?
(laughs) Nope. We never saw them again. That was it.

How did you end up at Autumn Tone Records?
I hooked up with Autumn Tone because I really liked Aquarium Drunkard. The guy who writes that blog, Justin Gage, was really one of the first to champion the last album, Lullaby For The Passerby. He did a review of it and then I wrote a segment calledOff The Record for his site. I didn't know him at all, but I had been reading his stuff for a really long time. He's got such good taste in music, so when he asked me if he could put out the new album I said yes. I just really respect him. He covers all sorts of music from different time periods unlike most music blogs, which write about what happened five minutes ago. Their lead stories are like what Panda Bear had for breakfast. I mean, I'm not all that interested in those things.

You are part of the Los Angeles local remake of Paul McCartney's solo album, RAM. How did you get involved with that?
I really liked that album. Justin asked me to cover "3 Legs," so I figured why not? There is something really good about an LA cover project. It explores so many facets of LA's bands in one album. There are so many different styles of music represented, and they're giving it away for free.

Were you nervous about covering Paul McCartney?
Yeah, there is a fair amount of responsibility in doing one of his songs. You can't cover it exactly, because you'll never do it as well, so you have to put your own spin on it without ruining it. It was pretty tough. You have to figure out how to pay it respect, but also make it your own.

Do you have a favorite local band at the moment?
Autolux! They're kind of incredible. And I like The Parson Redheads a lot and Aaron Embry. Oh and Earlimart.

That doesn't really count because you used to play for them.
Oh yeah, it's totally biased. At this point I've been drinking the Kool-Aid so long I don't even know if they're good anymore. (laughs) Oh, and I really like The World Record, which is made up of three of the guys from The Parson Red Heads. It's really great jangly guitar rock. I also like my label mates Le Switch and The Henry Clay People. I'm in some pretty good company on Autumn Tone.

That's true. Okay last question, if you were stuck on a deserted island and you could bring three worldly possessions, what would they be?
My helicopter, my subscription to New Scientist magazine, and a can Pringles.

Not bad. Well thank you so much for talking with us.
Thank you!

And you'll be sure to let us know if you ever play a show.
You know there's a YouTube video of me playing in my house. Does that count?

No.
(laughs) Well if I ever decide to do a show, you'll be the first to know.

Thanks.

If Frankel ever decides to play a show, we'll let you know, but until if you liked what you heard be sure to pick up his sophomore disk here.