Standing on the side of Pop’s stage, Fragile Porcelain Mice vocalist Scott Randall (decked out in a green, striped terrycloth tank top and pants) has a line of five people before him with pens in their hands. Typical grip and greet conversations go on as Randall signs T-shirts and ticket stubs. A couple of fans hand him two one-dollar bills. Randall makes a crack to the guys that defacing federal currency is a federal offense. This round of catching up with old friends is, in a way, three years in the making. Six years since the release of their previous LP, All This Baggage, Fragile Porcelain Mice have just concluded the official CD release show for their fourth LP, The Best of Modern Rock. Written over the course of three years, FPM has released the most meticulously prepared album of their career. However, the path to the present started with the recording and promoting of 1998’s All This Baggage.
“I think we had put so much emphasis on All This Baggage. We called it ‘taking it to the next level.’ Which I think was getting signed. We pushed the records labels and I don’t know how many rejection letters we got,” Randall chuckled.
When no label bit at the record, FPM chose to put the record out themselves. It was shortly after this point that founding guitar player Tim O’Saben chose to leave the band to return to school. Exit O’Saben. Enter Chandler Evans and J Robertson, both from the recently defunct Geishamen. FPM was now a five-piece. Suddenly, the dynamic of the band had changed dramatically.
“When J and Chandler came into the band, I could totally see where it didn’t feel right,” Randall said. “It was good, because I think those guys wrote some really good stuff. But for me, Dave, and Mark, we were different. We weren’t working. Certain things like how we worked with Tim. Basically we would get there and ‘jam.’ You fed off one another. Tim would feed Dave. I mean that’s unspoken. [FPM as a five-piece] didn’t have that.”
Not that the new FPM couldn’t have morphed into something close to it. “Who’s to say if J and Chandler would have stayed in the band another year or so, we may have gelled into that.”
That eventuality never came to be. In 2001, O’Saben returned to the band and Evans and Robertson departed on good terms. Fragile was a four-piece again.
“We all sat down. Back to the original lineup; what do we want to do?” Randall said. In between a few one-off shows, what they decided on was The Best of Modern Rock.
“The goal was, ‘Let’s write a record that’s an actual record.’ Like an album that has some fluidity to it,” Randall explained. “It gave us something to direct ourselves, like ‘Are we relevant?’ That was the goal, mainly to stay relevant.”
Toward which FPM put forth much effort, in the form of multiple delays in the release date of The Best of Modern Rock.
“A lot of it was us, mainly just tweaking it. We would just listen to it critique it. We’re probably our harshest critics,” Randall said. “We were just like, ‘There’s something that’s maybe not there.’”
Luckily, whatever was missing was easy to fix, as Heinz is a recording engineer.
“We live real close to one another. If we needed to add another vocal track or add some instrumentation, we could do that,” Randall expained. “We constantly pushed it back on our own terms because we did not feel like it was there yet.”
On this record, however, FPM does not have a great deal of marketing and selling of this record as was the case six years ago.
“With this record, the goal is to just get it into people’s hands as much as possible,” Randall said. “If it gets picked up by a label sometime down the line, then great. If it doesn’t, hopefully enough people will have it in their hands and they’ll listen to it on a regular basis.”
Listening to The Best of Modern Rock, it’s easy to see what Randall means by fluidity. Not only does it meet that goal, it surpasses it. Starting off with “We Have A Problem,” Randall, in robotic monotone, repeats the song title followed by the bitter reality of “but there’s no so solution here.” The mid-tempo melody very obviously foreshadows a record ready to teeter off its platter—which it does with the breakout speed of “Disposable,” spot-on FPM. Everything sounds familiar yet refreshingly new. Dave Winkeler’s bad-ass bass picking, Heinz’s crisp and sharp drumming, Tim O’Saben’s hooky guitar riffs, and of course Randall’s decidedly distinctive vocals. As the record progresses with number after number, the realization sets in that this record really does have continuity and a consistent level of quality to it that was lacking in their previous three LPs. There have been some memorable songs in their back catalogue, but The Best of Modern Rock is by far the best album of FPM’s career.
While it may be their best career album, The Best of Modern Rock had to be one of the worst album titles ever. FPM couldn’t have chosen that title with a straight face.
“I kind of liked how it sounded,” Randall stated. “Really, it’s just tongue in cheek. I think it sounds to me like one of those K-TEL records.”
Together since 1991, The Best of Modern Rock might just be the right title for a band that finds itself in front of aging fans and a whole new generation of young ones. With the six-year gap between albums, would the band be put off by a “You mean they’re still around?” attitude?
“I don’t take offense to it. I think that would be a common reaction. As long as they remember us, that’s not a bad thing. It’s better than ‘Who are they?’” Randall said.
It’s a common enough reaction that even Randall would have shared back in the day.
“If you told me in ’95 that I would still be doing this, I probably would have told you you’re crazy,” Randall said. “I think the thing is that we enjoy playing music and it’s hard to get it out of your system.”
As for any touring, don’t expect anything more than regional gigs for now. Full-time jobs, wives, and kids are going to prevent any kind of extensive touring.
“We can’t be playing out of town just to be playing out of town. The goal is to play shows that make sense,” Randall said. “We don’t really have the luxury of going out for, say, a month. It may not be to your benefit to play a Wednesday night in Portland, Maine, in front of five people.”
So for now, Fragile Porcelain Mice are contenting themselves with gigs on friendly turf.
“Right now for us, just playing in general is fun because people want us to play,” Randall said. “We’re lucky that people want us to come play a venue and people would still be willing to come out.”
For the latest Fragile Porcelain Mice gig postings, check out www.fragileporcelainmice.com.