“I tend not to read the press wherever we go, because if you read the good ones, you have to read the bad ones.” The first time I heard of the Frames, they were opening for Damien Rice nearly three years ago. Openers can sometimes breed indifference, viewed by some as more background music than something that actually demands attention. The Frames refused to be ignored; their energy and passion got the audience involved and forced them to take notice. Suddenly, you got the sense the large crowd that had arrived to hear Rice would have been just fine if the Frames were to play all night. The audience was captivated. It was the most astonishing live experience I’ve ever had. I bought their live album, Setlist, the very next day.
Formed 1991 in Dublin, Ireland, by Glen Hansard, the band managed to make a name for itself throughout Europe and more recently the United States with its powerful live shows and the release of a handful records with an evolving sound.
The Frames are Hansard (vocals, guitar), Joe Doyle (bass, vocals), Colm Mac Con Iomaire (violin, keyboard, vocals), and Rob Bochnik (lead guitar), with various people filling in on drums over the past year. Their brand of indie rock is innovative and complex, flush with soft guitars and rich violins. Fueled by the darker side of Pink Floyd, Johnny Cash, and Van Morrison, Hansard’s lyrics tackle life, death, and love.
The Frames have been one of Ireland’s most revered bands and best-kept secrets for well over a decade. Until recently, perhaps the band’s biggest claim to fame was Hansard’s supporting role in the 1991 film The Commitments.
A handful of recent events in their homeland have forced the band to lose a bit of their anonymity outside the green isle. Last year, the Frames were voted the best band in Ireland at the Meteor Awards, a title U2 had owned for 12 years. In February, a panel of their peers voted four of their albums into Ireland’s top 100 greatest records of all time.
Riding that wave of acclaim is Burn the Maps, released on Anti- in February; it is their sixth studio album and first since 2001’s self-released For the Birds. The band seems to have found a strong footing, somewhere between squealing rock and soft, string-laden epics. However, despite the band’s best intentions, the record is lyrically and musically darker than previous efforts.
“When we made For the Birds, we wanted to make this black-and-white record that was very low-key and very quiet,” said Doyle, taking a break between international festivals and an upcoming North American tour. “We had never been in the position where we’ve got absolutely nobody to say anything about this record besides ourselves, and we made the record that way.
“With Burn the Maps, I think we made something more colorful and up-tempo in parts and darker in others,” said Doyle. “But we made some songs even darker than what we’ve done in the past, almost by accident. That’s something we didn’t realize until we were finished.”
Burn the Maps finds the Frames seemingly more secure. After shuffling through several members over the years, the band has found a stable, tight lineup. Doyle believes familiarity makes for a more cohesive sound.
“I think For the Birds was very vocally driven; the band played it as a supporting role for the songs,” he said. “With this album, the band had to work the songs out; I think it makes it more interesting. There are definitely some songs that just wouldn’t have worked unless we were able to build it piece by piece; that’s what makes them good.”
The response from fans and critics regarding Burn the Maps has been encouraging. However, the band is still showing the same tenacious attitude that led to its ascent.
“It’s been really good. We’ve spent time in Europe, and the response there has been great,” said Doyle. “Now we’re looking forward to going to America, where the record has had a bit of a life already; it’s been there for awhile. But every gig you go to, you see faces that you know, and people seem to like it.
“But I tend not to read the press wherever we go, because if you read the good ones, you have to read the bad ones. I really don’t want to read bad ones. I’d rather not read any of them.”
No matter the acclaim, the band’s goal and ideas of success remains the same.
“I think for us, it’s all realistic and simple. Go and try to make the best record you can. There’s no point in trying to make it sound like something; it’ll sound the way it sounds,” said Doyle. “Success is a changing thing. There are some basic things: You’d like to put out your record and have more than just your mates buy it, and you’d like to do a show and have even more mates there.”
The Frames have always maintained a rigorous touring schedule, and they routinely sell out venues in Ireland and many parts of Europe. They are a stunning live band; in fact, it was their showcase at SXSW more than two years ago that got them signed to Anti-. Get the band outside the studio, and the live setting brings out another side of the band.
“Many people come to our shows and will say, ‘This show is awesome and I love your record, but in a totally different way,’” said Doyle. “They love sitting at home with our record, but it doesn’t give them the same feeling of seeing us live, and I understand that.
“Something that we’ve always kind of struggled with is to bring that same energy from our shows into the studio. What it comes down to is it’s very difficult to go into the studio and capture that thing that you do live. It’s hard to recreate that when you’re on your own. A lot goes into it. Maybe if 100 people got into a room and listened to the record really, really loud, it would be more like going to the show, but I may just have to resign myself to the fact it won’t work.”
The reason it’s so difficult is because the secret to the band’s fantastic live show is the energy they get from a great audience, one that matches the bands energy. Hansard as a frontman is in full command: telling stories about how the songs came to be, telling jokes, and keeping the crowd involved. The audience eats it up.
“One of the secrets [of our live show] is to enjoy yourself. Put your concentration and energy into doing it right there and then and enjoying it,” said Doyle. “Not be thinking about the girl you met, or the beer you’re having afterward, or, ‘Oh, I’ve played this set before.’
“You see bands get up and it looks like they’re going through the motions. For us, it takes everybody there, in the same place, focusing on what they’re doing and enjoying themselves. I think that draws the audience in. Once you get them on your wavelength, you’re going to share this energy where you can build it and build it. That’s one of the things: just enjoying yourself and being absolutely present. One hundred percent.”
The upcoming North America tour will be one of the first the band will headline in the States. After opening for likes of Rice, Collective Soul, and the New Pornographers, the Frames are looking forward to playing some of the rooms they’ve only played as openers.
“It’s really nice to be headlining. Of course, it comes with some extra business, but it’s all worthwhile,” said Doyle. “Hopefully we’ll be OK; hopefully we can make the jump up to some nicer rooms. When we were supporting bands, you’re looking at the room and going, ‘I want to be playing this room.’ So now we’re in the position where we can play them, and I hope people will come along and enjoy it.”
As suggested by the title, Burn the Maps finds a band focused on the here and now, knowing a plan made is the first step to a plan broken.
“The new record is us telling ourselves to live in the present and basically forget the record that we’d made before. To just concentrate on where we are now and what music we are making, as opposed to trying to do something specific or trying to get somewhere,” said Doyle. “Live in the present and do what you do. Don’t confuse things by trying for this or that. You’ll get where you need to go if you just do what you need to do. I think that was the idea of Burn the Maps. Burn wherever we’ve been or wherever we’re going. Put all that aside and concentrate on the now.”
Yesterday’s gone; tomorrow is unknown. Burn the maps.