Don’t believe the album title—you’ll love the Frights’ new record
Impossibly catchy melodies, memorable lyrics that hit home, a ceaseless and infectious energy and the courage to try just about anything – the Frights’ new record, “You Are Going to Hate This” (produced by Zac Carper of FIDLAR), has all these things in spades. It’s hard to say exactly which song you’ll be humming as you walk to class after listening to this album, but, rest assured, you will be humming and you won’t be able to stop.
But there’s way more to this record than just a succession of great hooks. There’s an incredible variety to the tracks, from the upbeat ska of “Tungs” to the freakish psychadelia of “Puppy Knuckles,” a track with a slowed-down chorus so heavy you’ll be left wondering what could possibly be left to surprise you on the remaining six songs (don’t worry, there’s plenty). The one constant on all these songs is Mikey Carnevale’s truly incredible voice. The Frights’ front man sings in a way that all too effectively communicates the feeling of a song, and on this record, he is by turns a tender crooner and a frustrated young man on the cusp of adulthood. He does one just as convincingly as the other, and there’s no greater proof of that than the album’s closing song, “Of Age.”
With tracks titled “Kids,” “Growing Up” and “Of Age,” it isn’t hard to tell that the album’s theme is moving from childhood to adulthood. It’s not exactly a new subject to hit on, but that’s never the point in music. The point is that Carnevale has found a way to tell a familiar story in an undeniably unique and moving way. The lyrics to these songs are consistently self-aware, funny and honest, often all at once. Most of all, each song rings true.
After embarrassing myself with a confession of total admiration, Carnevale and I proceeded to talk about the Frights and “You Are Going to Hate This.” Read on to learn about the Frights’ songwriting process, what the new record means to Carnevale and why there’s nothing wrong with a horse kicking a girl in the face.
Student Life: I’ve been following the band for a little while, and I know Postmark Records signed you guys after one show, and that one show was supposed to be it for the band. That must have been pretty crazy, to go from being a one-off endeavor to a full-time project. How was that transition?
Mikey Carnevale: It was definitely weird. It was definitely not supposed to be anything at all. When we met Joe [Nammo], who runs Postmark Records, after we played the first show, we were all like, “Damn it, we did not expect to take this seriously at all.” He literally offered us to sign to his label the second we walked outside. It was like, “Wow! Damn dude!” We really had no plans to take this seriously because we all had other bands and stuff. So it was like, well s—, now what do we do? So, we did it. And then a joke, I guess, became a little more than a joke.
SL: Let me ask you a little more about yourself. When did you start playing music and why?
MC: I started playing drums when I was a little kid, in fifth grade. When you [are] a little kid, everybody who [is] playing drums [wants] to start a band. So I started a couple of bands, and then I eventually learned to play guitar instead because I wanted to be able to sing and play guitar…
SL: You sing in this really cool way. It kind of reminds [me] of John Lennon on “Twist and Shout”—that really raw vocal style. Who do you think influenced your singing most?
MC: It’s hard to say…I’m not trying to say I’m like John Lennon in any way, shape or form, but I like John Lennon’s singing a lot. He’s really nasally, and I like that a lot. I don’t know if I can pull off being as nasally as he can and sounding cool. But John Lennon’s definitely one of them. Brian Wilson [of the Beach Boys] is another one; he has a very soft voice, a very tender voice that’s really cool. Rivers Cuomo [of Weezer]…I love his voice, but I’m trying to think if I’m influenced by it. I don’t know that I really am, now that I think about it. But he’s an amazing singer, too. I hadn’t really thought about that—that’s a good question.
SL: You write the songs for the band, right?
SL: Do [bassist Richard Dotson] and [drummer Marc Finn] play any role in writing the songs too? Do you bring the songs in, and they help shape them? Or is it that you pretty much come up with everything and they follow along?
MC: Basically, I’ll have a song on acoustic guitar and lyrics. This is how it works now. I’ll have lyrics and a song, usually I’ll have a demo, and for this album I’d send that to [producer Zac Carper], and we would talk about it. And then once we got in the studio, we’d hash it out and record the song. But usually there would be a song ready to go. For this record, at least. Before, it was way messier, but for this record that’s how it worked.
SL: What was it like before?
MC: Before I would have a guitar part and a vocal melody, and we would jam on that. And then when we went in the studio I would make up words, and that’s a super s—ty thing to do. That’s why I cringe at a lot of the songs on the old record, because I’d get lazy and repeat stuff or say things that make no sense at all. “Submarines,” though, that one kind of was a little better. I think I had real words for that before we went in. But aside from that, pretty much all the songs on the first record were [lyrically] improvised, unfortunately.
SL: Who do you admire most as a songwriter?
MC: My two favorite songwriters are Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys and Rivers Cuomo from Weezer.
SL: What do you like about their songwriting?
MC: They’re both obviously incredibly melodic. A lot of bands in our scene have really solid songs, but the vocal melody is the same the whole time, or they’ll yell…I don’t know how to explain it. But with Rivers Cuomo, every single Weezer song has a melody, every single Weezer song has a hook. No matter how bad some of the songs Weezer put out are. [laughs] And that’s what I admire most. I would never put out a song that doesn’t have a hook. There’s no reason to do that, in my opinion. That’s how I like to listen to songs, so I don’t feel like there’s a reason to not have a solid hook.
SL: The album cover [of “You Are Going to Hate This”] is really something else. Who made it?
MC: Richard [Dotson] made that.
SL: Was Richard [Dotson] trying to convey anything through that cover art? Or did he just think it looked cool?
MC: No, we had a couple ideas for it that were all too—the other ideas would have caused some trouble. I’m honestly surprised that the album cover that ended up coming out didn’t get us more s—. But we definitely had some other ideas that we were like, “No, let’s not do that, that could get us in trouble.”
SL: What were some of those?
MC: Well, the original thought was for it to be like an ’80s punk album cover, like “Black Flag.” They had some f—ed up album covers. Kids being beat by their dad and stuff like that. ‘Cause it’s not like a punk album… And obviously it’s called “You Are Going to Hate This,” which is already self-deprecating and ironic, so we were trying to make it poke fun at that kind of stuff. Obviously it came out as a girl being punched in the face by a horse. I think originally we wanted to make the girl look like a punk kid, like a FIDLAR fan kind of thing. But then we were like, “No, that’s a bad idea.” That’ll upset a lot of people. So we decided that this came out the best.
SL: Is the new record a particularly personal one for you? Is there a specific incident or background for it?
MC: Yeah, definitely—definitely more so than the first one. The first one is all about being a teenager and girls and partying. This one is definitely more personal, because I took time to write it, as opposed to before, when I didn’t take any time to write it… The whole concept is growing up. A few songs on there are about growing up and coming of age, just kind of becoming an adult in a way. So it’s definitely more personal, a lot [of] deeper things to talk about than in the first one.
SL: Do you feel like you’ve grown up recently?
MC: Since the first one came out, I feel like I’ve grown up a little bit. But more than anything, it’s talking about the fact that I’m about to grow up or that things are about to start changing and I’m changing…At the time when we recorded it, I had just broken up with my girlfriend, and obviously we were in [a] situation where we were working with Zac [Carper], signing to a label and all this cool stuff was happening, but it was kind of freaky. It was starting to freak us all out, realizing that we [were] actually going to be doing this for a while. So it was easy to reflect on where we were two years ago, when I was like “Well, what are we doing?” That’s the inspiration behind a lot of the record.
SL: What’s your favorite song on the new album?
MC: My favorite is the last one. It’s called “Of Age.”
SL: I really like that one! It has a very different sound, from the ukulele in it to the synth-keys. Did you set out to make it different?
MC: We definitely had an intention to make the whole album different. We had no idea what it was going to be like because we just brought these songs into the studio and [Carper] helped warp the whole thing. So we had no idea what the songs were going to be, but I think they all turned out pretty different from each other, which was kind of the goal at the beginning of making the record.
SL: What was it like working with Zac Carper on the album?
MC: It was good. [Carper] is a genius. He’s really amazing. I don’t think people appreciate him enough as a songwriter or as a producer because he produced the first FIDLAR record too, and I think he co-produced “Too” [the band’s second album] as well. He was amazing. He’s super bizarre and he’ll get you to try anything, even if you don’t want to. He’s a good dude. He definitely pushed us in ways he had no idea we would go.
SL: Do you think you’ll keep exploring unexpected new directions in the future? Or do you plan to return to the style of your first record, [2013’s “The Frights”], at any point?
MC: [We] definitely can’t go backwards, so it’s only going to get weirder from here. That’s for sure. If we went backwards, there’d be no point. And that’s been our whole thing behind this record because we were getting worried and we were getting scared thinking, “Oh man, they’re going to hate this.” Like, they’re actually going to hate this. This is going to end our band. What if this destroys us? Well, if we went backwards, or if we did “Frights 2,” what would be the point? There’s literally no point in doing the same record again. And this record’s already been done for a year, [a] year and a half now, so I’ve already started to write for the next record. It’s definitely gotta be different. If not, there’s no point.
SL: What’s the best advice you can give an aspiring musician?
MC: Just do it, honestly. I’ve been in a bunch of bands before, and we worked really hard; we sold tickets for shows that sucked and played to no one millions of times. Even with the Frights, we played to no one a million times. Before anything cool happened, we played a bunch of s—ty shows. And I think a lot of people get discouraged by that, and they’ll just give up. But the thing that was different about the Frights was that we never took it seriously, until now, where we’ve finally got to a point where we can take it seriously. I think that’s really important—to not take it seriously, until you really need to. Because if you take it too seriously from the start and you play to nobody then you’re a f—ing idiot, because nobody else is taking it seriously. So definitely don’t take it seriously, and you’ll be ridiculously surprised as to what happens.
Check out the Frights at the Firebird on March 18.