Lots of great events at our home base of The Avenue this month. Thursday November 4th features GTG family Mistic Mountian (Nich Plural, Blaine “And His Keyboard”), and LoLo (Pudvay, Hunky, Knights, et al), November 5th is a sticky sweet Stick Arounds night, November 12 features the first-ish show by Cutlass Supreme (Frank and Earnestish), November 24 will have a cover band of Baratonos, Plurals, Aymors ‘n such, and every weekend is chock full of a wide variety of music! Whoo!
Holy smokes, has it been a year?!?? Just over a year ago as the stay-at-home order was issued in Michigan we started doing daily videos of GTG family and friends in quarantine. Weird times, but the solidarity experienced was a pretty awesome thing to take in, though we’re not quite ready to start getting pandemic nostalgia. Here’s a playlist of Staying Home With GTG Records from spring 2020, and there are a few more on the GTG facebook that never got uploaded to youtube. Glad we’re all still here!
Just in time, an unbroken string of holiday miracles from the folks at BMP and GTG! Featuring new music from The Plurals, Cavalacade, The Hunky Newcomers, Jeremy Porter, Scary Women, The Wild Honey Collective (debut recording!), many members of Frank and Earnest, Tim Hoh from Honah Lee, Nicholas Weltschmerz, Mistic Mountian, our many whacky holiday-themed bands, plus first time showings from Satyrasis (with the Foghat banger we haven’t deserved til now), Bicycle Shorts, and more! Cheers!
Well, all righty where to begin? I’ll pretend that someone from the future is looking through the GTG archives, how about that? Classic narrative device!
In early 2020 a highly contagious flu called Coronavirus forced people all over the world to stay quarantined in their homes to not spread the virus so fast that it would collapse the health care system. It was a wild thing to live through, let me tell you. So what we did way back then to stay sane and try to make something positive creatively was release a series of videos every day on the GTG Records facebook page featuring solo/acoustic performances of GTG artists and friends. Most of these videos were filmed via phones or simple camera setups. It’s cool to look back on now from a safe and comfortable vantage point from the future, er, present. We called the video series “Staying At Home With GTG Records” and here’s the videos posted the first two weeks of containment in March 2020. Wow, check them out!
Michael Boyes (Drinking Mercury) – Delightfully Lonely
Timmy Rodriguez (Drinking Mercury) – A Nordhouse Night
Joseph “Dim” Wolstenholme (Alpha Rabbit/Honah Lee) – Red State Blues
Surprise and thank you, here’s the 100th release from GTG Records. 21 new songs, most of them exclusive and brand new. The Plurals, City Mouse, Honah Lee, Drinking Mercury, Small Parks, Wade from Dreadpool Parker, The Hunky Newcomers, Calliope, Jeremy Porter And The Tucos, Alpha Rabbit, The Stick Arounds, Half Tongue, Stargrazer, Sleeping Timmy, Frank and Earnest, Jason Paul, The Hat Madder, CrookedSound, Tommy Plural, No Skull, AND the debut of Disappointed Dad. Sheesh!! Most of these bands have current or upcoming releases on GTG – and they’re all friends and part of our wider community – and they cover both a wide range of styles and, geographically, most of the US. It’s wild for us to think about how much has happened since 10 years ago when we were just getting into the CD release game with The Plurals and The Break-Ups, something that we celebrated in late 2007 with a mostly-Lansing area compilation CD release called Situations At Hand. It’s amazing that a lot of the people involved in that comp are still present 85(!) releases later on GTG100 but the fact that the family has grown so much is even more amazing. 2007 really was the launch year for GTG Records so as we gear up for the fall releases of 2017 we’re going to be periodically looking back at some highlights of the first 10 years of the label. And you better believe GTG Fest (Oct 12-15!) is going to be the most nuts it’s ever been this year. Good times!
While we’re all still picking up the pieces from the epic final Frank and Earnest show and/or hanging out at 4th of July barbecues, here’s a playlist that we can all groove to today that compiles some of the highlights from the 2017 releases so far. It shows off the cool variety we’ve hit in our monthly release series – and makes it seem like we’re all fixated on George Harrison – and there’s plenty more variety and/or cool things to come. Featuring music from Mad Moon, Hut Two Hike, Two Houses, The Hunky Newcomers, Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur, Tommy Plural, Frank and Earnest, and Calliope. Turn it up!
Defying the odds, Frank and Earnest are putting out one last release before the final show on July 1st and you can stream the whole thing today (which also allows it to sneak in as our June label release). It Could’ve Been A Lot Worse came together at just about the last second possible, mostly recorded within the last two weeks, but it’s still a fine final statement from what will always be one of the great GTG bands. There’s four new originals here, one from Paul, one from Tommy, and two from Ben, plus a Tiltwheel cover the band was doing live in the last year as well as a rendition of “A Praise Chorus” by Jimmy Eat World which fans of Frank and Earnest will know as the band’s most enduring cover song. Joining the final lineup’s core trio on these recordings is band founder Otis whose backing vocals add a texture that’s been missing from the band since his 2013 departure, and all 3 drummers for the band – Ryan Horky, the primary kit man, plus John Bruce and Hattie Danby – have a turn here as well, giving every person who has performed and recorded as a member of Frank and Earnest an appearance. Otis sat with Tommy into the late hours while the record was mixed this last Sunday (also the same day 50% of it was recorded) and the band’s recordings finished just the way they began almost exactly 8 years earlier, at GTG House and mostly on-the-fly. CDs will be available at the final show but after that this thing will exist digitally so make sure to get one at the show or have some nice Lansinger save you one. It could be a lot worse!
On July 1st, 2017, Frank and Earnest will be playing its final show as a band at The Avenue Cafe in Lansing, MI. In addition to the great support acts (including GTG-released bands Bong Mountain and Small Parks) this show will also feature a reunion of the “classic”/ Old Francis lineup – Ben, Paul, Otis, and Ryan – of the band which, barring two one-off performances, parted ways in fall 2013.
Full disclosure, I’ve been a member of Frank and Earnest since Otis left in fall 2013 and prior to that I had been heavily involved with recording their output (with the exception the album Modern Country which was recorded by Isaac Vander Schuur, though I did assist with some demos for the album) and being party to many of the band’s shenanigans. “Shenanigans” is an important part of the band’s story (and it’s also probably one member’s favorite Green Day album) – one of the first things I think of in this regard was the time in 2010 or 2011 when the band was doing a radio interview and performance but Ben couldn’t get out of work in time to take part so Otis, Paul, and Ryan went on the radio with me impersonating Ben in an absurd impression, except when I sang one of his songs – “Red and Black,” a clever, catchy and passionate ode to the misery of working as a line cook – which I made it a point to sing as much like myself as possible. To compound this nonsense, Ben then called into the radio station from work, got the DJ to put him on-air so he could call me out as an impostor and we had a “Ben vs Ben” argument on the radio that would have been entertaining had we actually been notable public figures, but pretty much anyone listening to this while driving around Lansing on a Thursday night… well, honestly, they probably stopped listening. I did have a friend later tell me that they turned their radio on right as Ben called in to the show and were baffled that their idiot friends were carrying out this nonsense in a public forum. In a way that anecdote kind of distills the band – the great music that it all revolved around, the opportunities to share it with the public, and the absurd squandering of the opportunity for the band’s own amusement.
See: the existence of Paul Dubya and The Oak River Bridge Boys Band
We decided to do this final show about two months ago, and in the intervening time I’ve been periodically thinking about how I needed to do one of these essay things about the band in the spirit of some previous writingsI’ve done about GTG bandsand friends. The thing is, I’m too close to this project to really be able to step back and give an overview, and I’ve been struggling to decide if I wanted to do a blow-by-blow history of the band or get into my own complicated feelings towards the whole thing. I also do a lot of non-music work in the spring and early summer, so I can’t pretend that narrative existential angst has been the primary procrastinating factor here. The strangest thing is probably that this is the first time a band I’ve been in has actually “broken up,” and I’ve played in at least a dozen gigging bands in the last 17 years. Sure, bands have fizzled out, but the only other time a band I played in broke up was 2 Minute Nothing in 2004, and that was an unceremonious after-the-fact acknowledgement with the band basically then turning into My Apology. (Shout out to Timmy who will be the sole reader of this to get excited at my mentioning those bands). Every other time a band I played in went inactive the door was always left open so that when and if we did decide to play again we wouldn’t have to feel like “oh shit, the band is back together and it’s a big deal!” and could just play without baggage, which usually has happened. Does this mean that Frank and Earnest is dying a true and merciful death on Saturday? Hard for me to say, I’m the Ronnie Wood/ Slim Dunlap guy that entered the picture when people stopped caring about the band’s new material.
(But fuck you! This song is great!)
Recently a friend of the band posted on facebook about “Greatest Lansing Music Scene Disappointments” and one of them was “Frank and Earnest Post-Old Francis.” We all saw this while discussing specifics of the final show and basically thought “cool, someone cared enough about something we did to be disappointed later on.” It all returns to Old Francis – most bands never make a record that good. I really, truly mean that. I can say that as a fan, and even though I’m the person that recorded it, I feel like I’m objective enough as the truth is I cringe at most of my production decisions 7 years later and I still love listening to that record. Back in 2010 Razorcake gave it a glowing review comparing it favorably to Iron Chic, D4, and Avail which practically guarantees you a packed room at The Fest and the fact that Frank and Earnest never actually did that is a crime. Speaking of crime, the always-entertaining UK rag Collective Zine gave a less-than-glowing review of the record, calling it “a musical hate crime” which is up there with “shit sandwich” for quality negative reviews. But most people that heard the record were fans of it, and I’ll admit to going back and re-reading the positive review RockFreaks gave it when I’ve been down on my limited production skills. Everyone in Frank and Earnest has played a lot of shows with a lot of bands and as lackadaisical as the band likes to be it feels really fucking good when someone gets what you’re doing, feels some sort of inspiration from it, and lets you know. Old Francis is one of those records and while I’m not a member of the band on that record I did live through making it and it actually pre-dates any of the positive national press I’ve gotten with The Plurals or other GTG projects so it will always have that distinct place in my memory.
My two favorite Frank and Earnest songs have always been those two posted above, “Stick A Fork In Me, I’m Done” and “BFF.” Otis and Ben both equally hit all of the points of a punch-you-in-the-heart punk rock song, with both being songs that I can say I wish I was the one that had written them. It’s these kinds of highs that are hard to reach repeatedly, and while I’m committing the same “I love the early stuff” sin that frustrate bands while they keep creating, it’s not knocking any of the other stuff to point out this early stuff is great. But Frank and Earnest is a multiple songwriter band, and I don’t want to leave Paul out. Paul’s the best singer in the band and his songs are the most fun to play live.
The band started unofficially on Bermuda Snohawk 2008, with Otis – off of a few year stint touring as bassist with Michigan punk bands Hell Or Highwater and Matadors of Shame – recording a solo acoustic version of “Stick A Fork In Me, I’m Done” under the name Frank & Earnest. Sans ampersand, Otis formed a full band under this name with Ben – a bandless Lansing native who had recently returned from a few years living out of state – and Paul – who had previously played with Otis in Grand Ledge ska punk band Shoelace – a few months later with John Bruce (Cavalcade, Shoelace, etc) on drums for the first show at GTG House on March 21, 2009.
Here’s Ben singing a cover of “Miami” by Will Smith that for some reason they only did at the first show.
GTG MVP Hattie Mae Danby was the next drummer, playing a run of shows around Lansing in spring of 2009 and recording the first 3 song demo, which I actually can’t find online anywhere. The “true” band lineup was solidified by Ryan Horky (the Cartridge Family, The Ryans, etc) joining as the drummer in June-ish of that year, and the first time I saw them play together was at GTG Fest 2009. I know at one point Ryan ate a watermelon while playing drums and I swore there was a photo of that somewhere but I couldn’t find it. They also opened this show with a ragged version of ZZ Top’s “Legs” for no apparent reason.
From there things took off. More songs were written, midwest and east coast tours happened, Old Francis, various compilation songs and covers were released, the performance art pop-country alter ego band Paul Dubya and the Oak River Bridge Boys Band staggered into existence and the band was voted Best Band in Lansing by City Pulse readers in 2011 and 2012, to the band’s own confusion. In 2011 Mac’s Bar was also voted the Best Venue in Lansing and shortly after the results came in Frank and Earnest was playing at Mac’s so the marquee (back before the city’s Cartridge Family banning saw the dismantling of the marquee at this famed Lansing institution) triumphantly read something to the effect of “Best Venue In Lansing Hosts Best Band In Lansing.” I ran the door at Mac’s that night and for whatever reason hardly anyone showed up to that show, which the band found profoundly amusing. This was the exception though, the shows were generally packed and raucous during these years and when the band was on point I watched from the audience and thought they were pretty much untouchable.
This is one of many ways in which Frank and Earnest was and maybe still is the most Replacements-esque band I’ve been a part of – with complete sincerity the band could be a tight, passionate, engaging unit onstage, or it could descend into drunken rambling banter with a few songs peppered in, or it could be all country covers performed in character as another band (or AC/DC covers performed in character as that same country band doing an AC/DC tribute set – that one proudly happened during my era!), or sometimes it would just fall flat, but it was all “real” no matter what happened. And maybe that’s why it can’t last forever.
Much as this award-accepting lineup of the band did not actually exist.
Otis left the band and moved away in fall 2013, but he and the rest of the band wanted it to continue so I officially entered the picture at that point. We had some fun times and played some great sets but the energy was naturally different and the standard ebbs and flows of any band and music scene lowered the band’s profile, but it was still never phoned in. Ryan had to stop playing drums for awhile in 2016 so “original” drummer John Bruce came back for awhile and we started getting into a groove with new material but after awhile he had to leave the band too, hilariously leading to original “replacement” drummer Hattie coming back briefly this spring. The lack of stability had become a little much at this point, so after some deliberation we decided to tie up some loose ends and call it a day with the band. Ryan came back and somehow, insanely, we recorded an EP of new material largely in the last week. Through a semi-finished recording with John from late last year, old house show recordings, and on-the-fly practice and acoustic sessions we were able to get 6 songs finished and recorded that feature everyone who was ever a member of the band, including Otis who came into town late Sunday to sing and add a little guitar to most of the tracks and then sat with me while I mixed it all in a daze. I’ll be posting about the EP more tomorrow since I bet a lot of people haven’t read this far down! Get ready!
Maybe someday I’ll be able to do a more thorough assessment of the band as, contrary to the relative length of this post, I didn’t really even get to a lot of what I’d like to say. I can just sum it up as saying the friendship felt within this band is some of the best I’ve ever had and I really appreciate the time that we all spent together. Fuck, that wasn’t bad.
Stoopfest 2017 is this Saturday April 22nd! The second annual edition of this Lansing DIY fest takes place at 6 house venues as well as The Avenue Cafe. The Plurals, Narc Out the Reds, and Frank and Earnest are all playing this year as well as many other local and national independent musicians. Great stuff! Check out the schedule below and the event page for updates as things get closer to the fest.