Color us ‘Excited’: Batteries survives the sophomore slumpAs far as rock lore goes, crafting your debut album is nothing compared to what comes next. But Dave Frankenfeld and his merry band of pranksters made it look easy.
As far as rock lore goes, crafting your debut album is nothing compared to what comes next. But Dave Frankenfeld and his merry band of pranksters made surviving the sophomore slump (or, as The Guardian so eloquently put it, “Difficult Second Album Syndrome”) look easy.
With instant classics like “Dirty Dogs” and “Evening Birds,” the second Batteries album, “You’re So Excited,” gallantly rolled into our lives earlier this month — a direct continuation of the solid songwriting and uncanny musicianship found on the group’s debut, “That Great Grandsuck of the Sea.”
Not bad for a band that kind of sort of got its start at a Hold Steady show. In the audience….
“Hey!” the drunken exchange had started. “You wanna start band?”
Frankenfeld, Haley Bonar’s former drummer, had been approached by two guys, one a friend.
“They were two Fargo guys, aggressive North Dakotans,” Frankenfeld told the Budgeteer, laughing a little bit. “I was like, ‘Actually, I do.’ I was dead serious.”
Blood-alcohol levels back to normal, Frankenfeld’s buddy and his buddy’s buddy got together to jam a little bit.
Frankenfeld quickly realized that his buddy — and we’ll put this as lightly as possible — couldn’t play whatsoever but that his friend, drummer Joe Paul, could.
“I saw some potential in Joe, even though he had never really played in a band prior,” said Frankenfeld — even though Joe was reportedly in the boy band Beat Street. (Conley was kind enough to provide a sample lyric: “Girl, I want your body / But I gotta get to karate.”)
With a core in place, Batteries was starting to take shape. (Before we got any further into the interview, Frankenfeld, who was joined by organist Greg Cougar Conley, reassured us that he was able to let his all-thumbs friend down lightly, as said friend — who shall remain nameless — remains a big supporter of the group.)
How the group got to today’s lineup is a bit fuzzy, however.
“I saw them play first before joining, when they had Dave on acoustic guitar and Paul on drums … then Dave got an electric guitar and Bryon (Gaynor) joined,” Conley said. “I saw them play quite a few times, actually.
“I started playing with them the same time as Kyle (Alan), I think.”
Frankenfeld, who was sitting right next to Conley during the interview, never once corrected him, so we can probably assume that’s how Batteries came to be.
“Before we recorded the first album, Greg was like, ‘That band needs an organ,’” Frankenfeld said.
While Conley, whose tenure with the State Champs was just ending when he joined Batteries, isn’t a credited player on “Grandsuck,” his organ playing has become an important part of the group’s sound.
“I don’t think we feature the organ too prominently [like in 500 Million Society]; it just kind of punches up things here and there,” he said. “It’s nice to have another tonality going on there.”
On the subject of the Batteries sound, Frankenfeld, who started expressing himself with “folky story-songs with lots of lyrics” as soon as he got his first guitar, said writing for his group is a bit of a balancing act.
“I think I’ve always geared myself toward pretty music,” he said. “… I was writing folk songs and pretty ballads for so many years, so I think the mellower stuff is a little bit easier for me. I narrow them down to a select few that will work with the group. We still don’t play a lot of those mellower ones live.
“I’d like to at some point, at the right venue anyway.”
Frankenfeld, like Marcus Matthews before him, finds himself on a short list of drummers turned frontmen; he doesn’t seem to have any issues with being the leader, though.
“Dave’s definitely a jack of all trades,” Conley said, “especially during the recording process.
“He plays a lot of different instruments. He plays the saxophone, the organ … he throws all that stuff on there, and ideas and stuff like that.”
That said, Frankenfeld pointed out that the songwriting sessions for “You’re So Excited” were much more of a group effort than those of its predecessor.
“There’s that old adage that you have a lifetime to write your first album, and the second one you have about a year,” he said. “And it pretty much was exactly like that.
“The first album was a bunch of really old songs … and the second album was like, These are all songs for the band: Are they going to be fun to play live? Are the guys going to like this?”
Frankenfeld figured Batteries’ second album came together a lot quicker than “Grandsuck” because he’d just show up at the Clubhouse (a rehearsal space on Third Street used by a majority of the Hog Damage Collective groups with an adjoining recording studio operated by Jake Larson) with song ideas and proceed to just “hash them out with the guys.”
‘Cold Spring Harbor’
When Frankenfeld and Conley aren’t busy with Batteries or Humanoid (Kyle Alan’s songwriting vehicle) or the handful of other associated acts, they are members of the Uptown Boys, the Northland’s pre-eminent Billy Joel tribute act.
“We sort of have our own spin on it, I guess, but people really, really enjoy it,” Conley said. “People really just go nuts for it … it’s funny.
“And it’s really fun, because we’re used to playing in our artistic band.”
“Lately we’ve been spending the most time with that group,” Frankenfeld added.
What started out as a joke of sorts — Conley and his friends had kicked around the idea for years, even before they met Frankenfeld through Bonar — has yielded a good chuck of memories for the musicians.
“We’ve had some interesting gigs,” Conley said, rattling off a hockey association banquet, a show for breast cancer awareness up in Ely and a gig aboard the Vista Queen, among others. “We’ve been trying to seek out some interesting, fun gigs.”
There are other benefits to operating a successful cover group, too.
“We kind of look at that group as our retirement fund,” Frankenfeld said of the Boys, “like a band that could actually play casinos and get paid. [Laughs]”
NEWS TO USE
Catch Batteries live during Homegrown at 7:45 p.m. May 8 at Teatro Zuccone. For details on that show and the new album, visit www.myspace.com/davefrankenfeld.
Tags: expanded editions, superior and lake, dave frankenfeld, haley bonar, greg cougar conley, budge a and e, arts and entertainment, electric fetus, hog damage collective, the clubhouse, the surfactants, the state champs, the uptown boys, billy joel, duluth, budgeteer, batteries, music, life, homegrown, rock, interview, indie, cover, band, tribute, act