Writing songs and playing pong, Frank is the frontman of the Catholics.
Well, it really is difficult to start a page on Frank Black without mentioning the Pixies, but we'll skip over that and head straight for a factoid that will surprise and amaze you:
Frank Black performs background vocals on Alan Merrill's Merrilly Christmas CD, released in 2001.
Yes, you read that correctly. Frank, would you like to comment on this contribution? We're assuming it is you, since it appears on your Artist Direct page. Bravo!
And y'all thought he was just about being the Big Daddy of the Catholics, didn't you?
Seriously though, we love Frank, and seem to be absolutely fascinated by his life and influences. Frank was born Charles Thompson in 1965 in Long Beach, California. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Jean Black. They have two dogs and three cats. One of the dogs is black, believe it or not, but on the flip side, the other is white (is he the 'b-side' dog??!!). Frank is currently restoring a 1986 Cadillac. He's also trying to build an escape-proof dog kennel, which apparently isn't going very well, according to the fact that one of the dogs has escaped from it! As far as influences go, he's been known to mention Iggy Pop, Pere Ubu, Husker Du, David Bowie, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Velvet Underground, among others.
Frank's contributions to the forum can be located under the alias "frankusblackus", so go ahead and check them out! We are so completely thrilled to have him join us on this journey in cyberspace. Frank, keep on rockin' because we just can't get enough of you and the Catholics!
A couple of other notes:
All of the artwork for the FB&TC's albums is created
right in Frank's home on their computer. Frank and Dave Philips appear
with their wives in a film called "Low Budget Time Machine",
which according to sources is due to be
ALBUM BY ALBUM
FRANK BLACK (1993)
“It was exciting doing my first solo album, although I was under mild stress of various kinds. There was the big impending break-up of the Pixies, and I had just purchased my first home and the previous owners had a dog which left fleas behind, so my drummer and engineer were getting eaten alive. It was very embarrassing. Meanwhile, I’d decided to take up jogging early on in the making of the record, so one day I’m warming up on the beach, stretching, and my knee pops. It was so painful I couldn’t even walk. While I recorded the record I was using a wooden cane from an antique store. The muscles in my left leg atrophied, literally withered away; which was freaky.
“Apart from that it was fun. I was making music
in a way that I’d never done before, because in the Pixies, we didn’t
know anything about making records, at least at first. I was the big boss
and I took over – even poor Gil Norton who produced the last three
Pixies records could hardly get a word in because I was like, ‘NO,
I WANT TO TRY THIS!’ So making this first solo record came with
a sense of relief that I was out of the Pixies organisation, because I
could experiment and learn how to do things in the studio without rubbing
everyone up the wrong way. On the last Pixies record, the producer –
everyone – was in my way. I was so headstrong about everything.
But making my first solo record, everyone was, like, kindred spirits:
for example, there was Eric Feldman, who I respected a lot and was similarly
“But I hadn’t recorded a single lyric and
the boss of 4AD, Ivo Watts-Russell, was flying in to hear what I’d
done. So I stayed up for two days straight recording vocals to prepare
for his arrival. I fell asleep in this hammock that my ex-wife had bought
and I had that super-white froth on the mouth that a dog might have. But
there was something about that whole experience that was beautiful and
fun. One of the main tracks that I finally sang was Los Angeles, which
became the best-known track from the record.
That’s why there are so many songs on the album. But I did have writer’s block with the lyrics – I used to drive up into the hills of Malibu in my Cadillac, listening to music, playing my guitar. It was an excuse – that’s why I kept writing music, because I couldn’t write lyrics! I’d keep showing up at the studio, and they’d say, ‘So, have you got any lyrics?’ and I’d say, ‘No, but I’ve got a new song!’ Finally, the engineer and co-producer, Al Clay and Eric Feldman, said we couldn’t spend any more money recording backing tracks, so without asking me – it was genius on their part – Al and Eric one day composed lyrics to one of the songs, trying to be me – some spacey science fiction topic. They were very sheepish about it. They said, ‘We just want to stimulate you.’ Well, I sure as fuck was stimulated! I was horrified! ‘No way – this just sucks!’ I was mad! Was I annoyed because I was so easy to pastiche? Maybe I wasn’t yet aware of my own clichés or the image that people had of me… It was creepy, or disturbing, or something. It got me so fast up in the hills of Malibu! The first song I wrote was Freedom Rock.
“The album took hold when I began to incorporate,
in a science fiction way, the history of California – there are
lots of references to LA in the past and in the future. This geography
that started on [the Pixies’] Bossanova began to take hold. Kind
of like – if Lou Reed is always about New York, I was LA; kind of,
‘I am California!’ California became my fodder. So there’s
lots of history, politics, geography, people – like Mulholland who
brought water to LA. Well, if it was good enough for Roman Polanski, it
was good enough for me.”
“All that stuff started to bum me out, so Cult Of Ray is me not trying to speak to an audience at all. It’s very internal – ‘I’m just going to make a record and take as long as I want, I’m going to spend as much money as I want and be as unprepared as I want, I’m going to produce myself and do it all how I want to do it.’ So You Ain’t Me was a kind of an ‘I’m not what you want me to be’ song, even if it’s quite cryptic.
“We did a video for Men In Black and experienced a Men In Black phenomenon in the desert! I’m up on a hilltop watching the cameraman filming the actors dressed as Men In Black when out of the blue, over the hill, over our heads come this giant enormous black helicopter with no identifying markings on! I’m going, ‘Woah! It’s the Men In Black!’ So I start thinking they’re tracking me – like, ‘The CIA has got a file three-feet-thick on me!’”
FRANK BLACK AND THE CATHOLICS
“By the second day, we were all grinning at each
other because it sounded so good, so rock’n’roll. By the third
day, Rubin didn’t stand a chance – we’d recorded our
great record, all live. I was thrilled. It was so raw – we’d
started to get raw on Cult Of Ray, but that was 16-track. I enjoyed having
less tracks to work with. Eric Feldman wasn’t with me at this point
– it was just two guitars, bass and drums. I loved the sound –
it was tough, macho, and we did it in a weekend. I said, ‘What the
hell is Rick Rubin going to do with this that we haven’t already
done?’ Scott the drummer said, ‘Suck all the heart out of
it! Make it all perfect and ironed-out and more commercial but without
the same vibe.’ In the end, Rubin said he thought it was a really
great demo but not a great record. And maybe that’s what it is.
But the people in the band had all come from this postpunk background,
they were used to making records cheaply and not worrying about selling
them and getting on the radio – it was very anti-commercial. So
for us to make a record in a weekend, it was, like, we related to that.
Fuck the snare drums – this was rock music! So that became my thing
for some time to come – live to two-track, right up to Show Me Your
Tears , even though we’d get more countrified by then. It
became almost this religious thing: taking a stand as the whole world
became more involved with digital technology. I didn’t want anything
to do with that.”
“We’d been getting ready for one of our macho
van tours when Rich Gilbert brought his pedal steel guitar along to try
out in this rehearsal space in Rhode Island. And as soon as he played
that magical instrument it was like, ‘Wow!’ It was as though
some beautiful woman had walked in the room with a big harp; a heavenly
sound, the sound of not just country music but western music, early rock’n’roll.
It’s so big and cinematic. So he tried it on all the songs and suddenly
this other guitarist and pedal steel player Dave Philips was there and
Eric Feldman returned to the fold on keyboards and Joey Santiago and Moris
Tepper were there … Rich started switching instruments in the middle
of recording, to create even more lush sounds. And for the most part it
worked. It was recorded again in Sound City, and it was a hell of a lot
bigger and lusher than the previous two records; it wasn’t so DIY
and punky. We liked it.”
“The location where we recorded Black Letter Days was a loft in a very hip building in Japantown: we’d record and break for Japanese food – it was heavenly. But I could tell because of the noise we were going to get kicked out of the loft, so we moved the gear – it took six hours to break it all down. So it’s 4.30 in the morning and we’ve exited this building, and the rhythm section and guitarist and I go over to this big industrial rehearsal space across town where I and then the Pixies rehearsed and we kept recording. People say the record is dark-sounding and not very clear: part of that is because of the concrete floors of that space, and part of it is because it sounds like rock music.
“I wanted to release two records simultaneously.
I didn’t want to do one and then release another three months later.
And it didn’t seem right to put all the songs together on the same
record, first because of the different sounds, second because of the different
line-up of the band. Also, I didn’t want to sit on the songs for
a year. I just don’t have the patience for that – maybe that’s
“The general consensus is that Black Letter Days is the better record and Devil’s Workshop is the dark horse. Both albums have their fans, but I think the variety – even though it has fewer songs – is greater on Devil’s Workshop.”
“There’s a little too much emphasis on production
these days, I think. Rock music isn’t about the killer drum sound.
Records don’t have to be beautiful sounding. Not everything has
to sound like a Steely Dan or Roxy Music record – and I love Steely
Dan and Roxy Music! Devil’s Workshop is the least popular of The
Catholics’ records, but it’s my favourite.”
“The flipside of all this was that everything was falling apart in my world: the band was falling apart, and my marriage was falling apart. In fact, when I was cutting a lot of these songs, my ex-wife said, ‘Charles, these songs are sounding a little bit… what’s up? Are we in trouble?’ and I was like, ‘Oh no no no no no! They’re just songs.’ But, of course, she was right. And while I may not have been consciously writing these things, subconsciously I was.
“And the band was breaking up, like I say. These records weren’t chartbusters, and being in Frank Black And The Catholics was becoming precarious. The band had grown bored of the two-track method, and they figured that if I worked with a producer and recorded in a multi- track way with overdubs and stuff in a proper studio, I would make a more polished, produced product, which is fair enough.
“I really like the record – I was feeling sad and happy: happy because I was able to incorporate what was going on into my art, which felt good. I felt sad in new ways, too: more human, part of the human race, going through these intense experiences and having a very long relationship end. It was heavy but I wasn’t alone because I was in therapy. The title came from a song that didn’t end up on the record, about showing your emotion, partly to an audience.
screaming with the Pixies was more primal. It was the expression of someone
who’s confused. Show Me Your Tears is about expressing emotion but
it’s more poignant, it has meaning, and it’s not hiding behind
abstraction. Massif Centrale was a prophetic song. It described what I
was going to do in my life in the near future: ‘I’m going
to skip out the States and go to France and find a new woman and live
in Massif Central which I find lonely and haunting.’ Because that’s
how I was feeling: happy and haunted and lonely yet full of life. I didn’t
make it to France, though – I met this chick in the middle of Oregon
and that’s where I am today. So as you can imagine, the song has
a lot of meaning for me.”
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