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By any other name
Frank Smith become a band, and the Lot Six retool
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If it weren’t for Aerosmith, Frank Smith might never have existed. About five years ago, Aaron Sinclair had been hanging out with ’smith drummer Joey Kramer’s son Jesse and their friend Jon Lammi when Jesse suggested they go check out his dad’s home studio. The trio — Sinclair on acoustic guitar and vocals, Kramer on drums, and Lammi on bass — began writing, recording, and piecing together songs in the studio. "I guess it kind of started out of an opportunity to have some free recording time somewhere," says Sinclair. "We were having a really good time and we thought that the first session we did came out really good, so we just kept doing it." They dubbed themselves LaGuardia and eventually built up enough material for an album.

The self-released full-length LaGuardia is reminiscent of the prog-punk weirdness that Sinclair was writing with his then primary band, Drexel. "I was using acoustic guitar but still trying to write some skewed rhythms and some stuff you could’ve played on electric."

The band played only a handful of shows before Kramer moved to LA. Despite not having a proper band and splitting time between Drexel (who broke up in 2003) and drumming in the Lot Six, Sinclair began writing songs for a second album, songs that he says were "more suited to acoustic. I was playing chords and not trying to do anything too crazy, trying to keep it a lot more stripped down and straightforward." Eyes like Knives frontman Scott Toomey signed on as second guitarist, Lot Six guitarist Julian Cassanetti started playing keyboards, and they went through a number of drummers before Sinclair decided to take on the album’s percussion duties himself. They also went through a series of name changes — there was a Philly band named LaGuardia — before settling on Frank Smith. "We were getting tired of trying to think of clever or cool band names, and it turned into, ‘What’s the most monotonous, everyday-Joe name you could think of?’ It was kind of a joke for a minute, but then we just kept it."

During the making of the album, which Lammi recorded at his South Boston apartment, local label Lonesome Recordings approached the band about re-releasing LaGuardia. Sinclair agreed on condition that Lonesome also put out the new album. Lonesome removed the shrink wrap from the remaining LaGuardia CDs that were already pressed, put Frank Smith stickers on them, and had them in stores in May 2004. The follow-up, Burn This House Down, was released two months later.

The second album marked a significant departure from the debut. Sinclair had been listening to a lot of country-influenced music, especially Wilco, and he says he was "trying to find my way around the lighter side of things after being in a lot of punk bands and louder bands my whole life." The new songs retained some of LaGuardia's quirks and curveballs but leaned toward the rootsy side of the alt-country spectrum. A spell of homesickness was partly responsible. Sinclair grew up in Texas, and years ago, when asked why he didn’t share his parents’ Southern drawl, he deadpanned, "I guess I just don’t like how it sounds." Now he acknowledges that he "ran away from a lot of things that sounded like Texas. I wanted to leave Texas really bad when I got out of high school, and now I miss it a lot." Home and family are the subject of only a few songs — BTHD’s "Texas Town" for one — but Southern nostalgia permeates almost all of his recent music.

And Sinclair, who plans to move back some day, has refined BTHD’s wistful down-home vibe on the new Frank Smith album, Think Farms, whose release they'll celebrate July 30 at the Middle East. Forlorn harmonica, swampy slide guitar, melancholy melodies, mournful chord progressions, and Sinclair’s plaintive tenor evoke longing and loneliness without being maudlin or dispiriting. The album is more consistent and cohesive than the previous two, and Sinclair says that has as much to do with the songs as it does with the consistent line-up he now has behind him. For a long time Frank Smith was more like a collective. In addition to the rotating drummers, Lammi was splitting bass duties with Sinclair’s Lot Six band mate Dan Burke. Burke eventually became a permanent member, and they recruited former Stray Bullets drummer Drew Roach soon after the second album was finished. "That’s when it turned into a real band," says Sinclair. "Before, it was always like, throw some people together and play a show." (Banjo player Brett Saiia rounded out the line-up shortly after the new album was finished.)

Think Farms was recorded by former Drexel co-frontman Marc Flynn at his home studio, 202 Lions, in Quincy, and though it took eight months, the result still sounds spontaneous. The songs were written in three batches, then recorded almost immediately after. When it comes to songwriting, Sinclair says, "I go up and down. I definitely go a week or a month at a time where I don’t touch my guitar, or if I do, it’s totally uninspiring. There’ve been periods of time that were so long that I would tell [my girlfriend] Lindsay, ‘I’m getting worried. I might not ever be able to write a song again.’ But it always seems to come around, some sort of inspiration or whatever it is. I don’t really know where it comes from or why, but something will hit and then I’ll have a string of a few songs. I’d meet up with Drew and we’d go put them together and get them arranged up and then we would go record them real quick. These songs weren’t rehearsed for too long."

Once Sinclair and Roach had the basics done, the other guys would go in and lay their parts down. Sinclair and Flynn, who replaced Cassanetti on keys about halfway through, then spent days on each song "building and taking away and trying different stuff," as Sinclair puts it. Stuff like slamming lockers for additional percussion and running toy pianos through fuzz pedals to add some sonic oddities to an otherwise stripped-down country record.

The album marks a musical reunion for Sinclair and Flynn, who began playing together during their first semester at Berklee in 1995 when they formed Drexel. "I couldn’t be happier to be playing with Aaron again," says Flynn. "It feels right."

Sinclair says that one reason he was able to spend so much time on Think Farms is that "the Lot Six has been sitting around." After spending more than half of last year on the road, the band have indeed taken a break from touring, but while "sitting around," they recorded what may be their best album to date, the vicious and ambitious Get Baked on Youth Kulture.

Dave Vicini certainly thinks so. "I think it’s definitely above and beyond the best shit we’ve ever done," he says outside ZuZu before his recent DJ gig there. "It’s more cohesive. I think we came into our own in some sense."

The band had recorded songs in New York for an EP between tours last July. Unhappy with the way that came out, they toyed with the idea of remixing it, then decided to scrap everything and re-record at New Alliance with Ethan Dussault, who did their previous album, 2003’s Major Fables (Tarantula). They added a couple of new songs, bringing the total to nine tracks — seven of which are proper songs — and 25 minutes, somewhere between an EP and an LP. New York’s Plastic Records is releasing the album on vinyl and CD in September.

Vicini says they plan on hitting the road again to support the record but adds that they needed the long break "after last year, which was crazy." In addition to writing songs for a new full length, he explains, "we’ve all been getting back on our feet. We lost apartments and lost jobs. The reality of life and bills set in."

Frank Smith | Middle East upstairs, 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge | July 30 | 617.864.EAST

Issue Date: July 22 - 28, 2005
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