Unlocking the Cage with Frankie Rose
Veteran New York synth-rocker Frankie Rose is set to release her latest, possibly greatest album Cage Tropical this Friday. Following a period of intense tumult and transition in her life, the album draws on vintage sci-fi and and ‘80s pop influences to illustrate and navigate her journey back to music, to New York, and to Slumberland who will release the album. This Friday will also see her kicking off her tour for the album at Philly’s own Johnny Brenda’s. Ahead of the show, I got to chat with Frankie about the hardships that preceded the making of Cage Tropical, as well how sci-fi and the paranormal has and continues to inspire her.
The Key: It sounds like this record came out of a challenging time for you.
Frankie Rose: Oh for sure! It’s kind of a miracle that it happened.
TK: What exactly happened?
FR: I went to L.A. I’m not even sure why. I kind of had a ten-year freak out. Everyone else was moving out to L.A. so it seemed like a great idea. But basically what happened was a family tragedy. My family lost their house. We were essentially homeless. It was really awful. I ended up working on a catering truck. We all had to pool our money. Suddenly I was in this crazy situation of working in the back of an ice cream truck and having to cater weddings. It was a nightmare.
We got out of it, thank god. It’s behind me now. It really was a miracle that I was able to work on music. I just didn’t think I’d be able to. I didn’t have the means. I didn’t have the time with all the life stuff that was in front of me. But we slowly crawled out of it. I was able to just start working on songs in my closet. Then I had some money come through from an old album and I was able to slowly start putting stuff together and get enough to move back to New York where I actually had resources.
TK: Were you recognized by anyone when you were doing that?
FR: No, thank god! In L.A. I’m less than nobody. I mean I was able to serve Reese Witherspoon an ice cream cone though, which was funny. Also the entire cast of Transparent.
TK: That almost makes it worthwhile! Not really though.
FR: Yeah, right? (laughs) If anything though, it just makes me really grateful. I’m grateful to be back here where I know how things are.
TK: You’re back on Slumberland for this record as well, right?
FR: Yeah I went back to my roots. I trust Mike from Slumberland with my life, and that’s sort of what I wanted. I just wanted to go back in time to what is safe, what I know, who I feel loyalty to.\
TK: What would you say you were some key takeaways from this whole experience that you would offer to someone going through something similar as advise?
FR: I don’t know. Definitely that where there’s a will, there’s a way. There were definitely moments where I was wondering “Is this my life? Is this what’s happening?” There’s always a way, though. There are always footsteps you can take towards making something happen. This goes for any and everything. Little, tiny things can become really big things. I just started really small in my closet. The next thing I know, you’ve climbed Mount Everest and you have an album.
TK: Are there any songs on the album that more or less stayed the same as they were in that closet?
FR: I feel like I have seventeen versions of each one. That little soundscape, “Epic Slack,” almost sounds exactly the same though. I sped it up a little. Everything else changed a lot. It was a little bit like how I made Interstellar. There were a lot of gaps between working on it where I had time to think about it. That can be good and it can be bad.
TK: One of the things that I read kept you going and filtered into inspirations for the album was listening to the Paranormal Archives of Art Bell.
FR: Oh yeah. I couldn’t sleep when things were really bad for me out there and I really have a thing with paranormal radio, Art Bell specifically. He actually had a new show that was on, which is amazing because he hadn’t been on the air for a really long time. It’s called Midnight in the Desert. Some weird drama happened behind the scenes and it only lasted for four months, but I listened every night. It was really awesome.
TK: How did that inform Cage Tropical?
FR: I feel like every album I make is a time capsule of where I am at the time when I’m writing the songs and lyrics. That’s just what was happening and what I was listening to in my life at the time. It was such a distraction for me so little bits and pieces of what I heard definitely made their way in all over the album. There’s even literally a song called “Art Bell.” His voice was like human quaaludes for me.
TK: You’re also launching a podcast soon that explores the connection between music and the paranormal, yes?
FR: Yeah it’s called Weird Night with Juan and Frankie. Juan (Pieczanski) is in the band Small Black. We’re working on our pilot right now. Our first guests are the band Cults. It’s going to be half interview with the band where they do a track and then half paranormal news.
TK: That sounds really cool.
FR: Yeah it’s kind of uncharted territory.
TK: In the video for “Trouble,” you had a number for a hotline where people could call and share stories of their experiences with the paranormal that you might use in the podcast as well.
FR: Yeah I’m not screening those though. Someone else is going to do it for us.
TK: Oh good! I was afraid to ask if anything particularly random or awful was submitted.
FR: Yeah they’re “to be screened” but we’re hoping it will be people’s UFO stories or paranormal happenings that can be put together and shared on the podcast. We also used a Roswell, New Mexico number for the hotline which I thought was really cool.
TK: I love that you’re a big sci-fi fan. What’s your favorite thing about it?
FR: It’s truth-telling. A lot of times, it’s prophecy. Look at George Orwell’s 1984. It’s just amazing to imagine what can be, what already has been. It’s always very insightful.
TK: So it just so happens that your Philly date coincides with the release of the record.
FR: Oh yeah I guess it is! I’m excited. I can’t even remember the last time I played in Philadelphia.
TK: I think it’s been a while. Do you have any fond Philly memories in general?
FR: I do. I don’t know if it still exists, but in the early 2000s, there were a lot of punks that lived in West Philly.
TK: They still do!
FR: They still do! Yes! Yeah there were the houses that hosted shows with all these names. There a place called The Cinder Garden. It was just so fun. All these kids running around in the punk scene. It was just a really fun, good vibe back then. I don’t know if it still is.
TK: It’s still pretty close. Rent’s gone up a little but the vibe is definitely still there.
FR: I think that’s great. We can’t have houses like that up here in New York anymore.
TK: That’s what I always say is great about Philly. It doesn’t change as jarringly or quickly as other cities.
FR: Hmmm that’s an idea I’ll have to think about.
TK: That wasn’t a direct pitch but if you move, I’ll definitely want credit.
FR: (laughs) No, I’m definitely thinking now.
Frankie Rose headlines Johnny Brenda’s on Friday, August 11 with Tempers and Sad Heaven. Tickets are still available, more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.