A year ago, in Tallinn, we met up with a band called Frankie Animal. We expect big things from these lovely people, because they’re hilarious, smart and they really care about their creativity. They had just released a shimmeringly pretty single called Nightlights, and we met them for breakfast in multi-roomed hipster haven Must Puudel. The breakfast part becomes important. Remember that.
Now we get to 2018, and Frankie Animal are in Eesti Laul with the sexy, world-weary Can’t Keep Calling Misty. The Listen Outside zine that I was going to put the original interview in is a long-abandoned project, and so here we are with what Frankie Animal thought about the Estonian music scene, taxidrivers, what a producer actually does, sandwiches and the Eesti Laul process.
Me: asking questions
Jonas: guitar, talking
Maria: singer, talking, eating porridge throughout
Jan-Christopher: bass, punchlines
LO: Tell me about what Frankie Animal, where you came from and where you’re going.
Jonas: Well. We’re having a birthday coming up on the 20th of May, so we started off just about 5 years ago, as a couple of music school students and we were kind of influenced by the indie folk scene that was going on at that time.
Maria: Evert & the Two Dragons were very popular in Estonia at the time…
Jonas: And Mumford and Sons and everything that was going on back then.
Maria: And then we thought that it would be cool to make music ourselves and just, lets see where it’s going.
Listen Outside: So you were all studying together? What records where you were listening to?
Jonas: We all come from different backgrounds. Jan-Cristopher the bassist comes from a rockier background, I come from a classic rock back ground, Maria, I don’t know..
Maria: I don’t know, rock, jazz, classical, I don’t know whatever. But at that time, oh my god, I don’t remember, maybe Led Zeppelin?
Jonas: I think it must have been the folk scene that influenced us?
Maria: Vaga blick from Estonia, Evert, Elephants from Neptune
Listen Outside: Elephants from Neptune! We know them!
Jonas: We’ve come a long way since then, as we’ve grown ourselves the music has changed with us.
Listen Outside: You have one foot on the dancefloor, but you’re also attuned to the melodic side. Is that a result of your different musical backgrounds?
Maria: I think so, the boys…
(At this point, Jan-Christopher arrives. He is quiet, and isn’t eating porridge, but his arrival derails the previous thread. We begin anew, once the coffee arrives)
Listen Outside: What’s the indie scene like in Estonia? From outside it seems like there’s so much going on.
Maria: There is so much going on.
Jonas: Every weekend you can catch a band that is top notch. The instrumentalists are so good, and the songs being good, and the bands being good. The last 5 years have been a blooming time for the…
Maria: Estonian rock and indie scene.
Jonas: (clearly joking) That just happens to be the same time as we’ve been going.
Listen Outside: (clearly in on the joke) Are you taking responsibility for that?
Listen Outside: You’re going to be playing Tallinn music week next month. What’s that like as a performer?
Jonas: It can get really hectic, there’s so much going on.
Jan-Christopher: It can be really hard to stand out.
Maria: From the other bands. It’s like in a month. The 1st of April.
Jonas: Isn’t our show is on the 31st? On Friday the 31st of March?
(We briefly pause while we work out what Frankie Animal’s upcoming tour dates are. The above dates, of course, are for 2017. For upcoming dates, check out their Facebook)
Listen Outside: So let’s talk about Nightlights. Is this the first chunk of a batch of new material? Are you going for a slightly different sound?
Maria: We’re still searching for a sound. No, that sounds a little bit wrong…
Jonas: We’re still getting to where we’re going?
Jan-Christopher: (definitively) We’re developing our musical taste and sound.
Listen Outside: What records are you listening to now?
Jonas: As time goes forwards it gets even harder to say.
Maria: We have Spotify and that’s like oh my god…
Listen Outside: Infinite records!
Maria: So many! There’s a playlist, Discover Weekly and every day you find something new and you just go crazy.
Listen Outside: I know that feeling.
Jonas: I think it’s fair to say that it’s a time of a melting pot. Everything that goes into our ears comes into the music. I think there’s a certain step towards a dancier thing, while keeping what we had as well.
Listen Outside: That’s good – your dancier ones are absolute floorfillers.
Maria: (graciously blushing into her porridge) Thank you!
Listen Outside: Was it cool to have the China Song on the radio over the summer?
Jonas: It was surprising for us, because it’s not really a single.
Maria: It’s four and a half minutes, there’s no chorus. It’s just sounds and stuff. I guess, thank you Raadio 2 for playing it!
Listen Outside: So you’ve got new music coming and it could sound very different! But looking at the Estonia music news, your current single Nightlights has made great use of not actually getting to be in Eesti Laul.
Maria: It wasn’t a scandal that we weren’t selected, it just ended up like that.
Jonas: But we still get comments and people ask us “What happened?”
Listen Outside: We would have swapped one of the solo girls for you guys easily. You did Eesti Laul before, Maria? What was the process like? How did you benefit?
Maria: I was so young. I was 17. I didn’t realise how big it was. The whole of Estonia watches you on tv and I was like ‘Oh let’s just do it’. It wasn’t a big thing for me at the time, but now it actually was a big thing for me. Sorry. What was the question?
Listen Outside: What did you get out of Eesti Laul, I guess?
Maria: I got such huge experience and contacts and met new people. I got myself into the scene, I was famous for one day! Maybe that’s a bad word, but if you do Eesti Laul almost everyone in Estonia knows your name and that you’re a singer and that was a big step. I was in 11th grade in High school at the time. I was 17.
Listen Outside: Is that bit weird?
Maria: It is. It really is. There’s a girl this year, Ariadne, she’s also 17 or 18 and 11th grade also and I look at her and I go ‘Oh you’re so sweet and so young’. But you have so much to come and to develop as a musician. But it’s cute to look back at that time. But now I feel like grown up. I’m 21.
Listen Outside: Oh you’re all so young. You’ve yet to have the existential crisis at 30!
(Everyone has a good laugh about aging and the changing definition of adulthood)
Listen Outside: You mentioned the Tallinn scene. How much space is there for collaborations & working with other artists?
Jonas: It’s quite easy – because the scene is so small and everyone knows each other. It’s not hard to pick up the phone and call another band. You might even be rehearsing at the same band as each other.
Maria: In fact, we just did a mashup with the most popular singer songwriter dude in Estonia, NOEP. It’s totally different music that he does. But it was cool to mash it up between the two songs. It’s our song The Backbeat and his song Rihanna.
Jonas: But it’s not out yet. It’s still in the making. It’s out in the summer….? It’s in the hands of some other people now.
Listen Outside: For your next record, are you working with a producer? Are you self recording?
Maria: We have a friend called Martin Guut, we did the album the Backbeat with him and now some new music with him.
Jonas: It’s kind of funny to call him a producer – he’s just our friend who comes in and listens to our stuff and says ‘That sounds shit, that sounds good’.
Listen Outside: A producer should be a grown up and maybe be wearing very fashionable Swedish glasses?
Jonas: Yeah, and you can tell you paid for the glasses.
Maria: No, Martin is not that official.
Listen Outside: But it’s more comfortable to work with a friend?
Jonas: That’s the good part of the scene, it’s kind of humble, it’s not as official as it might be in bigger countries.
Listen Outside: Yeah, it’s all casual. None of you are divas, we’re sitting here having coffees and a large amount of porridge.
(Everyone laughs. Maria still has a lot of porridge left)
Listen Outside: Unless you want to be like a diva, Maria- you’ve got that big blues voice.
Maria: It’s not possible in Estonia to be a diva.
Listen Outside: So far, all the Estonians we’ve met are kind of calm and cool. We’re saying this because we managed to embarrass the server in the restaurant last night by being really enthusiastic about the food. It was Sigrid with the blue hair. Actually, our taxi driver was impressed that we were coming to meet you – he did a double take.
Jonas: Really!? Weird.
Listen Outside: Is that weird?
Maria: Yep. Taxidrivers, you know?
Jonas: I have the image of a 50 year old with a moustache.
Listen Outside: Nah, late 20s.
Jonas: Then it’s possible.
Maria: We’re famous in the taxi scene.
Jonas: The underground taxi scene.
Listen Outside: Music radio is a big thing in Estonia, but do you find it difficult to get radio play above international artists? Are the stations keen to play the local bands?
Maria: It depends on the station. Raadio 2 play Estonian music.
Jonas: And the local bands are embraced by the local people, like everywhere.
Listen Outside: Compared with UK radio, more Swedish and Finnish music gets played, but also the big American hits are on the playlist. In the UK a lot of young bands say it’s hard to get radio play without a big label promo budget.
Maria: We don’t have a big label in Estonia. We’re all DIY and independent. As Jonas says, everybody knows each other, so you know the DJs. You just send the record to the DJ and say ‘Play my record!’ and he does. It is easy.
Listen Outside: Is it something to do with the size of a scene? Is Tallinn’s music scene a similar size to Reykjavik?
Jonas: I was in Ljubliana last month and there was a thing about Iceland – the guy brought up similar points. Everyone knows each other and is working together to push the scene as a whole to the wider world.
Listen Outside: Can you share some local Tallinn scene knowledge with us?
Jonas: Well, we’re in Must Puudel – this is where you bring people for lunch.
Maria: If we were going for drinks – Telliskiviloomelinnak? It’s a mecca for hipsters. It used to be like an old factory, this compound that’s turned into this cafe with concert venues. It’s a complex. It’s 2 or 3km from the city centre, it’s walking distance.
Listen Outside: Everything is walking distance! What do you think about hipsterism filling everywhere in the world with the same kind of places? Is there a hipster monoculture.
Jonas: With the decaf soy lattes
Maria: My porridge is not with soy milk, so I am no hipster.
Listen Outside: We should do a fun question. Then we can get all finish our porridge?
Maria: My favourite thing is food. And sleep. At least two of the top three.
Jonas: What is our favourite type of porridge?
Listen Outside: Ok, here’s a stupid question. What’s on the perfect sandwich?
Listen Outside: Oh, so you are hipsters after all.
Maria: Some hummous!
Jonas: Some cheese. A huge pile of cheese.
Jan-Christopher: Some parma ham.
Jonas: Some cucumber, maybe some sundried tomatoes.
Maria: And an egg, a fried egg, why not.
Listen Outside: Yes and chilli sauce.
Maria: Mayonnaise. And butter.
And so, now we’ve enjoyed an interesting throwback to March 2o17, let’s get right up to date with Frankie Animal’s Valentines Day treat for us all. It’s the superbly weird video for (Can’t Keep Calling) Misty.