On his 2008 DIY solo album Obligatory Get Down, San Francisco Bay Area songwriter/indie artist Luke Franks strums guitars, gets squirrelly with the synth bass, rhymes “faded or jaded” with “love it or hate it”, contemplates the Almighty, shows big love for his beloved East Bay Area, makes like Prince at 1:44 into the track “Then Than”, and closes by tearing down the “fourth wall” and spitting some spoken-word which directly addresses the listener, over a busy electro-fried beat.
It’s an interesting alternative glimpse of Franks, who for the last four years has been buzzing in the Bay Area and beyond not as a maverick beat-heavy bedroom DIY artist, but as the leader and golden-voiced singer-songwriter of the Federalists, an indie/alt.country/classic-rock flavored outfit. Since 2005, the Federalists has been a powerful showcase for Franks’ staggering song smarts and spellbinding vocal style, which manages to be both completely original and warmly familiar at the same time.
The group’s newest release, The Way We Ran (Talking House) is their first album released in association with a label, and their first release under their new, semiotically-charged moniker Luke Franks Or the Federalists, or LFOTF for short. The new name came about as a result of the inevitable growing pains the group experienced while transitioning into a national-scene, road-ready project, and it fits. It is a koan of a name, a puzzle of sorts—a kind of linguistic doppelganger for the diverse, unexpected, and ever-evolving gifts Luke Franks possesses and coheres into a compelling, unified whole throughout all his projects.
What was the first song you fell in love with, and what is your current relationship to the piece?
When I was a baby, my dad used to play his guitar and sing a song called “King Jesus is All”. My parents tell me I could sing every word before I could even talk. The song still pops up in family singalongs every year or so.
Who is your favorite “unsung” artist or songwriter, someone who you feel never gets their due? Talk a little bit about him/her.
Ohtis is a band from Bloomington/Normal, Illinois. Last year they came out with one of my favorite albums of the decade “If This Country Had a Heart, That’s Where I Was Born”. I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with singer/songwriter Sam Swinson in the past but he has truly found his musical soulmate in the other half of Ohtis, Adam Presley. Together they’ve created a dark, densely layered pop masterpiece. When I say dark and densely layered, I’m applying that to both music and lyrics. The lyrics weave through themes like redemption, questioning faith, love, drugs, and music. What else is there?
Is there an artist, genre, author, filmmaker, etc. who/which has had a significant impact/influence on you, but that influence can’t be directly heard in your music?
I’m always inspired by people who completely disregard the rules of their art form. I love the way Andy Kaufman would stand on stage and purposely try to make his audience hate him or the 12 minutes of droning noise at the end of Wilco‘s song “Less Than You Think” or Rauschenberg’s series of White Paintings. These influences don’t seem to come out in my music. My songs come out pretty straightforward.
Do you view songwriting as a vocation/calling, a gig, a hobby, other…?
I wouldn’t mind it being a vocation because that implies money, but I guess for now it’s a calling. It’s the only thing I know how to do.
Name one contemporary song that encourages/inspires you about the future of songwriting/pop music.
I can’t choose one song. There are dozens of albums that I’ve loved this year including Andrew Bird, Phoenix, Dirty Projectors.