-- Warped Reality
"I have a talent for melodies and creating big, echoey, reverberating spaces," Frayne says, calling from his day job as an engineer at WILL, the University of Illinois radio station in Champaign-Urbana. "It's not that I don't like bands with singers, but I wanted to write songs that could stretch as long as they wanted to without having to worry about pop song structures. It may be a clich, but I think of (my songs) as little movie soundtracks. That's why many of the songs have one-word titles: It's to give people a place to start. They can make up their own stories as they listen. It's always interesting to see the different ways people are affected by the same song."
Badman Records, the San Francisco company that Frayne calls home, thinks so highly of his music that it created a new instrumental subdivision called Jemez Mountain. Lanterna's new CD, "Desert Ocean," is the first release for the new label. Like Frayne's past efforts, "Desert Ocean" ranges far and wide to explore the possibilities of instrumental guitar music, mixing the familiar with his own singular vision. "Surf" actually has hints of surf guitar, but the wave the song rides is moving as slowly as a glacier. "Fog" sounds like the theme music for a sci-fi epic with a ghostly, shimmering guitar line floating over an ominous bass tone that seems to portend impending doom. "Venture," a track that comes close to being a traditional song, features Frayne humming along with some guitar work that brings to mind the jingle-jangle of early R.E.M.
"I loved (R.E.M.'s) first three albums," Frayne says. "You couldn't understand a single word Michael Stipe sang; the vocals were just another rhythmic element in the mix. I have no talent for putting words together, but I love the texture that humming in the background gives to the music."
Frayne builds his compositions slowly with the help of producer Mike Brosco and drummer Eric Gebow, whose inventive percussion work keeps things from getting too cerebral. "I did the basic tracks for the album with Eric over a long three-day weekend," Frayne says. "We hadn't gotten together to rehearse, so the music stayed fresh. We'd play a tune a few times, then do a take. Some of the tracks were built on first takes because flying by the seat of your pants gives the music a loose, natural sound."
After the basic tracks are down, Frayne adds extra layers of sound using acoustic and electric guitars, bass and an old ARP synthesizer. "When I start filling out the sound, there's a process of trial and error to add the background ambience and figure out what works where," he says. The process takes time, but Frayne says he's used to it.
"My so-called career is usually in shambles before anything good happens," he says. Frayne had to wait five years for his first work as Lanterna to make its national American premiere. The music made a circuitous and time-consuming journey that spanned continents before finally showing up in retail outlets. "I was in an experimental pop band called the Moon Seven Times, adding atmospheric guitar parts to the songs that were similar to what I'm doing now," he says. "We made our first album six months after we got together, but due to record company politics, it didn't come out for three years. As that band wound down, I decided to take control of my music. I began working on Lanterna after buying an old leather-bound Italian-English dictionary and seeing the term 'lanterna magica,' an early kind of film projector. Then I met graphic designer Bruce Licher; he inspired me to put some music into a nicely designed handmade box as a limited edition of 400."
For Frayne's first excursion as Lanterna, he composed 23 songs, enough to fill both sides of a 90-minute cassette. It was packaged as "The Lanterna Box" in 1992. The box sold modestly, but those who bought it, loved it.
"Somehow a copy got into the hands of a guy in Greece who had a record company," Frayne says. "He put out an LP edition of 1,000. He sent me 15 copies, then got into financial trouble and the other 985 copies got destroyed."
Meanwhile, Frayne met photographer Kevin Salemme, whose mysterious photos of landscapes Frayne still uses on his albums. Salemme suggested using Frayne's music as the "soundtrack" to a collection of photos he was pitching to Rykodisc's fledging book division. Ryko passed on the book but offered Frayne a record deal. In 1997, the company released 17 tracks from the cassette box as "Lanterna"; the enclosed booklet included a generous selection of Salemme's photos. Soon after its release, however, Chris Blackwell's Palm Entertainment bought Ryko and Frayne's contract evaporated.
"A few years later, a friend connected me with Dylan Magierek at Badman. I'd recorded 'Elm Street' back in '99 and felt like I was out of gas," Frayne says. "Then Dylan walked in from left field and saved the day. 'Elm Street' finally came out in 2001. 'Desert Ocean' is the fourth album I've done for him."
Frayne often tours alone, soloing over loops he's created in the studio, but April 24 at San Francisco's Make Out Room and April 26 at the Attic in Santa Cruz, he'll be filling out his sound with two pals from Seattle, bassist Grant Badger and drummer Rob Lloyd.
"They play in a duo called the Guitar Defamation League," Frayne says. "Grant is a very active bass player; he'll help move the music in some new directions."
From the San Francisco Chronicle April 7, 2006.
...and if we keep very still, we may see him tonight...