At one point during our recent chat about "New Debut," the effervescent
third album by Chicago power-pop champions Frisbie, the band's namesake and
co-frontman casually remarked that the group is approaching its 10th
anniversary -- and then just as quickly regretted mentioning it.
"Now that I've said that, I'm really hoping you don't print it!" Steve
Frisbie said. "I mean, it's one thing to sort of be re-emerging as a band,
and it's another trying to win a whole new audience."
Ah, yes, in rock 'n' roll more than any other art form, it often seems as
if nothing holds quite so true as F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous axiom, "There
are no second acts in American lives." But there are exceptions to any rule,
and Frisbie is one of them.
With the release of its debut album, "The Subversive Sounds of Love," in
July 2000, the band seemed to have everything going for it: Its exuberant
guitar-pop was garnering college radio play, rave reviews and opening slots
for Wilco, Cheap Trick, Matthew Sweet and Big Star, some of its biggest
influences. Then it all fell apart. As Frisbie's fellow guitarist and
vocalist, Liam Davis, said in an interview with Chicagoist.com, "In a
nutshell, it goes like this: Band releases album. Album is favorably
received. Band tours to support album. Drummer suffers breakdown and quits
Yes, drummers quit rock bands all the time, and the groups usually move
forward without missing a beat. But in Frisbie's case, Zack Kantor had
started out writing a third of the material and graduated to writing nearly
all of it.
"I don't really want to talk about Zack's illness, but a person with
bipolar disorder, when he's manic, [writes a lot of] music," Frisbie said.
"The reason we did that acoustic record" -- the limited release "Period" in
2003 -- was because he wrote all this stuff, and it was really of a piece.
He became the person who was describing our voice to us -- we were into it
and we wanted to see where it would go -- and then it all came to an end. I
think that's why we were so devastated.
"You know, there was a gig we played at Taste of Chicago with a different
drummer -- at that point, we were still thinking Zack would come back -- and
somebody said to me, 'Man, I think it's really great that you guys hung on
for him. A lot of people who were doing as well as you were would have
booted him a long time ago.' And I mean, touring with Zack was difficult,
but I had never thought that way. Then, as this person said that, I thought,
'Have we completely screwed this up?' Depending on how you look at it, we
did. We're so happy now that we would never turn back. But, man, we were
having a moment in the sun, and then -- poof! -- it was all just
From being ubiquitous on the local scene, Frisbie lapsed into a long
period of minimal activity, if not invisibility. And then the band slowly
"After floundering for a while, Liam and I finally just came to our
senses," Frisbie said. "Things either spiral upward or they spiral downward,
and we had spiraled downward. We were used to spiraling upward, and now we
had to restart it. When we finally figured that out, we asked [drummer]
Gerald [Dowd] if he'd be a part of it, and he said yes."
A short time later, Dowd made the case that the band should bring his
friend Matt Thompson onboard to play bass, and that Thompson was the only
choice to produce the band's next record.
"We were convinced," Frisbie said. "We still really didn't know Matt that
well, but we pretty much just dove in head-first. Matt, as so many people do
now, has a very formidable studio in his basement, and we went there three
nights a week for seven months and did the kind of preproduction you're
supposed to do, where you basically make the record once or twice before you
ever start paying for studio time. And what we discovered pretty quickly is
that it was the most satisfying experience any of us had ever had making
That energy and enthusiasm is evident throughout the 10 tracks on the
aptly named "New Debut," which finds Frisbie and Davis writing individually,
in collaboration and on the spot with the members of the new lineup, which
is completed by keyboardist Marchin Fahmy. The disc makes it obvious that,
while Kantor's contributions were significant, the core of the band's appeal
was always the frontmen's harmonies.
"I feel I can speak for Liam in this regard pretty safely when I say that
neither one of us has ever had an experience like singing with the other,"
Frisbie said. "There are times where we feel about 17 feet tall singing
Now the band is making up for its long post-Kantor absences from the
local clubs with a month-long residency at Schubas as part of its
Monday-night "Practice Space" series.
"We're all committed, and we're all in this for the long haul," Frisbie
said. "We recognize that whatever the external forces of life might throw at
us, nobody's going to walk away from this musical experience, because we're
all just so happy playing together."
'PRACTICE SPACE' RESIDENCY
• • 9 p.m. Monday (with Fever Marlene and Hey Champ); 9 p.m. Nov. 12
(with Modern Skirts and Team Band); 9 p.m. Nov. 19 (with Stereo Deluxe and
the Melismatics), and 9 p.m. Nov. 26 (with Howie Statland)
• • Schubas, 3159 N. Southport
• • Tickets, $6
• • (773) 525-2508