Frisbie flying again

November 2, 2007

BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC

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 band."

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 gone."

From being ubiquitous on the local scene, Frisbie lapsed into a long period of minimal activity, if not invisibility. And then the band slowly started rebuilding.

"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 music."

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 harmony together."

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."

FRISBIE '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

 

 

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