Taking the stage at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin last March, the absurdly young quartet tore through a frenetic but endearingly melodic set of punk anthems from its impressive debut “Audio & Murder,” released last November by the local Sinister Muse record label.
“There are 10 million bands in town tonight, and it means a lot to us that you came out to see us!” guitarist-vocalist Kyle Dee exclaimed with typical wide-eyed amazement. But the fact is that he and guitarist Ian Farnesi (both 18) and the rhythm section of bassist Chris Farnesi and drummer Brett Hartwell (the group’s elder statesmen at 19) were one of the best I caught at the prestigious fest.
With high-profile gigs on the horizon at Metro this weekend, Taste of Chicago on July 1 and several stops on the Warped Tour in August, I caught up with Dee at the tail end of a tour that had stopped in Houston.
Q. Kyle, take me through the band’s history, such as it is for such a young group.
A. Well, Ian and I went to kindergarten together. We were brought up in music, and we were always just kind of jamming together. Chris is Ian’s brother, and we were all just playing music forever. Brett went to a different school, but one time at like an eighth-grade party, the two schools came together and he happened to be there. I had always brought all my musical equipment to all my friends’ birthday parties, and he was like, “I play the drums!” We started jamming and it kind of clicked, so we knew we had something. I’m from Orland Park [in the southwest suburbs], and the guys are all from [nearby] Lockport. Q101 has helped.
We started playing together before we had a name. The Frantic name came about freshman year once we started playing shows. The first show was a place called Pizzeria at the Point in Lockport; it was a very little pizza joint, and they paid us with a large pizza. After that, I remember that we got our first show at Mojo’s Rock House [in Tinley Park], and we were jumping up and down. We just wanted to play.
Q. How did you come to hook up with Christian Picciolini and Sinister Muse?
A. Christian’s from the same area as us, and he was just following us around. We had already done the record on our own, and we were kind of ready to go. We were shopping around at that point, and he told us that he wanted to work with us.
We always just like recorded in the basement, every time we wrote new songs. But we played a show in Chicago at the Beat Kitchen, opening up for the Riverboat Gamblers, and the producer [Mudrock, a k a Andrew Murdock, who’s worked with Godsmack, Alice Cooper and Avenged Sevenfold, among others] was there to do pre-production and see them. He happened to see us opening and was interested and he flew us out to L.A.
At that point, I was 15. He sat me down and told me what he did, and I don’t think I even knew what a producer was at that time! We were all kind of in shock; it really opened our eyes that someone was giving attention to us. So we sat down with our families and came to the conclusion that we were going to fly out to L.A. and record all of our songs.
Q. It had to be a bit of a culture shock to walk into a professional studio for the first time.
A. We walked in the door and there was like a wall of 30 guitars and he was just, “Take one, play whatever you want.” It was crazy! But he was somebody who helped us a lot with learning how to structure songs. He kind of taught us more than just pulling things apart; he’d tell us what he thought we should do, and we would feel it out. Or if the chorus seemed too long, we’d maybe try changing the words around a bit. And he would push us — like, we’d wake up and start recording at 9 and get done recording at 8. That was like a lot of work for us at that point; the whole work ethic wasn’t really there for us yet.
Q. What do you think he heard in the band that hooked him?
A. I remember Mudrock said I looked like a 90-pound Pete Shelley, and he said that was what caught him. I guess we just got lucky.
Q. It’s impressive that you even know who Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks is, since they formed about 15 years before you were born!
A. I’d been into the Buzzcocks for a long time. It kind of goes back to dad, which goes back to you. I remember he’d take me up to the record store like once a week, and we’d just pick out new cassette tapes. It was like a dream of mine: I’d go home and play with a broom stick. I remember my first tape was “Dookie” [by Green Day], and I was like 4 years old. But my dad always followed what you recommended.
Q. So I’m responsible for your ruination and skipping college?
A. Pretty much, yeah! We’re just pushing as hard as we can with this album. I’d love to do college when there’s time to settle down and pursue it, but it’s not something we’re going to do until a few years down the road. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else; we’ve given it all up for this. I can’t tell you a day where I haven’t been listening to music all day or talking about the band. It’s something that’s every part of me.
Q. How do the songs come together?
A. “Audio & Murder” was songs we’d already written before Mudrock approached us. Those were just songs about being kids and having fun; that was just kind of what came out of us. We’d just hang out in the basement and write riffs and put words to them about whatever was going on in that part of our lives. But now, after everything we’ve been through with Mudrock and everything else, we’re kind of learning how to sit down and get deeper into our own selves and pull stuff out of us. We’ve been writing the next record now, and it’s still the Frantic, but it’s a lot more of ourselves in it.
Q. You’ve made a point of saying you admire what platinum punk homeboys Fall Out Boy have accomplished. How far do you think you can take the Frantic, Kyle?
A. Well, when we started playing at Mojo’s, we’d get all of our friends to come, but there are only so many shows they can come see. After a while, we actually started to have new faces that we’d never seen before, and that was kind of surreal. Now, we’re showing up in, like, Texas, and we meet people who are like, “Oh, I saw you at SXSW, and I really love your band!” It’s all really new.
I’m a big fan of Fall Out Boy, and I support the underground scene as well. I can tell you that the Frantic won’t change no matter what level of success we’re at. If we can stay where we are right now, we’re happy with that, but if we can have a No. 1 hit on Billboard, we’re gonna do it. If we happen to take over the mainstream world, that’s not something I’m opposed to. But we’re gonna do it the D.I.Y. way.
We don’t expect to have someone do it and just make us superstars. We’d much rather go out there and make the name for ourselves.