The Frames – Their own private Ireland
“I remember hearing an old interview with George Bernard Shaw, and he was asked, ‘When do you think you really became an artist?’ And George Bernard Shaw said, ‘In my 70s.’ Which I thought was so fuckin’ honest. Because we’re still learning.”
— Glen Hansard
Joyce, Beckett, Shaw, Yeats — these are the totems that tower over any current Irish writer staking out a spot on their country’s literary map. Whatever they write will inevitably be cast in the shadows of those icons.
For musicians from Ireland, the list is much shorter and simpler: U2.
The Frames and U2 have a relationship, even though either side will claim that is hardly the case. Both bands started in Dublin in the pre-iPod era — U2 in 1976, the Frames in 1990. As U2 strode into stadiums brandishing anthem after anthem of populist rock, the Frames quietly morphed through a succession of different lineups, resulting in albums of melancholy, gritty rock songs often taken to larger-than-life extremes on the live stage.
During their first decade, the Frames’ reputation built steadily thanks to a prodigious touring schedule, during which they were continually referred to as Ireland’s “Next Big Thing,” journalistic shorthand for “The Next U2.” The expectations for the Frames to do outrageous things — hang VW Beetles from stadium rafters, don buggish sunglasses, or even just have a hit song — were high, and with each successive album, the public and press set a bar for the band that they were incapable of reaching.
Even U2 was rooting. In his 2003 speech accepting the award for best band at the Irish Music Awards — a trophy they’ve picked up many times — Bono seemed to be embarrassed the Frames didn’t win. The next year, the Frames did just that. Main Frame Glen Hansard, 36, regards the long-earned recognition with a shrug: “It was the year U2 let everyone else win.”
“All the indie-rock press were saying, ‘This is it for the Frames, this is the moment when they’ll cross over to a bigger arena,'” Hansard recalls. “When I say it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen on the scale they were predicting.”
Burdened by living in a small country that’s home to a massive band and a storytelling culture fascinated with overnight success, the Frames realized early that hype is fleeting and longevity comes by way of the gut.
“I remember hearing an old interview with George Bernard Shaw,” Hansard relates, “and he was asked, ‘When do you think you really became an artist?’ And George Bernard Shaw said, ‘In my 70s.’ Which I thought was so fuckin’ honest. Because we’re still learning. I don’t want a moment where suddenly I have to buy a house because I know next year I won’t have a fuckin’ penny in the bank. I want a life.”
The Cost, released February 20 on Anti- Records, is the Frames’ sixth album, but those in the band have a tendency to think of it as only their third. Hansard says this incarnation of the group is an entirely new chapter, one that began in a city not unlike Dublin: Chicago.
The eleven years preceding 2001’s For The Birds, the album that brought the Frames to the U.S. and gave them their biggest hit in Ireland, were not necessarily pleasant ones if you valued security, recognition and respect, none of which they experienced as they were trod through a series of record labels, mismatched with producers who didn’t understand them, and exited as unceremoniously as they entered. Starting with Island and continuing on ZTT, a dance label co-founded by Trevor Horn, the Frames made albums they would later distance themselves from.
Hansard’s songwriting could not be lassoed into a specific category, and he deflected attempts to make him streamline hits. No salve could wipe down the disgust he was starting to accrue from being matched with Horn, the British producer best-known for his work with Yes, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and the Pet Shop Boys, not exactly bands appreciated for their subtle charms.
“I don’t think he ever got the band,” Hansard says now. “He always used to say, ‘You know, I see the Frames the same way I see Hootie & the Blowfish. Hootie has that same bar-band thing that you have.’ And I was like, ‘Bar band? You think we’re a bar band?’ In a way I can see where he was coming from, but fuckin’ hell: Hootie & the Blowfish?”
The Frames spent almost three years fighting Horn’s directions in the studio, resulting in an album the label ignored. “When Dance The Devil came out, it was clawed back to a point where I could maybe say, ‘Yeah, I was involved with that,'” Hansard says of the band’s 1999 release.