We grill this up-and-coming garage psych quartet about their DIY work ethic and obsession with the Mellotron.
We recently sat down with Frankie and The Witch Fingers at the Desert Daze music festival in Joshua Tree, California to talk about their current gear, less-than-ideal backline rigs and their approach to recording. The Los Angeles-based psych rockers are: Dylan Sizemore (Vocals, Guitar), Glenn Brigman (Drums and Farfisa), Josh Menashe (Guitar and FX) and Alex Bulli (Bass).
The HUB: What was the first piece of real piece of music gear each of you got?
Josh: The first guitar for me was a Gibson SG. I got it as a gift because I was obsessed with Angus Young of AC/DC. I love the way it sounds and looks and I still play it a lot.
The HUB: What particular SG model?
Josh: A 2004 SG Standard, red.
Dylan: I’d say my first piece of real gear was my Silvertone amp—it’s like my baby. It’s a 1484 from like 1965 - It’s my favorite tone in the world.
The HUB: Were you looking for one or did it just kind of come your way?
Dylan: No, I wanted one.
Glenn: I actually went with his girlfriend and we saw it in a music shop in LA. And she was like, ‘Is this a good gift?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah you should buy that for him.’ [laughter] It was pretty awesome, I was like, ‘You guys really like each other!’
Dylan: Yeah she surprised me. I think it was actually Valentine’s Day which is a crazy day to get a 1484.
Glenn: Some people get shot with an arrow and some people get a Silvertone.
The HUB: Better than chocolates!
Glenn: Definitely. Chocolate brand amps just don’t have the same shine and the speakers aren’t as good.
The HUB: Glenn, what was your first piece?
Glenn: When I was in high school; I had a Marshall solid state amp but I sold it and with that money, plus some I saved up, I bought a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe and a Tube Screamer at the same time. Somebody told me to get a Tube Screamer with a tube amp, and I still have it. I don’t have the same Hot Rod Deluxe. I sold that one and went through four other amps, like a weird Gibson Super Medalist, a Gibson GA-15RVT Explorer that I went through, a weird Univox amp… And then I was like, ‘I just want to get the Hot Rod Deluxe.’ So I found a 50th Anniversary Hot Rod Deluxe III in the blond Tolex—I love it.
The HUB: What was the attraction; the familiarity or …?
Glenn: The familiarity, also the wetness of the reverb—the springs aren’t too tight. They’re so easy to repair, too; you can take them anywhere. Those ‘60s Gibsons, we took them to the shop in Indiana where we we all lived and they’re like, ’We don’t know what to do with this.’
There was one giant tube in the Super Medalist that looked like a light bulb. The amp was huge too. We were playing basement shows, going down scary steps in the dark with beer spilled all over them. I’m like, ‘I don’t think we should bring this hundred-pound amp and try to kill ourselves.’
The HUB: Alex, how about you?
Alex: I was lucky. My dad was in bands throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, so I got to use his early ‘70s Strat, a ‘62 SG Special, a ‘69 SG Standard, a ‘77 Marshall JMP, a Rickenbacker 12-string. It was weird; I had access to all this great gear! The first thing I bought on my own was a Fender American Tele. It was one of the 50th or 60th anniversary models with the little diamond-looking metal thing on the back of the headstock. I always wanted a Telecaster. I love how they sound, how they look and feel. I always used to play my friend’s and think, ‘This is insane.’ There’s so much tonal variation. You can get that super bright country sound or roll it back about halfway. I don’t know if all Teles do this, but mine clicks into a notch in the middle of the tone pot so you can roll it back and it’ll lock in exactly halfway. It’s the perfect, mid-rangey kind of more chill modern sound.
Josh: His dad wrote a book on the Gibson SG.
Alex: Yeah, Guitar History Volume 1 and 2, Gibson SG by John Bulli.
Glenn: When he’s talking to people, he’ll say, ‘He wrote the book on that.’ and they’re like, ‘Hah-hah, that’s an expression.’ and he’s like, ‘No it’s real, he actually wrote the book on Gibson.’
The HUB: So you all play guitar then? Does that work out okay with the dynamics within the band?
Glenn: I play guitar in our other band, Triptides, so it’s fun to not play guitar in Frankie and the Witch Fingers. Being a guitarist actually helped me acquire my drum set...I had an acoustic guitar I was jamming on. Then I traded this Martin for a drum set. It was essential to being in Frankie and the Witch Fingers for me. My friend had bought this drum set on a whim, and he’s like, ‘I wish I had bought an acoustic instead.’ And I’m like, ‘Let’s trade!’
The HUB: That’s cool. So, you have access to a lot of guitars, huh?
Glenn: Josh, you’ve got like four or five guitars. Dylan, you’ve got like four with the acoustics. And we all have pedals; if we were to put them all on a board that would be like, half of My Bloody Valentine’s pedal board.
The HUB: I know you mentioned some of your current gear. What does the rest of it look like? And what’s the ‘blue sky’ gear that you are looking to save up for?
Glenn: Strymon Blue Sky, maybe? (laughter)
Alex: I still have the very first fuzz pedal I ever owned, something my dad gave me. It was made by this company Oscar, who made pedals for Shin-Ei in America in the ‘60s. It’s not the Super Fuzz and it’s not the Companion Fuzz. It’s a kind of weird blended circuit. I opened it up recently, trying to clone it. All the capacitors are all the same values, but they’re wired in these crazy configurations. I’ve been using that one forever. It’s by far the best thing. I got an EarthQuaker Devices Terminal Fuzz for bass that’s almost identical to that fuzz, I think it’s a JAX clone. That’s when I realized that I really liked the Oscar.
The HUB: You probably feel better gigging with the Terminal, though?
Alex: Yeah, you don’t want to take something that old out. My first bass was the Squier Affinity P-Bass. I got it for free through a friend and played it in a band called Prince Moondog with two of these guys for like a year and a half, and used it in the beginning with Frankie. Finally, I just had to get a new bass.
Glenn: We basically shamed him into getting a new bass.
Alex: It sounded fine, but it wasn’t a great bass. It couldn’t be intonated properly.
Josh: It was your Dad who made you get a new one.
Alex: He called me up, ‘You’re about to go on tour; you have to get a good bass”. So I got one of the newer Fender American Jaguar basses with the P & J pickups, and a billion ways to blend them. It’s funny, there’s so many options, but I only use one. I use the Jazz pickup—not the active mode—passive mode with the volume all the way up and the tone at about 9, and it’s beautiful.
Alex on-stage at Desert Daze 2017 with his Fender Jaguar Bass.
Glenn: I’m surprised you didn’t get the [Gibson] EB-2 SG Bass. Or a Rickenbacker.
Alex: The Rickenbackers are a little harder to play. It’s like a different style of playing. I went to a local music shop one day and tried out a million basses. With that Jaguar, I just clicked with it instantly.
The HUB: Glenn, what about your current drum setup?
Glenn: I have a Catalina Club-inspired kit from a small company in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It was called Donoho Drums—I think it was a single guy who handmade them. Somehow it ended up in a shop in Indiana where my friend bought it then traded it to me. I upgraded my cymbals with the Zildjian Sweet Ride and the Thin Crash. It was my birthday recently and it was a gift from a friend.
The HUB: You must have some good friends.
Glenn: Yeah, it’s awesome. I may get a bigger drum set at some point, and maybe Bonham-style stuff. I’m not super particular, but the volume matters because we play really loud. With drums, if they play okay then I’m fine. I’m more particular with cymbals. I like Zildjians but I’ve also played some really good Sabians and Meinl cymbals too. The high-end stuff of all the brands is pretty cool. Zildjians are affordable for their good stuff and the Sweet Ride is my all-time favorite cymbal.
The HUB: Dylan, what about you?
Dylan: I’ve never been really a gear person till lately. But I have friends who have guided me through it. I had a Hendrix Fuzz Face, and just got a new fuzz, actually. I got a nice pedalboard and I’m just trying to be more professional.
The HUB: What’s on your board right now?
Dylan: I just got a Death by Audio Fuzz War—it has so much range. I also have a Stigtronics Delay. All their stuff is amazing. There’s so much control, but it’s very simple. I also have an Earthquaker Levitation pedal—I really like that. It’s a delay and reverb with a cool vintage sound like old Texas rock ‘n’ roll.
The HUB: Josh, what’s your current setup like?
Josh: I was never that into pedals until I began playing guitar in Triptides. Slowly, I’ve been tacking on pedals and I still use most of them. I still have the TS9 Tube Screamer on the board. I use that with this band most of the time with the gain all the way down so it’s kind of like a mid boost. I’ve also got one of those EHX MEL9 pedal, which is nice and convenient. We used to bring out a MIDI keyboard and that was just to play one sample.
The HUB: I was going to ask you about that. When I listen to your records, there’s some stuff on there that’s clearly not guitars, drums, and bass. But you don’t strike me as a sample band.
Josh: No. Glenn plays organ, so there’s a lot of Farfisa. We’re also obsessed with the Mellotron, but since we don’t have access to one, we’ll use a sample since it’s beyond our means.
The HUB: Are you going for the standard Mellotron flutes and strings or are you digging deeper?
Glenn: We mostly use strings; we’ve done the Mellotron piano stuff including samples from people who actually own Mellotrons and Chamberlins and put them up on the Internet. There’s also an iPad app we’ve messed with — it’s a little more in-tune sounding, but for the most part we like the glitchy samples from real Mellotrons.
Dylan: Even if there’s a tape drop, like on the original Mellotron. [emulates sound]
The HUB: So, you’re covering Mellotron sounds as needed?
Josh: Yeah. We don’t really do it live yet with Frankie, but for our other band, Triptides. Other effects, I have a JHS Firefly Fuzz. A Tone Bender clone, I think. I also had a Red Witch Fuzz God II that I sold to Bulli to keep it in the family.
The HUB: It’s nice to get rid of something but still have access to it!
Josh: I love that Red Witch. It’s got a wide range and I love how it sounds before the Tube Screamer. It dirties it up even more and it isn’t so high end. And when you’re not playing, it feeds back in a cool way. Then I have a [BOSS] Space Echo and I’m borrowing a friend's Keeley Dark Side. I’m always switching things out depending on the sets we’re playing.
The HUB: When you’re touring, when you have to backline, do you just "go with it"? Or do you compensate with your pedals or guitar tones as necessary? You won’t necessarily know how the gear is going to react. What is your approach?
Josh: Today, playing out of those Orange amps for Jam In The Van, I’m not used to playing out of an amp like that...I usually play with a Fender DeVille, which is so clean. So, a lot of times when I would be using a clean tone with a little dirt, I’d just put the Tube Screamer on. But I can kind of get that tone already with just the gain turned up. So I won’t use the Tube Screamer as much. Or I’ll turn down the fuzz a little bit because it breaks up even more. But I feel we can make most amps work so long as it’s loud enough.
Dylan: We’ve definitely played shows where we’re told they have backline and then you get there and find the worst gear.
Alex: Like a 20-watt solid-state bass amp 1x12 combo. I use this really intense fuzz. It’s from Abominable Electronics, a Big Muff clone called the Hail Satan Deluxe. It’s got a clean blend and an LED clipping channel as well. Sometimes that fuzz channel will just be way too much if the amp is too sterile or too small. I like a bass amp that will push everything into its own space. Like the Orange OB1-500 that we used today was pretty nice.
The HUB: In your bio, Andy French said you’re “equal parts Northern soul, allnighter, Monterey Pop, modern warehouse wall-dripper all in one”. Listening to your records, it reminds me of the sound when you walk into a club or a high school gym as a band is playing. You hear this vocal wash over everything through the PA because there’s like three mics on the entire band going into an 8-channel mixer. It just kind of washes over everything and comes in and out. Without exposing too many secrets, how do you guys convey the feeling of that gig; how do you get that energy across?
Dylan: We switch it up with every record. When we started out, we wanted the blown-out, basement-PA sound. So we did vocals through amps to get that compressed, super-loud sound. As we’ve moved toward nicer tape and better quality equipment we want to focus on a whole spectrum of sound. It was once more important for it to sound loud and aggressive. And now I don’t necessarily want the whole record to sound like it’s live. For a heavy song it’s cool, but not on everything.
Glenn: It’s more like the Mellotron stuff is production; you’re not going to hear that live. It doesn’t matter whether we do it live or not when we make a record—we want it to be an experience. We’ve made some weird loops; Josh, Dylan and Alex got together and blew bubbles in water and Josh played a flute, which we’re not going to have live. But maybe some day…
The HUB: That’s interesting, because it doesn’t sound heavily overdubbed.
Glenn: We try to let each instrument say its part without the other instruments fighting it. We use compression to give everything its space.
Josh: And we never play to a click track. We may fluctuate tempo-wise, but we are all trying to be on the same wave.
The HUB: So do you track live for the basic stuff and overdub?
Glenn: Usually it’s just me and Dylan doing guitar and drums. Sometimes it’s the full band with bass and we DI [direct inject] the lead then redo it amped or something. It depends on the vibe for sure.
Alex: Sometimes we’ll have a song that day and we’re like, ‘Let’s just do the demo now.’ And the demo turns into the final recording.
The HUB: What’s your recording setup? You mentioned tape; are you working with specific studios or…?
Glenn: On the first couple of records we used Tascam 488 cassette machines. We switched to a Tascam 388 quarter-inch machine for the third record, Brain Telephone. We are currently starting to record with a Tascam 38, which is a half-inch tape machine.
The HUB: Are you going through a [mixing] desk or are you using a bunch of outboard preamps?
Glenn: We use a lot of external effects and a mixing board; it’s an old Yamaha thing.
Alex: A lot of times the drums go into the Yamaha then get mixed down to one or two tracks on the Tascam.
The HUB: Just on the fly?
Alex: Yeah. Sometimes it’ll be kick and snare and sometimes other stuff—any number of weird combinations that a producer would tell you not to do.
The HUB: Do you do a lot of bouncing?
Alex: Yeah, we’ll also bounce songs into Ableton and add more stuff on the tape machine then bounce that. We do some stuff digital, some stuff on tape.
The HUB: Are you totally mixing it yourselves or are you sending off any aspect of the production?
Glenn: Only mastering.
The HUB: Do you include notes, reference points from other albums?
Glenn: We do. We do a pass and we give feedback and then there’s maybe one more pass. We work with a really good dude, Cooper Crain. He really kills it. He knows what he’s doing, so it’s not so much our job to tell him what to do.
The HUB: You’ve done four albums in about four years so far. When you go to do a new one, do you have like 15 songs and start whittling it down. Or are you writing as you’re recording?
Dylan: For the most part, we usually have all the songs already; we’ll be finishing them while recording.
The HUB: Before you start the project do you sit down and say “This is the direction this album is going to go in”?
Dylan: Definitely. It’s an ongoing conversation because we always hang out together, anyway. We have a lot of ideas. We listen to a lot of old stuff, a lot of new stuff.
The HUB: What are the sonic touch points for you guys? What are the high-water marks for performance or sound (or both)?
Glenn: For production, I think Zeppelin's good, Electric Warrior by T. Rex was one of the best produced albums, then Josh likes more modern, minimalist post punk stuff. And then Bulli, you like all kinds of stuff. We listen to all sorts of stuff. I’m into weird, flanged-out ‘60s singles—garage stuff as much as I’m into electronic 80s...Well, maybe. [laughter]
The HUB: So, you hear something maybe try to replicate the sound in your own unique way and end up stumbling on something?
Glenn: Mess it up and then it’s different. We don’t have the budget for the EMI Studios-quality stuff; it always turns out different and we compensate in different ways.
Josh: Making the most of our limitations.
The HUB: That’s cool. You’ve gotta work with what you have.
Glenn: We need the money for important things for other parts of the record.
The HUB: Do you guys do the artwork yourselves?
Dylan: Mostly, yes. On the first couple of albums Alex and I would work together. He does all the digital work and I do the drawings. My girlfriend and I did the last one.
The artwork for their latest album, Brain Telephone.
Alex: Yeah, Dylan would draw something and then I’d scan it and clean it up, put color around it and add the text. Or I’ll manipulate a photo, like on Heavy Roller.
Dylan: We work with Permanent Records; they’ve put out every album we’ve done. They’re so cool about giving us freedom to do fun stuff like a little die-cut thing.
The HUB: Especially if your albums are so affordably done.
Dylan: Right. I think it’s just so fun to make this whole album an experience, ya know?
The HUB: What’s coming up for you guys?
Dylan: In two days we go on a six-week US tour and we’re really excited about that. We haven’t done one in like a year. It’s going to be cool; we’re playing with Mr. Elevator and some other cool bands along the way. We’ve got a cool festival in Portland coming up...Then we’ll take a break to do some writing and recording. Try to speed it up a little bit!
The HUB: Sounds great. Thanks, guys!