|The Flashcubes (l-r): Gary Frenay, Paul Armstrong, Arty Lenin & Tommy Allen|
Thursday, 17 May 2012
Interview: Gary Frenay (The Flashcubes)
#345: Hello ... Hello ... my old friends ... It's great to see you once again! In the ELO Beatles Forever (ELOBF) interview booth today is Gary Frenay - who is co-founder, bassist, guitarist and vocalist for The Flashcubes - from Syracuse, NYC - for this short long distance interview with Yours Truly KJS relative to the recent release of their Roy Wood covers album "Sportin' Wood" thus:
KJS: We have finally been able to sample The Flashcubes new Roy Wood tribute album “Sportin’ Wood” thanks to its recent release in Japan and we are all suitably impressed with it! First thing first. Please fill us in about The Flashcubes, their origin and their musical journey from 1977 to 2012?
GF: We all met in 1977 while working at the same record store in Syracuse, NY. The Punk and New Wave scenes were big then, and we were certainly part of that, but we were also a power pop band, who were influenced by the British Invasion and the early seventies US power pop bands like The Raspberries, Big Star and The Dwight Twilley Band. We made a name for ourselves, mostly in the north-east USA, and released two indie 45's. We broke up in 1980, and went our separate ways. In the early '90's, our single "Christi Girl" was released on the Rhino "DIY (Do It Yourself) Anthology" CD "Come Out & Play: American Power Pop - Vol. 1". That sort of gave us a new lease of life. We started doing annual reunion gigs then in Syracuse and assembled our own Anthology CD "Bright Lights" - which was released in 1997. The following year, we travelled to Los Angeles to take part in the International Pop Overthrow (IPO) Festival. Several power pop fans from Japan saw us, bought our CD, and took it back to Japan with them where they shared it with other like-minded fans - and Hiroshi Kuse - who runs the label Airmail Recordings. He offered us a deal to distribute our CD in Japan and brought us over to tour in early 2002. Since that first CD, he has released five more of our CD's in Japan, including our new album. We just went over for another tour last month. A pretty amazing experience for a bunch of old guys!
KJS: The Flashcubes are Tommy Allen, Paul Armstrong, Arty Lenin & Gary Frenay. Could you tell us about the personalities in the band and their roles?
GF: Tommy is the drummer, our studio wizard who produces our recordings, and is the biggest Raspberries fan in the world! Paul was actually born in Nuneaton, England and his mum is a proud Brummie! He moved here as a child and was raised in the Syracuse area. He's the brasher element in the band. Live, he's the one singing Sex Pistols and Ramones covers! He also sings"Wild Tiger Woman" on the new disc. Arty is an amazing lead guitarist and singer. He sings "Forever", "Curly", "Brontosaurus" and "The Rain Came Down On Everything" on the CD. I'm the bass player and lead singer in the band. A major Beatles and Beach Boys fan, who came up with the idea for our Roy tribute disc. I was the one who kept pushing the idea on everyone, and created all the demos we worked from. I'm sort of the organizer in the band.
KJS: It’s pretty obvious as to who one of your major musical influences is! But besides Roy Wood, what other artistes inspire you and ‘The Flashcubes’?
GF: Paul is way into harder rock like Mott The Hoople, Black Sabbath, The Faces and Led Zeppelin. Anything loud and British! Tommy is, as I said, way into power pop, but also loves more modern pop bands like Prefab Sprout and The Pernice Brothers. Arty is a big fan of Ray Davies, The Velvet Underground, The Left Banke and Richard Thompson. I'm mostly a pop fan, with my heroes being Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach, Todd Rundgren and Jeff Lynne.
GF: I heard The Move in 1969, and my first band Fieldstone used to try to play "Hello Susie" in the early '70's. After The Flashcubes broke up, Tommy, Arty and I had a band called Screen Test - from 1980 to 1986 - and we used to do "Hello Susie" live at our shows. A good friend of ours had a live tape of us doing it, and shared it with me a few years back. That was probably what got us thinking about it. We had done a studio album in 2002 called Brilliant which was all originals. In thinking of a follow-up, we thought it was going be tough to reach any more people with another CD of our own songs than we had with "Brilliant". So one day, during a brainstorming session, I suggested that we do an album of all Roy Wood songs. The idea was the easy part. The follow through - actually finishing the album - was much harder!
KJS: “Sportin Wood” is a wonderful album and truly a quality nod to Roy’s musical legacy. What was it about Roy’s music that appealed to you and how did you go about selecting which songs to record?
GF: As I say in the liner notes to the album, Roy is a British Invasion, Glam, Prog, Hard Rock, Power Pop and Singer/Songwriter - all rolled into one. A multi-instrumentalist, an outrageous performer and a wildly original - and prolific - songwriter. We all had favourites that we wanted to do and we just tried to arrive at a list that represented our collective tastes. Many songs I love didn't make the cut "Dear Elaine", "Any Old Time Will Do" and "It's Not Easy" to name a few, but being in a band is always an exercise in compromise and we are - ultimately - all thrilled with the final product!
KJS: What are your aspirations for the album? How are sales going?
GF: We just hope to reach new people who are into Roy, and have them find our other recordings. Obviously, Roy is a legend in the UK. But in the US, he is like a "best kept secret" for Anglophiles like us! We do hope that our fans will be inspired to search out Roy's own recordings as a result of hearing our disc. Sales are very brisk in Japan, and the album will be released for digital sales worldwide (iTunes) on June 1st.
KJS: The band recently travelled over to Japan for some live dates. What was the reaction to your promotional tour and the response to the release of “Sportin’ Wood”? Are you getting regular air play out there in FM radio land?
GF: We have a pocket of fans in Japan who treat us like we are The Beatles! It's truly amazing! They know the words to every song that we've written. They rush the stage, sometimes they even jump ON the stage to sing with us! They love Roy Wood! "Hello Suzie" and "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" were highlights every time we played them. Radio play is just starting for us with limited play here in Syracuse, but also at a few station in NYC, NJ, Connecticut and Massachusetts. We've been hesitant to push too much until the CD is released in June.
KJS: Are there any plans for those Flashcubes to tour the US and beyond - even England - promoting the release?
GF: We're really hoping a British label will pick it up for distribution in the UK, given Roy's standing there. We've sent it to a few labels already, but have nothing to report yet. We have always dreamed of touring in England, and after our success in Japan, we guess anything is possible!
KJS: If you had to pick a favourite track on the CD, What would it be and why?
GF: From my perspective, probably either "Green Glass Windows" or "Givin' Your Heart Away" because both of those are a bit more obscure than say, "Blackberry Way" or "Forever" which were both huge UK hits. It was really fun shining a light on those two unsung gems!
KJS: What will be the next Flashcubes project Gary? Can you give us a clue or three?
GF: We keep joking that Jeff Lynne is next! In fact, as we were putting the track list together for this CD, we'd keep running into Move songs we loved, only to look at the credits and see Jeff's name, instead of Roy's! But seriously, we're just going work really hard to get this one heard by as many people as possible. If that happens, who knows where it will lead us? That's the fun part!
KJS: Here’s a question that I always ask next when interviewing for ELOBF: Gary, what would be your personal favourite song by The Move, Roy Wood, ELO and The Beatles?
GF: If I have to chose one, it would be the following: "Blackberry Way", "Why Does Such A Pretty Girl (Sing Those Sad Songs)", "Strange Magic" and "Penny Lane".
KJS: ELO Beatles Forever is pleased to have introduced The Flashcubes to the ELOBF universe and we have also recently reviewed "Sportin' Wood". The album, as previously mentioned, has already been released in Japan. But we are all eagerly awaiting news of its release in the States and Europe. Could you please advise visitors to ELOBF just how to get a hold of "Sportin' Wood" both now and in yet future days?
GF: Right now, it's only available from airmailrecordings.com - as an import from Japan. After 1st June, it will be available on iTunes and, hopefully in physical form later in the summer on a UK label. We're hoping!
Yours Truly KJS would like to extend my appreciation and thanx to Gary Frenay for participating in this interview. ELO Beatles Forever (ELOBF) recommends "Sportin' Wood" by The Flashcubes to those enlightened folks who also like ELO/Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood, The Move, 'Brum Beat', The Beatles and related artistes.
Until next "Time" in the ELO (and related) universe ... KJS ... 17-May-2012