Jane Frank transcends generational divides on her new album
Jane Frank is often inspired by the music of the 60s, and it shows in the tunes she composes. “I really love oldies and I’m a huge Buddy Holly fan,” Frank says from her Boston home. “I also like Roy Orbison and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. I love how upbeat and simple a lot of the songs are.”
When she was young, Frank’s family moved from Chicago to Florida and then Houston, Texas. She grew up surrounded by music, and has fond memories of sitting next to her mother in front of the organ. “I recall my mother and I singing ‘My Favorite Things.’ She loved show tunes. In high school, I did theater and sang in the choir, but I didn’t try writing music until years later.”
Frank wrote about music for her college newspaper and says an interview she did with singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley changed her life. “She was pretty much my hero at the time,” Frank says. “Getting a call from her was pretty cool. I’d been writing stories and keeping a journal as long as I can remember, but the process of writing a song baffled me. I had no idea where to begin. She told me, ‘Just do it. There’s nothing more fun than playing music with your friends.’ She was right.”
She bought a guitar, learned a few chords and, after graduation, moved to San Francisco to hone her songwriting. She found a supportive musical community and put together her first EP, The Good and The Bad. “That record was about the good and bad in life, my former struggles with insomnia, depression and heartbreak, as well as the process of finding and accepting myself as an artist. The songs are angsty and emo.”
The self-released EP garnered positive attention, as did the shows Frank did to support it. She played solo, as a duo and in a six-piece band, but prefers smaller combos. “A solid three-piece backing band, with me singing, is best of both worlds. We can rock out!”
After she recorded The Good and the Bad in 2016, Frank started working on The Big Squeeze, her recently released debut. The songs on the album are full of sunshine and positivity and include the punky pop of “Goldeneye,” the Latin twang of “Washington” and the heartfelt piano ballad, “It Was a Good Dream.” Frank shared a few thoughts about her artistic process with The Globe.
Why did you choose “The Big Squeeze” as the title track?
I think it captures a theme that I wanted to get across – that we’re groundless, change is constant, but we’re okay. I know a lot of people who are having a hard time and I hope this record, especially the title track, will help them.
How does this album differ from the Good and Bad EP?
There are lots of differences, musically, stylistically and thematically. My writing process has evolved. For Good and Bad, the songs were written on guitar. For The Big Squeeze, I started writing with piano and some of the songs are piano-based. It’s lighter musically and that was intentional. I wanted to have fun writing and performing the songs, and hoped others would have fun listening to them. If I had to pick a theme, it would be taking the impermanence from The Good and Bad and finding stability through it, and even joy.
The title tracks of both albums were directly inspired by my practice of Shambhala Buddhism. “Good and Bad” borrows a quote from the lineage’s founder Chogyam Trungpa: “Good and bad, happy and sad, all thoughts vanish like the imprint of a bird in the sky.” The title and concept of “The Big Squeeze” is borrowed by a chapter of the same name, in a book called Start With Where You Are, by Pema Chodron. She’s a Shambhalian teacher and was one of Trungpa Rinpoche’s first students in the West.
Can you say a bit about your singing style? Your phrasing dances around the lyrics, sometimes adding a half a beat or elongating a phrase to make it slightly off meter. It creates a lovely tension on songs like “Oh, Science” and “Goldeneye.”
Before I ever wrote music, I wrote poetry for years. One of the things I actually love about writing music is that not everything has to line up or even rhyme perfectly to work. I’m pretty silly, and count Weezer and Ben Folds as major influences, so that may explain it, too.
Do you write all the time?
I write every day, although I don’t write music every day. I carry a tiny notebook and I also use voice memos to record ideas. Sometimes songs will come into my head at the weirdest times. Sometimes it sounds like a full band is playing in my head and I have never heard it before. So I’ll try to recreate each track, using my keyboard and voice memos, in case I want to record it later.
How has your songwriting changed over the years?
Every aspect of the process – performing, writing, recording, releasing and then performing again – is its own self-contained experience, but also influences the others. When I wrote the songs for The Good and Bad, it was just my guitar and me, so I overcompensated. I tried to fill all the space with lyrics and chords. Recording taught me to leave some room for something else. I used to say a whole lot in one song, but now I try to capture a precise feeling or situation and leave it at that. So, I guess I have learned to keep it simple – less is more.