Frankie McQueen's brand of psychedelia isn't contained by generic titles or, as it turns out, set lists, either.
Primed to celebrate its fourth anniversary as a band, the local rockers behind Frankie McQueen represent the latest wave of Calgary musicians to take up the torch of reverb and rebellion. Its status as an up-and-comer to watch was cemented in 2009, when Frankie captured the “Rockstar” crown at a radio-sponsored battle of the bands and walked away $200,000 richer. There was a catch, however — these grand prize winnings are earmarked for recording studio expenses. But still, it’s a hell of an allocated shot in the arm for a group of greenhorns that cut their teeth on the Wednesday wing-night pub scene.
“Connor (Muth, drummer) and Kelly (O’Keefe, bassist) started the band back in high school,” reports vocalist-guitarist Scotty Charles. “They had been jamming and trying out singers for a while and knew about my singing and playing abilities from seeing me perform in various talent shows and with my band Fang. They were heavily influenced by the old Calgary indie and garage bands (such as) Telly; at the time, and Rob Eight from Telly was a youth pastor who got all those boys playing together.”
“We all loved Telly’s song ‘Frankie McQueen,’” he continues. “And we asked if we could use it as our name. They gave us the thumbs-up and by the end of our first gig together the crowd, at the Nova music showcase, was chanting ‘Frankie! Frankie!’ In that moment, we knew we had something worth pursuing.”
Continuing to build Frankie McQueen’s momentum and character along with founding members O’Keefe and Muth, Charles helped to bring guitarist Scott Giffin to the fold during the recording of its debut EP. A late-night brainstorming session that precipitated music lessons and a fast friendship, the addition of Giffin strengthened the band’s sound as well as its sense of purpose.
“Scott and I hit it off right from the get-go,” explains Charles. “We just started jamming and the hard rockin’ ideas haven’t stopped coming since. Even though we have rather different musical tastes and backgrounds, we all mesh together very well onstage. As guitarists, Scott and I tend to go back and forth a lot, whether we’re working on a sexy ballad, a big bluesy number or a ripping-fast metal song, eventually one of us will ignite out of a jam and create something that becomes a song. There’s really no designated driver in Frankie McQueen — too many assholes trying to backseat drive. I’ve found the best thing you can do in that situation is get them to drink more beer and then let ’em steer the ship for a while.”
With a second EP in the works, it appears Frankie McQueen’s ship is indeed due to come in again. Parlaying their new take on an old sound into indie gold, the organic psych-rock foursome is eager to immortalize the evolution of the Frankie McQueen sound — now with the aid of esteemed producer Graham Sharkey.
Prone to performing with his eyes shut — only to open them and find himself halfway through a set — Charles relishes the otherworldly experience of sharing his audio art in a live setting. In fact, the group is known to perform without a formal “set list,” opting to go with the flow, sometimes recording the order of songs after the fact to be presented in their “natural” order the next time. This talent may well be Frankie McQueen’s greatest asset, as it allows the intuitive quartet to present a moment while remaining present in the moment.
“When we’re onstage we know that it’s our time to shine,” Charles explains of his band’s alter ego. “Frankie McQueen is the kinda guy who rolls into a joint and immediately captures everyone’s attention and completely takes over. He’s a leader, not a follower. He’s a total badass. When I’m talking about Frankie McQueen the man, I’m talking about the most lovable douche bag on the planet.”