“Frausdots was just a name that my brother and I used for Frosted Flakes in the ‘70s”: Beachwood Sparks’ Brent Rademaker reflects on his eighties-centric 2004 side project and how it coulda, woulda, shoulda…
BY TIM HINELY
Ed. Note: The concept behind our series “The Story Behind the Album” is pretty straightforward: what went into the making of a particularly noteworthy recording, as seen through the eyes of its creator(s). It can be an acknowledged classic or an under-the-radar gem, but the basic parameters are the same: a title that stands out in an artist’s catalog, one which has stood the test of time and still commands the respect of fans. It could even have been a critical flop or a commercially under-performing record upon its initial release, but the years have steadily unveiled its extant genius. Our first investigation was into Thee Hypnotics’ 1991 classic Soul Glitter & Sin. Then we took a look at New River Head by The Bevis Frond, followed by Rock ‘N’ Roll by The Cynics and From the Heart of Town by Gallon Drunk. All of those were penned by our man in Beijing, Jonathan Levitt. So…the hits just keep coming, folks, with the very special, and—shall we say, under the radar—gem created by the enigmatic Frausdots, as told to our best bro, blogger and bootlegger, the equally enigmatic Tim Hinely. —FM
In 2004 Sub Pop released a record titled Couture, Couture, Couture by a mysterious band named Frausdots. I knew who was involved because I think I had gotten an email from Ric Menck of Velvet Crush saying I should hear this record and that it was going to be a monster. The group apparently involved Brent Rademaker, who at the time was in country-rock heroes Beachwood Sparks and was previously in the noise pop band further (among others). Frausdots was essentially the duo of Rademaker and Michelle Loiselle though, as you’ll read below, several other folks played on it. As soon as I put the record on I liked it instantly, with its dark, brooding songs and it sounded a lot like a lot of the U.K. acts that I liked in the ‘80s. As you’ll read below, those were big influences on Rademaker.
In fact, it seems like the band proudly wore their influences. One could hear echoes of bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and The Cure as well as The Chameleons UK — in fact, Roger O’Donnell from the Psychedelic Furs/The Cure played on the record — with its icy synth work, stoic bass lines and vocals straight out of a song from a John Hughes movie. The frist line from opening cut “Dead Wrong”, where they clip some lyrics from America’s “Horse with No Name” had me even more curious.
At the time both AllMusic and even Pitchfork gave it solid/positive reviews but as mentioned earlier, the record seemed to sink without a track after some initial excitement.
Anyway, I’ve always kind of felt like the album sank without a trace and didn’t get it proper due, so I emailed Brent and wanted to see if he’d answer some questions about what the making of the record was like and he agreed. Here, in his words, is the making of Couture Couture Couture…
BLURT: How did the idea for the band come about?
RADEMAKER: Out on tour with Beachwood Sparks and the Shins, Jimi Hey (drummer) was really getting into the post-punk music I had on tape. The music of my late teens especially the Chameleons…so we dreamt up a new band that would play music from 1980-‘85 we even started incorporating some of the sounds into the current Beachwood songs on stage (chorused out bass and static drumming) I think the first name was The Despair Gazette.
At the time were you living in California or Florida?
I was living in Mt Washington in Los Angeles.
I actually knew her sister Mary from the new wave clubs of Tampa in the early to mid ‘80s; Michelle was more into hard rock and metal. Michelle and I became friends when she was working for BMG publishing where further was signed. We became friends then.
Do you remember the initial songwriting sessions and/or practices?
We had one practice with Jimi and it sounded great really dynamic and exciting …very Script of the Bridge….but it never went beyond that and I ended up making a demo of 5 songs after hours at the studio where I was composing commercial jingles…I have a vague memory of the first writing sessions where I came up with a song called D.I.E. I was really excited and made a great demo but never captured the same feel upon recording it with a band…too bad it was great song. Ariel Pink had the demo and really liked it… I played the song recently for him in a hotel in the desert…
Was the nod to the ‘80s pre-planned?
Yes for sure. I was kinda thinking what a record woulda sounded like if I we woulda done it in ‘84 before I got into all the Byrds and Country & Western…you have to understand, musicians, ALL of them, there’s always inspiration from somewhere (we are just a little too skilled at dialing in our influence). I mean if you listen I’m singing in my own voice but the inflections are slight but they are there and it’s Mac, Ian C. even a nod to J. Cope (compare the outrw to Dead Wrong and the intro to “Culture Bunker” by Teardrop Explodes…it’s a nod).
What kinds of stuff were you listening to for inspiration?
The same stuff I grew up on: Cope/Teardrops/Bunnymen/Chameleons/Care/Cure especially the Wish LP which Ben Knight and I wore out on a Tyde tour the year before…there was also an element of folks like Jackson Browne and Poco etc. going all striped shirt and skinny tie and pastel blazer…that kinda of California record.
How did the producer Jimmy Sloan play into it all? What ideas did he have?
He had amazing gear and a studio in the hills that looked down on LA and he was very supportive and encouraging and I think without him it might have sounded way more ‘80s. He added more of a timeless element to the production…he was really patient and supportive to a point especially with my personal problems. At the time I was a bit prickly about it, but now I’m happy with the classic elements he brought to it (guitar tones and vintage gear). But in an all-time karmic Larry David type situation I got myself together, totally clean and focused to finish the record, but Jimmy and an AA buddy of his refused to believe I had it together no matter what I said and we had a falling out…I guess I deserved it but not then…it’s funny now…it was kinda funny then as well…surreal. He just sent me a friend request of FB so I guess we are good now. I’m glad; he’s talented, and honestly the recording is top notch!
Who came up with the name, Frausdots?
That was a name that my brother Darren and I used for Frosted Flakes cereal in the ‘70s. I just changed the spelling to make it more German and cold sounding.
And the album title, Couture, Couture, Couture…what does that mean?
That was Michelle’s input we started conceptualizing the fashion side. Which is cool but looking back I shoulda paid more attention to the music. I was kinda fucked up and partying a lot at the time of making the LP…I think in frustration one night I yelled “Couture, Couture, Couture” – I didn’t even know why? It was cool that fashion models picked up on the titles and themes…it even was used in “America’s Next Top Model.”
Had Sub Pop planned on releasing it from the get-go or did they need to hear the recordings first?
Tony Kewiel from Sub Pop heard the 5 song demo and seemed to really like it and I signed a one off deal.
The first session with Ric Menck had some excitement to it. He understood the song “Dead Wrong” from the get-go and played it perfect I remember playing the roughs back to him and he said “It’s gonna blow minds!” That was a fun day, a good memory. Hanging with keyboard player Carl Tapia in between recording and both of us being so giddy when Roger O’Donell from the Cure agreed to play on a couple of songs. That felt cool…Wearing our overcoats… Watching the massive wildfires burn from way up in the hills was something that stuck with me…added to the gloom.
Whose idea was it to put the lyrics to the America song on “Dead Wrong?”
I just sang it, I always really liked “Sister Golden Hair” better..I ended up paying them 5% of the royalties to that song and that was a bit of money as that song was used in a bunch of TV shows.
I felt like “Fashion Death Trends” should have been a huge hit……did you? Same with “A Go-See.”
I can see why they didn’t become hits but.junkie anthems rarely become hits.
From your perspective, how was the response to the record? Did you guys do any touring or play some individual gigs?
I put two versions of a live band together and played quite a few shows…I was surprised by the response especially as most people knew me from a country band…But in fairness to the guys, I didn’t lead very well. Too bad, it coulda been killer, they were great players with great attitudes. As far as the response it seems my personal problems delayed the record and by that time the ‘80s revival had hit. Too bad; I would’ve loved to be the ones to introduce the kids to this music. I think Interpol did a good job at it though. The response was tainted.
Is there anything you’d want to change about the record?
I wish I would’ve paid more attention to the bass parts. I played most of the guitar on the record and that was fun but I neglected the bass parts and that was my main instrument. I know EVERY Joy Division and Bunnymen bass part there is and I just played it all down in one take…bass is such a crucial instrument in that era of music…too bad that’s karma again I guess. Also maybe the cover for sure I had GREAT concept but it didn’t get done. But as far as the music, it’s dangerous to explore those kind of feelings…as I still make music today and you don’t wanna second guess yourself while doing it or think too much…
Is that a shot of Los Angeles on the cover?
It is…I guess it’s kinda cool after all…but you shoulda seen what I wanted….much darker. I’d like to see it on a 12″ it’d look cool. J Mascis was lobbying for a vinyl release a while back, but nope.
Anything you wanted to add about the project or the record? Anything that I didn’t ask about?
If you look at the list of musicians you’ll see a lot of my friends made incredible contributions but it was Hunter Crowely, the drummer from Brian Jonestown Massacre, a dude I only knew casually, that made the greatest contribution of all. He played on all of the songs but one and was SO SOLID and everything he did was perfect…he NAILED IT…it was like he had played those songs for years. I was lucky he came into the studio that day. I just wanted him to play a Pete de Freitas type beat on one song “Contact” and he just kept whipping through them song after song and he refused to yield…awesome! A lot of folks don’t realize his contribution because he didn’t play live with us…check out Contact or Broken Arrows…he’s a monster!
Thank you so much…I never really think about what went in to making this record only the crazy circumstances surrounding it and my life in those three years…I’m really glad you like it…that makes it all worthwhile.
This story originally appeared in slightly different form at Dagger zine, which coincidentally is run by Tim Hinely.
On the web: Sub Pop www.subpop.com
Beachwood Sparks www.thecalmingseas.com