THINGS have changed for the Frank & Walters. The evergreen alternative rockers nowadays divide their time between music and day jobs that help pay the bills. Meanwhile, the 1990s’ indie scene of which they were part is gone never to return. But one thing endures: the group’s ability to knock out a winning anthem, brimming simultaneously with joy and pathos.
This is clear from the band’s seventh album, Songs For The Walking Wounded. Despite the serious title and singer Paul Linehan’s occasionally morose lyrics, the LP is, above all, a celebration. Twenty-six years in, the Franks remain as compelling and forward-looking as ever, with new single ‘We Are The Young Men’ arguably one of their most shimmering yet. This is no slight return — it is a triumphant comeback.
“It took a while to make,” says Linehan. “We could have recorded it a year earlier than we did. And I had the songs two or three years before that. Finding time was difficult – even just carving out a moment to jam can be a challenge.”
Taking on day-jobs was not something the band did lightly. But, after three decades, they recognised that exuberant indie pop alone would not make rent. In the case of frontman Linehan, however, “day job” is a loose definition as, when not leading the Franks, he earns a crust teaching songwriting from his home in Crosshaven, outside Cork city. Rock’n’roll is still his mainstay.
“I do a small bit of teaching here and there to keep going. Starting out obviously this was our full time occupation. We all do other things now. The band is still my main concern. The other members do have jobs.”
‘Walking Wounded’ refers to the scars — emotional or otherwise — we pick up across the years. In his 40s, Linehan has lost loved ones, suffered reversals and disappointments. Yet the title also has a more literal resonance. Sometimes he truly does feel as if he’s a codger tottering around.
“Some people have anxiety, depression issues as they get older. For others, it’s a case that your knees are starting to go. I have a bad back — I have to be careful. And for the past five years I’ve had a dodgy stomach. I can’t eat certain foods.”
The Franks are a classic example of a band refusing to adjust to the shifting winds of fame and fashion. By rights, their career ought to have fizzled out in the late 1990s, as their cheerleaders in the British music press turned elsewhere.
They’d had their moment — and even a number 11 hit in the UK with the chiming ‘After All’ (performed on Top of the Pops in 1992).
But the Franks were not necessarily enamoured of their swift rise to popularity. They were perfectly happy when things calmed down and they went back to being a mid-level indie act rather than leaders of the fictional ‘Corkchester’ scene (copyright pre-Britpop NME).
“I enjoy music a lot more today,” says Linehan. “Back then, I was probably too young to understand how the whole thing works. I know my limitations now. You can burn yourself out — which is something I did a lot of back then. I’ve learned how to handle different situations, different gigs. There’s a technique to that that it took me a while to master.”
Still, the glory days were genuinely glorious. The Frank & Walters counted Suede as an opening act and famously took Radiohead on tour as support (they all got on fabulously, though a young Thom Yorke was already comedically morose).
And they sold records at a time when shifting units in impressive numbers was something to which a young musician could realistically aspire. However, Linehan is wary of living in the past.
Gaze over your shoulder too much and there is a danger than your yesterdays will frame your sense of yourself. He’d rather be defined by what he is doing now.
“I want to live in the present and express myself in the present. As they get older a lot of bands seem to lose that desire. That’s why they give up, probably.
“They turn away from writing music — and might tour previous albums instead. I wouldn’t like to do that. I would find it boring.”
He is proud of the new record which features a cameo from Cork actor Cillian Murphy (who confessed to being a teenage fan) and sees the group utilising synthesisers — a departure from their last several projects.
“The thing about a band is that the singer’s voice is always going to sound the same,” says Linehan. “You can’t get away from that. Though I’m convinced Bob Dylan had someone else sing one of his songs once. But we always want to try new things rather than repeating ourselves.”
He cannot imagine a situation in which the Franks would break up. The closest they came was in the early 2000s when his brother Niall exited. However Paul and drummer Ashley remain at the heart of the group (augmented by recent recruits Rory Murphy and Cian Corbett).
As long as they want to go on making music together, they will endure. “Did it ever feel like the end? Maybe around 2000 when my brother left. I was never going to give up. Ashley was never going to give up. Once the two of us are there we can carry on. We both have that desire to continually express ourselves. There’s little friction in the band — we have a very similar sense of humour and a really good chemistry. That’s another reason we have continued.”
It is surely a cause of satisfaction that the Franks have endured even as many of their indie rivals and the music publications which built them up only to knock them down again have tumbled by the wayside.
“The internet has changed everything,” says Linehan. “You have your own Facebook and Twitter. You make your own way, you market yourself. Everything is equal on the internet. You don’t have to have a big record company behind you. There might be people out there who read reviews — but not as many as in the past. They might just hear a song on the radio and if they like it they’ll check out the band. It’s all very different from how it used to be.”