I remember, at the dawn of the new millenium, reading an interview with guitarist Patrick Kennison of The Union Underground where he said that he just couldn't believe how we all managed before the internet. Eight years later and the internet is a vital as oxygen to music fans and musicians alike. For every bloated Blackie Lawless-shaped rock dinosaur bitching about loyal ticket-buying fans taking cell phone footage in case they post in online ("but, hey, they can buy my autograph for £30 at the merch table") there are a thousand young bands using viral marketing to get seen and heard by potentially millions of new eyes and ears. And it was on yet another trawl through cyberspace searching for some cool new music that I stumbled upon Frankie Whyte & The Dead Idols.......
Frankie Whyte is a 21 year old badass frontwoman who resides in Toronto, Canada. She sings, plays lead and rhythm guitar, and also drums. Not at the same time although, given the talent and enthusiasm that this girl possesses, I'm sure she'd give it a shot! After bonding over a mutual love of ass-kicking rock 'n' roll and 80's horror movies, I managed to get Frankie to take a few minutes to talk me through the opening chapters of her story.
"I never had that grand epiphany, "THIS is why I want to play music", it was a part of my household; neighbours were always swinging through at any given time and kicking out the jams. When I was old enough (9 years old) it was a natural progression for me to get an instrument of my own - drums, and then guitar at eleven. My biggest influence at the time was Kiss; I had to learn all of the Ace licks and Peter Criss fills on 'Alive'!! The first solo I ever learned was the live version of 'She' followed by the studio version of 'Love Gun'. Through Kiss, I think I realized the power of lead guitar. Anyone can sit down in a guitar store and play an A chord - I wanted to play something fast, impressive, powerful. I was the kid who had to learn this, had to learn that, had to tell people what I was listening to, had to wear the shirts so that people would know what I was listening to without asking me. When you're just starting out and you haven't heard the world yet, it's an endless stream of inspiration. It's band after band, player after player, instruments with different sounds and purposes and bombast. I wanted to be equipped to play in any musical situation - if I ran into a guitar player and a bass player, fine, I'd play drums. And vice versa with guitar."
In her own words, Frankie describes her band and their sound as "explosive, loud, throwin' fists and rock horns, leather jackets, tight pants, guitar solos, yelling at the top of your lungs, sweat, teeth, blood, dreams, hard work, dirt, pride and big rock shows!!!" And, after listening to their infectious blend of classic rock riffs and catchy power pop sensibilities, you'd be foolish to disagree.
Following the release of a five track EP, the band are currently putting a few final touches to their full length debut, produced by Duncan Coutts, bassist of Canadian alternative rock giants Our Lady Peace.
"I met Duncan at my parents' house, believe it or not. Picture a 16 year old kid walking into their kitchen one day and there's a rock star standing in it! Rad as hell! It took me about two years post that meeting to get my shit together to where I felt confident enough in my playing to show someone like Duncan. I was never the kid who said "Hey, I play instruments - check me out." I was, and am, always ten times critical of myself - first impressions are the only impressions. Around the same time, I was at a crossroads in my life; all I wanted to do was rock and "fuck you and everything else that comes with life, let me make my own way." I figured if there was anyone who could help me do this, it would be Duncan. He understood rock music like no-one else I'd met prior. So I home recorded some songs and riffs, called him up, and the next thing you know I'm sitting in his basement talking about which Ace solo is the best, and he's really pushing me to be the best I can be."
Seeing that Coutts himself is something of a multi-instrumentalist, I ask Frankie how much of the album she is playing herself.
"The project of Frankie Whyte & The Dead Idols started with the recordings. On the disc, it's only Frankie Whyte and Duncan Coutts. Between the two of us we split it up like a live band, as if there were two guitarists, one bassist and a drummer. I would play all of the leads, some rhythm, all of the drums. He would play the harmony leads, rhythm, and all of the bass. I would sing, we'd both do backups. Not to mention that he rips a mean tambourine!"
But what of The Dead Idols? Frankie is so cool you'd be forgiven for forgetting that she is backed by a good-looking, kickass band.
"The Dead Idols? They took too long to rally, dude! But it was worth the search. You want to find the gang who will take a bullet for you and you for them. The songs were finished and we needed guys who understood our vision, we wanted a band - not hired guns - that would become a part of the process next time 'round. After too many jams with none of the right guys, I got a real pro message from Dan citing his influences as Halen and Guns. You realize that everyone wants to be the lead guitar player but, hey, here's a guy who can play as much as the next and is comfortable enough in his own skin to play and rock rhythm guitar with style. Through Dan, we asked his guitar slingin' buddy GM to come out and pull merch for us while Duncan subbed on bass. Honestly, I don't think GM could stand watching other people play while he wasn't! Sooner than later he was learning bass and killin' the tunes!"
But do the guys in the band have equal footing or are they 'her' band?
"They have big opinions of their own which they do not shy away from voicing, and so they should. It's their band too. So, I guess my answer would be yes, it is a democracy."
The afore-mentioned viral marketing on networking sites and the like can be a powerful tool for a clued-in young band. With regular postings of fly-on-the-studio-wall footage of the band on YouTube and their music tearing out of several MySpace profiles, it seems that Frankie has a real grasp on how the internet can work in a band's favour.
"When we first started our MySpace, I really resisted the internet. I felt pretty rattled about the concept of the 'rock star' being totally obliterated due to the public feeding off of the media. Everyone's doing documentaries, YouTube videos, reality television. I don't want to see a rock star in his or her natural habitat - I want the mystique, I want the larger than life experience. That being said, you can't ignore today's standards just because you're romantic about the glory days. I do think YouTube is very important, keeping your site looking fresh and updated, sending people messages, letting the world know who you are, getting in people's faces. It all helps."
I'm sure that the laziest journalists in the lamest circles (and, unfortunately, they are legion) would tiredly focus on the fact that Frankie Whyte is female. I tell Frankie that I get the impression that she is a rock 'n' roller who just happens to be a girl.
"I would agree with that 100%. Rock 'n' roll, it's like showing your stripes or wearing your colours. Loud and proud, baby. It doesn't matter who you are as long as you're passionate about it. Rock fans - we sweat for it, we're all walking similar roads, it's in our blood. I can't, and wouldn't want to, be any other way."
But what about the typical meathead in the crowd who'll yell the usual kind of sexist abuse?
"Haven't run into too much of that yet. Most of the guys just think you're hot as hell when you play guitar!"
Invariably, when faced with a badass female rocker, most would drag out the oft-used Joan Jett comparison. Whilst I'm a card carrying member of the appreciation society for this true rock goddess, I'd have to admit that I find the tired scribblings of music journalists using this most familiar of pigeon holes as appealing as their male pattern baldness. I guess that Frankie has had this mentioned before.....
"Does Rick Allen have one arm?! I get the JJ comparison pretty often! I saw Joan open for Aerosmith this past summer and you know what? She was amazing, she is a real leader. Do I listen to her music? I have her records but I don't pull them out unless it's for something specific. Do I appreciate the comparison? Here's a legend that has paved the way for future guitar wrangling girls to come - yeah, you could say I more than appreciate it! Would I rather someone say "Hey, wow, you can really hear Joe Perry in that solo you just played." Mmm, yeah, but he's one of my heroes. Would I rather someone acknowledge me as something completely my own? Definitely. But that's not realistic, there's always going to be comparisons. I have my heroes, I am a girl and I play my guitar - I don't just wear it. I rock leather jackets, I don't act or put on an act. It's natural for people to draw the Joan Jett comparison; she's honest, she's real, and she aggressively knows her way around a fretboard."
I'm well aware that my next question could well group me in with the most cliched of music writers that I so despise. In a conversation with a female Canadian musician, I am about to mention female Canadian musician Avril Lavigne. But there is a method to my madness. I remember the first Lavigne press that I read - it was in an issue of Classic Rock magazine and she was written about in the same article as the (then) pioneers of the newly-dubbed 'nu-breed of power pop', namely Marvelous 3, Tsar and SR-71. I remember taking bets on how long it would take a record company to turn this skater girl into a bleached blonde vamp - it wasn't long. I got the feeling that Frankie would give a great reply if I asked her how she would react if a label came along and tried to mould her in a similar fashion.
"I would tell them to shove it! I'm 21 years old, I'm grown. I'm not a 16 year old wonderkid who's looking up to suits with a marketing plan to follow. I am who I am and it is what it is. Like I said, rock 'n' roll is like showing your stripes and I've been wearin' em for 21 years. That being said, as a listener, we have to be able to distinguish between someone being moulded and someone evolving. People cut and dye their hair, maybe dress a bit differently because they're getting a little older, people experiment musically as they hear fit. Cool. Great. This concept shouldn't be hard for people to grasp and yet, sometimes it is. I've had blue, blonde, brown, black, red and pink hair. I also listen to different kinds of music - Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Depeche Mode. Do those things make me any less of a rock 'n' roller? Not in my heart and not to the people who know me. Kiss took the make up off, then they put it back on; Aerosmith did a blues record; Bon Jovi did a country record; Def Leppard did an old school covers record; Nikki Sixx combined eclectic sounds with Sixx AM; Metallica went out and damn near cut all of their hair off and then played with a symphony. I don't think any of that can make those acts any less rock 'n' roll and they certainly weren't being moulded. If anything, I think it's good on them to be taking chances, most people are afraid to seize those opportunities. It's all evolution, it was true and real for them, all of them, which is what makes it rock again. And I think that alone, honesty, is what seperates you from those who follow a formula, fake it or are moulded. You gotta call your own shots, stick to your guns, and you'll stay rock."
Talking to Frankie and digging out some research, you get the feeling that she is a big fan of the much-maligned yet totally awesome genre affectionately known as cock rock.
"Maligned? Is it really? Pffft! That's bull! Yes, I am a huge fan of what most people refer to as 'cock rock'. Rock music, it makes you feel invincible, like nothing can touch you, you don't think - you live for the moment. It's loud and in your face and the show is just as important as the music. It's about flash and attitude and playing your heart out and having a good fucking time with a stadium full of your closest friends."
Frankie lists Alice Cooper, Bon Jovi, Kiss, Motley Crue, Aerosmith, The Police and Depeche Mode as her favourite bands. Richie Sambora and Joe Perry check her guitar heroes box and Eric Singer, Tommy Lee and Stewart Copeland do likewise for the drums. Lyrically, Depeche Mode's Martin Gore and Gordon Downie of The Tragically Hip are cited as influences. And best lookers?
"Ha! Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Sambora, Perry......"
"I dig Steven Tyler, Joe Elliot, Vince Neil, Jon Bon Jovi and Jovi harmonies - so, Richie Sambora. Can I sing like any of those guys? No. They have thirty-some years on me and I'm a girl. It's the attitude that they capture that's inspiring to me. I think that Pink has a real edge to her voice that's complimented by her skills as a vocalist - that's something I'd like to be able to achieve someday."
Notice Alice Cooper at the head of the favourite bands list? Frankie appears to have some kind of Alice obsession!
"Cooper is BOSS! His presence is power, his music is dynamic and agressive and positive. When I was 16, I started taking guitar lessons from (Coop guitarist) Ryan Roxie whenever they came through town. Cooper's whole band - Roxie, Chuck Garric, Eric Dover, Eric Singer - all of them filled me with confidence and made me feel a part of the club. When people reach out to you and change your life it makes you want to do better, keeps you focused. I'll go to bat for Cooper and his band anyday."
Given that Frankie is relatively retro-fuelled in her influences, I ask her what modern bands turn her stomach or make her change the channel.
"Not to sound non-confrontational, but music is music. If I see someone who's genuine and enjoying what they do then good on 'em for doing it. However, there seems to be a growing toxic trend of new bands that I've seen live and it just seems like they're throwing it away, not putting any effort into their performances, complaining about the lifestyle and/or can't keep it together. That gets me so hot! Like Paul Stanley says, "If you're lucky enough to get what you wanted, SHUT UP!" I say shut up or step aside. Let someone else have it who wants it, who will continue to work hard even when they have it, who will earn it from their audience every night. That's part of why I love rock 'n' roll so much. Those bands I previously listed, no matter how old they are, no matter their sales, they are ON 100%. It's about the moment. You'll never see Slash or Duff looking bored on stage."
Before putting this interview to bed, I tell Frankie that almost every other European writer would namecheck Bryan Adams when questioning any other musician from Canada, like he is some Canadian rock god or something. But all of us cool kids know that THE Canadian Rock God is Jon Mikl Thor! I ask Frankie for her comments on this rock/acting/hot water bottle bursting/bar bending legend. I pray that she's seen him buying groceries!
"Blowing up water bottles, bending steel, breaking shit!!!??? Imagine walking into your local grocery store and seeing 'John Triton / Rock 'N' Roll NIghtmare' Jon Mikl Thor in the flesh! Not a chance!! I've seen Geddy Lee around from time to time though, just as heavy in my books!!"
So, finally, with an album to be released this year, I ask Frankie where, ultimately, would she be happy in taking her career? Albums released and support slots with major acts or total domination? Her answer is as ballsy and bold as I would have hoped,
"Go big or go home
- world domination!!"
Interviewed by Gaz E.
Visit the Frankie Whyte & the Dead Idols Website