Frankie and The Heartstrings

Following a few fledgling endeavours and, more recently, the release of their acclaimed debut album Hunger, Sunderland's Frankie and The Heartstrings have finally hit the big time. By virtue of their origin, the band now find themselves aligned with a rich indie-rock tapestry - a standing of which front man Frankie Francis is acutely aware. "There's about three or four bands that have done anything of any kind of merit outside of Sunderland. Bands like Field Music, The Futureheads, a couple of punk bands as well."


Though the area has its fair share of bands clamoring for an all-too-elusive success, Francis' home tends to champion community over competition. According to Francis, the approach simply makes the most sense. "I think in Sunderland you have to stick together if you want to succeed in any kind of way, simply because together you're stronger," he explains. "It's such a small community. When we first started out we would borrow - and we still do borrow - The Futureheads' and Field Music's equipment sometimes if we're in need of it and likewise we would do the same for them. It's more of a community than anything. It's quite nice, because I think a scene is quite competitive whereas a community is quite supportive and we're lucky to be a part of that."


Frankie and The Heartstrings current acclaim evolved from the band's dare to dream. "When we started the band, we just wanted to do something for ourselves and show our peers in Sunderland that we could do it as well. We had no intention at all of taking outside the area - but, pretty soon, after the first couple of gigs, we realised it was going in that direction," Francis recalls. "People were asking us to gigs outside our area - in London, Manchester, Scotland as well - so we knew that something was happening. You begin to question 'What if this did go all the way and we did get a record deal and did travel around the world?' "


Currently the band are signed to Rough Trade. The deal was an immensely flattering proposition for the group, whom at the time subscribed to the daily grind. "Up until then, we all had what you'd call normal jobs: nine to five, play out all weekend and repeat again. So it's still pretty real and we're very, very privileged and very, very lucky to be in this position."


Fittingly, as per their namesake, Francis adopted the position of front man within the band. Though initially he displayed an inclination towards playing bass, his band mates soon dispelled any such ambitions. "The only instrument I could play to some kind of low level was the bass. It wasn't the fact that I didn't want to sing - the suggestion was made that I make the transition," he reveals. "I was up for it and I realised that, because I have no instrument to play, I've got nothing to hide behind. I've got to give as much, if not twice as much, in my performance. I'm the middle-man between the band and the crowd and if I don't make that a connection then I haven't done my job that evening. So I try really hard to make everyone - as in the band and the people watching - on the same page and everyone feeling the same vibes."


Francis identifies his role as rewarding as it was initially challenging. "There's nothing better than when everyone gets it and when everyone's having a good time together," he affirms. " I wouldn't change it for the world now, but I was a bit apprehensive at first. I had never done it before. I had never been in a band before let alone sung in public before!"


Frankie and The Heartstrings' rapid progress has ensured a world of firsts for the band. Their latest release, Hunger, marks their debut LP and a collaboration with one of Francis' idols. "We got to record with Edwyn Collins, who is one of our heroes. He was in the band Orange Juice. I would often DJ at events and I'd always play Orange Juice... then you start a band and you find yourself working with Edwyn!" he exclaims. "Not only that, but we ended up going on tour with Edwyn as well and supporting him. I got to sing a duet with him every night. It feels really surreal, the whole thing. You get a tweet or text from him saying 'How's it going?'. You think, 'Edwyn Collins!'... I class him as a friend now - he was an idol two years ago!"


As Francis reveals, however, Hunger is a record defined not only by a dream collaboration, but notions of separation. "I guess the theme would be the realisation of a breakdown of a relationship," he says of the album. "But within that, you've got the ups and the downs. There's pop songs like Hunger and Tender and there's other songs that describe the rollercoaster of a relationship - like I Want You Back, Don't Look Surprised and Fragile, especially. (It's about) a failure to admit that a relationship is breaking down, but ultimately, it does and to be honest it's probably better that it does."


"I'd like ( Hunger) to sit in people's record collections and for people to pull it out in ten years time and for it to still sound the same," Francis muses. "It's not a very current sound but it could fit in anywhere, which I think is good for the record. We wanted to make something that was timeless, really."


Already the group has played shows in the US, Europe and have even touched down in Tokyo. Francis shares a thought or two about life on the road. "It's good. The only downside is I get travel sickness in cars, so I do the very un-rock-and-roll thing and sit in the front of the van with the driver when we go anywhere!" he laughs. "It's an absolute privilege, especially in this day and age, to do something that you love and be creative full-time. It's totally astronomical really if you think about what you're doing and the people around us at a British level, our management... and now at an Australian level, as well, paying for us to go to the other side of the world and have fun basically!"


It's not long now until Frankie and The Heartstrings hit Australian shores, supporting Eskimo Joe on their upcoming tour. In excellent news for fans, the band will also indulge in more than a few of their own club shows. Francis is still deciphering what exactly to expect of his debut trip down under. ""I'm completely like a rabbit in headlights about it all. I don't know what to expect at all. The only Australia I've seen is watching Neighbours on the TV - that's all I know about Australia. Oh, I've seen Crocodile Dundee as well," he declares. "I imagine the venues and people will be up for it and we're one band that will be just as much as anyone else. We're going to have some good nights, I'm sure - the time of our lives really."


Recently, Frankie and The Heartstrings have made a habit of sharing a drink or two post-gig with fans at the nearest bar. "Sometimes you do (get a good crowd)," Francis says of the trend. "You tend to go off-stage, get the gear in the back of the van and you get like ten, twenty people come around for a drink. It depends what night of the week it is. If it's a work night, you don't get that many, but if it's the weekend, it's normally packed. You remember those nights. Next time you come to town, you'll have a good night with the same people."


"Hopefully you Aussies will be up for a bit of that as well!"

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