Same Frames, different world
The moment The Frames took creative control of their career was strictly ‘For the Birds’. Ahead of a 10th anniversary concert in Dublin, Colm Mac Con Iomaire and Dave Odlum recall the making of a landmark album
A DECADE AGO The Frames released For the Birdsand turned a corner. For years, as frontman Glen Hansard has often quipped, they were a band destined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
He had a point. During the 1990s record deals with Island and ZTT had left the band battered and bruised. While they had released three albums and built a loyal Irish fan base, the experience of having someone else guiding their career was not a happy one.
For the Birdschanged that. Musically, it was a delight, the album where the band became comfortable in their own skins for the first time. It still sounds fresh, exciting and invigorating, a document of a band rediscovering their love of playing. But For the Birds also proved that The Frames didn’t have to rely on others: they could record, produce and release the record themselves.
Later this month the band will mark the 10th anniversary of the album by playing it in full at a show in Dublin’s Vicar Street.
“The abiding memory I have of For the Birdsis of excitement and freedom,” says Colm Mac Con Iomaire, the fiddle-player who has been a Frame since day one. “Finally, we were steering our own ship and in control of things, financially and creatively. We could pick who we wanted to work with and we owned a recording system, which made a huge difference because we had the flexibility to go down to Kerry to record in a house there. Digital music was in its infancy and it was quite novel to have these digital files to send around the place.”
Back then Dave Odlum was the band’s guitarist. “One memory is that the record was as much made over cups of tea as in the studio,” he says. “We discussed a lot about what we wanted it to be. We knew there was a lot of goodwill out there for us, and that encouraged us to carry on. When we made our first album it was a bunch of young fellows being heavily steered by a record label because we didn’t know who we were. The second album was where we decided to make a record for ourselves, and we found our feet a lot. On the third album it was back into record-label land.
“We knew after that that we wanted to make an album just for the sake of making music. We had no intentions or plans, and that’s what made For the Birdsexciting.”
Mac Con Iomaire says some of the heavy lifting for For the Birdswas done on the band’s previous album. “We conjured up the independent model when we recorded Dance the Devil. We paid for the recording and release of Revelateand were going full steam for that path and then made a huge slip-up by signing to ZTT.
“While we were definitely heading in the right direction with Dance the Devil, there was a level of compromise with the production. The record wasn’t a true representation of what we wanted to put out, so by the time For the Birdscame around, we were chomping at the bit.” Mac Con Iomaire hadn’t listened to the album in a few years but, “I listened to it earlier today and it brought me back. It’s the record everybody cites as their favourite Frames record. You can resist that but, after 10 years, you kind of go: ‘Well, it was my favourite record of ours as well!’
“It strikes me as a female record, a yin rather than a yang record, a record which is much more at peace with itself. We were rejecting the Trevor Horn school of reverbs and polished sound.”
For Odlum, For the Birdswas his chance to do more production work. “I’d done some with Dance the Deviland loved it. We started out working on that album with some people, but we had to finish it on our own and, literally, the nuts and bolts fell down to me, which was quite a baptism of fire.
“I got taken under the wing of the people at Black Box Studios. They taught me how to become a proper engineer as opposed to a guy who thinks he’s a record producer because he has a laptop, a sound card and a microphone.”
For the Birdswas recorded in various houses in Ireland, the Black Box studio in France (which Odlum now co-owns and runs) and, in what turned to be a fortuitous choice, Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio in Chicago.
“We made all these connections in Chicago,” says Mac Con Iomaire. “Through Steve Albini we met Howard Greynolds and he put out For the Birds on his Overcoat label, which is part of Touch and Go. We met Rob , who was working as an engineer at the studio, and he later became our guitarist. There were a huge amount of alignments and happy coincidences.”
Back in 2000, notes Odlum, very few acts were in DIY mode. “At the time, and this shows you how much has changed, it wasn’t common for people to go off and make records on their own. That probably engendered even more goodwill from people towards us.
“Back then, bands would walk into a recording studio and go, ‘God, it looks like a spaceship in here, do we really know what we’re doing here?’ It’s so much more commonplace now for musicians to know how to use recording equipment, but back then bands felt they needed engineers and producers because they didn’t have that knowledge. It’s very liberating for a band to go from relying on highly paid engineers and producers to actually doing it themselves.”
For the Birdsopened up a new career for Odlum. “Afterwards a lot of people were interested in me working with them on records,” he says. “Because the album did so well the band were becoming busier, so it became difficult for me to juggle what were two full-time careers. I left the band a few years later to concentrate on studio work.”
He will, though, be back in the band again for the forthcoming Dublin show, the plan for which was hatched last year.
“Glen had his 40th birthday party and as part of that, The Frames decided to play a gig,” says Mac Con Iomaire. “It was during the whole ash-clouds thing and Rob couldn’t make it from Chicago and Dave couldn’t get back to France and Dave Hingerty was around, so it worked out that all the original cast of For the Birdswere in town.
“It was just a great vibe and it was lovely to revisit the album and be in everyone’s company again, so it made sense to do it again.”
The Frames play For the Birdsat Dublin’s Vicar Street on Wednesday, March 30th