Frankie & His Fingers was recently suggested to me through a Spotify playlist. The band name made me laugh so I decided to check them out. I started playing their most recent album, Universal Hurt, and before I knew it I had listened to the album several times through, finding a connection with the album’s tongue-in-cheek musings on nostalgia.

The first track, “Celebrate!” aptly sets the tone for the rest of the album with the anthemic repetition of the lyrics, “Resignation, celebrate!” The following songs continue to cleverly reflect on the passage of time through lyrical anecdotes of growing up, the youthful ambition that accompanies it, and taking on the present (without taking yourself so seriously).

The catchy power pop album was released in 2021 as the New York band’s comeback after over a decade spent on an unofficial hiatus. A local favorite in their early days, Frankie & His Fingers’ return was similarly well received. I had the fantastic pleasure of talking with Frank McGinnis, front-runner of the now four-piece band, about Frankie & His Fingers’ journey as a band. You can read the interview with slight edits for brevity and clarity below:

Kaitlyn: So, it’s coming up on the 20th Anniversary of  Frankie & His Fingers. From everything I’ve seen, Frankie & His Fingers was a very well loved band and considered a staple of the scene around New York. What did it look like in the earlier days for the band?

Frank: It looked like a lot of DIY. We didn’t have basement shows and stuff really in this traditional sense of like people’s houses. We had these sorts of places that just had spaces that were rentable for a very inexpensive amount of money and they sort of didn’t care if it was a bunch of teenagers or early 20-somethings with loud music. A bunch of us would take turns putting on shows at a lot of places like that. Where I live, and where we were based out of, there are all these sort of small towns within an hour of each other in the Hudson Valley. So, between all of those towns, there were a lot of places to play.

There’s a place that’s now really hip in Woodstock called Colony. Back in the early aughts it was called The Colony Café and it was under different ownership and we would play there all the time. Now they’ve had like actual touring acts come through, but back then it was like just a lot of local stuff. We also played a lot in Kingston at a place called BSP (rest in peace). When we played there, the neighborhood we call Uptown Kingston, it was like tumbleweeds. Then there was this music venue and we put on shows there and eventually this crew of people around my age bought the business, took over, and turned it into the best music venue in our area. Like, I opened for Jim Adkins and Jimmy Eat World there, and I saw The Get Up Kids there, which was insane to me. They had to close unfortunately, but there’s a lot more now in general in this area than there was 20 years ago. It was just a lot of people that wanted to make music and were dying to do it, so we just figured out wherever they let us..

It’s been a pretty interesting ride. The music industry in like the early-mid aughts was tough. We had label interest, but the record labels were in denial of the fact that they had already been on the decline because people weren’t buying anymore. It was just a tough time to be a band trying to make it back then, so that sort of is what I think was most responsible for our hiatus. It just soured it. It made us unfortunately forget why we were doing it at all, you know? Then, when we made Universal Hurt, that really reminded us why we did this.

K: Yeah, I can imagine it’s pretty easy to get discouraged. But your comeback as a band seemed to also be very warmly welcomed. I was listening to one interview you did, you said it was like a 2013 show and you had people flying in to come see you?

F: It was crazy. Yeah, it was 2013, and we didn’t know what to expect. We were just like, yeah, back from the day we had a good draw in the tri-state area, and we’d be psyched if 50 people came out. And they were like, I mean the fire marshal almost shut the show down.

We had people saying they saw the flyer or whatever on social media were like, “Well, I’ve been meaning to go back home to visit my parents. I guess I found what weekend I’m going!” There are people that flew from the West Coast that we haven’t seen in almost a decade. I remember rounding the corner when we went to go get some food and there was a line around the block and people were, like, cheering when we walked up. It was almost a little frustrating because you’re just like, guys, where are you? We’re all still doing things, but you know, I totally understand when there’s something that you associate with an extremely formative time in your life. A lot of those kids were teenagers when we were in our early 20’s, and there’s a nostalgia to it and just a meaning from youth that I think people want to get in touch with, so it’s totally okay. I’d rather people come for something than nothing.

K: Yeah, it’s just that nostalgic feeling you talk about in Universal Hurt.

F: Yeah, we got a lot of that in the reviews and I was like, hell yeah. We’re not blind to that. A couple of them talked about this. There was one that was told as a comic strip. Bearded Gentleman did a great review that was absolutely this soaring review of the record, and both of those talked about like, and I hate to misquote here because it’s talking myself and my bandmates up, but said [Universal Hurt] is a master class in how to let yourself give in and live in the nostalgia, but also do something new with it and something genuine with it. I can’t deny that we knew that was sort of what we’re going for. For people to get it really meant a lot. There’s actually kind of a funny story about that record about how we kind of made it by accident.

K: That’s another thing I wanted to ask about. You’ve talked about how you all kind of kept drifting back together, but it almost sounded like it wasn’t intentional for you all to get back together as this band, like you just made the album and it just felt like Frankie & His Fingers.

F: Pretty much. Particularly [the drummer] Sammi and I. She and I were the original lineup. We formed at Bennington College in Vermont in 2004 and our chemistry musically is just, I mean we felt it from the first few seconds we started jamming together. Just like, okay, there’s something here that we should not let go of, like we gotta do something about this and it just still stands. We don’t want to quit each other musically. I don’t think we could, you know, it’s just we’re so intrinsically linked in the soul as musicians.

[Sammi] started playing with a project of mine called American Film History, which was like my love letter to like late ‘70s though ‘80s yacht rock and 80s pop kind of stuff. I did an album that sounded like that. I played most of the instruments on that album, but when I played live, it sounds like a band, so I wanted to have a band. Eventually she ended up in it. Then our bass player, Adam, joined. Then Ryan, who’s Adam’s brother. He was around since Adam joined the band. It was almost like an unofficial 4th band member who just wasn’t playing anything. Like he was giving a lot of input on songwriting because we were practicing in their parents basement, like, he would give a lot of input on songs and he was at every show. He’s also a guitarist and songwriter and amazing singer. So it was suddenly all of Frankie & His Fingers, plus one of their brothers.

Then I wrote a bunch of songs, like the songs were just coming out of me that were like much more overdriven guitar like anthems. I was just in a place in my life where I’d just written an album about existential crises that was really a downer, and suddenly I was like, “Why am I taking that stuff so incredibly seriously?” and I just started writing these songs that were making fun of that. I’m very much a vision guy, so I was like, I want to make a whole record that’s just this scathing indictment of the human spirit and taking oneself too seriously.

The title [for Universal Hurt] actually came from a song that we didn’t include on the album. There was an intro track called “The Universal Hurt.” We just didn’t love it as an opener. We liked “Celebrate!” just going right into it. It was much more us. But it was this weird electronic-ish 30 second song and the implication was that the ultimate universal hurt was being born. The lyrics were like, “You’re yanked into a cold dark room where they spank your ass and seal your gloom. You’re one of us. Good fucking luck. You’re doomed.” And then it just slams right into “Celebrate!” Sometimes I regret that we didn’t do it.

So, I had titled that song “The Universal Hurt” and I was like, that’s a good name and concept, so we just started working on it. We made the whole album, and it was going to come out under American Film History, and it sounded nothing like that. We were listening to our final mixes basically before we were sending off to mastering and after it finished [Sammi] was like, “Okay, I’m just gonna say it. You guys realize what we did, right? We made a Frankie & His Fingers record.”

I’m not like a spiritual person. I don’t think much about like, you know, otherworldly forces, but I couldn’t help but picture it as like this album was in there dying to be made. It was like, “I don’t fucking care what you think this is, this is what this is, and it’s gonna dawn on you eventually. This is what you’re doing and you just don’t realize it yet.” As soon as we applied it with that lens, we were just like, this is what it’s supposed to be.

K: So once you had that realization like, before you send it off to mastering, did anything change or was it just like, this is what it is?

F: Nope. Everything stayed the same. I think, maybe, the decision to cut “The Universal Hurt” as the intro track might have been finally decided upon after that, but I don’t think it had to do with that we’re gonna put it out under that band name.

K: I do think “Celebrate!” does a good job of giving a strong opening to the album.

F: A friend of mine just revealed to me a couple weeks ago that she got a lyric from “Celebrate!” tattooed on her leg.

K: That’s so cool. Which lyric?

F: I remember when we dropped that album, it was at a time in her life where she really needed to hear some shit. I guess the line “circumvent the rational” just really hit her. It kind of changed how she was viewing a lot of things from that moment on, so she got that tattooed. It’s the second time somebody has tattooed some dumb shit that I wrote on like a notepad, etched it into their body forever. I’m just like, oh my god. It’s very overwhelming emotionally. I cried. The first time was somebody we don’t know. Somebody on the West Coast sent us a message like, “I did a thing, I hope it’s not creepy!” and it was a lyric from one of our songs.

K: I can’t imagine what that would feel like.

F: It’s incredible. I have this bad habit of almost wanting to tell them like, no, I don’t deserve that. It’s easy for me to be so overwhelmed with the concept that somebody cares that much about something I made. You know, it’s a lot to take in. The first time I ever experienced people singing something back at me that I wrote, I was like, I can die now. I was like, that’s enough. There’s nothing better as somebody who writes something that you care about so immensely and then have other people care at all. Care enough to know it and sing it with you. It’s just incredible. But many steps beyond that is somebody tattooing your lyrics on their body. It’s just insane.

K: It’s very well deserved.

F: Well, I’ll let that sit and try not to fight you on it. 

K: There’s so many good lines like that. Every track has those very direct, hit you kind of lines.

F: Yeah. I’m a come for the melody and arrangements, stay for the lyrics guy. Both in my listening and my writing. I’m obsessive about it. I love writing lyrics. It’s probably my favorite part of writing a song.

K: Do you have a favorite memory from writing Universal Hurt?

F: I mean that story of discovering what we had done was probably my absolute favorite, but I’ll hit you with another one. This isn’t really about the music but when we had the album cover made by two artist friends of ours, our friends Cassie and Andrea. Originally it was just the cartoonish scene with the animals. For me, my thought of that kind of vibe was because I both wanted contrast, because the name of the record is in contrast to the sound of the record, in my opinion. You hear “universal hurt,” you think it’s going to be this morose, sad, slow, you know, and it’s not that. So I also wanted the album to be very contrasting from the title. Somehow we got to discussing how a lot of the themes were almost cartoonifying what it’s like to be a person going through your emotional struggles and your personal growth and your bullshit. We somehow got to like The Busy World of Richard Scarry kind of thing, so they made that, and we were basically settled on it and I had this inkling. I wanted one more point of contrast. I suggested that we make the guy in the middle that’s in the ticket window at the movie theater monochrome, black and white, almost as if this crazy, zany cartoon world is happening around him and he’s just not even noticing it.

The funniest part was, I was like, make it Adam, our bass player. Because, of all of the members of the band, he would be the one that would represent that like, ho-hum, you know, cranky, whatever. That would totally be him. So without even telling him, I was like, make it Adam. I’m not even gonna ask him. When all of the rest of the band saw it, they’re like, “Oh my god, that’s Adam! Is that Adam?” He was like, “Really, dude, is that me?” And I was like, “It’s totally you.” And he was like, “Okay.” It was a lot of fun for people who have known us for a long time to see that album cover when we finally revealed it and officially announced the album. The people who knew Adam were like, “Is that fucking Adam?” Everybody was going crazy for it. It was a lot of fun. Fortunately, it landed and [Adam] got it. I think he wouldn’t say out loud that he was flattered and honored that he got to be on the cover, but I think he was on some level. I think of all the albums I’ve put out, I think that’s my favorite.

K: So, you have that album out, and you mentioned the band was also re-recording the album Hell Broke Loose?

F: We actually did announce it at our show, so it is technically not a secret, you know? We went to play one of the songs from Hell Broke Loose and, Sammi goes, “Tell ‘em!” So I told them we’re remaking that album.

What I can say [about Hell Broke Loose] is that it was a period of time, speaking of all the existential crises, I was just going through a major existential crisis about the band. I just was going through a cycle of wishing people would take my songs more seriously on an artistic level. Now, I’m at a place like, whatever. The people who get it will get it, and they will see the artfulness in it, and the people who don’t, go listen to something else. Back then I couldn’t really accept that, so I just became really obsessed with trying to make us more artistically respected or something. The songwriting was a part of that because those songs are very, instrumentally, they’re very intricate. They’re actually kind of challenging to play.

But, I was the one that suggested the name change for the band [from Frankie & His Fingers to By Land or Sea when releasing Hell Broke Loose]. Contrary to what people might think, that was not one of the other band members. That was me. I never really liked that my name was in the band. I came up with when I was 17 as a solo act name because I idolized, you know, Pedro the Lion and all these solo acts that would use monikers. Then when Sammi and I started the band, we just couldn’t think of anything else, and then it stuck before we could change it. So, I made the suggestion. It was a stupid idea. The trouble was Sammi, I think, was trying to tell us that she did not think it was in the best interest, but we were always very democratic, and Adam caught my bug, so to speak. I think. I don’t want to speak too much for him, but it seems he caught my bug and was in support of it, and it was kinda just two against one. It became that way with the way the album sounds, too.

We went to work with a producer that was known for doing much more indie/garagey stuff, and we wanted it to be more kind of lo-fi and, like, I thought that was gonna be more or artsy or something. He listened to what we wanted, so it’s not his fault, but we are not happy with how it sounds. We wish it came out different. We discussed regrets over the years of like, the album, it could have been what those songs deserved. One day we were like, I can make records now that sound great. Let’s do it. So, we’re in very slow trickle pre-production for remaking Hell Broke Loose and putting it out as Frankie & His Fingers as it should have been in 2010 when it came out. Who knows the timeline on that. Hopefully it won’t take until the 20th anniversary of that one because that would be 2030. It almost certainly won’t be that long. But that is almost certainly what’s next for us.

K: Yeah, that kind of answers my question of like, how would your approach change coming at it the second time around?

 F: I think what those songs really want to personify them is a big, well-produced sounding record. Like an album, you know what I mean? It should be lush. It should be layered. There are no overdubs on that album. It’s literally just we recorded it live and it’s just one guitar, bass, drums, one vocal. Like one or two really nominal exceptions, but almost entirely that’s all that album is. And that can be great. But what I’ve heard in my head ever since then was this big, epic record. So that’s the vision I have for it now. Something that sounds great, like, really well recorded, well-produced, and is, like, grandiose.

K: Any other shows or releases that you have planned or is that kind of the next step?

F: Well, I’m actually starting to play some solo stuff, and it is going to be a release of sorts. I have put out a song here and there under just my name. There’s a little EP that’s up on Spotify that’s like a folk narrative EP called The Three Brothers. It’s just Frank McGinnis if you wanna look it up. It’s very sad. The story of it is bonkers sad. Like, people listen to it and they were like, dude, what the fuck. Then there’s another track I just put up recently that’s sort of a reimagining of one of the American Film History songs and there are a couple of songs up on a Bandcamp under my name. Then I have a couple that I’ve done in my home studio that aren’t gonna be a part of the album in pre-production. I’m basically gonna put together a collection of all that stuff and put it out as a thing. People can think it’s an album, that’s fine. It wasn’t conceived as an album. A friend of mine is working on artwork for right now, my friend Will, and I have a show in Kingston here, on May 24th at Rough Draft. Which is one of our favorite spots that’s a bar, bookstore, and coffee shop. So I’ll be playing there on the 24th and my plan is for that to kind of coincide with it going up on streaming. I don’t think I’m gonna do anything physical for it mainly because I don’t really have the time before then, but if I did, I could always do that later.

Then I’ve been working on an album that I started writing almost a decade ago. A solo record. And I just kind of pressed pause on it and left it on the back burner. Never did anything with it. It was mostly done. There were a weird little series of events that made me kind of dust it off, and I was like, oh yeah, now is the time. I’m a massive Springsteen fan, and I would say that this is my most unabashed, you know, Springsteen homage record. It’s got a lot of Tom Petty influence, it even has a lot of Wilco influence. But that album is called Don’t Change This Town and I have no idea when it’s gonna come out because I got a whole bunch of demos, but I haven’t actually started production for the real album.

K: What advice would you give to someone starting out making and releasing music? Especially musicians that may feel like it’s too late for them to be jumping into the game.

F: Oh man. Oh man. It’s hard to take my own advice in this regard. I’m gonna say a bunch of stuff that I firmly believe, and it’s a lot easier to give this advice to other people than to take it and apply it myself consistently. I’d say the number one thing that I have no trouble living by is the most important thing- letting yourself feel and focus on how much you love it. If that’s not the focus and not the foundation, you’ll just lose yourself in a lot of stuff that really sucks.

The other thing I will say is don’t conflate or confuse feedback, input, and response to your output with needing to reinvent what you do to please other people. It’s a very fine line between taking people’s input, constructive criticism, reaction, whatever, and learning things from it at a core level that then affects your song writing, or, just taking it and then trying to do what it seems like you think they want just to please them. And the only thing I’ll say about that is you know that you know the difference. You know that you know. I mean, it’s hard. You wanna get yourself to explore outside of the box that you live in, but there’s some kind of happy medium where, even if it is very experimental for you, you know that it’s still coming from you. You know that it’s still you. And there’s always going to be something for people, it’s recognizable. It’s like, oh, Frank wrote it. It’s obviously Frank, you know, it sounds like this other thing, but it’s clearly him.

I think that all of that stuff, to me, is way more important than focusing on any of the aspirational career or success stuff. Particularly because I have not put in the work or effort to learn how to navigate the modern methods by which people have success. I make all kinds of excuses about my age. I’ll say, nobody wants to see a 38 year old guy on TikTok trying to, like, go viral, but there are people in their 60’s all over every app, you know, it’s just, like, it doesn’t matter. Don’t be like me and get caught up in the age thing. Because I was doing it when I was your age and younger. I was telling myself I was too old and it’s stupid. It’s stupid when I do it now and I’m doing it in real time. But yeah, that’s my long-winded advice.

K: No, it’s good advice. That’s one I’ve asked and I feel like I’ve always gotten something really good out of that one. One I’ve liked it and, it was so simple, was, like, if I’m not having fun anymore, that’s the day I’m done.

F: Yeah. That’s why we stepped away back in like 2010-2011. It just started to not be fun anymore. I did exactly the opposite of what I just said don’t do. I got in my head about what I thought was gonna impress people or please people or make people take me more seriously. We started really obsessing over getting signed and you know, all this stuff, and so much of what we were doing was focused on that. It just became a chore. It became stressful. It became disappointing and disheartening. It’s hard to navigate, but if you can get any kind of a buzz, which we did have, you’ll get people telling you you’re the next big thing. And boy is it hard to strike a balance between letting that make you feel good and counting on it, because that’s not why you do it. You’re allowed to hope and you’re allowed to work toward things, but banking on something and hoping it’s just gonna happen, you know, that can really undo a lot of your foundational love for making music.

K: Do you have any other last thoughts or things you want to plug?

F: Yes. If somebody you know, or even somebody you barely know, says, “I have a band, check it out.” or “I have a show, come” do yourself a favor and every now and then take a chance. Because I cannot tell you how many times, even me, who’s very social, would drag my feet about going to see a show. Or like somebody would send me something and I would procrastinate listening to it, and then I finally do and I’m like, oh my god this is amazing. It’s great. Like obviously you should be supporting people as much as you can, although it’s not your job, but also like you may be missing out on something.

K: Absolutely. I think that’s a great place to end it.

Huge thanks again to Frank McGinnis, and be sure to keep up with Frankie & His Fingers by following them on Twitter @fahfband, Instagram @frankieandhisfingers, Facebook, Youtube, and Bandcamp

Written by Kaitlyn Boykin