by Richard Thorne

Frills: Coming Back Down Under

by Richard Thorne

Frills: Coming Back Down Under

Kiwi indie-pop duo Frills introduced themselves to the Brooklyn (NYC) scene with a run of catchy-as-hell singles starting in 2017 with debut track, My Love, which quickly drew media praise and millions of Spotify streams. More smartly-named songs including Drunk Girls, Drunk Boys and She’s Got Love followed two years ago now, but there’s been little news since. Former Midnight Youth guitarist Simon Oscroft, and Dan Gibson (Kingston, Streets of Laredo) wisely chose to remain down under post-summer, and have recently delivered a couple of typically quirky new tracks – Choosy Mums then I’m Going Under, spiking NZM’s interest in the future of Frills. Simon kindly filled in the blanks.

How long have you both been based in the States now?

We were both based in Brooklyn roughly between 2012 and 2018, then our chapter was up and Dan is in Sydney and I’m in LA. Although, this year I’ve been based in Auckland for obvious reasons

Are either of you playing in others bands currently? 

Dan and Streets of Laredo I’m sure would play another show if the time and place was right, Dave Gibson, Dan’s older brother and band member, still lives in Brooklyn with his wife Sarah-Jane, and that made up the core of the band. I was playing in a few bands over the years including starting a band called MOTHXR, but unfortunately, it’s hard to keep a group together these days.

Are there any Kiwi-vs-US cultural differences that you still exploit as a benefit (or find a handbrake) in your music making and production roles?

Being a kiwi overseas is a HUGE asset. A disproportionate amount of weight leans on your people skills in the music business, and being out and about meeting people is the main way contacts are made. If you walk up and talk to an American you know or admire, or even a stranger, they are instantly going to meet you with a smile when they hear you speak. It’s probably one of the most useful benefits our accent has.

I have gotten into the room with some people in the US I would never have dreamed of, just by walking up and saying hi at an event. There isn’t really a handbrake for being a Kiwi until you’re in NZ, and things like collaboration seem like such new ideas here, whereas that is the bedrock of songwriting and producing in the States. 

Do you approach making music as Frills as a hobby, shared passion or another shot at fame?

Making music for Frills gives us a chance to respectively ‘get out’ our creative side that we may not otherwise have been able to express on other music projects. I’ve produced for literally upwards of a 100 artists over the last 18 months, and Frills still feels like the easiest most personally satisfying outlet I have – the bias being obviously it is our own project, and I am acting as an outside ear for other artists.

It’s a shared passion for us, we don’t need fame but what we do want is to show that pop music can be pretty dam rough around the edges, but still iconic, warm and inviting. I guess that’s what the newly coined ‘indie pop’ genre is, but when we start Frills that didn’t exist – our aim was use influences like Blur and Beck in a project, where most young kids we work with wouldn’t have heard of those artists. 

How does Frills fit into your working weeks, in terms of time allocated to it?

I think our focus on Frills’ comes in spurts. We are currently putting a larger body of work together, but during last year for example, Dan was busy in Sydney and I was busy in LA, and we couldn’t make much time for it.

And the rest of your week? With what and where is that generally spent? Is it all music and production focused? 

Dan works in the music business, in a really awesome job involving what he’s so good at, sync licensing and A&R, and I am producing full time, every day. At any point in time I have somewhere between 5-15 songs that need to be done, delivered or ‘produced up’ for artists all around the world. 

You were both home in Auckland over the NZ summer and now have two new singles released. Is that because you are normally just too busy working-to-live when overseas?

Yeah, we are back for the year, playing it by ear. America is stressful right now and NZ has done all the right things. Family and friends are important to us, so being here is amazing.

Do you find a quantifiable difference in inspiration or creative sense between the two ‘homes’.

I don’t find there’s a difference really, it’s still just a computer, an interface, a mic, some guitars and a keyboard. It’s all about the people you’re writing with, or the project you’re working on. I am just finding some New Zealand-based artists to work with and the talent here is shocking – I don’t think NZ realises, but talent-wise there is no difference between here and LA.

The difference is in the culture a little bit, and the writing circuit in LA happens all day every day in hundreds of studios around LA. In NZ there is generally once one or two ‘camps’ a year where people get together. LA is like 24/7 writing camp. I think a lot more people in LA do it for a living, which is very hard to achieve in NZ.

Frills was Project funded by NZ On Air back in May 2018. Was the plan then for an album or series of singles? 

What is an album anymore? I think the climate has changed so much since we started planning for one. We are going to talk to NZ On Air, because we are releasing an album’s worth of music, but why let five songs go to waste and not get heard, when you drop them all at once?

It’s a singles world, singles are the bait that brings people into the rest of your catalogue, that has never changed. I think the NZ industry, but institutionally on a global level in general, we need to accept that you can’t make awards and different requirements so focused on albums anymore. It’s going to be a learning curve, because no one really knows. The US label heads are just DOING it, and the rest of us have to follow suit.

I’m Going Under – what’s the lyrical background to this track?

I think living in a big city, travelling away from your home is inherently hard and stressful, and it can feel like quicksand just trying to survive. Add to that maybe a job, a relationship, family, personal criticism and judgement, and it can force you to look at where your life is really at. Sometimes you just feel like you’re going backwards in those moments of doubt, it’s only normal.

Is there something about it that makes it special or important to you as a single?

I think what is special is that it was made at a time in New York together where we both scraped together our pennies to pay for a studio to rent, to be able to make music. Between side hustle jobs we would ride our bikes to the studio in Greenpoint, in Brooklyn, every day and try and put together something. It was probably one of the most special times of our music careers so far, because we’ve been up, and we’ve also been at the bottom, and starting fresh in New York is definitely very, very difficult. However, somehow you made it to New York, which is a huge achievement. It’s all just a brain melt honestly. Dunno how we got there or what we were doing, but it sure made our 20s an incredibly eventful time! 

Where does it fit into the upcoming album in terms of its specific genre/mood/musical statement?

I think anything we make is going to be cohesive based on Dan’s voice and my production style. It’s all a little bit funky, it’s all a little bit broken and frayed, but with an ambitious melodic sensibility, and closet-anthemic in nature.

The My Love promo talked about the song, “…piquing interest of US tastemakers, such as Nylon, HillyDilly and Line of Best Fit.” How well do those kind of media pay out in terms of audience generation, and more to the point – have they stuck with you to now?

Those types of publications are all very timely, and clique based – AND click based, lol – but, at the time we were a Brooklyn group living and experiencing the music scene there in 2015/16/17 – so it made sense they would write about us. NYLON was based in Manhattan, and everybody is kind of looking to New York to see what’s cool. Historically with Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On The Radio etc. all coming out of NYC, and specifically the latter three bands from our neighbourhood in Williamsburg, it’s always been a hotspot for publications to keep an ear out for. HillyDilly doesn’t exist anymore, but the people involved are very interested in what we are up to.

Where do most Frills seekers (sorry!) find your music? 

Spotify currently says Sydney, but it’s all population-based. We have seen a big amount be from LA, San Fran, Chicago and NYC – because that’s where most people who are in touch with indie music are generally living. So if we are a related artist to someone they are already like, or if we pop up on a playlist of similar bands, then they are gonna check us out.

Are your Kiwi fans still showing support?

Kiwis are definitely showing support. We are getting love from Spotify here and in Aus, and we are also talking to labels here and in Aus to potentially partner up on the next releases. We have been fully independent til now, with the help of NZ On Air (shoutout to the team!) but – just contemplating whether it could be easier finding a partner to help release our music. 

And what about listener uptake vs your own perception of which song is ‘better’?

Always surprised by which tracks people like. We have our favourites, and they are NOT what are shown on Spotify as favourites. Pretty interesting. No complaints though. Let the people decide. It’s a consumer world, they have all the power – but the fact that we even have above 1,000 streams is crazy, I think we are over 10 million now across platforms, that’s incredible. We used to dream of the day that one of our songs would get one million streams and think, ‘Wow what would we do with all that fame?!’ Turns out we’re still anonymous, but we kind’a like it that way.


Made with the support of NZ On Air.