Deep DIIV: An interview with Lukas Frank of Storefront Church
Music — 12.05.22
Zachary Cole Smith of DIIV met Lukas Frank at a Magic: The Gathering tournament in 2016. They’ve since collaborated on a number of music projects together, toured, and have a Magic: The Gathering themed interview show called ThoughtSeize on Twitch and YouTube. Lukas’s band Storefront Church will be opening for DIIV this summer in Europe, starting May 15th.
In this exclusive interview for Teeth Online, Lukas Frank discusses collaborations, growing up in LA, film influencing the music-making process, the meaning of music, and how much he can deadlift, among other things.
Cole Smith: You’ve collaborated with a number of incredible and brilliant musicians such as myself. What is the most important part of a collaborative working relationship?
Lukas Frank: When collaborating with you, it’s important to tell you to arrive 30 minutes before I’ll actually need you there. When collaborating with people who operate on this plane of existence, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences in Storefront Church. Since I’m pretty much the whole band, and I have a group of friends who moonlight in the project with me, there’s no real band dynamic to push up against, and everyone who comes in is there just to help my vision. I’m spoiled and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You’ve cited a number of filmmakers as influences on your music. In the broadest sense, how can film influence writing music? How do you translate visual media into sound?
So many different ways. I always watch movies when I’m out of ideas musically. Or sometimes I’ll write out full scenes of something in my head and write a song that describes what I’m seeing. My music also uses some tricks I stole from sound designers and Foley artists. I spent some time hanging around a lot of sound designers when I was younger, and I picked up a few tricks along the way that I still use and have used even more heavy-handedly in some unreleased music (which should be coming out early next year).
What does ‘cinematic music’ sound like to you?
I think for most people this means music that sounds like something they’ve heard in a film score, or something dramatic and extravagant with strings and a full orchestra. If the music I’ve released now seems cinematic to people, I’m excited about taking that idea to the Nth degree with the aforementioned forthcoming album.
A lot of artists who you site as influences are surrounded by an air of mystery, Scott Walker, Nick Cave, etc. In the current musical landscape where artists are expected to be accessible and transparent on social media, do you find yourself being able to create an artistic ‘character’, or is there pressure to just be yourself, as you are?
There’s pressure to constantly be online and what comes with that is the pressure to reveal as much of yourself as you’re willing because that’s what THE PEOPLE WANT apparently. Most of us don’t want to come off like we have a bad case of main character syndrome, constantly forcing pictures of ourselves onto everyone ad nauseam and endlessly self-promoting doesn’t always feel great. I don’t think anyone realized that’s what we were signing up for when we started making music, and it can be pretty uncomfortable having to do it, but it seems to be a necessary evil that isn’t going away any time soon. I would love it if I didn’t have to be the main character of this whole thing and if I could just be the one inviting everyone into the room, but I’m not sure how that’d work. As far as being a mysterious persona, I don’t know of a way to do that on social media that I would find interesting, so I really just post what I’m up to and whatever seems worth sharing. What I am interested in presenting at the shows, however, is an extreme version of myself. If that feels at odds with whatever is online, then that’s how it’s supposed to be.
You play Magic The Gathering — as a fellow player, I know that the game involves thinking through many decision trees and playing in a very deliberate and forward-thinking way. Has that type of thought crept into your daily life or your creative life?
Sometimes while I’m half asleep magic will seamlessly work its way into regular life… for example… “Phoebe is taking Cryptic Command on tour… I guess that means I need to use an Obosh, the Preypiercer when I see her next.” It makes perfect sense when I’m in the sort of lucid half-awake state, magic and the real world collide. It’s beautiful really.
How much can you deadlift?
Most I’ve done is 225, I think. Never been all that athletic, but my hot, ripped friend Kerry McCoy showed me how to lift weights before he left for tour and now I’ve been teaching every other frail person in my life how to lift weights. Blind leading the Blind. Frail Gym Club.
The city of LA and its highway-centric landscape appears as a prominent character in your music — how has growing up in this city affected you as a musician?
In every possible way. I’m a Los Angeles die-hard. I love everything about it here, even the things I hate I love to hate. Painters during the romantic era had beautiful vistas and endless fields of flowers to ponder over. We have the freeways, the delusional dreamers, and the cereal aisles. Wouldn’t trade places for the world.
A lot of your songs feel like parables or character studies, but in “Asphalt Dog” you write your name and birthday into the cement — how often do you appear in your own songs? Do you find it boring when artists write about themselves?
On “As We Pass” there are a few songs that are very personal, and that record is a collection of older material. These days it’s rare that my songs are confessional or just about whatever’s going on in my life. I’m going round and round in my head with my own bullshit all the time anyway, I don’t want to have to relive that and perform it every night. Corny as it may sound, when I play music I want to feel like I’ve transcended myself, like I’ve left myself behind and get to be with everyone in the room in a different way. I don’t necessarily find it boring when other artists write confessionally, I try to stay in my own lane. When I’m writing, the most exciting lyrical moments are the ones where it feels like someone else wrote it and I just showed up to transcribe.
Your EP and your first full-length record used guitars a lot, and your new, unreleased music has very few guitars. What do you think the guitar represents in music and why have you chosen to largely abandon the instrument?
I’m not sure what it represents in music as a whole… you and I have made a lot of jokes about its phallic qualities. I’m just not as excited by the guitar as I am piano these days. Piano is a perfect instrument, it’s all laid out for you and ready to go. Guitar makes no fucking sense, and it’s way too easy to make a guitar sound like shit. Piano is underrated in my opinion.
What makes certain music “bad”? What makes certain music “good”?
“Bad” music feels forced, “good” music feels effortless, and “great” music feels like it has always existed.
We’ve attended concerts together and talked through the absurdity of the concept of sitting in a chair and watching a person perform their art, elevated on a platform above the rest of us. Who are some performers who have affected what you think about as a ‘concert’ and what live music can be?
David Byrne, Lingua Ignota, Kanye, Bjork… Small artists don’t have the resources to put on shows like Kanye or Byrne, but I do think bands and venues could start to rethink the way we present music. The beer-stained bar paradigm has been tired for a while, and there’s so many things with technology we could be doing differently. There is just barely enough money going into music as is, getting truly creative with presentation is usually reserved for the superstars of the world, but I have some ideas about ways one could elevate the show-going experience without having to set a house on fire in a stadium.
We are both sober musicians, and in my experience with sobriety, a key tenet I’ve learned is to turn your will and your life over to a higher power — but as a kind of ‘auteur’ figure who has complete creative control over your musical output, at what point in the creative process do you decide its time to cede control and turn it over? How do you balance these two extremes?
I don’t have complete creative control over my musical output. I think when I’m really killing it and vibing, I am simply a channel, and that’s turning it over to a higher power. Feel free to call bullshit on that, but I think a lot of creative people can relate to this experience or feeling.
You started out as a drummer. What advantages and disadvantages do you feel your background in drumming brings you as a composer?
The drums are such a stupid fucking instrument. I toured for years as a drummer for hire, I still teach kids drums for a living, but man do I resent the hell out of the drums. It’s not a melodic instrument, and I spent way too long studying music from behind the drum set without the aid of a melodic instrument practice, which has ultimately meant I’ve had to do a lot of catching up as an adult, but to be fair that isn’t the fault of the drums, and I do think the perspective of a drummer has taught me a lot about creating excitement in songs. A lot of my early songs would have two chords, but they’d still go somewhere; they still had composition and dynamics. That feels like a drummer’s intuition to me, the idea that you can build excitement and drama without the use of complex harmony.
You started playing in bands professionally while you were still in high school and missed out on the college experience in favor of being a working musician. How important was this experience in helping you build your own musical vision? What did you learn in these years touring behind other people’s bands?
I learned that being a musician for a living wasn’t worth it to me unless I get to make my own music exactly how I want to make it. I chose teaching kids and working in a restaurant while making my own music over touring for hire as a career. I think it’s easy to fall for the trap of “Well at least I’m working in music, even if I’m not creatively satisfied.” I’d prefer to have a regular job and make music on my own terms. Even if this project never takes off and I’m teaching 6-year-olds “We Will Rock You” till the end of time, I still prefer my life as it is now.
David Foster Wallace said, “perfectionism is very dangerous… if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high you never do anything… because it means you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is.” Do you consider yourself a perfectionist, if so, does this feel like your version of perfectionism? do you ever find yourself in a place of paralysis because of it?
I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, perfection isn’t the goal. The goal is for me to feel moved by what I’m working on, which is hard enough. I won’t stop working on a song until I’m happy with it, and sometimes that takes a long time, or it never comes at all, and I have to decide to let the song be what it is or move on. I do think perfectionism is a form of fear, when that kind of thinking creeps in at the beginning of the process I try to ask them to come back later. When you’re judging how a song stands up in the early stages, it’s like trying to move into a house before it’s finished.
What is music? —
You make music that deals with serious and heavy themes of apocalypse, war, capitalism, religion, and trauma — is music serious, or is it entertainment? What is the role of the musician in society?
Music is undervalued. I think the layman views a professional musician as someone who parties and receives praise en masse for a living, which hasn’t been my experience. I haven’t stopped paying my dues since I started working professionally as a teenager, and the partying to work ratio still seems to shock extended members of my family. I do take music very seriously, and I do make serious music, that’s just how I process things I otherwise couldn’t. My hope is that it can help others do the same, that I can make music that’s useful to people.
Storefront Church’s debut LP As We Pass came out summer of 2021, which you can stream below. His sophomore album is set to release in early 2023. Stay up-to-date by following him via Instagram.
You can also catch him on tour supporting DIIV this summer in Germany, Spain, France, and Istanbul. Tickets can be purchased on DIIV.net.