Lanterna's vibrant echoes
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Henry Frayne, the guitarist who records under the nom de musique
Lanterna, is slowly rewriting the rule book on instrumental rock,
although calling his music "rock" doesn't really do him justice. In
Frayne's music, you can hear bits of John Fahey's American Primitive
Guitar -- flurries of rippling arpeggios, rich ringing chord clusters
and long, sustained single notes that hang in the air buzzing like
fat, happy bumblebees. There are also hints of Michael Brook's
world-music influenced minimalism, a bit of new wave pop and an eerie
drone that harks back to both Eno's first post-Roxy experiments with
ambient music and Joy Division's dark synthesizer-accented dirges.
"I have a talent for melodies and creating big, echoey, reverberating
spaces," Frayne says, calling from his day job as an engineer at WILL,
the University of Illinois radio station in Champaign-Urbana. "It's
not that I don't like bands with singers, but I wanted to write songs
that could stretch as long as they wanted to without having to worry
about pop song structures. It may be a cliché, but I think of (my
songs) as little movie soundtracks. That's why many of the songs have
one-word titles: It's to give people a place to start. They can make
up their own stories as they listen. It's always interesting to see
the different ways people are affected by the same song."
Badman Records, the San Francisco company that Frayne calls home,
thinks so highly of his music that it created a new instrumental
subdivision called Jemez Mountain. Lanterna's new CD, "Desert Ocean,"
is the first release for the new label. Like Frayne's past efforts,
"Desert Ocean" ranges far and wide to explore the possibilities of
instrumental guitar music, mixing the familiar with his own singular
vision. "Surf" actually has hints of surf guitar, but the wave the
song rides is moving as slowly as a glacier. "Fog" sounds like the
theme music for a sci-fi epic with a ghostly, shimmering guitar line
floating over an ominous bass tone that seems to portend impending
doom. "Venture," a track that comes close to being a traditional song,
features Frayne humming along with some guitar work that brings to
mind the jingle-jangle of early
"I loved (R.E.M.'s) first three albums," Frayne says. "You couldn't
understand a single word Michael Stipe sang; the vocals were just
another rhythmic element in the mix. I have no talent for putting
words together, but I love the texture that humming in the background
gives to the music."
Frayne builds his compositions slowly with the help of producer Mike
Brosco and drummer Eric Gebow, whose inventive percussion work keeps
things from getting too cerebral.
"I did the basic tracks for the album with Eric over a long three-day
weekend," Frayne says. "We hadn't gotten together to rehearse, so the
music stayed fresh. We'd play a tune a few times, then do a take. Some
of the tracks were built on first takes because flying by the seat of
your pants gives the music a loose, natural sound."
After the basic tracks are down, Frayne adds extra layers of sound
using acoustic and electric guitars, bass and an old ARP synthesizer.
"When I start filling out the sound, there's a process of trial and
error to add the background ambience and figure out what works where,"
The process takes time, but Frayne says he's used to it.
"My so-called career is usually in shambles before anything good
happens," he says.
Frayne had to wait five years for his first work as Lanterna to make
its national American premiere. The music made a circuitous and
time-consuming journey that spanned continents before finally showing
up in retail outlets.
"I was in an experimental pop band called the Moon Seven Times, adding
atmospheric guitar parts to the songs that were similar to what I'm
doing now," he says. "We made our first album six months after we got
together, but due to record company politics, it didn't come out for
three years. As that band wound down, I decided to take control of my
music. I began working on Lanterna after buying an old leather-bound
Italian-English dictionary and seeing the term 'lanterna magica,' an
early kind of film projector. Then I met graphic designer Bruce
Licher; he inspired me to put some music into a nicely designed
handmade box as a limited edition of 400."
For Frayne's first excursion as Lanterna, he composed 23 songs, enough
to fill both sides of a 90-minute cassette. It was packaged as "The
Lanterna Box" in 1992. The box sold modestly, but those who bought it,
"Somehow a copy got into the hands of a guy in Greece who had a record
company," Frayne says. "He put out an LP edition of 1,000. He sent me
15 copies, then got into financial trouble and the other 985 copies
Meanwhile, Frayne met photographer Kevin Salemme, whose mysterious
photos of landscapes Frayne still uses on his albums. Salemme
suggested using Frayne's music as the "soundtrack" to a collection of
photos he was pitching to Rykodisc's fledging book division. Ryko
passed on the book but offered Frayne a record deal. In 1997, the
company released 17 tracks from the cassette box as "Lanterna"; the
enclosed booklet included a generous selection of Salemme's photos.
Soon after its release, however, Chris Blackwell's Palm Entertainment
bought Ryko and Frayne's contract evaporated.
"A few years later, a friend connected me with Dylan Magierek at
Badman. I'd recorded 'Elm Street' back in '99 and felt like I was out
of gas," Frayne says. "Then Dylan walked in from left field and saved
the day. 'Elm Street' finally came out in 2001. 'Desert Ocean' is the
fourth album I've done for him."
Frayne often tours alone, soloing over loops he's created in the
studio, but April 24 at San Francisco's Make Out Room and April 26 at
the Attic in Santa Cruz, he'll be filling out his sound with two pals
from Seattle, bassist Grant Badger and drummer Rob Lloyd.
"They play in a duo called the Guitar Defamation League," Frayne says.
"Grant is a very active bass player; he'll help move the music in some
Lanterna and Trespassers William play at 7:30-9:30 p.m. April 24 at
the Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., San Francisco. $7. (415) 647-2888,
www.makeoutroom.com. Also: 7 p.m. April 26 at the Attic, 931 Pacific
Ave., Santa Cruz. $10. (831) 460-1800, www.theatticsantacruz.com.