When Phranque landed in Hawaii on his first vacation since the start of COVID, he had no idea what the god Lono would have in store for him. After spending the first year of the pandemic at home recording his album "13 (La Cosa Nostra)" remotely with Dean Jones and Rossen Nedelchev, it was the first time he found himself not in production since 2002.
He had been on a run streak, running every day since 7/11/2020. Exactly one year later, he played his first Phranque gig in 13 years, opening the Def. GRLS farewell show with Deadtooth & Holy Tunics. As it turns out, running and the show were all part of Lono's master plan.
The GRLS wanted Karabas Barabas to play, but it happened to be Andrew's (bass/vocals) sister’s wedding that day. Determined to play at his favorite band’s farewell show, Phranque floated the idea of putting together a solo band to premiere his pandemic record. Luckily, the only two people who had liked the record up to that point were Mark and Craig of the Def. GRLS. So Hannah Teeter (drums Def.GRLS / collage artist), who was planning the show, talked it over with the band and said if there was a Phranque band that could play, then it would be a go!
Phranque and Hannah had gone to see Deadtooth a few months earlier where Phranque met Jason Smith (of Deadtooth at the time), and realized that they were neighbors. Being that Deadtooth was playing anyway, Phranque asked Jason if he'd sit in. Both Josh and Rossen who drum for Karabas were also unavailable, so in a last ditch effort, Phranque reached out to his run club buddy and veteran drummer Dave Tedeschi, and he was available. Praise be to Lono!!
The show went very well, all involved had a great time. They self-recorded a new track titled "Love Bomb” for the show, which lead to several more shows throughout the rest of 2021, as well as a wee bit of airplay / accolades.
This might be a good time to discuss Lono.. In the beginning of the pandemic on the set of the show Doctor Death, Phranque had read Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Curse of Lono”, which is one of Ralph Steadman’s finest efforts. Together they cover the 1980 Honolulu marathon, and then proceed to have one of the worst Hawaiian vacations of all time.
Was this foreshadowing? Had Phranque somehow willed this trip from hell to fruition, or was it Lono himself that cursed him? Only the multiverse knows..
The short story of Captain Cook is that the Native Hawaiians greeted him as the god Lono, who’s return was long prophesied. They treated him as such until he returned a second time. He then shot a tribal leader, which lead the tribe to sacrifice him and cook his organs, in February 1779, on the day we now know as Valentines Day.
This bring us back to Kauai.
After three days of running in some of the most beautiful terrain on the planet, Phranque felt like he may have had sun poisoning. Two days later, he developed a tiny Zoolander-like cough. (“I think I have the black lung, Pa”), at which point he tested and discovered that he had breakthrough Covid-19.
On his way back to being locked up in his hotel room, he called the Ukulele shop and asked if he would be able to purchase one over the phone and have it placed on the hood of the car. He was then locked in the Marriott for a week, overlooking everyone enjoying beach. #roomwithaview
Initially, he thought he’d be writing children’s music as he has made eight records with Rolie Polie Guacamole and had regarded the uke as a bit too kitschy for rock.. But that’s not what came out. Over the next six days, he churned out more than a song a day. Ultimately completing ten, many of which dealt with feelings that arise when one is locked in “Tropical Prison,” along with processing the past year of relationship / family woes, that many friends and he had dealt with as a direct result of the new COVID reality.
This came as a bit of a shock and in stark contrast to Karabas, his previous solo release, and RPG. Where it did find a similarity is in production, in which Phranque had a dream team ready to make Mahalo Chicago come to life. Like Degenerate National Anthem, 13 (La Cosa Nostra) and Avocado, Mahalo Chicago somehow covers a vast array of styles while still having ukulele on every track and being a cohesive record.
At this point one may ask, Why Chicago?
Karabas Barabas has made all of their full length LPs at Electrical Audio, two of which with Steve Albini. When Phranque was accepted into the 2020 Chicago Marathon, he immediately booked studio time knowing he’d use it to make something or other, be it Karabas #4 or RPG or even solo acoustic stuff worse case.. needless to say, the 2020 marathon was canceled so he moved the booking to 2021.
As September rolled in, Phranque was getting nervous, as both Dave and Rossen (who was also supposed to be running Chicago) were on tour with their main projects. Having no idea what do with the session , he was leaning towards either redoing some self produced rock singles “Albini style” or just tracking as many acoustic songs as possible if no drummer presented themself.
Luckily, long time Karabas Barabas drummer Josh Davis was in Detroit celebrating his birthday the week of the session. So Phranque left a day early to scoop him up, and the duo tracked all ten ukulele songs plus three rock singles in one day. Frank did guitar and uke overdubs the following day, then ran the Chicago marathon, and finally drove home devouring a deep dish pizza along the way.
Once back in NYC, Phranque and Jason headed over to Moon Studios in Greenpoint to track bass and lead vocals with Josh Liebman, which they did mostly simultaneously.
At this point, long time contributor / producer Dean Jones began to work his magic, and he and Phranque polished Mahalo Chicago into a sweet little gem of a record, laying down synth, additional guitars, percussion and all the bells and whistles that make it pop, including bringing in veteran cellist Jane Scarpantoni (Lou Reed, Beastie Boys, Ween) for “ The Haunted Mask of Lono” and “Narcissistic Lullaby”.
Following about 6 weeks of polishing, Phranque returned to Electrical Audio to mix the record with “studio wolf” Taylor Hales (also a damn fine runner). They mixed down the 13 songs to tape in two days. Before dropping the tapes off with Matthew Barnhart at Bob Weston’s famed Chicago Mastering Service, which is like a spaceship inside an Egyptian tomb.
The result is “Mahalo Chicago”, a ten track album that reimagines what a ukulele album sounds like, and falls somewhere in the realm of Pinkerton, Plastic Ono Band, The Eraser, Morning Phase, with a dash of Blood Sugar Sex Magic.
But as mastering engineer Matthew Barnhart said after receiving the tapes from Taylor “The Phranque album sounds killer btw, but I have no idea what kind of music it is”
The sister 3-track rock ep “101.3 K-Rock New York” fits into more of a conventional alt rock box, while still clearly being the work of the same team.
“Mahalo Chicago” came out 5/27/22, and is currently available for preorder on bandcamp, and will be everywhere else for preorder April 13th the day “101.3 K-Rock New York” hits streaming platforms.
Subsequently the Phranque super deluxe limited edition pandemic cassette was released 5.25.22 at Our wicked Lady. Featuring all 27 songs Phranque recorded (2020-2021). They are available for preorder on bandcamp.
Side A : Mahalo Chicago - 101.3 K-Rock New York - Love Bomb (2021 single)
Side B : 13 (La Cosa Nostra)