Samples, Sonnets, and the Surf-Punk Scene: A Conversation with The Frights

The Frights is Mikey Carnevale (vocals/guitar), Richard Dotson (bass), Marc Finn (drums). and Jordan Clark (guitar). © Rowan Daly
The Frights’ Mikey Carnevale talks about the group’s new LP ‘Everything Seems Like Yesterday’, from starting off solo to sampling/production choices and his New Year’s resolution. 
Stream: ‘Everything Seems Like Yesterday’ – The Frights

When Mikey Carnevale, lead singer of San Diego-based band The Frights, sat down to write what eventually became the group’s newest album Everything Seems Like Yesterday (January 24 via Epitaph Records), he had initially planned for it to be a solo endeavor. However, through discussions with the other band members, bassist Richard Dotson, drummer Marc Finn and guitarist Jordan Clark, what Carnevale had begun to create led to the latest evolution in The Frights’ discography.

Everything Seems Like Yesterday - The Frights

Everything Seems Like Yesterday – The Frights

Carnevale holed up in his grandmother’s California cabin to complete the album, a very Thoreau-esque move, only he brought Dotson along to run the record’s production. The duo set out to create an acoustic album that utilized everyday sounds (phone call snippets, laughter, to name a few) as creative-but-natural samples. The result is a brilliant and cohesive entity, designed as a story almost, with parts and pages that’d be missed without listening to the full body of work — from the beginning (“24”) to the end (“25”).

Lyricism played a large role in this album as well. Carnevale’s love of poetry — shown both through writing his own on the side and the works of Bukowski, Ginsberg and Plath — manifested itself beautifully within the lines of different tracks on Everything Seems Like Yesterday.

I made a thousand different plans
and nothing’s changed
I still retain that everyone’s got issues
Currently mine is I miss you
Just the same / And I’m to blame
– “Kicking Cans,” The Frights

One of the album’s tracks gives a glimpse into the great display of this poetic lyricism present on the full-length LP’s entirety.  Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering the “Kicking Cans” music video today, written and directed by Andrew Gibson. The music video is a visually lighthearted love story of an “old” school Bonnie & Clyde — nobody dies and it has a happy ending. Don’t worry, no spoilers here. Watch The Frights’ brand new music video for “Kicking Cans” and read the interview with Mikey Carnevale below.

Stream: “Kicking Cans” – The Frights


Atwood Magazine: What was the San Diego show like? How was that?

Mikey Carnevale: It was insane. It was probably the craziest show of our career. It was a free show and it was in a public space. It was at Balboa Park, which, fun fact, is the biggest urban park in America, even bigger than Central Park, which is kind of crazy. I didn’t know that til recently. But, it was just crazy. 5,000 people showed up. It was ridiculous.

Were they expecting that many people?

Mikey Carnevale: I have no idea. I don’t think so. We just got permits through the city to do it and there was not a single person from Balboa Park there. There wasn’t a single cop. There wasn’t a fire marshall. It was so bizarre. I don’t know if they just didn’t take it seriously, but it was wild. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. It reminded me of a show you would hear about from the 60s or 70s where it just went really bad, because nobody gave a shit to make sure everyone was safe. It was really weird; I don’t know what the fuck happened. There were five security guards total for 5,000 people, but it was amazing. One of the best shows that we ever played.

The Frights © Rowan Daly

I saw you guys were doing the DIY stencil merch, was it only for that show? Not on the tour?

Mikey Carnevale: Yeah, that was a special thing for that show. We used to do that back in the day and we just wanted to do it again for the San Diego show. It was kind of a cool idea. We only did it for one hundred t-shirts or something, but it might be cool just to maybe bring it on tour and people can spraypaint their own t-shirts. But, we’re not going to bring blank t-shirts with us. It was a cool idea, it worked out.

Are there any artists you’re currently enjoying and would consider bringing as an opener on tour?

Mikey Carnevale: The Happy Fits. We’re taking them out. They’re from New Jersey, I think. They’re really cool. They’re a three-piece band and their lead singer plays cello. They came to town to play a show in San Diego. They’re younger kids, but they fucking kill it.

‘Concentrate’ on The Happy Fits’ Energetic, Euphoric Debut


An Awfully Apeelin’ Story: Introducing The Happy Fits


Did you have any particular musical influences when making the new record? Or just things you wanted to try?

Mikey Carnevale: I mean, as far as my musical influences, I’m really bad at keeping up with new music and new bands. If I discover new bands, I’ll take a good year, at least, and just learn everything about that one band. So, I end up having a lot of knowledge about a few select bands. Recently, those bands have been The Grateful Dead and Wilco. Wilco’s been my favorite band for the past three or four years, so there was influence there. With that being said, I think it’s still relatively different. I don’t write about the same things that either of those bands write about. I don’t think it conveys the same message or theme. It always seems to find its way back to sounding like me at some point. I’ve heard people say it sounds like Bright Eyes. I have a hard time noticing, but I love Bright Eyes. That’s cool, I like that. As far as outside of musical influences, we just wanted to make an album that was just natural. We didn’t use anything electronic and just tried to get as creative as possible. That was before we decided it was going to be a Frights album. Now it’s out.

On “24”, you explore the concept of all these different people that you’ve lost touch with over the years. Has touring and being in a band made that more difficult?

Mikey Carnevale: Yeah. Of course. It makes it difficult, in the sense that you don’t get to spend as much time with people at home that you want to. It also makes it easier, in the sense that you meet a lot of people that you wouldn’t meet otherwise. You’re also reconvening with people that you haven’t talked to in a long time, because they get to say, ‘Oh hey, how’s your band doing?’ and then they’ll come to a show. At the San Diego show, I saw a few kids from high school that I was friends with, that I haven’t seen in eight years. The band’s brought a lot of people back to me and new people into my life, but I’ve also lost a ton of friends along the way just because of disconnecting or just slowly falling off.

I feel like getting older, it just happens. Yet, being on the road, I feel it’s more intense.

Mikey Carnevale: Yeah, you got to work a little harder at home to make sure everybody’s okay and you’re still putting in the effort where it’s needed.

The Frights © Rowan Daly

The Frights © Rowan Daly

What specific live show did you sample at the end (of “24”)?

Mikey Carnevale: That is from a show me and Richard played in our old band, back in 2012. There were only five people that came. The guy who talks to me is our friend and he was at that show with his dad. He passed away later on.

The record has some really unique-but-cool transitions from song to song, for example the vocal cut-out towards the end of “Kicking Cans”. Was that a conscious decision when creating the album and formatting the tracklist?

Mikey Carnevale: The whole album was recorded in sequence, so we recorded it from the first song on it and ended with the last song (“25”). Everything we did was a conscious decision. For the end of “Kicking Cans” specifically, we recorded that last bit. I FaceTimed Richard on his phone. I played through FaceTime and he recorded it through a microphone. That was how the end of “Kicking Cans” got so muffled-sounding. As we got into the fourth or fifth song, we kept thinking, ‘Oh, shit. We’re gonna run out of ideas,’ because there’s only so much you can do with natural sounds, but we ended up being able to keep popping things out. We definitely worked our asses off trying to keep it interesting.

Are there any songs that didn’t make the record?

Mikey Carnevale: This record specifically, pretty much every song that I had written for this is on the record.

The Frights © Rowan Daly

The Frights © Rowan Daly

Do you ever listen to your music once the albums are released outside of playing live shows?

Mikey Carnevale: I listened to the record a bunch before it came out, just to try to get in my own head about what people will think of it. Once it’s out, no. I don’t go back and listen to it anymore, because it died to me. A lot of it died once it’s released. I mean, as soon as the record’s done, I listen to it a shit ton. I’m just trying to wrap my head around like, ‘Okay, who does this appeal to and what is it for? Why does it mean something to me?” Then, once it’s released, it’s not mine anymore. It doesn’t belong to us. It’s been kicked and beat up and just sad. I kind of let it go a little bit. I don’t go back and listen to any of our music, unless we’re about to play a show and there’s a song I haven’t heard in a long time that I have to remember how to play.

When you were listening to the record before it was released, what thoughts were you having?

Mikey Carnevale: I was trying to listen to it from different points of view, so I would try to listen to it from an average fan’s point of view. I would try to listen to it from a young fan’s point of view and an old fan’s point of view. I just try to. It’s impossible. It’s a stupid thing to try to do, because I know no matter what I think, people aren’t going to think that as well. At least, not everybody’s going to think that. It’s totally an unhealthy thing to do. I would just try to imagine if I was listening to this for the first time what my initial thoughts would be. You can never, because the way people listen to music today, they don’t listen to it the same way somebody who just made it would. They’re super invested in the project. It comes out on Spotify and they listen to the singles. They skip through and bounce around. If you think too hard about it, it kind of bums you out, but nothing you can do about it.

At the end of “Simple and Strange,” I believe the voice on the other end of the phone call says back, “At this stage in your career, you are so far beyond most artists.” I couldn’t tell if it was a laugh or a cry after, but is that how you feel?

Mikey Carnevale: Oh, man. (*laughs*) I hope other people don’t think I was crying after that. We recorded a phone call between me, Richard, our manager and our business manager. We were talking about money, about financial shit. He was commending us on how well we understand how money works in the music industry and he said that. He was like, ‘Yeah, you guys are so far beyond other artists,’ in that we don’t waste all our money on a lot of shit. We just thought it’d be really funny to put that at the end of that song. It sounds like he’s praising the song so much. The laughing was completely separate. I was laughing about something different. That was just a little bullshit joke we put in there.

What was the inspiration, if any, behind the music video for “Leave Me Alone”?

Mikey Carnevale: I had nothing to do with the music video. Marc, our drummer, actually was the main writer and director behind that. I didn’t even go out there, he went and did it with a bunch of people. His friend Andrew Gibson helped him. They kind of worked on it together. I honestly can’t answer any questions about it.

Did you see it once it was done?

Mikey Carnevale: I saw it a couple days before it came out and we just approved it. It was awesome. I know we all agreed that none of us wanted to be in any of the music videos. I don’t like being in music videos; I don’t like making music videos. The fact that Marc was willing to step up and handle that shit was fucking awesome. He gets super excited making those things. It was really cool to let him have free range of the whole thing. It turned out great; I’m stoked for him.

Do you have a favorite song or even a lyric from the album?

Mikey Carnevale: Favorite lyric… Not really. If you would’ve asked me six months ago, I might’ve had a better idea for you. I can’t even think of a lyric off the top of my head right now, because it’s just been out and away from me. I’m happy with the lyrics on the album, though. I took more time on them. I’m definitely happy with all the lyrics and the themes; I couldn’t pick a favorite.

Are you writing still or have you taken a break?

Mikey Carnevale: When an album comes out, I’ll usually take a break. Once it’s out, I’ll have an urge, like I need to write the next record and it needs to be like this… It needs to be exactly like this. It always ends up coming out, like, alright, you need to slow down and take a minute to breathe. You’re just making music for the sake of saying you wrote a song today and it doesn’t get anywhere. That being said, I’ve been writing a lot of poetry. That’s been a nice outlet, instead of having to sit down and try to write a song everyday. Poetry is a lot easier – it’s formless and I can take my time and write whatever I want. Nobody will see that, so that’s kind of cool. I imagine the next couple months here, I’ll start being back into writing songs. It was my New Year’s Resolution to write some more songs, but there’s a lot of resolutions I haven’t held up so far. We’ll see how that goes.

The lyrics on this record do stand out. I had been wondering if you did write poetry, which you do, because there’s that rhyme scheme throughout the songs that works really well.

Mikey Carnevale: I tried to. I think if you can listen to a song and you feel the message and you feel some sort of emotion. If you can do that and take the lyrics, turn the song off and just read the lyrics, and still it conveys some sort of feeling the song does, I think that’s when you succeed the most. It’s really hard to do that, because our fans and a lot of people these days… Not that, I’m saying you’re special if you read poetry, but a lot of people don’t. If you can convey to people there’s more to this song than just melody, I think it gets a little interesting. That was something I didn’t even really appreciate until a few years ago. I was in such a different scene and different world. I didn’t really give a shit about lyrics as much as I did about ‘Okay, how do I make these fucking kids mosh?’ We go to shows and I can still tell there’s a good amount of people there just trying to fucking mosh or meet somebody. That’s fine, but I think there’s a deeper lesson to be learned with music if you really give a shit.

There’s the audience that wants to mosh, but then you might also be like, ‘Let’s listen.’

Mikey Carnevale: Yeah. At the show we were playing the other night, we played some new songs and they were stage-diving and moshing. There’s a point where you can’t just be a pissy artist and be like ‘Stop fucking moving and listen to what I’m saying here,’ because they are listening. They’re perceiving it differently than you had hoped they would. If it’s making them feel something enough to punch each other in the face, then you know what dude, cool. I don’t care. If this means you are ready to fucking rage, go for it buddy. It’s not what I felt at the time writing it, but if that’s how you perceive it, well done.

Were there any tracks that were harder to make (either to write or produce) than others or did the album just take shape easily?

Mikey Carnevale: All of the recording process felt very natural, however, there were definitely ones that I was scared to start recording before. Once we got them, it was good. There were a couple that were like, ‘This is kind of a big undertaking.’ “For Someone Else’s Sake” was ‘Okay, this is going to be a little fucking weird,’ because there was that vocal at the end that’s over the top and kind of ridiculous. I thought that was going to be a little hard to pull off. I was nervous for “Leave Me Alone,” but Richard’s production brought that song home for me. He just kind of went and did his world. We made a bunch of weird noises, then he edited them together to be seamless. That was really beautiful. I thought he nailed that one. The writing process for me was one of the easiest I’ve ever had. There were no expectations, because it was going to be a solo record. I was like, ‘Who gives a shit, dude? This is just for you and your friends.’ The writing process was the best I’ve had in years.

Was the “25” used on the album the original demo recording? Or is that how you wanted it to feel?

Mikey Carnevale: We were in the cabin. Richard was editing “For Someone Else’s Sake,” which is the second to last song, and I was writing “25.” That was the one song on the record I hadn’t written yet. I knew I wanted it there. I wanted it to be a reprise of “24” and to be the last song. I just kind of liked the idea of this album being bookended with “24” and “25.” I wrote the words and then was like, ‘Alright dude, come listen. Let me know what you think.’ He came over and sat down. We had been using a steeled recorder to record all those sounds we had made the whole album. He had taken the recorder and put it behind a cardboard box, so I didn’t see it was over there. I played the song and I fucked up. There’s the fuck-up on there that you hear. I finished the song and he was like, ‘Cool, well, that’s it. I recorded that. We’re done.’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, dude. I fucked up and it sounds stupid.’ If I would have fucked up one more time, I don’t think we would have used it. It was cool. On the record, it’s the first time I ever sang that song out loud, I ever said those words. It was also nice because we were kind of freaking out about what we were going to do with that song, as far as production. It was another natural choice we made where it just works. So yeah, that’s the first time I ever played that song out loud.

The Frights is Mikey Carnevale (vocals/guitar), Richard Dotson (bass), Marc Finn (drums). and Jordan Clark (guitar). © Rowan Daly

The Frights is Mikey Carnevale (vocals/guitar), Richard Dotson (bass), Marc Finn (drums). and Jordan Clark (guitar). © Rowan Daly

Do you think you’ll continue with the sound of this record, either for future Frights albums or solo material?

Mikey Carnevale: No, I don’t think so. I mean, I have no idea. I don’t think I’ll do a solo record anytime soon. The more we’re in this band, the more I feel… I was talking to my friend about this, this morning actually. I feel like all the music I write, even though this was intended to be a solo record, it always finds its way back in the Frights world. For this record specifically, that wasn’t even my decision. That was the band’s decision. We all agreed this should be the next Frights record. I don’t think, as far as a sign of what’s to come, I don’t think so. If you were listening to Hypochondriac, then hear this, most people would say no, this is not what they see. When I listen to Hypochondriac and then to this, I think it makes perfect sense how we got to this place. If I were to listen to You Are Going to Hate This and listen to this, I’d say ‘Holy shit. What happened in between?’ I think whatever our next record’s gonna be is going to be more confusing to fans. With this record specifically, we finally reached a point where we can literally do whatever we want to do. It’s never felt more freeing to just make our music together and play together. The next record, if people think this one pissed them off, I’m really excited to see what the next one does.

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Stream: “Kicking Cans” – The Frights

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Everything Seems Like Yesterday - The Frights

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Hi! I’m Lexi. I’m 19. I’m an Aries, an INFP and I live in Brooklyn. I’m currently a sophomore in college double majoring in Journalism and Contemporary Music. I love writing about music, both my favorite artists and new ones I discover along the way. I also love writing songs, but was blessed with a lack of a decent singing voice so I dabble in production (sometimes). Basically, I dig every aspect of the music industry and am collecting knowledge from the different areas I work in the same way Thanos collects infinity stones. Usually found either at a show or at home typing away.