Don’t call it a comeback
Frank Jordan puts out one last album before saying ‘Goodnight’
To this day, I never understood how a band like Frank Jordan—Mike Visser (guitar/vocals), Matt Ontjes (bass) and Devin Hurley (drums)—could revel in obscurity while countless bands were given the red-carpet treatment to major label-dom. With the fervor of early Police coupled with the more frantic moments of Pavement, a sincere DIY ethic, and musicianship virtually unrivalled in the Sacramento Valley, the notion of this band going unnoticed caused considerable head scratching from more than a few fans.
Unfortunately, after a 12-year run that culminated in several EP and full-length releases, the band called it quits. “We toured ourselves into the ground,” says Hurley. “We went on six U.S. tours in five years for three months at a time, usually playing for little money in obscure venues. One tour we played college towns in the summer when no one was there. That was particularly frustrating.”
Adds Ontjes: “There are a lot of reasons why we quit. There were many years of struggling and sacrificing other parts of life to pursue a career in music. After a while, I think we all were curious what it would be like not to be in Frank Jordan. I’m sure there was a better way to approach the end, but hindsight is 20/20.”
In addition to a regular touring regimen, the band amassed a loyal legion of fans in such disparate places as Elko, Nev., Dallas, Texas, and Albuquerque, N.M. Even though they never secured proper U.S. distribution, and rarely had records available in the markets they toured, they still managed to convert a couple thousand fans along the way.
At the annual South by Southwest convention several years ago, I remember these guys knocking the city of Austin senseless with their high-energy and chaotic set. Though only a backyard party with free, lukewarm beer, it ranks as one of my favorite FJ shows to date.
Whether they were playing a label showcase, opening for Mike Watt, rocking a backyard barbeque or simply doing a local show, this trio was always firing on all cylinders.
Visser finally moved to the East Coast to get away from the Sacramento scene and start fresh. His new band, Rad Tan, is in the process of writing and hopes to record in the not-so-distant future.
He distinctly remembers the recording process in 2004 that ultimately led to Frank Jordan’s upcoming release, Ohio, on Park The Van records (run by longtime band friend and manager Chris Watson).
“We lived in a half-finished house in the forest of southern Ohio. We would go to the studio every weekday at noon and record until midnight for a month,” Visser says. “In the end, we just picked what we thought were the strongest of the fourteen [songs].”
Recording ended up costing a pretty penny. Instead of opting for traditional home recordings, they regularly recorded out-of-state with less than optimum conditions. As far as the Ohio sessions go, “We spent way more than we had,” notes Hurley. “The house was being renovated and we slept on his floor that was covered in sawdust. We spent our evenings playing Tiger Woods golf tournaments on Playstation 2.”
One listen to the songs on Frank Jordan’s latest reveals a maturity in both songwriting and, more importantly, on a personal level. The geographic distance from their singer hasn’t kept either Ontjes or Hurley from staying in touch on a regular basis.
So why even release Ohio, now a 2-year-old recording? As the overly enthusiastic Hurley responds, “I wanted to release this album for the past three years. … [It] was important because of all the things that led us to where we are now.” More importantly, the band believes in the new(er) material. “I feel it’s the best album we’ve ever made.”
After hearing the initial tracks, I couldn’t agree more.
With a limited release of only 300 copies, you’d best get out to this Saturday’s show early. Unfortunately, aside from an October showcase at 2007’s CMJ convention, this may be the last you’ll see of them.