What’s in a name?
Frank Jordan is a trio, not a politician
Blame it on Herb Caen.
The now-deceased exponent of three-dot journalism, a Sacramento native who entertained Northern Californians over their morning coffee for decades via his popular column in the San Francisco Chronicle, got a hard-on for hassling the city’s then-mayor in print.
Meanwhile, a young band in Carmichael, 100 or so miles to the northeast, was shopping around for a name, and its singer had what he thought was a brilliant idea.
“Caen always used to bash Frank Jordan,” recalls the band’s bass player, Matt Ontjes. “And I think [the singer’s] idea was, if we named our band ‘Frank Jordan,’ maybe Herb Caen would write about us.”
That singer is no longer in the band. Frank Jordan, however, soldiers on—inscrutable name and all. The trio, launched in 1994, now includes Ontjes, drummer Devin Hurley and guitarist/singer Mike Visser. These days, it’s pretty much a weekend affair: Ontjes still lives in Carmichael and works in a restaurant; Hurley and Visser stay in Daly City during the week, where they do construction work, commuting to Sacramento on Wednesday nights for band practice.
And, as Ontjes puts it, “every other weekend,” Frank Jordan has been heading south to Long Beach, where its label, Cornerstone Recording Arts Society—formerly known as Skunk Records, home of the defunct band Sublime—is headquartered. Last year Cornerstone released Decoy, the debut CD Frank Jordan recorded at Pus Cavern in 1998; the Davis-based ska band Filibuster, also on Cornerstone, had recruited Visser to play bass on a European tour, and Visser adroitly slipped a version of Decoy to someone from the label.
Recently, that connection has translated into gigs with labelmates Bargain Music and comedy-punk band the Ziggens; that bill will play the Capitol Garage on Thursday. Frank Jordan also recently opened a couple of shows for Banyan, the textural side project of bassist Mike Watt (minutemen, fIREHOSE) and drummer Stephen Perkins (Jane’s Addiction, Porno for Pyros).
Comedy, however, is not Frank Jordan’s forte. What this trio does instead is firmly rooted in a rock-music tradition that’s much more serious and earnest—think Jeff Buckley, or Robert Fripp.
The link to Buckley, the tragic young singer with the otherworldly angelic voice who was pulled to his death by a Mississippi River undertow, is particularly apparent. One listen to Visser’s soaring vocals, which rise sharply above the band’s tensely controlled din, and there’s no question that Frank Jordan has been deeply touched by Grace, Buckley’s arresting 1994 full-length debut.
Ontjes insists it was more a matter of parallel evolution rather than conscious mimicry. “We explored Buckley’s music more after our album was finished than we had before we recorded it,” he says, then confesses: “He’s a big influence on all of us, I think. I mean, he’s arguably the most talented and sophisticated singer-songwriter of the last 30 years, in my eyes. Incredible.
Musically, Frank Jordan—which played instrumentals, exclusively, from the period between the Herb Caen fan leaving and Visser stepping up to the mike—is harder to pin down. The band’s guitar-bass-drum attack is brittle, but its propulsion is liquid; think Fugazi meets Medeski, Martin and Wood, a fusion that’s especially evident on Decoy’s “2005 Ivar Ave.” That lengthy instrumental was named after the band’s Hollywood address during a 1997 Southern California sojourn, when Visser and Ontjes followed Hurley down south to take advantage of some free studio time.
Decoy’s successor will be recorded later this year, either down south or in Sacramento. Live, the band has been branching out, too: Ontjes lists future shows in Austin (the South by Southwest festival), Arizona, Portland and Seattle. “It’s fun,” he says. “It’s feeling good … so far.”
Steer clear of Cleveland and you’re home free, lads. And if you name your next album “Jon Carroll” or “Joel Selvin,” you may even make it into the Chronicle.