His debut album’s not even out yet, but upcoming crooner Be No Rain, aka Sam Frankl, has already got his second in the bag. “You know the old adage that it takes 25 years to write your first album, and six months to write your second? That has rarely been truer.”
‘Strawberry Backstory’ has now been kicking around for the best part of the year, with the usual 2020 reasons for not being released, which has been handy for Sam. Being able to look back upon his first album, and understanding just what he’d put into it meant that it was easier for Be No Rain to set out on the next road.
“I felt a fidelity to some of the earlier parts of my songwriting and identity when I was doing the first record,” he says. “I was using quite a lot of source material from my adolescence in my early 20s and trying to fit that into a coherent whole.”
That “coherent whole” is, as Sam puts it, a “kind of collage”. It features heartbreak, humour, and most of all, lashings of personality. Coming from such a personal space, this mysterious second outing “was far more immediate, and I felt like I was writing from the more recent past, far more reactive with a more consistent voice.”
But without getting ahead of ourselves, ‘Strawberry Backstory’ is why Dork are chatting to a sleepy Sam, who’s just returned from a trip Sweden in the wee hours. This is truly the beginning of Be No Rain’s journey, with its striking aesthetic and icon – Sam himself – immersed in it. Combed in grainy VHS footage and a youthful vulnerability, this all came from Sam wanting to, well, not be Sam. Referring to this process as “practically a wholesale reinvention at one point”, the idea behind Be No Rain, and its eventual first album, initially came to be “as a document about memory…this shadow of a singular experience.”
“In this case, [it was] heartbreak from my adolescence. It fractured at a certain point, and that was around the time we decided on adopting a nom-de-plume instead of using my birth name,” he says. “Which I had been using for some releases before, but I felt like I needed this character who could be kind of ambiguous and caught between this weird world between memory and renewal. So that’s why we came up with Be No Rain, kind of lovelorn, stuck at prom forever, character.”
So what was it like the moment you decided to part the two, and let Be No Rain become his own thing?
“It was incredibly liberating…”, he pauses with a big sigh. “Sam Frankl being attached to it always felt like this sobering thing. I could never shake the fact that that’s just the name I carried about my whole life, so I needed this kind of this vessel or insulation from that.”
Immersing himself in a world of his creation allowed Sam to be a lot “calmer”, he says. “We were able to suddenly start talking about these stories which are grown as structures off an original event. We could then interact with [them] far better whenever this strictly formal character that existed rather than some version of me, but it is, obviously, still just some version of me.”
The idea for the world itself came from the echoing and yearning ‘Call Back’ after someone commented that it “sounds like the soundtrack to a John Hughes film – Pretty in Pink, or something like that, and we loved that.”
Playing directly into the hands of Sam’s teenage, lovelorn experiences, the unabashed nature naturally led into that most frightfully important moment in a teenager’s life, the pesky prom night. In this idea, Be No Rain sounds like: “This idea of a totally unrealistic high school band that might play at their prom.”
“While we were recording the vocals, we started projecting scenes from movies onto the back wall of the studio for me to try and embody the feeling,” he says. “I think our favourite was a scene from Carrie – before she gets covered in pig’s blood, obviously – when she’s slow dancing in circles. So we started really focusing on the prom aspect more and more.”
Having never been to one of his own, Be No Rain’s world is meant to portray Sam’s idea of the event. “I always thought of it as kind of this magical threshold moment, which seemed like the perfect place for a character to get stuck, frozen in time,” he says. “Unable to break out of this loop because the songwriting process ended up mirroring the act of remembering the act of losing something. That endlessness, and just being caught in time.”
In turns out too that the glistening, reddened light that spills from the album’s title was purposeful. Retrofitted on because “it kind of works as a proxy for rose-tinted glasses, like, just a sweetened somewhat synthetic and imbued with fiction and music.”
Those rose-tinted specs that we all tend to wear when reminiscing and yearning for the past are never that close to the truth. But Sam reckons there’s something else at play in these trips down memory lane. “I think of it as being vitally tinged with the art that we consume during the memory, while the event is happening in the first place.
“What I find most intoxicating about art is the idea that it can actually attach quite firmly. Eventually, you can’t even tell the difference entirely between what you experienced firsthand, and the way that you’ve then mythologised it, and laced it with that film that you watched the next day or the next time you thought about the memory of that song you heard. It all becomes this web.”
Now the ‘Strawberry Backstory’ memory excavation has been completed, and it’s back to the future for Sam. As for what this next album sounds like, given this eternal prom, is that it for Be No Rain? To be shimmering in this forever-21 scene?
“It’ll take place in a different world altogether,” he chuckles. “I think of it as some kind of film franchise that I want to be able to draw upon. The character stays the same, but more or less every other reference point just shifts around him. It’s like someone just hit scroll on the multiverse and there they are inserted into this new world, and it’s just like the reactions remain the same because the character has been formed.”
Not wanting to anchor himself too far into this idea, Be No Rain is still a catharsis for Sam and a new way of dealing with the world as he grows up. “I don’t want to pretend these things are overly constricting or overly structured,” he says. “When it comes to sitting down and writing a song, I’m not trying to lean too hard on the narrative angle. So I think the world which the second album has been created in, and in turn, created, is still being formed. It definitely won’t be a high school prom. But I can’t exactly put my finger on exactly what.”
Taken from the October issue of Dork, out very soon indeed. Be No Rain’s album ‘Strawberry Backstory’ is out now.
Words: Steven Loftin