Who is Frank Smith? According to Wikipedia, there are dozens of them, ranging from English footballers to daytime soap characters.
In musical terms, however, Frank Smith isn’t any one person; he’s five of them.
The Austin, Texas-based alt-country project — fronted by Aaron Sinclair — was, in a past life, a band out of Boston called LaGuardia. Only one record was released under that moniker before issues arose between another band from the Northeast with the same name.
A frustrated Sinclair settled on Frank Smith, somewhat sardonically, as a way to avoid such petty nuisances. The name stuck, and the group relocated to Texas in 2007.
“I grew up in Houston and my family lives in Austin,” Sinclair said. “My sister had a baby, so it was time to come back, I guess. I lived in Boston for 12 years, so as a native Texan, I knew I’d come back eventually.”
Between the name-wrangling, numerous personnel adjustments and nearly 2,000 miles in migration, the modern incarnation of Frank Smith has endured more than your average rock ’n’ roll outfit. Recent times have been significantly steadier for the group, allowing Sinclair and his bandmates to come into their own and blossom musically.
“I’ve always just been really lucky to have great musicians to play with,” he said. “We’ve actually been together for the last two records as a band. It feels really good.”
Frank Smith’s new album, Nineties, is its ninth post-LaGuardia release. Much of it was recorded live with limited overdubbing, which — given the members’ penchant for gritty, rock-infused folk — has suited them quite well.
“We don’t really have the money or time to sit in there and track one piece at a time,” Sinclair said. “We like to embellish a little bit, but I like that vibe. I’ve grown to like it — I guess out of necessity — but I’ve gotten used to it. I think it’s a cool way to record.”
This linear substructure is the foundation for Sinclair’s songwriting. Yet his songs abstain from orthodoxy through intricate arrangements and quick-witted tonal shifts, often fragmenting the boundaries between ’90s indie rock and homely Americana.
Lyrically, Sinclair doesn’t beat around the bush, either. His candid, expressional approach exudes a clarity that’s almost deadpan in delivery, which, by design, pairs well with the charismatic songs he writes.
“I’ve never been one of those people that has a book full of lyrics they haven’t used yet,” he said. “Lyrics usually come last for me. I tend to write words to fit the music instead of the other way around.”
With this reluctance to be pigeonholed in tow, Frank Smith embarks on tour in support of Nineties, carving out its own true identity with a single goal in mind: just playing songs.
“I tend to gravitate toward songs and not genres,” Sinclair said. “I just like a good song. You can find those anywhere.”