Thanks again to Joe Coyle for uploading some way old photos of Franklin playing.
This photo of Greg is from Joe’s parents house. He used to have shows in his living room which of course, at the time, was pretty boss.
This photo of Ralph is from a show we played at St. Genevieve’s in Flourtown, PA. I think at this show I almost broke my arm from flailing around a bit too feverishly, but I survived. This was also the show where I first met Mike Parsell whose band Frail also played the show.
Stavroula sent me a link to an old Franklin video that was posted on pillgrimsprogress’s YouTube channel. She stumbled across it looking for a video of Circus Lupus so I’m happy to be able to share it here.
Considering these three videos were shot on 3/28/1992 at JC Dobbs, I almost have to believe that these might be the earliest recordings of Franklin I might ever come across. We hadn’t even recorded our first demo yet so it seems to me that the show these videos come from could be our very first show. I’m going to assume we had been a band for about 3 months when these vids were captured. It’s also pretty rad that they feature Stravroula playing bass, even tho she’s basically hidden from view.
Playing, “Everything in 3′s”:
I have no idea what this song is/was. I can only assume it was some sort of free-form thingy that we thought was a good idea at the time. Clearly since we didn’t record it two months later when we recorded our first demo…it wasn’t.
I accidentally stumbled across this article on AltPress.com yesterday, while looking for an image to use on the AM/FM post. This article was posted on August 28th, 2010 and frankly, it’s probably one of the nicest things ever written about Franklin. I’ve reprinted the article here, but you can check out the original at AltPress.com. Thanks Mr. Scott Heisel, whoever you are.
See, the problem with the ’90s is that bands named themselves not ever considering the implications of Google. For example, try locating any information on Franklin. They were a quartet founded in the Philadelphia suburb of Oreland, Pennsylvania, in 1992, playing an extremely unique brand of dub-infused post-hardcore/indie rock for most of the decade, but good luck unearthing even that via the search engine. Hell, their best record was self-titled and it was on a label called Tree. You ever try searching for “franklin tree” on Google? It’s not much help. Hell, they don’t even have a posthumous MySpace page–even the lowliest of Gravity Records screamo bands has earned one of those. These are the trials and tribulations of trying to unearth information on obscure mid-’90s emo bands. It’s a tough world out there.
But while you might have to resort to actually heading to a record store and digging through crates, I assure it’s highly worth it: Franklin–vocalist/guitarist Ralph Darden, guitarist Brian Sokel, bassist Roy Binnion (later replaced by Josh Mills) and drummer Greg Giuliano–released a slew of quality music from 1993 to 1999. The band’s sound started off more in the Fugazi-esque D.C. post-hardcore vein, which you can hear on 1996′s Go Kid Go, released on defunct Canadian label Workshop Records. The album featured nine new songs as well as all of the band’s early 7-inch and compilation appearances, making it a primer for any fans coming onboard in the mid-’90s. This song is one of the better ones on the CD:
But while the band were already showing promise, it was 1997′s Building In A And E where the band really developed their own sound. Released by Chicago’s File 13 Records (and still available digitally on iTunes and Amazon MP3), the seven-song EP (the first to feature Mills on bass) was produced by Hopeton “Scientist” Brown, the man who practically invented dub music. What the band came up with on that release was groundbreaking for the time, turning Franklin into sort of a post-hardcore version of Bad Brains–a band who could both be aggressive one minute and then lose themselves in the rhythm the next. You can still legally download the first track off that EP, “(#1),” here, although my personal favorite track is “Deejay Goes Dead.”
As the band’s buzz was building, they signed to Tree Records, then a white-hot Chicago label which had released early work from Pinback, Urban Legends (pre-the Thermals) and others, and was responsible for the absolutely genius Post Marked Stamps 7-inch series, which featured Braid, the Get Up Kids, Rainer Maria, Tim Kinsella and many more. Franklin’s first release on the label was the Major Taylor 7-inch, the A-side of which was the title track and also landed its way on a Tree/Southern/Polyvinyl Records sampler in early 1998–this was the first time I heard the band, and I was legitimately blown away by what I found in the track. Shouted vocals in a quick-paced cadence under which a rubber-band bassline and groove-laden guitar fought back and forth for the spotlight, “Major Taylor” was one of the first times I had ever said to myself, “Holy shit. What is this?” Check it out below, I urge you:
But all of that was a precursor to the group’s swan song, 1999′s self-titled effort:
Darden & Co. spent three months in early 1999 working on these 11 songs (re-recording “Major Taylor” and “DJ Goes Dead” in the process), and the attention to detail shows. The band had moved on from post-hardcore and fully embraced dub, but alternated between bass-heavy jams and energetic, lo-fi indie rock. The record opens with a wailing siren before “They Attack” slams itself into gear with thumping drums and oozing bass; a few minutes later, the band deliver “Inventor Of Loud,” a positively brilliant piece of brainy indie rock that still sounds better than virtually anyone slogging it up on Pitchfork Music Festival’s side stages. Legally download that track absolutely free right here, or if you want to try before you (don’t) buy, check it out below:
But just as the band had improved on their poppier side, their dub tracks were engaging and soulful, the best the band had ever written. Check out the truly gorgeous dub ballad “Blue All Over” and be amazed at the talent level this band had:
The album winds with a re-recorded version of “Major Taylor” (available for free download here) that sadly loses just a bit of of energy and spark the original had, but is still a great song nonetheless; Franklin then closes with the seven-minute “Death By Delay,” a droning dub track that will easily swallow you whole:
I could write endlessly about how mind-bending this record was for me the first time I heard it (and still is to this day, 11 years later), but really, it all boils down to the following three words: Find this record. It still appears to be in stock on vinyl via Insound along with a few of the band’s other releases, but I know the pressing was limited to under 2,000, and given that the band and label have been dormant for more than a decade, there aren’t a lot more copies floating around out there, so get yours now.
After the band broke up in the early 2000s, Darden went onto found the Franklin-esque Jai-Alai Savant, who released an EP and LP before slipping into hibernation (although their MySpace blog from 18 months ago insists they’re not broken up). He also DJs in Chicago frequently, going under the moniker Major Taylor. His other claim to fame? Atom And His Package wrote a song about him, called “Happy Birthday Ralph.” (Sample lyric: “Happy birthday, Ralph/I love you/Even though you are fucking disgusting.”) Sokel started up experimental indie-pop duo AM/FM in the wake of Franklin’s dissolution; they are now defunct, as well. I’ve been unable to find any details on Giuliano, Binnion or Mills’ post-Franklin projects, so if you know of any, please share them in the comments.
PS: I know this is a longshot, but maybe someone out there knows: I also have a two-song 7-inch by Franklin titled Roy Is Dead, released in 1996 on a label called The Great American Steak Religion, only neither side of the record is labeled so I have no idea what the songs are. Anyone know anything about this release?
It’s kind of funny. Since starting this blog I’ve found myself, inadvertently, trying to make cohesive sense of the vast amount of stuff that I want to document. For example, should I start from the oldest material and work forward? Should I focus on one band at a time and exhaust that arena first. Honestly, I don’t think any of the organizational structures I’ve pondered could possibly work out so I’ve accepted that this blog will be, at best, scatter shot.
Thus, if I’ve accepted randomness for this blog, it could only make sense to pick another band I was in and, rather than start from the beginning, start at the end.
Around 1999, Franklin was breaking up. We had spent a ridiculous amount of time on what would be our final album, the self-titled Franklin LP, and by the completion of that record, we all sort of felt that we had done all that we could as a band, creatively. However, during the slow down of Franklin, I had started recording songs at home with a very basic, Tascam 4-track cassette recorder that I had borrowed from Atom. The 4-track was damaged so it was actually a 3-track, but some tracks were better than no tracks.
I spent months recording little tunes at home and I’ve recently unearthed them and started encoding them for inclusion here. Many of those early 3-track recordings ended up as fully realized AM/FM songs so it is pretty fun to go back and hear how they started. Anywhoo…AM/FM was really never meant to be an actual band. But eventually, it did turn into a full time band. We recorded a couple LP’s an EP and did some touring. More on those stories in the future. For now, let’s get back to the song I’m posting today.
In 2003, AM/FM set out to record a new album. We had 8 songs written, but it became apparent that the songs had seemed to cut themselves in half. On one side, the more organic, natural sounding songs. On the other, the more electric, effected sounding songs. So we thought, why not release two EP’s instead? The first of these EP’s was The Sky Is The New Ground EP. It was released on Polyvinyl in 2003. Sadly, the second EP, to be called, “Our Day” was never released as we sort of stopped playing somewhere after the release of The Sky Is The New Ground.
Up until recently, I only had a final mix of one of the songs that would make up the “Our Day” EP. However, thanks to our friend Alice, we’ve found two more of them. I’m pretty excited to offer these songs here, free of charge for anyone willing to listen. This is the first track from the EP, “Our Morning”.
I guess looking back on it, once Franklin got up and running, we were moving pretty quickly. We had recorded our first demo in May of 1992, just as we were graduating High School and just as quickly we started playing shows in and around the area. Sadly, by the end of the summer, Stavroula had made the decision to go to school in Washington DC and I guess we sort of realized that while she was the most awesomest of people ever, we might want to take that opportunity to bring in a bass player with some experience. Stavroula never seemed to feel totally confident on stage so as a group we agreed to move on.
We didn’t really know who would play bass until we played a show at Tyler School of Art. There we met Roy Binnion, a kid Ralph already had met and who seemed to be genuinely into Franklin. He mentioned that one of our songs was a favorite of his and we thought, well, he sure seems to make sense. At the time, Roy was running a small record distribution business out of his dorm room. When I say small, I mean really small. He’d organize groups of kids who wanted to buy records, place orders for the album with distros like Mordam and sell them to all of his friends. Because of it, Roy had one hell of a record collection and got all the new records before anyone. He was a pretty sick dood.
Roy joined the band and sadly, I can’t recall anything about the first time we might have practiced together or even the first show we played together, but I do remember that the connection was instantaneous and Roy was in like Flynn.
Roy’s family was living in West Chester and a lot of his friends from the area were also enrolled at Tyler. Because of that, all the kids from Philly started meeting all the kids from West Chester and our gangs got a little larger.
We played a couple shows in West Chester and one of them was at a fella named Allen Klinger. He was a friend of Roy’s and would put on shows in his basement. Allen was a little older than us but a really great guy who had decided to start a record label of his own. He had also set up a 4-track recording set up in his house and suggested we do some recording with him to see what came of it. We recorded our second demo, titled IMPACT in January of 1993. I remember spending several evenings in Allen’s basement recording the rough tracks with drums, bass and guitar then shifting upstairs to his bedroom to record vocals. We sang in his closet.
We would record many of these songs a little later for our first real 7″ release. At the time of this recording, several of the songs had different names and our song Bookmark was still an instrumental. It’s also important to note that we made the brilliant decision when writing Michael to not have any part of the song repeat and each segment of the song to have varying number of repetitions. Whatever were we thinking?