FRENCH VANILLA: THE BEST VERSION OF YOURSELF
photography by jeff fribourg
Sally Spitz: We definitely noticed differences between when we’re playing stages or on the floor surrounded by people.
Daniel Trautfield: Our relationship with the audience is something we’re really trying to discover about ourselves. That requires experimentation again, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. There’s a sense that we want people to be energized and pumped but we want to continue being our dumb, dorky, selves. That tenuousness between being like ‘WE ARE READY TO ROCK!’ and ‘We are dumb and don’t know what we’re doing …’
Sally Spitz: It’s interesting when a performer is idolized and then they’re shuffled away by bodyguards. To be objectified is something that just happens.
That’s part of what connects people to the music experience. You can’t help but elevate the humans on stage to a certain extent.
Sally Spitz: Absolutely.
Daniel Trautfield: Yeah—we’ve said before to the audience at a show that we’re nervous before playing, and while it was fun and accurate to say that, it made the audience uneasy in a way that they didn’t know how to respond to us.
Ali Day: They expect confidence.
Sally Spitz: They want to preserve your star power.
They’re like, ‘I’m nervous! You’re supposed to make me feel not nervous!’
Ali Day: ‘You’re supposed to know what you’re doing. Why are you on stage?!’
Sally Spitz: It’s like … how much do you give away about how you’re really feeling? And how much of it is just trying to make people worship you?
Become the slight superhero version of your self.
Ali Day: The best version of yourself.
Daniel Trautfield: That’s the kind of thing we’re thinking about now, how we want to deal with that process.
Or maybe you want to be the villain version of yourself or the sexy version of yourself that you’re not in your regular life.
Daniel Trautfield: Totally. Some of Sally’s lyrics are authentic to her but it’s not her directly speaking—it’s sort of an invented character or version of herself speaking to the audience.
Sally Spitz: It’s like a space to play around and explore alternate aspects of my personality. Extremes of my personality come across well through performing my lyrics. It’s a good medium for exaggerating emotion.
Is ‘Carrie’ about a real person or Stephen King’s covered-in-blood Carrie?
Sally Spitz: Yes! From the movie. ‘Evolution of a Friendship’ is about a real person and a real friendship, but it’s still cloudy. For the sake of the song there’s an aura around it. Other lyricists in bands that are considered ‘political’ are more direct sometimes.
You can make a political statement without talking like Rage Against The Machine.
Sally Spitz: Right, exactly.
Daniel Trautfield: No offense to Tom and Zach. We love them.
How do you accomplish a political message without hitting people over the head?
Ali Day: I think when you’re too forthright with the lyrics, it can get corny, so we try to have a little more subtlety—talking about experiences that we have that are adjacent to political statements, such as the experience of being a woman, or whatever it is without straight up saying, ‘BE A FEMINIST! ‘
Sally Spitz: ‘WE ARE OPPRESSED!’
Ali Day: ‘GET THE PICTURE!’ Which, sure—we believe all that.
Sally Spitz: We DO believe that.
‘Let the record show…’
Ali Day: Make sure you publish that!
Sally Spitz: The action of getting up on stage as a woman and rejecting objectification and staking a claim in your own future and trying to make it as a musician—all these things are related to political stance, believing in people’s freedom and freedom of expression.
‘Anti-Aging Global Warming’—the song about the planet is pretty clear.
Ali Day: That was the last song we wrote for the album. As we go on and figure out what our voice is, it does seem we are getting more explicit. This album has a lot of our early songs, which were written when we didn’t quite know what we wanted to say or have a clear vision. But as we go on, our songs more clearly express our political beliefs.
Daniel Trautfield: That song has an element that it’s supposed to be funny, which is important to us. It’s supposed to be over-dogmatic—hyperbolized to the point of humor.
Daniel Trautfield: We want to mix our natural tendency towards humor and darkness into the music.
Sally Spitz: The lyric, ‘What’s going to happen when we run out?’ came from a conversation I had with a boss about Post-its: ‘What’s going to happen when we run out?’ He made a really big deal out of it and it was humiliating. So I took that to talk about a larger issue.
How did you end up releasing this album with Danger Collective?
Ali Day: We didn’t shop it around really… because … we don’t know how to do that!? But Danger Collective asked us if we wanted to release something and we were like, great!
Daniel Trautfield: We recorded the album without specific plans to release it but the label came around and it felt like a good pairing. I actually taught [Danger Collective’s] Reed Kanter. I teach at a high school and I taught Reed like four years ago.
How did Tucker Robinson enter the picture to record French Vanilla? His credits include Die Antwoord, Rihanna, and Beth Ditto—what made you decide he could capture your sound and energy?
Sally Spitz: He’s a dear friend of my boyfriend for years and he’s been doing recording in Los Angeles for a while and worked with pretty big artists. He also has a band and he likes French Vanilla and has seen us live. We felt we could trust him to capture our live sound and what we wanted for the album. He’s really experienced and pro.
Daniel Trautfield: We recorded three or four times with different people. They all sounded great. Again, we knew Tucker for years before we actually decided to record with him. We just realized we needed a really clean recording process—one in which there wasn’t anything being manipulated or over-produced or any experimental processes going into it. Our live sound is very straightforward. We don’t use pedals or anything like that, so it was really good to have someone who understood. We got to mix in his house with his cute dogs so it was a good vibe for the process.
Ali Day: It was simple compared to other sessions we’ve done. There was no big mixer or anything. It was all contained on the laptop.
Sally Spitz: We recorded in a weird warehouse in Thousand Oaks that’s a distribution center for some weird production company, but Tucker got to use it on the weekends. He set up this recording environment inside this room with anonymous gear you couldn’t touch—stacks of objects.
Ali Day: Couches and chairs. I guess they do sound and audio/visual rental. There were huge TVs and all this junk around.
Sounds like a cool environment to record. Feel like you’re sneaking in a little.
Ali Day & Daniel Trautfield: Totally.
Daniel Trautfield: These weird anonymous pockets of L.A. that you end up as both a musician and person are so random. Things happen in these unseen places.
FRENCH VANILLA WITH SURF CURSE ON FRI., JULY 28, IN THE CONSTELLATION AT THE OBSERVATORY, 3503 S. HARBOR BLVD., SANTA ANA. 8 PM / $15 / ALL AGES. GET TICKETS HERE! FRENCH VANILLA’S SELF-TITLED LP IS OUT NOW ON DANGER COLLECTIVE. VISIT FRENCH VANILLA AT FRENCHVANILLA.BANDCAMP.COM.