Frankie Tillo – Artist Interview

Jesuits, Immortality, and Epitaphs

Frankie Tillo in his flesh

Frankie Tillo is a man’s music-man. A beautiful and down to earth soul that has an incredible presence and sense of humor; Frankie carries himself with the joie de vi·vre of a young Paul Newman and the musical sensibilities of Paul Simon.

Coming home for Christmas in Idaho Falls, we met with each other at a quaint coffee shop downtown (The Villa) surrounded by clanging cups, espresso machine hissing, and familial chatter.

During the interview we discussed his past recordings, future plans, and memories of a shared past in our Mormon dominated village. Gratitude does not begin to cover the feeling I have for this man’s art and his time. A truly inspiring human, I wish him the best in all things.

Frankie handled this interview like a conjured professional. Questions were answered with careful consideration and a smile. Frankie shared how growing up in our small town influenced his writing and perspective.

Frankie Tillo EP; EP Published by Earth Libraries – 2020

Frankie will be performing at Treefort Music Fest in Boise, ID this March 2023. I very much look forward to seeing him perform. Later this year Earth Libraries will be releasing These Songs Will Melt. We at KZUU look forward to hearing more of his music and catching up with him at Treefort Music Fest. The lineup performing with him will be – Jens Kuross, Shad Tuck, Jake Marcus, and Sean Scrivener.

During the interview I was able to ask Frankie about his friend, and drummer, Tanner Tuck’s role within his band and his life. Frankie is a community-minded individual. The loss of one of his closest community members was honored with the song, “Let It Roll” from his album: These Songs Will Melt and compilation: In Memory of Tanner Tuck. Presence. Tanner gave the song and Frankie an incredible presence which can be felt in the recording. Tanner’s drumming eases and glides the listener from beginning to end. I’m fortunate to have experienced this art and his presence in the song.

In Memory of Tanner Tuck; Compilation Published by Mishap; Earth Libraries – 2022

Read the transcription of my interview with Frankie, or listen in on Youtube.

AW: Hello. This is Austin Wetzel with KZUU. I had the privilege to interview Frankie Tillo, and want to preface this interview by saying that I’ve known Frankie for over ten years and that we grew up in the same small town. My dad was his elementary school teacher and I really enjoyed getting to know him better and I hope that you all do, too. And I hope that you check out his music because it’s really good.

AW: So who are you?

FT: Frankie Tillo.

AW: And where are you from?

FT: I’m from Idaho Falls. I live in Boise, Idaho. 

AW: Very nice. And what do you do?

FT:  Right now, I’m working in remodel. Like construction stuff.

AW: That’s cool. How long ‘you been doing that?

FT: Like, two years. Kind of like, I didn’t want to be in the services, like, industry anymore, like, because of the pandemic. And so I found a new line of work. Yeah, I suppose. And it’s flexible.

AW: Very nice. When did you start performing?

FT: Like, music in general?

AW: (Nods head, yes)

FT: My friend called me when I was, like, eleven and was like, “You want to play the saxophone?” And I was like, “What’s that?” And so I guess, really, like, first performances would have been high school or junior high band would have been first performances. But as guitar player, like 18, 17-18, we started playing. Bar gigs. Like four-hour bar gigs, because they paid, and we’d learned covers and wrote originals and so yeah.

AW: Eleven years old. I was talking with my dad today and telling him about Interviewing you. And he shared that you were a student of his. He also said that he taught fifth grade. So, if my numbers are right, you started playing that same time he was your teacher?

FT: Yeah. It would have been that summer. Yeah, like, going into 6th grade, the junior high would do, like my school closed and we moved to West Side, where your dad taught. And I went from a school of, like, 80 kids to, like, I don’t know, 600 or whatever goes there. I don’t know. It’s a much bigger, bigger school. And I met a friend, and he was like, “You want to play music?” Or like yeah, like I said. So, yeah, about that time, your dad’s class always had we always had to play dodgeball, so that was cool.

AW: Hell, yeah. And so, speaking of childhood, I’ll preface this by saying there’s a saying the Jesuits have of like, “give us the baby, and in seven years, we’ll show you the man.” So do you feel like you’re the same person intrinsically that you were as a child then? And I’ll share a story first. I remember when I was 14 or 15, we had a slumber party at a mutual friend’s house. And I remember we ended up staying up way too late, drinking too many sodas, what have you. And then we were crashing in the same room. And I just remember you asked me a lot of in-depth and really personal questions about the divorce that I was experiencing. My parents’ divorce but caught in those crosshairs. And like, I just remember the feeling of being asked all of these questions and, like, really listen to. And that’s the first time and like, last time, aside from going to therapy, that that has happened. And I’m wondering if that is still a character trait that you still possess?

FT: Wow. Yeah. That’s quite a memory. Yeah. I guess why I think maybe music has stuck with me for so long is because there is like, a lot of my childhood is like a strange dream state. I don’t remember a lot of specifics until I was maybe junior high. I just don’t remember a lot of things. And music is like one of those things that there’s, like, a presence that you have to be in the moment when you’re doing it. You can’t just be thinking about something else. And there’s, like, a practice of, like, almost like a meditation or something, I guess, that allows you to be more present. And there’s, like, the listening aspect, I suppose, you know, of listening to other people who do other things, but just, like, using that as a vessel to be like, well, how do I, like, affect people around me? And, like, what are they saying that I do? Either good or bad? How do I affect people? And I think that’s part of learning your influence on other people and how you affect your social circles and your friends and people you care about, I suppose, would be me.  So, yes, I would say I would like to think I’ve hopefully gotten better at it. It or at least, maybe not better, but yeah, I would say yeah.

AW: Awesome. That kind of ties into another question I have of what does your community look like right now? And I guess in any sense, like, music or personal work, like, is that something really important to you to stress, strengthen, and build upon, your sense of community? Yeah. What does that look like or mean to you?

FT: Yeah, I would say it’s probably one of my main reasons why I play music and the way I go about playing it. A lot of us are at a point with, like, an identity crisis in a way. Like, ”Why are we creating art and making music? And in this vacuum of the west changing very quickly, what does it mean?” And there is less money in it than there’s ever been, you know? So, it’s like, how do we survive and still create art for each other? Because I think that’s ultimately what we’re doing. You know, you always want to think it’s like some audience that’s on the social media or for some booking agency or something, you know what I mean? And there’s, like, this sold image of whatever, but I feel like it at the heart of it. The realization I’ve come to is like, no, I think I create art for myself and for people who want to be involved. And luckily, I have a group of friends that are incredibly talented that also want that. We influence each other. And I think that’s where I found the main power, like writing music and stuff, is, like, relating these things we’re going through, and we can’t quite put words to it. And I think we all do that for each other.

AW: Thank you. Are you playing in any other bands right now?

FT: Yeah, I play.. so my band is Jens Kuross, Shad Tuck and Jake Marcus. And I play in the bass player Shad’s project, Chief Broom. And so does Jake Marcus. So there’s like, overlap. And Jake. Marcus and I also play in Jens Kuross’s stuff when he plays in Boise. So, yeah, Chief Broom is like grungy. It’s really good songwriting. And I get to play guitar just like the guitar guy, which is really nice. So, yeah.

AW: And are those so the four of you, that lineup you just described, is that what’s going to be performing in March at Tree Fort?

FT: Yeah. And Sean Scrivener, he plays saxophone. Yeah, that should be the iteration. Unless something catastrophic happens.

AW: And that. I was looking at your SoundCloud album, These Songs Will Melt. And there were two Tuck names listed on that album credit and saw maybe after well, yeah, after this album These Songs Will Melt was released, there was a Spotify EP In Memory of Tanner Tuck. And I’m assuming that’s a band member that passed away.

FT: Yeah

AW: And there’s a song on These Songs Will Melt, “Let It Roll” that was then released In Memory of Tanner Tuck, “Let it Roll” that released that song. I’m wondering what his role was in that music making process and why you chose that song in memory of him.

FT: Yeah, Tanner passed away June of 2021, and Shad and Tanner are brothers. And I think we chose that song because I think it was like I don’t think that song, like, the way we recorded it, we kind of just went in and I kind of taught it to him. And I think we both felt, Shad and I, that Tanner’s drumming was like is the song to me. That’s what I listened to. There’s some really amazing fills, and just there’s, like, this laid-backness, I suppose, just ease that Tanner plays with. I feel like Tanner is, one of the more musical people that, like, I’ve ever met, just in general, like, as, like, maybe a producer or, you know, because he made, like, beats and was involved in, like, the local Boise hip hop scene. His role, I guess. Kind of a unifier, I think, between, like, Shad and I and him at the at the time, I feel like we felt a very, like, almost like a kinship, like a brotherhood hood. It just felt good to be in a band again after, like, my old band, Thick Business, kind of broke up and I was like, “well, what am I going to do?” And then, like, knowing Shad and Tanner and, like, starting to play music with them, it was very, like, “Oh, wow, like, this really feels good.” And there’s, like, a lightness to it where we just create, like, it isn’t hard. Yeah, he definitely brought, like, the levity and, like, ridiculousness to, like, rehearsals and, you know, things. But then also at the same time, was, like, always had amazing suggestions and had, like, a very good artistic vision as a drummer or a guitar player or whatever, just chatting with him about anything. He always was, I feel like, was ahead of what Shad and I were thinking. And I think that’s true of Chief Broom, because he drummed in Chief Broom also.

AW: Beautiful. I could see that in that song. How much of it is driven by the percussion and the tempo. And knowing that context, I can feel his presence much more, along with the context of his passing and his role within the group. Yeah, thanks for sharing that.

FT: I’ll have to mention also, Riley Johnson plays keys on that song.

AW: Cool. There are, especially in the EP on Spotify, a lot of  maybe, like, existential angst. I’m thinking of Sick of the Suck, (Frankie Tillo EP), especially. How do you feel growing up in Idaho Falls has formed your worldview and your character?

FT: You know, up until 16, 17, 18, I guess. I guess you’re kind of just bored and you’re always at odds with, like, what’s going on with, you know, the over domineering and religious presence and almost like, the suffocating feeling of that. And then moving out of my parents’ house and meeting people who I moved into a house and they just happened to be running a DIY venue and were like, punk, I guess, and introduced me to early just other ideas. I think, that were like – my friend Kate had gone to Evergreen in Olympia and there were ideas that just blew my mind. “You can do that? that exists?” you know, kind of thing. And then but I think it, like, always and I was always, like, trying to, like one up the man or something like that. You know, I think a lot of people from Idaho Falls, in eastern Idaho in general feel that way, like, not being part of the religion, like you’re, like, left out of sports or you’re left out of whatever. You’re always, like, kind of like second to the whatever, even if you were as talented or whatever. There’s, like, a strange way that tends to play out within most things. And I think that’s probably why I was in band, because it was like a place void of that there wasn’t that weird competitiveness that existed there and also played hockey, which was void of that. There were certain things that just pushed me into that. And I think the boredom or whatever, I don’t know. The winters are long here. So, like, it left me time to, like, practice music and play guitar and, like..

AW: What influences or inspires your music writing most?

FT: Like, artists or you mean like? 1

AW: I have written here, like, music, books, relationships. I guess it’s pretty broad. But do you find things that draw your songwriting more than other things, or is it..?

FT: Absolutely. Yeah. I would say I oftentimes write about, like I mentioned kind of early, the shared experience of it’s kind of on accident. Songwriting and music, to me, is like a practice in expressing a full thought, like an idea, and maybe that’s true. A lot of people who create music. Like music or paint or whatever. It’s like creating an idea that isn’t just like whatever, like a tweet or you know? It’s like this practice of being like, I had an idea and I want to explore all those ideas within it. And I have this feeling and I want to be able to express it in some kind of truth that exists within that. And I think because it is art, it’s so easy to share. But I often find myself drawing from things we’re kind of mad about as friends or things that are changing. It feels very, I think it usually comes from anger, unless it’s like a love song, but it’s not always expressed as anger. I try to dig below whatever that feeling is and find the root. But why is my reaction anger? And how do I express that and help me move on from that?

AW: Anger is a great motivator. I like that description of finding the root of that. This is a fun question: If you could live forever, would you? and I guess it could be in the context of like a futurist idea, like nano robots inside of you fighting off disease forever or uploading your conscious into the metaverse. Any interpretation you feel like? If there was a qualifier, if it was a blanket, no. Or if it’s yes, would you live forever?

FT: You know, I don’t know what I think about the afterlife or whatever, but I think there is something enticing about seeing whatever is next. So probably no. I feel like my aunt would always be like, when I was little, she’d be like, “Life is so long, Frankie. Why would you want to do it again?” You know, like, that seems so miserable. But I don’t necessarily think that. But that is a fun question. Yeah. I would say no.

AW: Nice. Do you have planned out what your performance at Tree Fort is going to look like? I guess a set or the venue you’ll be at? I haven’t been there before, so I’m not sure what it’s like. But yeah. Do you know what your performance will entail?

FT: I think that all is based on kind of rehearsal. I have some new stuff I’d really like to play and then depending on the venue; I always find myself like I with the band, we curtail ourselves and depending on the time because sometimes you have to rock and other times you can lean into softer sides of songs. Or you can recreate them in different ways, depending on what you think would hit the audience the best way. But some places those if you’re playing a loud bar, you just have to be loud because that’s the only thing that will make people be like, “(Crowd Roar)” guitar drum fills. But it all yeah, it just depends on I don’t know what time we’re playing or what night. I think there’s kind of an art form in that as a performer playing to whatever your restrictions are within the space. So I guess we’ll see.

AW: I appreciate that your discography has that flexibility between soft jazz and not hard rock and has that, I imagine it’s been cultivated over the years. But is there, like, drawing from your experience in jazz band in high school. Outside of that, what draws you to that style of music and keeps you going? In these songs you’re going to write, do you see yourself branching away from that, trying other styles? I guess, what do you like about those styles and that flexibility? Do you see yourself veering from that in the future?

FT: I think I always found myself choosing a little bit more complex chord progressions and then finding within that, the people I play with now have all studied jazz. Which I’m grateful they find kind of interesting enough to play. I, like, love collaborating. It’s like one of my favorite things about making music. I don’t, like, play everything on my albums, whereas a lot of people do now because it’s cool. I think I’m in it for capturing that moment, like a moment that happens between us and being able to share that in some way. So they bring, like especially if you were to see the live set at Tree Fort, it’ll definitely be, like, a little more in the realm of jazz sometimes, depending. But in the future, yeah, I guess, these more recent songs, I think I’m hoping they’re, like, a little more streamlined, I guess, and kind of get back to a more punk, I guess, or, like, rock. What do they call it? downbeat? It’s not going to be like that or whatever. I don’t know that.

AW: Like The Clash?

FT: Yeah, stuff like that, where it’s just like. (down beat drum noises). That’d be cool if I could write that kind of stuff, but it’s just not in me, not yet. Hopefully I’ll unlock it someday, but kind of just write it and then bring it to people and see how it sounds. And then from there you try to expand the idea and just see where it’s at. I don’t think it’s necessarily that deliberate, sometimes.

AW: I could see that with what you’re saying, with collaboration and making the music that’s in the moment, it’s impossible to tell what it will be when you’re not there yet.

FT: Yeah, and like what they’ll play. There’s a lot of trust, I think. Not a tight grip because that doesn’t make it very fun, but being open to whatever is going to happen, we’ll see. Maybe the songs are no good. No, I don’t know. I like them.

AW: With mixing and producing the music, is that something you’ve outsourced or like, are you going to a studio or is this something you’re doing independently?

FT: We have, like, a spot in Garden City. It’s had a lot of names. I think the name on the marquis is Rocket Science Sound, but it’s been like Twin Dolphin. And we were going to do Sizzler Studio for a while, but then we find out there’s another Sizzlers and then there’s also the restaurant. But we like, everything I’ve recorded, I recorded there. And usually what I do is we go in, we spend like, two days getting all our tones and making it sound the way we want it to sound. And then we spend, you know, three to four days just, like, tracking everything and going through and just recording it. Once we like how the drums sound or, you know, and then I might overdub some stuff later, but. The production is done. A lot of times, between myself and Danny Kerr, who is like a longtime friend, and old bandmate. On These Songs Will Melt, I mixed all the ones that aren’t full band stuff. And then Nevada Soul, who lives in Astoria, mixed that stuff. I went out there and mixed it with him. The EP (Frankie Tillo EP), Danny Kerr mixed one song and then I mixed the other three.

AW: What is your superpower?

FT: I feel like at some point I was much more social, and I felt like I was able to bring people together. I don’t feel as social recently, but I’ve always liked the groups of friends that seem to collide, maybe in my presence or something. I don’t know. There’s like, facilitation. Maybe. As boring is as like, you know sounds like a job interview.. Like, “I’m a facilitator”, you know? whatever. I wish I could fly or something.

AW: Facilitation is a good one. Flight is also good.

FT: (laughs) I can’t fly.

AW: Do you have a favorite show that you’ve played this far?

FT: Yeah, I would say my friend Teal in the back of Ming Studios, like in the courtyard where all the businesses meet that are in that little group of businesses. We host shows there and I feel like the couple I’ve played error over the past year have been very wonderful. They’re usually in the heat of the summer. One was at Tree Fort. We’ll probably do another one at Tree Fort this year. Donut Day Six will be the name of the show at Tree Fort. They’re just really fun. They’re outdoors, and, like,  they have a household kind of vibe. I was like, stuff like that.

AW: Hopes, goals, and ambitions for the future. What’s your – I don’t know – five years, ten years. Do Do you have these things written down, or, like, in your mind?

FT: Yeah, I think earlier this year, I had this realization. I was like, I just want to get to a point where, as I move forward and grow, I guess, a little bit older or something, I could be like, I want to go tour for a week and be able to put a bunch of shows together and not lose money. I guess my goal would be able to maintain my musical relationships to the point where it could be like, “hey, do you guys want to go do this and, like, play music outside of wherever we live and make it sustainable in a way?” It feels very lofty, but I know it should be, like, reachable. You would hope and, like, maintain all those friendships I’ve built over the years from touring and things like that and that community that I really value. Even though we only see each other once a year, however often we come through.

AW: I think with the abilities you have had since you were a child and your superpower, I think is possible. You got this. Yeah, man. Those are all the questions I have. And I’m really grateful for your time and I appreciate you sharing your time in this space in The Villa in Idaho Falls. Do you have your, What do they call that? I guess, First question: Are you going to have a gravestone? And then what will be written on it?

FT: I don’t know if I’ll have a gravestone. Maybe, “The smell of this place reminds me of something.” I don’t know. I was just thinking of this place specifically. Like when I come home, going to the YMCA or The Villa, I have all these memories that might be fun on a gravestone because the cemetery shouldn’t smell, like bad. It shouldn’t smell like bodies. Anyways. Yeah. Thank you for having me and like, liking the music enough to reach out. I haven’t seen you in a long time, but yeah. Thank you.

AW: Austin Wetzel with KZUU. Thank you.

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