Life Is Funny: All About Frankie Lumlit

Life is funny. I had my friend Tim Simmons over to my house to play some music a while back, and he made an offhand comment: “Dude, you have the jankiest drumkit!”

To be fair, he was right. I bought my drumkit a year ago from a guy on the edge of town. The morning I picked it up, he was sharpening knives in his basement and eagerly awaiting a shipment of AK-47 rounds. I know this because he told me so.

He also threw a bunch of additional drums I didn’t need into the deal, telling me that he had to make room in the basement. For what, I wasn’t sure, but I also didn’t want to ask, as I didn’t really want to know how many AK-47 rounds he was waiting on. Mainly, I just wanted to leave before the ammunition arrived.

All of this is to say that it’s a previously-owned drumkit. Or, to put it another way, a recycled drumkit. Which means I’ve also had to make a few adaptations to make it sound the way I want it to sound: mixing and matching the various drums that my knife-sharpening friend foisted upon me, employing a vast array of odds and ends (including but not limited to duct tape, tea towels, a circle of plastic sheeting I cut from a shelf liner, and a polishing cloth that came with a pair of glasses) to get the heads to sound just right, and a length of chain on my crash cymbal to give it some “sizzle.”

Also worth noting, the kit is wedged into a tight corner in a tiny room in my basement. To get situated behind the drums, I need to squeeze between the ride cymbal and a worktable while trying not to knock over a stack of milk crates loaded with old recording gear.

So, yeah, Tim was right. My drumkit is definitely janky.

But here’s the thing: Tim loves the way it sounds, so he wasn’t criticizing my kit so much as marveling at how I’ve managed to jerry-rig it.

In any case, we played music for a bit, laying down some tracks for the follow-up to the first Simmons and Schuster album, and I pretty much forgot about Tim’s comment—until a few days later when I sat down to play my drums.

It really is a janky drumkit, I thought. Maybe there’s a story there.

Stories about music were on my mind (again) because of Tim. He had written a children’s book called Serafine Learns to Sing a few years earlier and was now teaching a course on writing stories for young readers. I’d also done a little bit of writing in the past myself, so I had a basic understanding of things like plot, character, and setting. So why not?

Concept sketch for cover.

My original thought was to write a story called The Jankiest Drumkit. It would be told from the drumkit’s perspective and be about how the world’s jankiest drumkit was always being passed over until someone special discovered it and realized that it sounded amazing. The problem, though, was that I wasn’t sure how to tell the story from the perspective of an inanimate object. Also, if the drumkit were sentient, would there be ethical issues in terms of beating it with sticks?

So, no, the story wouldn’t be told from the drumkit’s perspective. Instead, I decided it would be about a child with a janky drumkit. And the child’s name would have to rhyme with “janky drumkit.” I’m not sure why. Maybe a hint of Dr. Seuss.

Curiously, it took me a while to come up with the name Frankie Lumlit. The Frankie part came pretty quickly. But the last name was the real mystery to me. I remember lying awake at night cycling through names: Gumbit? Humrit? Bumpit? Dumbwit? The list went on and on.

Once I settled on a name, I had an inkling that Frankie’s story shouldn’t be too close to my own. Something about buying a drumkit from a creepy survivalist sharpening knives in his basement while waiting for a shipment of AK-47 ammunition struck me as not quite right for a children’s book.

Also, if Frankie was supposed to be a child, how would he drive out to the edge of town to get the drumkit? It just didn’t make sense. That’s when I hit on the idea that Frankie might build his own drumkit. From there, it all came together very quickly—the story, anyway:

Frankie Lumlit leads a quiet life until he hears a song that changes everything for him (an experience that I imagine a lot of us have had). He’s so taken by the music that he wants to be a musician, too, but he can’t afford an instrument, so he builds a drumkit out of odds and ends he finds in the recycling bin (an echo of my own “recycled” drums). He’s proud of his drumkit until a friend of his laughs at it (shades of Tim Simmons!), but eventually his drumkit takes center stage at a big rock concert.

Once the story was written, I had to figure out how to illustrate it. I’d done some drawing and digital art in the past, so I knew I could start with some basic sketches on paper and then play with them in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. But I also wanted to make sure I came at it from the right angle, so I sketched out a bunch of possibilities for Frankie: a timid-looking kid with chubby cheeks, a round-headed Muppet, a pointy-eared gnome.

Early sketches.

Eventually I decided that I was overcomplicating things and decided to do a quick sketch without thinking too much about it. Whatever I drew, that would be Frankie, and the other characters would follow from there.

As for the rest of it, I spent the next few weeks taking pictures and figuring out how to turn them into illustrations. A lot of tracing was involved. And a lot of superimposing of images on top of each other.

I should note that I owe a debt to my friend and colleague Wayne Brew for the image of the theater where the story reaches its climax; with his blessing, I traced a photo of an abandoned movie theater that he had posted on Instagram. I also put myself into that illustration as the “man with a clipboard.”

Altogether, it took me about a month to illustrate the book. When I was finished, I queried a few agents but never heard back, which is fine. I’d had a lot of luck with publishing my book about the Beach Boys’ Holland album directly through Amazon, so I figured I’d try the same thing with this one.

I suppose at this point I should mention the title of the book: Frankie Lumlit’s Janky Drumkit. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s what people in the industry call an “early reader,” which is to say that it’s written with an audience of six-to-eight-year-olds in mind.

My goal, as you might guess, was to write a book about creativity—something that can get a child’s imagination going, particularly with respect to music. For some reason, I imagine aunts and uncles who are into music buying it for their nieces and nephews who live in quiet homes like Frankie does at the beginning of the story. With any luck, it will open up a world of possibilities and encourage the kind of do-it-yourself ethos that inspires so many of the musicians and artists that I’ve grown to admire over the years.

If you’re curious, I’d love for you to give it a read:

Available on AMAZON USA

Available on AMAZON UK

Just Kind of the Way I Write: An Interview with Scoopski

I’ve been meaning to interview the artist known as Scoopski for a while now. Recording with his wife (Mrs. Scoopski) in their eponymous band, his music strikes a delicate balance between poignance and humor. Take, for example, their latest album, See You Soon, whose cover depicts a fetus making a set of devil horns with his fingers and whose lyrics raise a wide range of existential questions like how did we get here, where are we going, and what exactly does one wear when it’s too warm for a hoodie yet too cold for a tee shirt? Though we didn’t get to tackle these questions when I caught up with Scoopski recently, we did get a chance to talk a bit about the peculiarities of our hometown as well has the latest endeavor that he and Mrs. Scoopski have embarked upon…

What part of Philadelphia are you from? Do you find that it influences the way you look at life in general and songwriting in particular?

Hey Marc! Thanks so much for taking the time to interview me! I’m from the Northeast part of Philadelphia. I actually grew up in the Philly suburbs, but I’ve been a Philly resident for 6+ years now.

That’s funny! I grew up in Northeast Philly and live in the suburbs now.

I think the place you live definitely influences your songwriting in some way or form. Anything and everything that inspires me is in-bounds for a song topic, and Philly/PA is directly mentioned in a number of Scoopski songs, most notably “Emergency Joyride,” “The Philly Monk,” and most recently, “Pennsylvania.” If I didn’t live where I lived, I could’ve never written those songs. Maybe I’m secretly trying to become to PA what the Chili Peppers are to Cali… Who knows!

Well, we do have plenty of bridges you can write about being under! The title of your 2020 album Bad Things Happen in Philadelphia echoes a certain politician’s comment about the City of Brotherly Love. What were your thoughts when you heard that comment? 

The funny thing about that is that the first time I heard that phrase, all I could think was “Man, that’s an excellent album title!” and almost immediately, that album cover of our cats shooting lasers out of their eyes towards the Philly skyline popped in my head. I’m aware that people flipped that phrase around and claimed it as a Philly pride thing, and that’s cool, too, but my interpretation of it was quite literal and just silly!

One thing I like about your music is that it’s funny without being jokey, if that distinction makes sense. Why is humor so essential to your music? 

Thank you! I like to think of it that way as well. I think the weirdest thing is I don’t usually write songs with the intention of being funny… It’s just kind of the way I write! I’ve always liked artists who use lots of pop culture references, and I think when a reference to a videogame or a movie is dropped in the middle of a somewhat serious song, it almost immediately brings some levity. I also think some of the songs may seem silly on their face, but are actually a little darker than they let off, such as “Clark Griswold,” which is a song about feeling like a total failure.

Definitely… Does the humorous nature of your songs ever influence your musical decisions, particularly with respect to arrangements, instrumentation, and style? 

I would say sometimes, for sure. For example, on the first album “Bad Things Happen in Philadelphia,” the track “Miles” which is about a character from Sonic the Hedgehog, starts off with one of the iconic sounds from the videogames.

Sometimes, on the flip side, the music can actually dictate the topic of the song. The track “Mr. Spyder” from that same album was a co-write between Mrs. Scoopski and I, but it started with that piano intro she came up with. All we could think of was that it sounded like a spider, so we came up with the lyrical content around that.

Visually, your album covers employ a lot of ironic juxtaposition. The cover of 2020’s Things Are Fine evokes the Jet Star rollercoaster that washed out to sea in 2012, and the cover of the “Joy to the World” single that your released this past November features a handful of goth kids seated around a fairly chipper Santa Claus. How does that sense of irony translate to your music? Or is it actually ambivalence?

In the case of the cover of “Things are Fine,” that cover was pretty intentional. There was a lot of really bad, negative things going on in our lives from the time that album was recorded (May 2020 to February 2021). I always loved that image of the Star Jet in the ocean, the two of us actually drove down to Seaside to see it ourselves in 2012, shortly after it occurred. When I was thinking of album covers for “Things are Fine,” that image really stood out to me. A rollercoaster that was separated from where it originally stood when the boardwalk beneath it collapsed, beaten and worn down by chaotic storms. Yet it still remained, and still stood tall. I think there’s an odd message of hope in that image. 

Absolutely! I was entranced by that image as well!

As for the “Joy To The World” cover art, that one is totally ambivalent. That image was an old internet meme, taken at a nearby mall in the Philly suburbs. Our cover is very poppy and not gothic or heavy in any way, so I suppose it’s more of an ironic cover!

And speaking of covers, you recently released a pop-punk cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.” What was behind that decision, and why that song? Also, just out of curiosity, what’s involved in getting permission to record someone else’s music?

10/10 segue there!

Thanks! I try!

As for that cover, I’ve always liked that song, and really enjoy a handful of CCR songs as a whole. One day Mrs Scoopski had that song playing while we were cleaning, and immediately the sound of a pop-punk cover of it popped in my head. The original really already has the tempo of a punk song, so it was actually a very natural transition. 

As for permissions, that song and the other covers we’ve done as Scoopski are only on YouTube, and not on any streaming services (aside from BandCamp, where I have payments disabled for that song). The reason being is I’m actually not quite sure how it works, myself! The only reason our cover of “Joy To The World” is on streaming services is because I do know that song is so old that it is part of public domain, so anyone can do their own version of it without worrying about copyrights. This is definitely a topic I need to learn more about, myself!

You and me both! Now, Scoopski, the band, is a family act. You play guitar and bass and handle production, while Mrs. Scoopski plays piano and synth. And you both sing and write songs. What’s that dynamic like? 

It’s really amazing to have a life partner who is as into music as I am, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. We were bandmates first, we played together in a band where she played keys and I was the lead singer for about a year before we began dating. 

I think we both made each other better songwriters in a lot of ways, too. I knew virtually nothing about music theory before knowing her, and she says I helped her come out of her shell more with songwriting.

I’m very happy that recently Mrs. Scoopski has become more and more prominent in our songs, especially on the album “See You Soon,” where she wrote and sang lead on 3 of the tracks. (On “Things are Fine”, she played lots of piano/synth and sang lots of backup vocals, but only sang lead on the closing track).

I get just as psyched when she shows me a song she came up with as I do when I come up with a song. I remember when she first showed me the song “While We Wait” and how excited I was to record it, it’s still a favorite of mine.

Scoopski usually tends to have more songs where I’m the lead singer, just because I usually write songs really quickly and pump them out, and she usually is more measured and gets moments of inspiration. But I always go to her for input on my songs, especially during the editing process. There’s been lots of instances where a part of a song had a bad musical decision on my part, and she steered me in a much better direction.

Do you ever get to play live? If so, is it just the two of you, or do you fill out the band with additional musicians? Also, do you need a bass player? 

Unfortunately, there is yet to be a Scoopski live show!

We have played live before in the past, but not as Scoopski. As I mentioned previously, the two of us were in a band together, and we’ve also performed acoustically at open mic nights a couple times, but it’s been many years since we both played out together. 

This is something I’ve thought about a lot in the past year or so though, as you’re now on a growing list of people who have asked us about performing live!

The public demands it!

I really like the way my friend Modern Amusement (who can be heard featured on the song “RIDING THE WAVES” on our new album) performs live. His music is upbeat and energetic, sort of like how ours is, and he performs solo. But, instead of performing acoustic, he actually plays an electric guitar with distortion and all along to a backing track with the drums, synth, bass, etc. It sounds really great, and I’ve totally envisioned us playing live shows this way eventually! 

There’s something really magical about being in a full band, when everything clicks as a unit, you feel like a family. But, it’s also a lot of work and comes with a lot of emotional baggage… and at this point in time I’m not sure it’s something the two of us would be completely committed to, especially since we actually have our own little family now! So this is another reason why the option I mentioned previously may work best for us.

But hey, if we do decide to go the full band route, I will certainly hit you up for your bass skills! 😉

Nice! Your latest album is dedicated to your newborn son. How has becoming a father influenced your outlook or changed the way you think about making music? 

Absolutely! Becoming a father is very new to me, but it’s already the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

It’s extra special to us, given the journey we went on to bring our son into this world, which is documented and summed up in the YouTube video for the title track “See You Soon.”

The thing about this album is, to us the vibe of it feels very celebratory and triumphant. A lot of the songs feel like they’re sung with a big smile. It’s especially a stark contrast to us when compared to our last album, and hopefully those good vibes shine through to the listener as well.

 What’s on the horizon?

I feel this question goes hand in hand with the last, because with our baby boy being here now, we haven’t quite figured that out!

I’m a songwriter, so there is constantly new ideas kicking around in my head, I just can’t stop them. But when I record, edit, and mix the Scoopski tracks you hear, that is very time demanding. Especially in the editing process, I am almost in another world with my studio headphones on, and that doesn’t gel very well with having a newborn baby at home.

But with the nature of our project just being the two of us, as long as we’re both alive and kicking, I see no reason to think Scoopski won’t continue to exist and thrive to some extent.

The challenge will just be figuring out how music fits into our new lives as parents. But music has always been the thing that bonded us, and so for that reason I know the music will find a place, especially because we want music to be a huge part of our little guy’s upbringing!

Maybe a children’s album would be the next logical step for Scoopski? Might be!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Scoopski!