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

Painfully Slow and Meticulous: An Interview with Jeff Archuleta, a.k.a Eclectic Music Lover

If you’re at all like me – and I’m guessing you are if you’re reading this blog – you’re not just a fan of music. You’re also a fan of people who write about music. Given the nearly infinite number of choices available to even the most casual music fan these days, it’s always good to have a trusted guide to point the way not only to sounds we might be familiar with but also to artists who push us a little further out from our usual comfort zones. That’s why I’m a fan of Eclectic Music Lover, a music blog that Jeff Archuleta has made a labor of love since 2015. Knowing first-hand how much work has gone into some of my own writing endeavors, I decided to drop Jeff a line to see what goes on behind the scenes of his blog.

You’ve been blogging about music since 2015. Did you have any experience with blogging—or writing about music in other forums—prior to starting Eclectic Music Lover? What inspired you to start blogging?

No, other than a short essay about how much I loved the music of The Carpenters that I wrote for a high school English class, I’d never written about music before, nor did I have any experience with blogging. I started my blog at the suggestion of a friend, actually. I used to share videos of songs I liked, as well as some of my favorite song lists, on Facebook, but few of my friends ever engaged with them. So, I created a music group on Facebook, and invited those friends who I thought might be interested in reading or sharing music-related stuff. Approximately 25 joined, but the response was still pretty lackluster. It was then that my friend Matt suggested I start a music blog to express my love for music, and it’s grown to the point where I sometimes feel I’ve created a monster. The irony of it all is that, although I love talking about and sharing music, I do not enjoy the act of writing itself.

Yet you put out thoughtful reviews at an incredible pace—multiple reviews a week, plus your weekly top 30 lists. What’s your process, and how do you keep that pace going?

A significant percentage of the music I review is at the request of artists and bands, or their PR reps or labels, so in a sense, they determine my blog content to some degree. I also write about artists and bands I particularly like, or occasionally about favorite songs from the past.

As far as process, I’m a painfully slow and meticulous writer, so most of my reviews take me a great deal of time to get done. And though I’ve never been diagnosed, I also think I suffer from a bit of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), which often makes it very difficult for me to focus, especially when writing album reviews, which I intensely dislike doing. I still work part time at a job, so it’s often a challenge to keep the pace of cranking out 3-5 reviews week after week. Also, I’ve never been able to handle stress or pressure very well, and become overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, depression and burnout with increasing frequency. Consequently, I’ve scaled back somewhat on the number of reviews I write per month to preserve what’s left of my sanity.

Jeff Archuleta, aka Eclectic Music Lover

It sounds like you get a lot of requests from bands who want their music reviewed! How do you decide which music to review?

I do! Some days I receive more than 10 emails from artists, bands or PR reps asking for reviews, interviews, etc., in addition to direct messages from artists on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, also wanting me to listen to their song, EP or album in the hope I’ll write about them. As I stated in my response to your previous question, it can sometimes be overwhelming to the point of despair, which causes me to consider giving up blogging altogether.

Though it’s easy for me to blow off PR reps, I have a very hard time saying no to an artist or band when they ask me to review their music, especially if they follow me on social media, so I generally agree to do it. On occasion, I must reject an artist or band if their music is really bad, which is terribly painful for me. I only write positive reviews, as I see no point in writing a negative one for an indie or unsigned artist. They would be unhappy and hurt, and would not want to share my review. I’m not a music critic, and do what I do partly to help promote indie artists and give them a bit of press.

The biggest shortcoming I’ve found with indie artists or bands is poor or weak vocals. But many artists such as Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker, to name just two, did not have great singing voices, however, they’ve put out some brilliant music. For those artists with weak vocals, I try to focus on their lyricism and musicianship, which have often been quite good, and simply make a brief comment that their vocals are a bit weak or lacking in spots.

One thing that always impresses me about your blog is that your reviews offer insights into both the music and the musicians who make it. More often than not, your reviews will include information that isn’t readily available on a musician’s Bandcamp page, for example, or even on their website. How do you go about learning about the bands and musicians that you like?

When writing reviews, I usually check out all of an artist or band’s social media accounts to find out as much information about them that I can so that I can write a coherent review or article. Some artists and all PR reps will include their bio info, a press release, and links to all their social media in their submissions, which is very helpful. But many artists do not, which can be frustrating, so I ask them to send me those things so I don’t have to waste my time hunting them down. Now that I’ve been blogging about music for over six years, I have a sizeable group of artists and bands I’m particularly fond of, who I write about numerous times. For those artists, writing a new review is somewhat easier because I already know about their history and music catalog. But the challenge is coming up with something new and fresh to say, without rehashing what I’ve written previously.

Your blog is aptly named—you really do review an eclectic range of music! Were you always into so many types of music?

Compared to some, my music tastes would probably be considered eclectic, though they’re also decidedly mainstream. I generally gravitate toward pop, dream pop, pop-rock, classic rock, folk rock, New Wave, synthpop, disco/dance-pop, R&B, soul and classical. More recently, I’ve come to like more grunge, punk, hip hop, progressive, experimental, fusion, jazz, World Music and heavy metal than I did previously.

Has blogging broadened your tastes at all? Have you ever been surprised to find yourself really enjoying something that you might not have loved so much if not for the fact that you were writing about it?

Writing a music blog has definitely caused me to expand my musical horizons beyond my comfort zone. I now have a more open mind about new and different kinds of music than I did previously. I’ve even come to enjoy a bit of screamo deathcore on occasion, albeit in small doses lol. I learned that there’s an art to being able to sing those type of guttural, screamo vocals, which made me more greatly appreciate that music.

Of course, “eclectic” doesn’t mean that you love everything. Are there any genres you’re not that into? Does that stop you from listening if someone asks you for a review? Along similar lines, do you ever write negative reviews?

As I stated earlier, I’m not heavily into deathcore or metalcore, though I do like some of it. I also like some hip hop and rap, but a lot of it just sounds awful to me, particularly mumble rap. But my least-favorite genre of music is bro-country, with its inane lyrics about riding in a truck with a hot girl and a beer. So boring and predictable that I simply cannot tolerate it for even a minute. I’ve never turned down an artist over the genre of their music, however. I’d like to write about more rap artists, however, I get very few requests from them. I would not write about bro-country music, and thankfully, none have asked me to. And no, as I mentioned in an earlier response, I do not write negative reviews, as I see no point. I’m not a music critic, and do what I do partly to help promote indie artists and give them some press.

Given your output, I imagine that burnout is a real danger. What do you do to maintain balance in your life?

As I stated earlier, I do in fact suffer from occasional bouts of burnout. When it hits, I stop writing for several days, though I’ve never gone more than two weeks. As a former Catholic, I’m also wracked with guilt when I fall behind on promised review deadlines or say no to an artist wanting me to review their music. It’s a challenge to maintain balance, which I’ve not been very successful at doing.

I’m also imagine there’s a certain amount of etiquette involved. Back when I used to write book reviews, I always appreciated when authors would share my reviews or, ideally, become regular readers of my blog – as opposed just reading my reviews of their own books. What kind of relationship, if any, are you looking for from the artists you review? Or maybe a better question is what’s the bare minimum an artist can do to show gratitude for the work you put in to reviewing their music?

I think I probably expect too much from artists and bands, and though I’ve gotten a little better about it, it can still cause disappointment at times. When I started writing reviews, I’d ask the artist or band to also follow me back on Twitter, which now makes me cringe. I used to also ask that they share my review on their social media, and though it’s terribly disappointing when they don’t, I’ve stopped asking them for that as well, in order to maintain a shred of my dignity. I guess my minimum expectation is that they at the very least acknowledge it by either thanking me for my review, or at least retweet my tweet about it, especially after they asked me to write it! Many artists & bands are greatly appreciative, but I feel used by some, who only interact with me when they want a review. Just this morning, I got a message on Twitter from an artist whose music I reviewed in 2018, and now wants me to review his new single. It’s the first contact I’ve had with him since then, and never once has he ever liked any of my tweets or Instagram posts.

Ugh. So what keeps you going as a blogger?

I honestly wonder about this myself some days. I’d have to say the primary thing is the friendships I’ve made with so many musicians, bands, fellow bloggers like yourself, and other music lovers – on social media at least – through blogging about music. Without my blog, I’d never have formed the relationships I have with some of my favorite artists like Two Feet, MISSIO, Ships Have Sailed, The Frontier (aka Jake Mimikos), The Million Reasons, Oli Barton & the Movement, Amongst Liars, Philip Morgan Lewis and Brett Grant, to name but a few. When I feel frustrated and burned out to the point that I consider quitting my blog, I remember all the great folks I’ve met, and that is what ultimately keeps me going. I was ready to give up on writing reviews last August, then reconsidered after Two Feet sent me some very kind words of encouragement.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Jeff! I really appreciate your insights!

My pleasure Marc!

Tranzor Z

Tranzor Z was a cartoon I used to watch after school when I was in grade school. The premise was that a teenage pilot would land a hovercraft inside the head of a giant robot and then control the robot from inside the hovercraft. The robot’s name was Tranzor Z, and he defended the world from invading monsters.

I originally started writing this song when I was working on a project with my friend Brandon Heffley. The original lyrics were a bout a pizza deliveryman who likens his job to fighting off monsters from the outer reaches of the galaxy. It was kind of funny, but I thought something was missing.

So I started thinking about the kind of kid who might like a show like Tranzor Z, and I figured it would be someone who, like me, got picked on a bit in school. For a while, I only had the first and last verses and the “I want to be Tranzor Z” chorus. So there was a kid getting picked on in a schoolyard, then he got tired of it and turned on his tormenters. But, again, something was missing.

I knew I wanted a song with three verses and guitar solo in the middle, so I recorded all of the music and then set it aside. (The backing track for “Tranzor Z” was actually the first piece of music I recorded for the EP.) It was only after recording pretty much the whole rest of the EP that I realized what was missing: a moment of transformation. So I wrote a verse about the kid and his friend watching TV and getting inspired by the show.

One of my favorite lines in the song is the one where “Television bathes us in a cathode ray of hope.” In my mind, I picture a kid sitting in front of the TV, getting bathed in cathode rays (kind of like the Hulk and his gamma rays), and transforming into the hero he wants to be before returning to the playground to vanquish his enemies.

Since this was the first track I recorded, it was also the first one where I started experimenting with horn sounds. In part, it was because the original series had a synthetic horn sound in the theme song, though I was also inspired by the sound of Belle and Sebastian. Once I found a sound that I liked, I wanted to use it on everything, which is how three of the four tracks on the EP ended up with so much brass.

The song is also loosely connected to “Yuck My Yum” on a few levels. For one thing, it’s the kind of show I would have been watching while the kids in my neighborhood played roller hockey. For another, it was one of Damian Smith’s favorite shows for a short while. He used to walk around his driveway and backyard with his legs sticking out from the bottom of a large box, pretending it was his hovercraft.

That is, of course, when he wasn’t busy breaking all of my toys.