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

Plush Gordon: Internet Box #1

Screen Shot 2020-03-08 at 3.19.35 PM

We’ve been working on this project for a while now. By “we,” I mean Plush Gordon. We’re calling the project an internet box because it sounds cooler than “web page with a bunch of free files you can download.” But that’s essentially what it is. And the files, if we may say so in all humility, are pretty cool.

First, there’s the music — a four-track EP titled Slow Drive Through a Strange World and handful of bonus tracks. My favorite track on the EP is called “Madrid.” It’s not about the Spanish city. It’s about a town in New Mexico. More or less.

And if you want to sing along, we’ve included illustrated lyrics. Fun fact: For some of the songs, there are more verses on the lyric sheet than in the recorded version. We can’t explain this fact. Things just worked out that way.

As if illustrated lyrics weren’t enough, we also provide some literature! Specifically, we’ve include a manifesto that spells out our artistic principles, a piece of autofiction that comes reasonably close to explaining how we recorded the EP, and a short story titled “Madrid,” which inspired the song of the same name.

Next, we have a video for the third song on the EP, “Red Door,” which blends animation and vintage stock footage to tell the story of a motorist who is struggling to find his way in the world as he slowly loses of his faculties.

And there’s the short film we shot. It’s called Milk Fudge. We filmed it over the course of five days as part of a competition, which we were fortunate enough to have won. Listen for the first song on the EP, “Silver Nissan,” playing in the background.

Finally, we have some art and the credits for the EP. We feel especially fortunate to have so many people working on the project — ten musicians and fourteen members of our studio team, all of whom make up what we lovingly think of as the Plush Gordon continuum.

It’s all free to download. You can pick and choose what you like. And we won’t even be offended if you don’t like any of it. We admit that we’re kind of an acquired taste. But if you do enjoy it — or you know someone who might enjoy it — please feel free to share the music and/or the following link with your friends: https://www.hungryhourmusic.com/slow-drive

Thanks for checking it out!

Track-by-Track: “My Head”

I have my friend the very funny and very talented Joe Lavelle to thank for reminding about this song about a year ago.  I wrote the song back when Joe and I were in high school, and it was originally just a refrain: “You stepped on my head, she said.” I added verses a little bit later and played the song in a band I formed with some friends of mine. In any case, when I started recording music again, it was Joe who suggested that I should record this one. The only problem was that I’d forgotten the last verse and had no record (or recordings!) of it, so I had to write a new one.

I recorded and released a slightly different version of this song last year at Joe’s request, and I was going to include it on my EP Garden Variety, but I thought it sounded somewhat thin so I dropped it from the lineup. Even so, I still liked the song, so I added a jazzy electric piano part to beef it up and included it on Thank You for Holding.

In addition to the electric piano, I also like the sound of the rhythm guitar. It’s an Epiphone Dot Studio semi-hollow guitar that I borrowed from my friend Tim Simmons. Tim and I have been borrowing instruments from each other for a few years now. In fact, he’s largely responsible for my return to music after many years of not playing much at all. But the guitar has a nice, warm sound to it, and if you listen carefully, you can also hear the faint crackle of static, which I think gives the track a live feel.

One last thing I’ll point out about the track is that I love the instrumental break in the middle. Belle and Sebastian is one of my favorite bands, and their songs make great use of brass instruments, and that’s the kind of sound I was going for with the French horn and trumpet in the middle of “My Head.” Unlike Belle and Sebastian, though, my brass section is entirely synthetic. Turns out that Tim Simmons didn’t have a trumpet to loan me.

My Head

Keep on, keep on, keep on coming.
Soon we’ll all be gone.
Live your life while it’s worth living
‘Cause it won’t last long.

“You stepped on my head,” she said.
“You stepped on my head,” she said.
“You stepped on my head,” she said.

Housework, housework keeps on coming.
Where does free time go?
Stop an hour, watch the opera,
The only life you know.

“You stepped on my head,” she said.
“You stepped on my head,” she said.
“You stepped on my head,” she said.

Keep on, keep on, keep on dreaming.
Leave the world behind.
Somewhere you know your life waits
Beyond the daily grind.

“You stepped on my head,” she said.
“You stepped on my head,” she said.
“You stepped on my head,” she said.