Strong roots

It’s always a gamble when a real life couple leads a band. Luckily for St. Frankie Lee, and even more so for their fans, the chemistry of the leading duo, Chelsea Campbell and Derrick Martin, creates a contagious vocal dynamic that forms a strong backbone to even their most chaotic tune.

It’s always a gamble when a real life couple leads a band. Luckily for St. Frankie Lee, and even more so for their fans, the chemistry of the leading duo, Chelsea Campbell and Derrick Martin, creates a contagious vocal dynamic that forms a strong backbone to even their most chaotic tune. It is a welcomed constant among a huge array of vibrant audible output. Campbell’s rich, tender vocals soothe while Martin subtly pricks and cracks in complement. At times eerie and dramatic, and sometimes completely dreamy, the resulting hybrid genre is as versatile and widely appealing as its many soundscapes. Classic country takes a starring role alongside traditional folk and Americana, with a touch of blues, circa the 1930s South. Although they skipped the influences of the classic rock/hair metal generation, there’s a good chance their new body of work will give you and your grandmother something to bond over.

Daily Vanguard: What is your self-proclaimed genre?
St. Frankie Lee:
Bands always seem to rage indignantly against being pigeonholed by others. Boy, would we like to get in on some of that action! Still, I think Chelsea’s grandparents would call us a folk band, and they are both intelligent, perceptive people.

DV: How did the band begin?
A long time ago, Chelsea and Derrick dated for, like, six months. Then, they broke up and did not date for two years. During these two years, they started, like, five bands, and slept with each others’ friends. Then, in August of 2007, they started dating again, simultaneous to starting the mother of all bands from combinations of musicians from the previous failed bands and some of the people they’d been sleeping with.

DV: What do you think your style of music adds to the Portland arena? What makes you different?
The only way I can think that our answer to this question would be useful to you is if you were to use it to reveal how laughably out of touch we are with our own music. We don’t really think musicians are all that insightful about their own music. My God, have you ever read Bob Dylan’s Chronicles? What a stupid fucking book! Guy talks for miles about how he devised his “unique” strumming pattern, then writes a 70-page chapter on how in the ’70s he wrote some lyrics to a song, put them in a drawer, and lost them! And that synopsis may be even too poetic. So you see what we’re saying. We don’t know. Our band is different because we have a lot of girls in our band, maybe. Also, many of us are self-taught musicians with very few “chops.” But some of us are not! I don’t know. I’d guess we make out with each other more than the guys in Weinland (good band, though!).

DV: What is the most satisfying thing for you about the songwriting process?
Chelsea claims that she likes performing more than Derrick does and that Derrick prefers recording. Derrick is always like, “What?!” whenever she says this, but Derrick will argue with you about anything. The truth is that we both love performing, more than anything. Every hyperbolic cliché every performer has ever uttered about performing is absolutely true. Linear time on a stage doesn’t make sense the way it does off.

DV: What is the most satisfying thing about performing?
We hope nobody ever figures that one out. They’d have it in bottles, synthesized in no time and be charging people for them like cigarettes or 99-cent downloads. Sorry if this is getting obtuse, but these are honest answers. Pressed for easier copy, we’d say, sweating. Or maybe it’s religious. Chelsea and Derrick were both raised religious and would probably both identify now as some kind of wimpy agnostic, and, that said, maybe performing on a stage is the closest we get to everything that’s awesome about church. At its best, a show is a bunch of people standing in a room together doing a bunch of different things, and, if anyone is in charge, well, it would at least be hard to find that person in that room.

DV: Can you explain what you think the impact of your environment on your music is?
Chelsea and Derrick both like all kinds of music. Really. Just like everybody else. Chelsea was super-chubby growing up in Kelso, Wash., and yet, aggressively groomed herself to be the next, white Whitney Houston. Dance classes, karaoke machine in the garage, everything. Derrick grew up in suburban Portland and played a lot of role-playing games and getting beaten up a lot. In fact, there you go, Derrick and Chelsea are both the products of adolescent bullying as evidenced by their music about killing people. Boom! That’s a headline. They both sincerely love hip-hop and country music for both genre’s reverence of the story and emphasis on new ways to use old words. And we don’t just mean, like, old, respectable country, either. Our friends are always surprised to find KUPL is a preset on our car radio and that we both know all the words to “Big Green Tractor.”

DV: Where did the name come from?
Playing band-name games. We really did have, like, five different bands together before this one, all with five different dumb names. If the music hasn’t gotten any better, at least you can say the names have. St. Francis is a pretty well-known saint, animals, nature, lost children, solitude. And, Frankie Lee is one more guy who doesn’t get it in the Dylan song “Judas Priest and Frankie Lee.” Plus, we thought it would be kind of cool to imagine, like, St. Francis’ tough little sister. Like he’d be off getting persecuted and starting monastic orders, and she’d be stuck at home with a backwards baseball cap on, and her mom would have to hold her back from brawling with the Saxons to defend her big brother’s stupid pacifist honor.