Justine Frischmann on Elastica
(MTV Online) By Kara Manning.
Justine Frischmann On Elastica's Resurrection
Just days before Elastica's long-awaited second appearance at England's Glastonbury Festival, frontwoman Justine Frischmann, one of the most enviably cool and undeniably forthright women to stride a stage since Chrissie Hynde, admitted to being a bit anxious about the band's appearance on the NME stage.
"Festivals are scary," she told MTV News by phone from her Notting Hill Gate home, a football match blaring away in the background. "We played Glastonbury only once before, and to be honest with you, there was a lot of sh** going on at the time. It was a few days before [bassist] Annie [Holland] left, we had flown from Lollapalooza to Glastonbury, and it was a quite hairy."
"Hairy" is Frischmann's very mild-mannered way of describing the hellishly explosive near-dissolution of Elastica, the fiercely feminine, wryly decadent Brit-pop sensation that gave Oasis' warring Gallagher brothers a run for their money in the mid-'90s. Following a nightmarish Glastonbury appearance in the summer of 1995, the bandmembers, driven to exhaustion due to a relentless tour schedule, could barely stand the sight of one another. Holland left shortly after the band's return to the Lollapalooza circuit, and about 18 months after her departure (and on the same weekend Frischmann broke up with longtime boyfriend and Blur frontman Damon Albarn), Elastica guitarist and brassy party girl Donna Matthews quit in a far more acrimonious fashion.
By 1998, Frischmann found herself holed up in her basement studio in Notting Hill after two solitary years -- no band and no boyfriend -- listening mournfully to Brian Eno records and vowing that she was through with what was arguably one of the most exciting U.K. bands to ever cut loose with furious, post-punk, three-chord femme fatale charisma.
Back in the sentimental grunge years, when Britney Spears had barely reached puberty, Seattle rock ruled in the States, and Soundgarden's Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell could have easily kicked Eminem's ass, the U.K. music scene was roiling with its own wave of thrashing, irrepressibly melodic bands. The Britpop scene thrived, with such mega-bands as Oasis, Blur, Suede (The London Suede to us Yanks), The Verve, and Supergrass making big noise and bigger business.
Sporting a cool boyfriend and even cooler haircut, Frischmann, who had briefly played with ex-beau Brett Anderson during Suede's early years, hooked up with Matthews, Holland, and drummer Justin Welch to launch Elastica. The band's 1995 debut caused a sensation, having earlier dropped punk-fired, wise-ass singles such as 1993's impotence anthem Stutter and the groupie-aimed snarl "Line Up" on an unsuspecting but delighted U.K. public. Confounding bands like Blur, who had yet to make a commercial impact on America at the time, Elastica scored on this side of the Atlantic, cropping up on MTV and scoring a U.S. modern rock hit with Connection.
In what some might call a rock music miracle, the tides have turned for Elastica and specifically for singer-songwriter Frischmann, who could ascribe to Nietzsche's oft-maligned quote: what didn't kill her made her stronger. After a silence of over five years, the second Elastica album, "The Menace," dropped in the U.K. in early April to good-to-mixed reviews, debuting at number three on the indie charts. Following much negotiation and a graceful exit from its contract with Geffen Records, Elastica will see a U.S. release of the LP on Atlantic's eclectic new label, Division One, in August.
The band has expanded to a sextet, consisting of Frischmann, Welch, ex-Fall keyboardist Dave Bush, former Linoleum guitarist Paul Jones, ex-Heave keyboardist-vocalist Mew, and Holland, who returned to the fold and whom Justine credits with giving her the personal impetus to keep Elastica alive.
Holland, who is very shy and press-wary, isn't so sure she's responsible for Frischmann's creative well-being, but she does believe that the women's long-entwining history has helped Elastica.
"We've gone through the good times and the bad," Holland told MTV News, "on the road in particular. I think it's a mutual thing -- we're mutually supportive of each other."
The band recently spent the spring touring the U.K. and Europe and is prepping for the summer festival circuit, including England's Reading Festival in August, an August tour in the U.S., and additional gigs in Japan, Spain, and Portugal.
"I think we've done some really amazing shows, a handful that are our best ever," Frischmann said. "But it's still quite an explosive mixture, to be completely honest, and we can still have some absolute bad gigs. We just had a three-week tour, and one out of five gigs was just deathly! Awful... but the rest were great."
Frischmann admitted that Elastica's gifted, volatile mix of bandmembers who redefined the word "party" -- a reputation that got Elastica into trouble the first time around -- still exists in its new incarnation, though she explained that she's personally through with that kind of lifestyle and specifically demands that no one drink before walking onstage.
"There's still a lot of extremely high energy going on with the rest of the band," she said, "partly because Mew has never really toured before and she's really up for it, and Justin's the eternal party kid. It scares me... but I think everybody wants it enough to make it work." She hesitated a moment. "I hope so, anyway."
There's much about "The Menace" that works; in fact, the band's entire history and volatile mood swings are eloquently reflected in the rapidly shifting emotional tides of the album's sound. Ricocheting from the brash, bad-girl, snarling-guitar snap of Mad Dog and Your Arse My Place to the album's centerpiece, the floating, deeply personal, spoken-word confession My Sex, "The Menace" is a gloriously odd, transformational album that spans six years of a young band's -- and a young woman's -- mercurial life.
"I think that it was very encouraging to go and just really see how the people who came to the gigs, how they seemed to be rooting for us," noted Frischmann, now 30, who admitted to having a hard time dealing with the U.K. music tabloids who still seem more preoccupied in her three-year-old breakup with Albarn; rumors of heroin, alcohol, and drug abuse that dogged Matthews and the rest of Elastica; and Frischmann's long, depressed silence than with the dynamic resurrection of the band and the new album.
"One of the nice things is talking to people in America," she said. "American journalists seem a lot more interested in the music. I think Britain is so up its ass in terms of journalism; people have been unable to remove themselves or separate the baggage from the music and the gossip."
One bit of gossip now muted: Matthews and Frischmann have resolved their personal battle and are friends again. Several of Matthews' songs even remain on "The Menace," like the cutting but mournful track "Human" which berates Frischmann for what Matthews charged was an "inhuman" attitude. Although they had begun to talk out their differences earlier this year, the renewed friendship became public during Elastica's Kentish Town performance on April 13. Frischmann found out that Matthews was in the audience and called for Matthews to come onstage.
"There are a few songs off the new album I won't perform, because [Matthews] does the lead vocal, like 'Image Change,' and I hoped she'd do one of them," Frischmann recalled. "But she was nervous." Instead Matthews played guitar on "Connection," and the two women emotionally embraced before a wildly cheering crowd.
"I think people said it was like a fate thing, but it was genuinely spontaneous," Frischmann explained. "It was a very 'Spinal Tap' moment, but it was cool!"
Some other "cool" onstage moments for Elastica these days is Justine's introduction of a new song, "Suicide," which she called "uplifting" despite its title. Also, satisfying her year-long obsession with the South Bronx-based '80s female funk ensemble ESG (an influence on the likes of the Beastie Boys and the Wu-Tang Clan), Frischmann has taken to covering the group's "Moody" during shows as well.
Frischmann's optimistic lust for Elastica's new lease on life is tempered only by her memories of what happened in the past and the fear that it could happen again. She is a tough woman who is still amazingly vulnerable -- and blunt about it.
"Basically, I believe in the band and when we're good, we're really good," she said quietly. "I want it to work, but I know, I'm very fatalistic at this point. We all have to make it work, and I'm not going to blame myself if people around me can't get it together." She paused, taking on a somewhat apologetic tone. "That makes it sound like they're not getting it together, and they are. I've got no complaints this time."
Elastica's "The Menace" drops August 22 on Atlantic's Division One Records.
-- Kara Manning