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Singer Not The Song: Philip Frobos Talks New Book and its Accompanying Album "Vague Enough to Satisfy"

Omni bassist-vocalist Philip Frobos recently unveiled his "lounge-inspired punk album" Vague Enough to Satisfy earlier this month. The debut solo LP also serves as the original soundtrack to his new semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, out now through Hex Enduction Books. We caught up with Frobos to discuss the spark of this new multimedia project, the intricacies of the mundane, and the highs and lows of a slowly changing world.

Photo by Hillary Sutton

Philip Frobos spends a fair amount of his time singing and playing bass in the Atlanta trio Omni, one of the most prolific and technical post-punk bands around today. However with the pandemic still lingering, Frobos decided to take advantage of these stagnant times to finish and release his first novel Vague Enough to Satisfy, which is also paired with Frobos' first solo record of the same name. The new novel tells a story of a young man who revels in the day-to-day details (both romantic and mundane) of his experiences in Leipzig and Atlanta. The tone of the record reflects the tides of the protagonist's confidence and self-doubt throughout the novel. Similar to his duty in Omni, Frobos carves nervy rhythms deep into the brain with his jagged flow of melodic threads and sonic abstraction.

If you're familiar with Omni's hyperactive dashes of caffeinated post-punk and intricate charm, that skeletal and earwormy tension continues on Frobos' solo venture. Where Omni's songs have always sounded like short stories or snippets into people's lives (the hopeless romantic "Sincerely Yours" or the dead-cool "After Dinner") and that navel-gazing and poetic allusiveness is all over Frobos' accompanying soundtrack. However the wiry hooks are now pushed by meandering basslines and drum machines that echo the minimal avant-pop of The Cleaners From Venus, Karen Marks, and Ya Ya Choral. Alongside the original music, Frobos threw in a couple off-kilter covers of Steely Dan's "Through With Buzz" and the Rolling Stones' "Singer Not The Song." He also recorded a digital exclusive lounge pop cover of "My Funny Valentine" as the B-side to the bubbling "Vacant Street." Between infectious odes to new wave giants ("No Packages Today"), bossa nova grooves ("Vague Theme") and slinky imitations of spy themes ("Pool Disturbance"), Frobos' main focus is to give readers the full experience into his novel's intensely vivid imagery and cynical humor that would give him a seat at the Literary Brat Pack table.

Following the release, I had the pleasure to catch up with Frobos to discuss the spark of this new multimedia project, the intricacies of the mundane and the highs and lows of a slowly changing world.

Congrats on the release of Vague Enough to Satisfy! It's an incredibly unique new project for you. Tell me about its origins and did you always want an album to pair with the book?

Philip Frobos: Well thanks! It started off riding in the passenger seat of a tour van in Europe. I wanted to see if I had the patience to work on something long form, so I just started telling a story based upon some things that happened to us in Leipzig and some things that didn't. After finishing the tour I kept working on it, but had to put it down in the middle of recording Networker. After finishing the tour supporting that I just dug in, and then the pandemic happened. I finished the first draft by summer 2020. I had a lot of nervous energy around then so I used that to create the soundtrack spending a lot of time by myself in our rehearsal space. I had the idea imagining old soundtracks by Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin, and John Barry, particularly the old James Bond soundtracks.

The book description refers to the day-to-day life of a young man. Explain a little more about what readers can expect from the book. How does the title of the book play into the story?

It's true, there's a lot of walking around taking in the scenery. There's visits to Berlin, Hamburg, Atlanta, and Brooklyn, many of which you get a little taste of the local food and beverage. There's also jealousy, paired with young marriage and relationships. The title is exactly as you would imagine, when you ask someone what happened last night and they give you a brief but satisfactory answer.

How is the soundtrack meant to partner with the book? Are they meant to be experienced together, separately, or does it not matter?

It can be all of the above. On the back of the soundtrack, there are chapters to track coordinates which is your guide to finding some meaning of the pop songs within the novel, or just a fun nod in context. It's meant to be a fun companion.

A soundtrack to a book is certainly something you don't see often. What do you think the songs add to the book?

Most people that have had the full experience so far tell me that they are perfect for one another and the mood is just right, so that's exciting because that was how I intended it. I think there's a little mystery, doubt, and intrigue in the songs, which is the same headspace as the novel. I also wanted them to be a little offbeat, a true lo-fi, rock 'n' roll affair.

Walk me through your songwriting process. What things are likely to inspire you to write? And was it a similar process to writing this book?

It goes pretty quick honestly. I build the ideas and riff on what melodies feel right for the particular song. On this release, I was challenged a little more, as I played all the guitars and keys that I don't normally dabble in. It's a little wonky, but I'm proud of the result. I suppose it's similar to the book in that I just showed up to work on something, and that day it yielded "Vacant Street" or Chapter 5 or whichever. I put my mind to drive until it didn't feel inspired or productive any longer.

How was it recording your first solo album? Did you feel there were any significant changes from recording and writing songs with Omni?

I used this as an excuse to do things differently, like writing a waltz. I also enjoyed not feeling pressure to make it sound so immaculate production wise. I wanted to capture some sounds of cool lo-fi solo efforts by heroes from the seventies and eighties like Ric Ocasek, Alan Vega, John Entwistle, Lodger-era Bowie, among others. They're never the big tickets, but the collectors love them!

The video for "No Packages Today" definitely hits home with the COVID-19 experiences of excessive online ordering. How much did experiences of the pandemic play into the new project?

They play into it a little, there's some mention of that in the novel, but I didn't let it overwhelm by any means. And thank you! My wife orders a lot of packages, and I found myself ordering more than I ever have! Very strange to experience [laughs].

What do you hope your audiences take away from this novel and soundtrack experience?

For those who are mainly music fans, I hope they enjoy an experience in another medium, just like I did in the long car rides through Europe. There's also a book on tape that I'm doing the reading for. I also hope people can enjoy reflecting on the struggles and jubilance of being a young person with new responsibilities in the world. It's only my version, but maybe it will speak to you.

What's next for you? Are there more solo albums or novels planned for the future? More music or a tour planned with Omni?

Another book in the works, too soon to say much of anything as this has kept me super busy. We're definitely going to be working on some new Omni material. Can't wait to get back out there with Frankie and Chris!

Vague Enough to Satisfy is out now on Upset The Rhythm.


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