Artwork by Chuy Hartman (@chuyhartman)
LA-based post-rock band, French Mouth, is all about pointing their anger in the right direction and basking in self-awareness. Those energies combined are present in the four-piece’s 5-track debut EP, Paper Tiger, out now. The EP was engineered and mixed by Josh Franks at JFM Studios and mastered by Nick Townsend. All songs were written by French Mouth.
The expression “Paper Tiger” is an allusion to the Chinese phrase “zhilaohu,” a term dating back to the 14th century that refers to something appearing to be more threatening then it is in actuality. This false threat is not powerful, and actually unable to defend itself against challenge. Songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, Dee Frank explains his personal “paper tiger” and the meaning behind the lyrics of the debut single and title track, saying:
“The song is inspired by my struggle with mental health and trauma that manifests itself throughout my day-to-day. When I dig deeper, it is not an outward enemy, or a metaphorical female tiger, as described in the song; but myself and my fears I have to come to terms with and face. This song is a reminder to take care and check in on myself.”
The accompanying music video takes the lyrical theme and turns it into a visual metaphor, as band members face themselves in a game of chess in between flashes of waves crashing, glances in the mirror, and of course, cathartic moments of rocking out. Most of the video is black and white, and the use of color only builds onto the introspective symbolism.
Dee Frank sheds light on the inspiration behind the video, saying, “The video for Paper Tiger depicts the story of self-conflict even under times of duress. Fighting against the darker side so to speak. Additionally, the video is a homage to Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, where a Knight finds himself in a chess match with ‘death’ during the end of days as he questions existence.”
The rest of the EP dives even deeper into Frank’s personal life and into culture at-large. “Teal” is based on real life events that occurred in both his life and his father’s. He explains, “As a young boy my father was in and out of the California penal system which directly affected his mental health and as a result ended up in prison for four years for armed robbery. I was raised visiting my father and sending him letters. The lyrics are partly me talking to my mother about him, partly him talking to his mother about himself and me wondering if the same rebelliousness lives on in me.”
Misfit anthem “Electricité” is all about being an outcast among outcasts. Frank says, “Being an alternative kid even among the alternative crowd in Los Angeles can be tough… the ‘cool kids’ didn’t want me around so I wrote a song for em. The songs lyrics run like a chant waiting for the listener to echo, “too cool for you.” If you can’t join em’, beat em is what I say!”
“Hunting Season” feels especially fitting for 2020, and serves as a song about the elitists’ rhetoric in our culture. Frank says, “It doesn’t matter whether it is left or right, foreign or domestic, extreme or conservative; If there is hate at the center of your being, it must be cut out. Otherwise, we are left at each other’s throats. I despise divisive behavior. “In another world, we’d feed the weak, teach the young and be set free”. I wish this world existed here and now. But unfortunately, the culture remains and it is still in fact, Hunting Season.” And so it is, and the Paper Tiger EP is here to scream and make noise about it.
Photo credit: S.Goli
A little dose of anger is simply not enough. California rock quartet French Mouth’s debut EP Paper Tiger rips and sears through thick layers of emotional fabric, cutting deep to the essence of truth when it comes to living in a world which we have no choice but shape for ourselves. Led by vocalist and guitarist Dee Frank, Paper Tiger sounds unmistakably urgent and up-close, cementing French Mouth as one of the most exciting new rock bands right now and providing more fuel for all of our emotional fires.
An active concern for Frank’s songwriting since 2018, French Mouth properly came together last year with the current lineup that includes guitarist Jacque Parras, drummer Brittany Macc, and bassist Brandon Reyes. “Most of the band is Hispanic, and we all come from working-class roots,” Frank explains, further stating that when Macc—who also plays in NoMBe—joined French Mouth she “Took the band to another level.” As a collective, French Mouth grew up on a steady diet of punk, heavy metal, and hip-hop, with professed influences ranging from At the Drive-In’s fast-paced punk rock to Jesus Lizard’s beautifully ugly noise rock.
“I like things loud and dirty,” Frank proclaims, and Paper Tiger indeed reflects those sonic values. These songs are like buzzsaws to the brain, with explosive guitar work, dynamic rhythm interplay, and Frank’s expressive vocals that possess the ability to transform from a menacing croon to a miles-wide howl in a matter of moments. It’s music that recalls some of the most vital rock of the last 20 years, from the aforementioned ATDI to Blood Brothers’ frantic post-hardcore sound and the richly textured emo rock of bands like Pretty Girls Make Graves and Les Savy Fav.
The first single and title track was also the first song French Mouth wrote under the current lineup, as Frank addresses navigating adolescence amidst his father, who spent most of the former’s youth in prison. ” The song is about coming to terms with a lot of things I was living in fear of my entire adult life,” he explains. “I realized that when I looked at my trauma, it wasn’t even what I thought it was—it was a paper tiger, a projection of all the things I’ve lived in fear of and didn’t want to confront.”
And recording Paper Tiger as a whole was an evocative emotional experience for Frank, who dug deep into his past and present to explore the depths of where he’s come from and how it’s shaped who he is: “I like to sing about my experience with trauma. I wasn’t raised to talk about my trauma, so the way I get it out is through my lyrics. There’s a lot of anger underneath this music. It’s about expressing pain.” And atop the glistening-icicle guitar chords and Macc’s pounding beat of “Teal,” Frank swaps perspectives between his father and himself as he explores the former’s viewpoint as a first-generation Mexican in the prison system from a young age. “I’m asking my mother, ‘Is this the behavior I have instilled in me?,'” he opines. “Is rebellious nature inherent?”
And while asking those questions on Paper Tiger, French Mouth find themselves in a cross-section with many of the issues surrounding authority and systemic racial oppression that have driven society to take to the streets in demand of justice—issues that Frank and his bandmates have stared down their whole lives and are now coming to terms with using their own unique, confrontational, and impossible-to-ignore platform of their music. “I got in a lot of trouble in my teenage years, and I think a lot of people of color like myself sometimes wonder the same thing,” he states before asking a key question that will be left ringing in countless listeners’ heads long after the final moments of Paper Tiger play out: “Is the system that’s here designed to work against me?” (Larry Fitzmarurice)
Photo credit: S.Goli
01. Electricité
02. Paper Tiger
03. Snot Nose
04. Hunting Season
05. Teal
For more information on French Mouth, visit:
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