The R&B pop/funk band WRDFRNDZ is in a unique position. Not yet at the height of their career, the Miami, FL collective is going with the flow as much as they can, while intelligently forming a plan for their future. After reviewing the band’s debut album, I wanted to learn more about them in an interview.
EM: I love the lyrics on the new album. You discuss a lot about homie culture/linking up with friends in passing, adult friendships, etc. Because of this influence, I’m curious how WRDFRNDZ started?
Frankie Midnight: Getting older, I failed to pay attention to the changes that were occurring in my life relating to my friendships…or lack of. When I was younger, things seemed endless and friends were abundant; however, adulthood has shown me an opposite outcome. One of my friends took their own life and many other friends I’ve lost contact with. WRDFRNDZ is my attempt to hold onto the innocence I once had during my adolescent years before life got too serious and I needed to draft the right characters that could represent these feelings, visually.
EM: I love that you guys are from Miami. When I think of Miami, I think of more house/club/techno-based electronic music scene in terms of indie music. There’s also that Latin influence in grooves that make their way into clubs, where some of the biggest Latin talents started their careers. I’m curious though, what is the DIY scene like?
V: I can definitely agree with you on Miami’s dance culture as I’ve found for myself when visiting. Through my travels, Miami has left a major influence on my personal sound, being a deep house composer/ producer myself, next to Chicago. Miami is unique due to its many multi-layered cultures that are usually overlooked by the EDM and Latin music culture as there are various underground scenes that focus on many different styles of music such as alt-rock, acid trap grunge, singer/songwriter folk, zest-pop, synth electronic, and yes “WRD-POP” created by our very own Frankie.
Where other cities stay true to the “sound” of a genre, Miami gives these genres a different approach, a different taste, a different sound. The only downfall I see in Miami with as much talent and potential the city has is the lack of unity and organization to cultivate a culture as done with punk in New York, grunge in Seattle, reggae in Jamaica, R&B in Detroit, disco in Philadelphia, hip-hop in New York, and deep-house in Chicago. It’s kinda sad.
EM: Are there any independent or major labels based around where you are? What is your opinion of musicians who are still pursuing these dream deals, and is WRDFRNDZ one of them?
V: The only major label we have in Miami that I know of is Universal Music Group Latin… yeah… if you don’t play Latin music or aren’t a Latin music artist you probably won’t even be looked at. We go back and forth with the idea of working with labels. On one hand, the landscape is easier to record and distribute a record but on the other hand, the amount of work and capital it takes to effectively kick off your career takes more than what an indie-vidual artist can provide to which a label could prove resourceful.
It boils down to resources. If an inde-ividual artist has the resources to break through, a label should be the last route; however, if the indie-vidual artist doesn’t have the capital or resources, a label might be the more effective route as long as that artist is willing to relinquish some creative control. For WRDFRNDZ, we are open to working with a label but we may be too…weird for their limited taste. We have such a strong and clear brand, we wouldn’t want to compromise the integrity of our originality to look and sound like every other pop star for assured success. We stay true to our style and it won’t be too long before everyone else catches on.
EM: I see your point on major labels, especially when you are one or a few of the first people doing something new and weird against a traditional hit-making formula. Sometimes it takes longer for the label to catch on and accept it. But, now with the advent of DIY platforms and the massive amounts of indie exposure bands can garner on their own, who has the upper hand here? Do you think it’s still labels, or artists? Do you think that labels don’t really have a choice now but to “keep up” if they want to stay relevant in the eyes of new talent, meaning, labels also have to give up a little creativity and operational control too, to keep talent because they see the alternatives?
V: Labels still have the upper hand nowadays because they control the streaming platforms that indie artists need to breakthrough. Major labels today are nothing more than a tech company with coders on the payroll. The coders manipulate the social presence and popularity of a newly signed artist to break them through, which is no different than record companies in the 90s who bought and resold their artist’s records to manipulate Nielsen Soundscan reports for Billboard. The game is the same, it’s just become virtual.
Yes, record companies still need artists as there is no music business without music; however, labels have no need to work as hard as they used to nor spend the amount of money to break an artist due to the modern age of social media. Artists technically do the work for labels by managing, creating content, developing, and breaking viral through their own social media.
EM: Redirecting to music, I completely hear the Sly & The Family Stone influence on your latest album. They were trailblazers in creating the quintessential psychedelic soul sound. Is that what you hope to become for WRD-POP? Also, please explain what makes WRD-POP special to you and your direction musically.
F: I’ve been wanting to hear something refreshing in mainstream contemporary music and had this idea of creating a new style of music that combined R&B, punk rock, electronic, and funk, which I call, “WRD-POP.” The formula is quite simple as you have an electronic drum pattern with R&B/ jazz guitar that both loops to bring a familiar pop arrangement. On top of that, is a tight fuzz distortion guitar with G-Funk e-bass for the pre-chorus and choruses to add dynamic and excitement to the song. I also stack a crazy amount of vocals for the pre-chorus and chorus to make it sound bigger and emphasize the melodies.
It’s a similar approach that Homeshake took with their first and second albums but with different musical influences and more overdubs. It’s like the music doesn’t take itself seriously in its presentation while being serious in its originality and subject matter. As for Sly…that’s my man! I love Sly and admire his unique approach in his music. I truly feel that he is the bridge of funk between James Brown and P-Funk as he shifted James Brown’s funk into the direction that George Clinton mastered! My previous album, “Look Up!! Songs from Frankie Midnight” had strong Sly influences all throughout.
EM: What are some of your dream collaborations, on an indie scale? These can be regionally or locally.
F: The Beatles had George Martin…Michael Jackson had Quincey Jones…Prince had Clare Fischer. The perfect marriage of pop and classical…youth and experience. I’ve thought about that for some time and I’m not sure who my George or Quincey or Clare would be but they are out there somewhere. My dream collaboration would have to be someone with maturity, experience, and mastery of classical arrangement and composition to arrange to the WRD-POP formula. That would be SICK! Mark my words, the next WRDFRNDZ album will be on this level and give new meaning to what contemporary pop sounds like.
V: I would like to work with either Pharell or DJ Quik or both. I feel they could take what we do and flip it into something crazy!
EM: Random but, what is your opinion of artists selling NFTs of their album art, work? Is it a risk (not sure if you’ve heard of the site HitPiece illegally selling artists’ album artworks and sound files), or is this a move you predict more indie artists are going to take as another income avenue?
V: There’s been bootlegging since the beginning of the galaxies so I’m personally not surprised that it has found a new form through HITpiece with NFTs. This whole NFT thing is pretty cool as it gives upcoming artists a chance to be millionaires and allows enslaved music artists the opportunity to generate wealth for themselves. I’m all for anything that will empower the independence of living in a positive way. But the bootlegging sh&^ has to stop… It’s also kinda hard to regulate this NFT biz as anything that’s digital can be copied and duplicated with a click of a button. Sure, you have to mint the NFT to make it official but who’s to say that some NUT out there won’t just mint the bootleg and sell it before some poor schmuck finds out they’ve been had? Who knows?
EM: Frankie, I believe I read that you turned 30 not too long ago? In looking back at all that you’ve accomplished musically, personally, and creatively up until this point, what changes do you hope to bring to Miami’s underground music scene creatively and business-wise? Also, what changes are you seeing unfold already in how DIY artists in “obscure” or weird genres are packaging, presenting, and promoting themselves in order to leave a mark on their city?
F: Yes, I turned the big three-oooo! Moving forward, I want to bring a refreshing sound, style, and level of quality to the underground. I’ve always believed in making the most out of less. The simplest sound or the simplest look, if done right, can be the most fascinating experience, and “doing it right”, is defined as bringing 100% passion to a project.
You can’t fake real passion. As far as unfolded changes from DIY artists, I’ve seen the most effective marketing through IG promo. I’ve discovered many amazing indie artists just from seeing their ads on Instagram or hearing their songs in a reel video. Social media is the best way to promote outside your local area and has been proven successful and effective. But I haven’t seen any branding that knocked my socks off. I’ve discovered good music but nothing spectacular, visually. That’s what I hope to change with WRDFRNDZ.