Fear of a Queer Planet: Matte Namer of The FMs Remembers Co-Founder Frankie Rex’s Legacy

New York-based group The FMs take the trans experience and set it to synthesizers. The group’s sophomore album, Pink + Black, is a synthwave opus that takes on an irreverent attitude towards gender norms and depicts the frustration of yearning for one’s ideal gender presentation. Started by long-time friends Matte Namer (she/they) and Frankie Rex (he/they), who were moving in opposite directions on their journeys of gender transition, the contrasting pair shared vocal duties in the band. Sadly, Frankie Rex died in 2022 of a fentanyl overdose, leaving two albums of material behind to be released posthumously, the first of which was Pink + Black, which is out this Friday.

Matte Namer took a moment to sit down and talk to us about the new album, Frankie’s legacy, and the future of the project.

You’re putting out the new album Pink + Black posthumously after the death of vocalist Frankie Rex. Can you tell me a little bit about Frankie and how you met?

Frankie and I met in high school. We were fourteen. Frankie grew up in Queens; I grew up in Manhattan. We met through my first girlfriend at Stuyvesant High School, who was Frankie’s middle school friend, and immediately became friends. And we started our first band together, called The Violent Orange. It was this cool stoner rock, psychedelic band, just like battle of the bands and stuff. It was actually like a pretty good band for like a high school band. And we stayed friends, we sort of had a long hiatus of our friendship, and then we reconnected in 2016 to form the FM’s together.

And what, what made you gravitate towards synthesizer-based music? Is that something you’ve always had an interest in?

Yeah, I would say so. I think my earliest memory of being excited about synthesizer bass music was probably listening to Radiohead and Pink Floyd when I was 13 or 14. Around that time, I discovered marijuana and LSD and thought that that was like the coolest shit, basically. So anything that was trippy I was like, “Yeah!” So that’s how I first got into synthesizers, and never really looked back. I would say one thing I can add to that is that I’ve always been interested in finding new ways to create novel timbres for music, (and) select new sounds. The synthesizer really gives you a lot of range of being able to do that. It’s a pretty cool tool.

I do also like bringing a lot of effects or different approaches to the way the guitar is played to get a lot of different effects in that same way. So for Pink + Black, for instance, I think that that album was in large part reflective of the tools that I had at my disposal to produce it. At the time, I was using an analog Prophet synthesizer. And also, with the guitar, (I) was really interested in slides and EBows, which can make a guitar sound a little bit more like a synthesizer. So I was often gravitating from using the Prophet to get this bassy, thick, distorted sound, which was almost bringing the synthesizer towards the way a guitar would sound, or bass would sound, and bringing guitar more towards the way a synthesizer would sound. But generally speaking, I think any way that I could dive into something and have tools to create weird sounds, I’ve always been gravitated towards that.

This this record is a little bit of a different style from your first album. What do you think caused that shift in style?

I think that (on) our first album, most of the songs on there, I’m playing electric bass, and they’re almost just more rock, more of a stoner rock type of feel, at times. We had two songs off that album, one was called “Change Your Men Up” one called “Implosion Model,” where we use the Prophet as the bass in those songs. When we did on live, I was able to just be a frontperson. We got a really good response from the songs, I think, in large part, because I was able to hop off the bass and really engage with the audience. I realized that that was something I really enjoyed doing was being a singer that had the freedom to move around the stage and engage with the audience and jump into the audience and just really perform not just with the instruments, but also with my body and body language and have this dialogue with the audience in that way. So that was a large part of what set me off towards wanting to move away from using an electric bass with this album.

So all the tracks on this were produced with the same mentality of this analog synthesizer and the big bass-y, distorted guitar-y sounds are going to provide this low-mid-range. So that was the original thinking. I think I also wanted to explore moving away a little bit from a darker, heavier vibe. So a little bit further away from this 90s, industrial, stoner-rock vibe, more towards a late-70s, early synthwave stuff. Maybe more Gary Numan or Brian Eno influences. So shifting in that direction, I would say.

And then the album, as opposed to me saying that we had such and such influence, that’s what started that was the proto-sensibility of where this album came out of. It was really more about these tools that I have. And now I’m just going to instinctually see what happens here. It was basically years of doing this, in this boat studio that we had on the backwaters of Bushwick, (with) endless experimentation and tinkering to end up with these 14 tracks.

The album title, Pink + Black, for me, that immediately brings to mind the colors of a queer anarchy flag. Is that where that comes from? Or is there some other significance to it?

Yeah, I think that it’s definitely related. I know that there’s a (queer prison abolitionist) organization called Black and Pink. I think initially, for us, it was not directly from that queer anarchy (flag) or that organization, although it was very much adjacent in an almost unintentional way. We very much stand for those things. We are queer people; we are kinky people; we do like to be loud; we like to have emotionally intense music and have this be a band that really engages people. The album title initially, I think, was coming from this place where I was starting to become a little bit more out with my own gender queerness and shifting away from this loud, angry, black, kinky violent vibe that I’d been holding my whole life and towards this softer, feminine side that I was exploring. And just the contrast between the two.

So this was really a working title for this album, probably going all the way back to 2017 or so. And then, what’s kind of funny about the album title is that when we finally finished the record, the very last song we decided to add to it was something totally anachronistic. We had our synth player, Michael, who made a lot of these more ambient instrumental tracks, and we needed something to round out one of the sides of the vinyl to come after “Transformation Dreams.” So he gave us this track called “Pink Mist,” which we included on the album. What we realized was that the last song of the first vinyl was “Pink Mist,” and the first song of the second vinyl was “Blackout”. And so I was like, “Well, that’s pretty cool. If a journalist ever asks me how we came up with the title for this album, that’s what I’ll tell them.” But I gave you the full story there.

I’m not sure what part of the process you were at with the album when Frankie died, but obviously you at least have had to do the promotion and stuff like that without them. Has it been hard to do that after Frankie was gone?

I would say that it’s really been a journey since they passed away, for me, personally. This album had been completed pretty much when Frankie was still with us. The sequencing and everything, even the album artwork, was all stuff that they got to see before they passed away. It was one of the reasons why I really didn’t want to change the sequencing and things like that. This is what we made together. This is what we had agreed on was cool.

The two exceptions to that really was the one the track that I was just telling you about that we snuck into the album last minute. And the other big exception to that was this track “Transformation Dreams,” which we took the track and changed the chorus. This was a song that was always one of the standout songs on the record to me. But I started to realize, in hindsight, that it was really held back by a chorus that just wasn’t really making the song special. (I) realized, after Frankie passed away, that we had a real interesting opportunity to tell a particular story with the song. Initially, the lyrics that Frankie had written and sung on the verses of this song were about them imagining a gender transition surgery and what that would be like for them. After they passed away, those lyrics and that vocal took on a new meaning for me, because Frankie died in the body that they died in. They were having these dreams and imaginations of having gender transformation surgery. I know that getting on HRT and that they wanted to do top surgery, those are dreams that never really got to be fulfilled by them.

But they are things that I’ve also always been really interested in, in my own gender transformation journey as a male-to-female trans person. So I rewrote the chorus singing back to them to say you never got to fulfill this, but I am now honored to inherit these dreams of yours. I have this opportunity to be inspired by you, to be inspired by your dreams to find my own self-fulfillment, my own self-actualization. I think that the song and the video, I really wanted to have this be tied up in a way that ended in a positive place. I think that’s part of it, but I also just really wanted to celebrate Frankie’s life and not have their life just be about tragedy.

People just think of tragedy when they think of them now. I think we have this mentality, in our human, agreed-upon values, that when somebody passes away at a young age, that it’s a failure of sorts. I don’t really believe that. I think that they had a wonderful life and they had a lot of wonderful things to offer us while they were here. (I) just wanted to say “Yes, they could have lived a longer life. They could have done more with their life. They could have given us more. But their life was not a failure because of the way that they left this plane.”

This is related, but you’ve made the decision to keep the FM’s going after Frankie’s death. Why did you think it was important to continue the project?

So much of what we presented to the world about this band was Frankie and I up there (as) co-lead singers, as this gender counterpoint spectrum type situation. And I think that, at first, I was really thinking that it would not be continued, that just didn’t feel right, especially right after they passed away. After they passed away, I took my own hiatus from making music for about a year. When I started feeling really inspired to create again and wanting to play live again and produce stuff again, I really thought about having a different name for the project and doing a new project. I think there’s also something very liberating about that as an artist to start something new.

But thinking about it a little bit more, I realized that continuing the name of The FMs would not be something that would erase their memory or their contributions in any way, but that it would be something that would help honor it. If we continued The FMs and somebody heard a new song that we made and liked it, it would be a door for them to then find the contributions that Frankie made in the earlier versions of The FMs. So I think that they will always be a part of this project permanently, but there will now be some new faces to it as well.

You recently released the video for “Transformation Dreams.” Can you tell me about the experience making that video?

We’ve made a lot of music videos before, (but) this one feels particularly special to me. I think it was really ambitious. We wanted to, on a very low budget, create something that was science fiction, which is really challenging. I think the reason for that was because the song’s new concept became about a conversation between Frankie and I across mortal realms. So we’re already leaving the plane of physical existence that we occupy, you and I right here today, the world as we know it. So it had to take place in a parallel universe.

I also really wanted this video to be narrative and really tell the story, because I think the song also really tells us a story in a very significant way, as opposed to music videos that are a little more stylistic, like six different places that were lip synching and a bunch of cool shots. We were able to create this video that takes place in this dystopian universe, where the beginning of the story is me getting bombarded with all of this toxic masculine, patriarchal messaging that we’re all subjected to in this society to very young age, when we are very sensitive to it. And there’s a narrative arc in that story where I discover Frankie’s gender transition. Also, the video has a moment where it shows the Billboard article that came out when Frankie died. From that point forward, I am now having my own transition, and ultimately inherit their hopes and dreams and come out on the other side, where in this video’s ending out of this dystopian universe into this more colorful, wider spectrum place.

I think, beyond the story that it tells, we got to do some cool stuff. Like, we rented this like hospital room film studio to shoot part of it in. We got an animator to have Frankie come and lip sync in this way, like they’re speaking to us from another dimension. Then, Dylan—who is this amazing, young, trans filmmaker based in Brooklyn that we’ve done some work with before—just really executed the editing and the effects and everything so flawlessly. So such a visually rich video, and I would definitely encourage (people) to check it out.

 

Once the album comes out, what’s next for the band?

So, as crazy as this is, we actually have a second album that is already completed after this one of more posthumous material. That album will be the last of the stuff that Frankie ever worked on with us. That one was not an album that Frankie really got to hear the final versions of. This was all stuff, for the most part, that we have been working on that was in progress with a different producer, this person David Warner, who we really clicked with. He was able to kind of bring a new dimension to our music. Pink + Black, all of the tracks on that were produced by me. This other album, that will probably release in 2025 or so, will be all stuff we produced with David Warner. After Frankie passed away, David and I worked on finishing those songs and worked on finishing that record. So that that’s going to be something to look forward to. I’m glad that the world still has more things that Frankie has contributed to that they get to have.

In parallel to all of that, we have a new lineup that we’re developing new material with to do live. For the most part, it’s all new stuff that’s not on either of those albums. I think one of the things that I wanted to really be mindful of as we were doing this new iteration of The FMs was to not try to replace Frankie and replace their voice. That felt, to me, like it just couldn’t really be done. They had such a unique voice; they had such a unique lyrical perspective. So I think I’m not saying that we would never perform any song that they had done, but if we did so, (it would) truly be something specially to honor them and would not just be like we’re playing a whole set of stuff that they had been a part of like Alice In Chains or something (with) the guy singing all the Layne parts. Also, I just really wanted to make new stuff, too.

So, on May 11, we’re doing FrankieFest. It’s a festival to honor Frankie. It’s going to be at Coney Island USA. And we’re going to have a lot of pretty amazing bands that all are part of Frankie’s ethos. And The FMs are going to perform for the first time in over four years, which I’m really excited about. That will be with a new lineup and all new material except for one song.

Tickets for FrankieFest on Saturday are available herePink + Black is out tomorrow and you can order it from Bandcamp or from Invasion Merch. Follow The FMs on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Matt Mahurin

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