Shaun Frank talks Electric Zoo, songwriting, and his “Rave Dad” moniker
For Shaun Frank, the future isn’t illustrated in various “Shades of Grey,” but rather in brilliant Technicolor. The Canadian quadruple-threat singer, songwriter, DJ, and producer is riding a career defining high, closing out the summer festival season with a performance at Electric Zoo’s Main Stage, notably his “biggest festival of the summer.” In witnessing the close of one season, Shaun Frank looks to vivid new opportunity in the next as he prepares to open for Krewella on their New World North American fall tour.
We sat down with Shaun Frank at Electric Zoo this past weekend to gain some insight about his production process, his songwriting approach, and of course, what new material he’ll be bringing to the incredibly diverse records ring this fall, where the “Upside Down” vocalist never fails to stand out.
You’re performing at three festivals this weekend, you appeared at Breakaway Music Fest on Friday, today you’re here at EZoo, and tomorrow you’ll be at Sun City [Music Festival] in Texas. Now that festival season is winding down, what will you miss the most about it?
“The festivals. This is the best time of the year as a DJ, you get to play on the biggest stages. This was my biggest festival this summer — I got to play Main Stage at Electric Zoo. I’m gonna miss all the crazy, rigorous touring and I’m gonna miss the beautiful weather, but I’m looking forward to finishing up some records I’ve started and starting to put them out and plan for next year.
You mentioned in a previous interview that you’re starting to add more live elements to your shows. Krewella recently tapped you to open on their upcoming New World North American tour this fall, will you be incorporating any specific live elements in your performances on that tour?
Not on that tour specifically, I’ll probably just be doing my DJ sets because that’s what they want. I think they might be doing a bit of a live thing. Coming into the new year I’m definitely planning on incorporating more live elements. I’m dropping a really cool live video for my song “Upside Down” in the next 2-3 weeks where I play the song on a bunch of instruments, and that’s kind of a taste of the future of my project.
You have a real knack for translating poignant experiences/emotions into songs that are playful and vibrant, despite their sometimes rawer inspirations. What goes through your head when you’re writing a song, what’s your process like?
You know every time I try to just write a banger or a dance record, I always end up going back to my roots which is songwriting. It always starts on the piano or something, and it always starts from a very emotional lyrical place. I don’t know why it always comes out like that. A lot of the vocals are co-writes; “Upside Down” for example is co-written with Jonie Fatora who is a super talented songwriter, and we usually just sit down with a guitar and a piano and try to write a story. “Let You Get Away,” “No Future,” “Addicted,” they’re all stories. And then I try to figure out how that fits into dance music, and I think that’s maybe why I have a bit of a different sound from other people, because it always starts with the song.
So in that sense you always place the song before the beat that you apply.
Yeah almost always. I kind of write a song and then remix it.
You’ve mentioned that songwriters like Bob Marley and Tom Petty inspired you as a songwriter. Are there any current songwriters in the industry who’ve really wowed you with their work lately?
“Those Louis The Child kids are really talented. They’re killing it in the production game! Songwriting-wise, Ashe and Delaney Jane who I worked with before are such incredible songwriters, and Joni Fatora who I wrote “Upside Down” with is so sick. There’s a lot of great writers behind the scenes, there’s this kid Michael J. out of LA that I wrote a great song with, and Asia Whiteacre who wrote that song “Starving” for Zedd. There’s a lot of behind the scenes writers that a lot of people don’t know about and every single day they’re in LA, they’re writing songs. I did that for a couple months when I first signed a publishing deal after “Closer” the song that I wrote with The Chainsmokers came out, and I wrote every day with these guys, they’re literally the backbone of all of this because they write these titles, they write these vocals, and I have all the respect for them.”
Your single “Upside Down” comes to mind as an example of such a track that confronts an issue, in this case breakup, frontally, but in a way that’s whimsical, in terms of sound and its music video production. You’ve sang on club covers before, but what motivated your decision to sing on this track as opposed to others that you’ve produced?
Well it’s a funny story, I wasn’t supposed to sing on that song originally. I was actually waiting, there’s another song that I’m singing on, it’s actually a duet with Delaney Jane that’s going to be coming out soon, but the original singer on that song had to pull off two weeks before the song’s release. She signed a record deal and the label was like “look, we can’t have you doing any featured vocals right now on dance records, we need you to do your thing,” so she had to pull off the record and my manager was like “alright dude, you gotta go sing it,” so I went in and sang it almost as if ‘is this going to work, you know?’ And I was instantly stoked on the vocal, right away I was like wow this is what I think it was supposed to be all along, because I originally wrote it playing guitar and at that moment it became a really special record to me. The video was really special too and this next video [the live video] that’s coming out is going to be cool.
Originally you would never think that the song was supposed to have another vocalist, your voice fits very well with the track.
Well you know those background vocals? That was her.
Would your songwriting process change or would you go about it differently had you known that you would be the song’s vocalist?
Yeah maybe, maybe, but I only write lyrics that I can relate to, so unless it’s a super feminine leaning vocal, since sometimes lyrics can tend to be feminine or masculine, in that case I wouldn’t sing it, but that one really just fit and it reminded me of a really weird time in my life where I was going through a bad breakup where nothing made sense.
A few days ago you tweeted that your mom “said [your] next single is the one.” Following in the idea that mother knows best, that’s an exciting statement. Can you give us any information about this new single, will you lend your vocals to this single?
My mom texted me right before that [the tweet], she was like “send me your music,” and I was like listen, here’s my SoundCloud login and password, you just login and listen anytime. She has my login, so she always goes in and I guess I posted a rough mix of this new record called “Addicted,” and she texted me and said in all caps “ADDICTED IS THE ONE.” She felt very strongly about it, so maybe everyone better pay attention!
Can you give us any additional info about “Addicted,” are you going to be singing on this one, are you falling back?
Nope, it’s with a girl named Lena. It’s a song I wrote with The Chainsmokers and it was going to be a collab. It was a vocal we were passing back and forth about a year and a half ago, and it kind of got on the back burner, but then a couple weeks ago I opened it up and I was like you know this vocal is actually really cool and so I finished the whole record up in a day.
So that’s been sitting in your que for almost two years then.
Almost two years, but the vocal…me and my manager just kept going back and saying what about that vocal so I redid the whole thing a couple weeks ago.
You’ll have that song coming out, and then you also have the foundation of “Closer.” Do you tend to work with The Chainsmokers a lot?
Those guys are my homies, but this new record is going to be a Shaun Frank record because I ended up kind of just doing my own thing with it, but I am in the studio with those guys here and there.
How would you describe the new record [“Addicted”] if you had to give it a tone?
Her voice is so good and she’s singing about how she can’t get enough of this person, she’s addicted to it, it’s a bit of a generic concept but the way she sings it, it’s all about her performance. The hook on the drop is great, its got this bouncy almost island feel to it. There’s been a few different versions of it but this new version is what I’m really excited about.
Lyrical content and vocal delivery always has a way of transforming a concept even if its kind of appeared before.
Yeah, this is probably the most simplistic vocal that I’ve done in awhile, and I think that’s why I’m excited about it because with “Let You Get Away” and “No Future,” they’re very intense songs. There’s choruses and pre-choruses, this one’s just very basic and I think that’s exciting because I think I need to do that, just a plain and simple record.
Do you have a timeframe for the song’s release?
It’ll be out in the next two months. I’m talking to the record label now to get the permissions.
You often refer to yourself as “Rave Dad.” If you had to “Rave Dad” your younger self, what would you tell him?
I would tell him to keep his head up through the tough times bc as the world and the industry changes you gotta change with it and you gotta keep a positive attitude and you gotta always get back up and start again. I almost quit music altogether four years ago, and if I hadn’t done that then we wouldn’t have these songs, Main Stage EZoo, so you gotta keep gunning for your dreams.