Frente singer Angie Hart and guitarist Simon Austin have the ultimate love-hate relationship.
They love working together and have an incomparable mutual respect, but they also drive … each … other … crazy!
“We went out for a few years, then it finished kind of messy,” Austin said recently. “It was great while it lasted, but we have only just kind of survived it. We know each other so well, it’s like all our moves are transparent to each other. It makes for a really good and a really bad relationship.”
Their breakup inspired “Goodbye Goodguy,” a track off the Australian alternative rock quartet’s stellar sophomore album, “Shape” (Mammoth/Atlantic), released July 16.
“It’s about somebody looking into a mirror and realizing that they’ve changed and not for the better,” Austin said, “or maybe they’ve changed in a way they’ve stopped being so polite and start telling the brutal truth about how it is.
“We had this huge fight in my living room. It was raining and we sat there sobbing on the couch and wrote this song about each other in five minutes, right then and there. That’s how we write all our music, through disagreements.”
What would normally unravel a group only strengthened Frente.
“I just love her,” Austin said of Hart. “She can be really painful, but that’s because I’m so close to her and she knows exactly which buttons of mine to push, and I love it.”
Frente – Hart, Austin, drummer Alistair Barden and bassist Tim O’Connor (since replaced by Bill McDonald) – debuted more than two years ago with the acoustic-flavored “Marvin the Album,” featuring the international hits “Labour of Love” and “Bizarre Love Triangle,” a cover of the New Order classic. It sold nearly 1 million copies worldwide and made the charming Hart into an alternative cover girl.
It all happened so quickly that the band never truly developed, Austin said, so they saw “Shape” as their “real” first album.
“We wanted to surprise ourselves and surprise other people, be honest and be chaotic,” he said. “We wanted to experiment on this one and loosen ourselves up and shake out a lot of the pressure we felt from making the first record.
“We had to put a record together that looked like we had worked. It’s great being successful, you kind of have to feel like you deserve it. We’ve been successful in Australia and Europe for some time, but then it happened so quickly in America. Consequently, we did a lot of touring in introduce ourselves to people on a more intimate level, but we felt like we hadn’t paid our dues, in some way.”
Austin produced “Marvin,” but for “Shape,” he handed over the reins to Dave Allen (The Cure, Sisters of Mercy) and Booga Bear (Neneh Cherry). At El Cortijo studios in southern Spain, all preconceptions went out the window.
“I was the only one terrified,” Austin said. “The guys who were producing it basically had fixed on the fact that I had been the kind of whip-cracker. They were like, ‘Simon, on this record, you’re sitting in the corner playing guitar. Thank you for writing the songs, but basically we’re going to blow apart everything and do something different.’
“That was so terrifying for me to actually just let go. It was something I had to do for the record’s sake and especially for Angie’s sanity. This is the first time where she has more of a sound than I have, which is really good.”
“Shape” opens with the psychedelic yet instantly accessible “Sit On My Hands” (the first single) and tosses unexpected curves from there on, straddling hip-hop and power pop with Hart’s captivating voice intact.
” ‘Marvin’ is really innocent,” Austin said. “It’s kind of an ideal world we thought we were living in. ‘Marvin’ is the sound of innocence and ‘Shape’ is the sound of experience. ‘Marvin,’ although it has some great singles, it’s fragmented and there are a couple of tracks on there that, to me, are filler. Whereas ‘Shape,’ as an album, is a lot stronger.”
BWF (before we forget): Frente has since split up, and Hart has formed Splendid.