James Frankland is a UK-based guitar instrumentalist with a taste for sweeping, cinematic compositions that bend and arc across an expansive range of moods and atmospheres.
On tracks such as The Light, taken from his forthcoming album, Dystopian Utopia, Frankland weaves simple minor key melodies from complex parts layered on acoustic and electric guitar, holding the ethereal and the overdriven in equilibrium. His approach is informed by composers such as Hans Zimmer as much as it is by other guitarists; Frankland will use the piano to complement guitar and broaden the canvas, and on occasion takes a bold, unorthodox approach to structure.
Users of Blackstar Amps' Silverline Series might recognise his name. Frankland, an endorsee of Blackstar, designed the Clean Up patch. He is a regular presence on the stage, having played in a number of West End musicals and at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Music For Youth Proms.
Favouring gear from Blackstar, Victory Amps, Seymour Duncan pickups, Shergold and Ernie Ball, Frankland's number one six-string is his signature Capulet made by Ambler Custom Guitars – a high-end doublecut with a swamp ash body, AAAAA quilted maple top that houses a pair of Seymour Duncan Phat Cat P-90s.
As Frankland says, the P-90s are an instrumentalist's best friend when it comes to laying down a part that can sit atop the mix and carry the melody as it does on The Light. Here, he talks inspirations, walks through his writing process, and some of the thinking behind his gear picks.
How would you describe your sound to a new listener?
James Frankland: “Instrumental guitar combined with moody atmospheres, contrasting sparse melodic sections with heavier sections of dense production.“
Which of your songs best represents you and why?
“There’s a track from Dystopian Utopia called Liberation. This one is a bit odd compositionally speaking as instead of a normal type structure it has four completely different sections, but each in a style I really enjoy playing.
“It starts off with a synth pad and a nylon-string guitar solo which then drops into a really note heavy shred solo that was loads of fun to track. After that it drops into a calmer solo section before finishing on a clean ambient outro. It’s only two and a half minutes but that track has some of my favourite sections and tones from the whole album in there.“
What has inspired the creative process for this album?
“For the first few years of my career I was predominantly doing session orientated work for other artists where being able to cover as many tones and styles as possible is the key. So with this album I wanted to really explore what tones and styles I would naturally gravitate towards in my own music and find ‘my sound’ so to speak.“
What is your favourite musical experience/memory with this project so far?
“With this being a fairly recent project and with the live music scene being on pause the past year there hasn’t been opportunity to perform any of the tracks yet, so I think my favourite experience to date would actually be the exploration process mentioned above.
“Trying out loads of guitars and amps and really having chance to figure out what I like most when it comes to tone and techniques, and generally thinking as an artist rather than a session player.“
Is there a particular album that had a big impact on you growing up and how?
“Permission To Land by the Darkness was a big one for me. I had just started playing guitar when the Darkness were starting to become really popular, and I remember I was too young to be allowed to listen to it when it was released with the ‘explicit content’ sticker on the front.
“Not long after that though I had bought a cheap copy of a Les Paul in white like the Customs Justin Hawkins plays, and I Believe In A Thing Called Love was the first song I learnt to play start to finish.“
If you could steal the production off one album/track, which would you take and why?
“I’m a big fan of a lot of orchestral film score music, particularly Hans Zimmer’s work. If I had to choose a specific track it would probably be a piece called Parlay from the Pirates Of The Caribbean soundtrack.
“It starts very dramatic with the string section playing repeated phrases and then builds up in tension with staccato brass, low piano and choral notes. Then it kicks in to this great guitar tone on a Strat drenched in reverb using the trem to make this epic sounding solo with the combination of orchestra and lead guitar.“
Do you have any go-to gear for songwriting and demoing ideas and why is it important to you?
“Generally I tend to write on whichever guitar is closest to hand but when it comes to demoing I really like to use guitars with P-90s or tele pickups for lead/vocal type lines if it’s an instrumental.
“It was something we picked up on doing the last album, in guitar dense mixes where there can be three or more double tracked parts going on at once, the bridge pickups on a tele or a guitar with P-90s really help cut through the mix with their more pronounced top end.“
What instrument or piece of gear would you like to get next and why?
“I really like the look of the new Victory V4 Kraken amp that has just come out. I use a lot of impulse responses when recording and it has the Two notes software built in, so for a portable rig it’s ideal. I’m a big fan of minimalist guitar rigs so to be able to have an amp as big as a standard large size pedal that can run straight to the PA would be perfect for clinic-type gigs.“
Where would you like to take your sound next?
“I’ve started demoing a few of the tracks for the next album and so far it’s a similar type of style but with more emphasis on the piano parts, as all my favourite tracks from Dystopian Utopia were the ones that feature guitar combined with piano. So the plan is really a continuation of the first album but with extra mood, atmospheres and even more guitar solos backed by tense piano chords.“
- Dystopian Utopia is out on 25 June. For more on James Frankland, see Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.