The thing that people realize about plasma, if they realize anything at all, is that it is almost solely responsible for carrying everything of sustenance into and out of the cells our fallible bodies rely on in order to function and thrive. The thing people forget about plasma is that it has free-roaming electrons, which is why it can freely switch between being fire, lightning, aurorae, and stars – not just the magic potion in your blood. Some artists are human plasmatics – whether they follow Wendy O. Williams or not – and gently school you in the subliminal biological truth that to be chameleonic is simply to be fully human, and to embrace this certitude is to receive everything you need, not just for survival, but to spark elation, radical acceptance, and genuine spiritual freedom. New York’s own The FMs are that sort of tensile talent, and we strongly urge you to let them into your ears and into your blood. Once there wielding their quicksilver credo, they will manifest some heterodox harmonies equal to any you’ve seen performed by fire or lightning before – and every tone of it is sure to be filled with their special species of aural aurorae.
Beginning their career via a series of hypnotic and participatory performances in furtive locales such as an historic boat docked in Brooklyn, vocalist/guitarist Frankie Rex and vocalist/bassist Matte Namer have carved their artistic certiorari by way of everything from helping to launch Brooklyn’s House of Yes to composing music for Showtime’s Fluidity to accidentally predicting Covid in their eerily accurate concept for their tune called “Silent City.”
The FMs formally debuted as a recording entity in 2017 with the release of the porphyric and endlessly playable, Machinacene Epoch. From that depth charge of a record, modern opuses like “Implosion Model” and “Change Your Men Up“ emerged with cinematic volcanicity to announce The FMs as a progressive new voice specializing in a Seurat-worthy kind of audio pointillism. Sonic dots and visual dabs from realms as previously disparate as Nine Inch Nails and Catherine Wheel coalesce beautifully within The FMs’ sprechgesang sound, and truculent truths about society and themselves are never spared by any warship or nostalgia vessel.
Merely by virtue of being honest with themselves, on and off stage, The FMs raise vital questions and ignite saignant discourses about everything from humanity’s relationship to technology, the emotional dyskinesia of these narcissistic times, the lycanthropic nature of violence, and the mechanical health of our own minds in a world insistent on emphasizing what the Irish colloquially call our bodily “wedding tackle” as such a loaded, prescribed piece of our identities. Simply put, what you have between your legs and how you personally relate to that should be no one’s business but your own, and for any of us – queer, questioning, or otherwise – to have any true freedom to live as we choose, we need a world that more readily recognizes this.
Tunes like “Annihilation Denial“ (feat. Miss Cherry Delight) showcase gender as the irrelevant and deflationary byword it tends to be. Sexual attitudes and personae are set loose in any FMs song to be what they are within the liquidity of that moment, and they are likewise free to shift the next. Beyond these surfacing subtexts, this music is just plain fun! Remember fun?!
If you miss Glamorama, The Roxy, Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium, or the slide (THE SLIDE!!!) at Club USA, The FMs have the zhuzh you covet from those dreamily unzipped days. If you revel in the fact that hybrids are always stronger and have more endurance than bluebloods, The FMs have some classic pre-Giuliani New York dance music mixed with Peter Murphy “Cuts You Up”-level lyrical introspection for you. If you like your chanson vocals mixed with the curdled tectonics of industrial rock set amidst Bauhaus beats, The FMs are definitely luxe goods for your lobes (ears and brain).
The now Ithaca-based band’s latest double-sided release entitled “Song X/Bad Girl” was recorded with Grammy-winning engineer Brian Forbes and John Siket (Sonic Youth, Blonde Redhead, and Fountains of Wayne) at Greenpoint’s multidisciplinary Mecca, ADIM Studios. Available on 7” vinyl, “Song X/Bad Girl” will also feature its own bespoke merch for which all profits received will be donated to the Black Trans Travel Fund.
QRO’s illustrious inksmith donned her very finest crystal corset for the occasion and caught up with The FMs on everything from the origins of “Song X” to the indelible imprint left on us all by The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Read on for grit and glamour as only New York can give:
QRO: Can I just formally start by saying how my literary brain cannot get over my initial interface with your band, which was taking in your logo! It’s this holistic riff on your first-name initials, it’s FM radio, it’s the male/female gender insignia, it’s genius!!! Tell us a little bit about how this band got started, how you came up with your incredibly cool overall aesthetic – maybe just a little background for those who may not know you.
Frankie Rex: Well, we first met in high school, through a mutual friend. When Matte and I met, we were both musicians and we decided to try our hand at playing in a band together, which was kind of like a stoner-psychedelic-rock band. I tried to play drums in that band, Matte played bass and sang. At that time, I wasn’t confident enough in myself to start singing in front of people. I did sing, but at home! [laughter] Towards the end of that band, I started doing a little bit of backup vocals and once college time came around, we all kind of went our separate ways.
After that, after maybe about six years or so, I think that’s when Matte and I started talking on Facebook. Matte was like “I have a lot of music I’ve been working on; I think it’d be cool to work with you.” And I’ve always liked Matte’s Zero’s End project, which is a lot of awesome, really cool music that I think people should check out. So, at that time, the band that I was fronting kind of broke up, so I was looking for something new to do anyway. We met up and we just basically took it from there, it clicked, and it was super exciting!
Matte Namer: Conceptually too, what was really interesting is that we sort of started our musical journeys together, but also as we matured into adults, we realized that we both were gender fluid people. We thought that was pretty interesting too when we were talking about getting back together and forming a band – and that it could form an interesting basis for the concept of a new project.
Conceptually too, what was really interesting is that we sort of started our musical journeys together, but also as we matured into adults, we realized that we both were gender fluid people.
QRO: Oh, it definitely is! When I thought back to all of the incredibly iconic gender-bending, androgynous people across the history of rock-n-roll, I mean you guys are in league with people like Bryan Ferry, Adam Ant, The New Romantics, Annie Lennox, David Bowie, Marc Bolan – and I feel that music has played such a vital role in the development of the LGBTQ+ community, bringing it to the mainstream, having that become what I think it should be – which is just regular! And so, am I right in feeling after listening to a lot of your things that you are kind of using your music also to bring awareness, to bring people to some questions, maybe even some experimentation with those ideas?
FR: Oh, absolutely!
MN: Yeah, I think the way that we see it is that we really don’t have too specific a message around this, we basically just want to approach this like, ‘Hey, we’re just trying to be ourselves and this is who we are.’ By showing the world who we are, we hope we’re helping pave the way to show people that it’s okay to be like this and it’s alright. We’re not really trying to proselytize to anybody, necessarily.
QRO: I think it’s perfect, Matte, and you know when you think back to Native American lore – and this is what so often shocks me about our country because obviously Native Americans were here a long time before any of us European-descended folks – they viewed anyone that was gender fluid or trans as holy; they called them “Two-Spirit” people and they were like sacred shamans. And they really were considered a third gender, or a third category of being. Somehow, we’ve mutilated that, as we do so many things, in our Euro-history and so what I love is that you are playing a part in normalizing something that I hope someday won’t need a banner.
MN: Yeah, we’re trying to free ourselves from these constructs, right? We have all these constructs that we’ve created in our society over millennia of Western civilization, and they’re sort of unnecessary. We’ve developed this patriarchal culture that we’re now trying to get rid of and it’s all about freedom, essentially. It’s all about freedom for somebody growing up who is maybe a cis woman or a non-binary person or a trans person, that you can grow up and have the freedom to be whatever gender expression you want to be. You can take on whatever professional position that you want and not have to worry about getting discrimination for that. That’s just all it comes down to at the end of the day.
By showing the world who we are, we hope we’re helping pave the way to show people that it’s okay to be like this and it’s alright.
QRO: Well, and it’s the perfect vehicle, isn’t it, because isn’t rock-n-roll where we’ve always gone – the one landscape where we can always go – where literally anything goes? Rock-n-roll is where we all go to party, and so I love that you’re bringing such a cerebral, psychologically intense aspect to that because a lot of people just think that music is something you put on at the background of a party. And yes, it is that in one respect, but it many times can be – and certainly seems to be in your case – a transcendent experience where there’s quite a lot more going on.
MN: That’s definitely always been something that’s really drawn me to music: its ability to influence culture, or to be a kind of mirror to what’s going on in the zeitgeist at a given moment. That’s always been, to me, the most fascinating thing about music. I’ve always loved music and I think as human beings we all have something innately where we really connect emotionally around hearing music. The way that it can shift people’s cultural and political perceptions, and all these other things, that’s a really fascinating thing to me. I think that growing up as a teenager, that was the reason, mostly, why I wanted to be a musician. As a 15-year-old, that was why I was like “I want to do this!”
QRO: I absolutely get that! My friends laugh at me during every election season for saying “politicians aren’t important enough to garner my attention; it’s artists that direct changes in culture.” I mean, even if you’re talking about someone as luminous as JFK, or some other fabulously regarded president, that person will never have the power to move people that someone like John Lennon had in his pinky toenail. To actually change the way people think artists are required, and I think it’s very important to give them the recognition they deserve for that and not relegate what they do to the liminal space of the “party” atmosphere. That said, I think another thing you guys do very well is to remind people – quietly, subtly, discreetly – how much mainstream culture, which often tries to reject LGBTQ+ people, has actually taken from LGBTQ+ culture. You look at something like 90s New York club culture and it was nearly entirely based around ideas that came out of the LGBTQ+ community. And all of that has filtered down now to total commercialization in every other community, but so many people don’t realize that’s where it came from. Which kind of leads me perfectly into asking you about your latest release, the epic dual-sided goodness that is “Song X“ and “Bad Girl” – which I just love. Tell us a bit about that new gem if you can.
FR: The music composition was actually done by Michael Butterfly, he’s our keyboardist and Ableton Live member, and it was sent over to me with just the music. I spent a couple of nights just listening to it and thinking of what I wanted to say. During that time, I was basically thinking about how I have never really expressed the way I feel about my gender identity and my sexuality. Over the years I’ve kind of battled with that you know, as somebody who is a cis female but I identify as gender queer, and as someone who does want to complete some changes to my body and whatnot, to feel more comfortable in my skin. So, I was just thinking, “How can I speak about this so that other people who do feel this way can connect?”
So, I decided to really take some time out to really get that across, and also to convey how when people do speak about these things it makes certain other people uncomfortable and so some feel like they have to suffer in silence. Especially the lyric, “Cutting our vocal cords as we shout” is just saying: we’re here, we’ve been dealing with these things, but we get cut off or not heard at all. So that’s pretty much what “Song X” means to me; it’s very personal but I also wanted to make it on a level where people can grasp it. You know, you don’t have to be trans or gender queer, you could be just somebody who has duality within both their feminine aspects and masculine aspects, whether they’re dominant or submissive, and so forth.
That’s definitely always been something that’s really drawn me to music: its ability to influence culture, or to be a kind of mirror to what’s going on in the zeitgeist at a given moment.
QRO: That’s such an incredible and informative explanation of that song because it sheds so much light on what it is and what it can be. It also gels with my first impression of the song, which was that it immediately made Camile Paglia leap into my mind! My favorite of all feminist philosophers because she’s always talked so unapologetically about that very subject because she’s very fluid and felt like there was no forum whatsoever for her as she came of age in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Conversations like that weren’t even being had in the First Wave Feminist circles.
FR: We’re very fortunate that we’re living in a time when people are discussing these things and people are a little more free to be themselves. Of course, there’s still a lot of discrimination that we have to get over and there are still a lot of acts of violence, which is just sad that this keeps happening. But at least now the alarm bells are getting louder and people are paying more attention to these incidents. So, we have a voice and we might as well try to use our music as a political statement or just to get people thinking, to question things. Also, to be able to have a good time within and enjoy.
QRO: It’s such a good idea because otherwise I think a lot of people shy away from conversations like that because they may feel that they are heavy or intense. It’s wonderful that you’re bringing that dynamic in with what I would call even a joyful aspect, even just the joy of liberation and release. Like “F*#% yeah, they just said that!” It’s beautiful, guys. As is your take on the classic Grant Wood “American Gothic” painting that you guys have on your website! Matte, you’re holding the pie – it’s fantastic! I think there’s so much to say about the way you two interpreted that with regard to “Song X” and your whole artistic vibe. That painting came out, I think, in 1930 – so right after the Crash and right before the Depression. It really sort of challenged people’s ideas of the rural and some of America’s more puritanical roots, so to see you two, such gloriously urban and non-traditional people, giving that a new face is just so intelligent! I love all of your juxtapositions and paradoxes.
MN: It’s interesting too how subtly gendered the original painting is, and also that it has its own queer history. It’s spoofed in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I think is probably why it was in the back of our heads and we ended up spoofing it ourselves because we’re obviously really big fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show…
QRO: Oh, lifetime Magenta here! Magentaaaa! [laughter]
MN: Oh yeah, and Matt Mahurin is just such an amazing artist so we’re just so thrilled with how that image came out. Conceptually, it’s really cool to be able to get to continue the dialogue around that painting because I think when it’s talked about in the annals of art history, it’s talked about for a lot of different reasons, but I do think it represents this very rigid, patriarchal aspect of our culture – the male in the picture with his pitchfork, which is this kind of phallic, aggressive, weaponized thing – so we’re just really proud of the way that picture came out in our interpretation.
We’re very fortunate that we’re living in a time when people are discussing these things and people are a little more free to be themselves.
QRO: I think you should be! You’re continuing to flip roles and expectations inside out with that image and, on a purely surface level, you also both just look so fantastic in that photo! So, what about seeing your lovely faces live this year – any chance of that on the horizon?
MN: We don’t have any tours planned yet because we haven’t gotten ahead of the COVID situation that much, but we definitely do want to do maybe a secret forest show or something like that this summer. Maybe do some livestream shows and see where we’re going with that. We moved this year, we may add a new member, and we’re working with a lot of new material so we’re probably going to approach our live show a little bit differently.
FR: It’s very slow here and a lot of venues closed down in New York City – the smaller ones and the independent ones – and from what I’ve seen the only shows that have been really going on are like DIY productions in people’s backyards or they’ll choose a specific street in Brooklyn. The only venue that I’ve seen that we’ve actually played at that’s doing indoor shows at present is Bowery Electric. We’ll just have to see what happens, but it would be great to do something during the summer, be it up here, maybe down there? It’ll be like Christmas! [laughter]
QRO: That’s right! Well keep it in your pocket that I live in the Appalachian Forest and you’d have roughly 90,000 acres of nothing but trees and butterflies if you ever want to come down and stream from Fairyland! [laughter] That would be so cool! Well, I’ve got to ask at least one more question about the process part of your work, because I do fawn over people who can do this with seeming sorcery like yours. I know that so much of what you write is autobiographical of course, but how much is also funneled through observational experiences – maybe things you’re reading, bands you’re hearing, or other artists? Can you tell us a little bit about who you’re reading or listening to that might also be helping to form some of these awesome ideas?
FR: Sure! There’s a big process to it and Matte usually starts that so, Matte why don’t you go through your process first and then I’ll go through mine…
MN: Yeah, totally! My process often starts with the music before I dive into the lyrics. I’ll often have a lot of ideas for lyrics or song concepts that are sitting in a bucket over here, and then musical song ideas that are in a bucket over there. Then it becomes like, ‘Oooh, this song concept seems like it would match well with this music idea,’ and boom! There’s sort of a little marriage that happens. That’s often how I end up writing music.
I think that your question was also around lyrical inspiration and certainly when we started out with The FMs I didn’t really like writing autobiographical songs as much. I liked to try to keep it observational and focus on the politics or the message of the thing. Over the years, I’ve allowed myself to go in a more introspective direction with the songwriting. I think that can be helpful as well because you can still share a positive message and have it be autobiographical. Like we were talking about earlier, sometimes just a simple, “Hey, we’re gender fluid and we’re just being honest about who we are” is a good enough message in and of itself.
In terms of where we draw inspiration from, it’s a little bit different between Frankie and I – obviously we have a little bit different tastes with things, but it’s definitely a big mix. I’m not ashamed to say that we can draw lyrical inspiration from TV shows or something like that.
Our first single, “Implosion Model”, was basically about the question: what has the fact that we’ve lived with the knowledge for the last 70 years that our world leaders can blow us up at any moment done to our collective psyche? I got that idea from a TV show. What was interesting about that show and what really inspired me was that you had all these intellectuals and scientists, these free-thinking, peace-loving people who were the ones that actually created the most horrific weapon the world had ever seen at the time – and they felt compelled to do it because of Hitler. So, the interesting thing was that people who had maybe our kind of morality were the ones that ended up creating this horrible thing.
Over the years, I’ve allowed myself to go in a more introspective direction with the songwriting.
QRO: Yeah! Well, and that illustrates the point that you guys are making in every way in your own art – that you cannot confine anything, even peace-loving sweet people, into one category. If you’re a human being, you’ve got a thousand facets. People like to deify to make something seem all one way, so I love that you’ve taken those ideas and shown that they’re certainly not. Frankie, what about you – what’s your journey into the muse?
FR: Well, with my process, I do a lot of semi-autobiographical lyrics and also, I tend to take from different events that have happened over the years. From our album Machinascene Epoch, there was one song in particular called “Domino“ in which I’m basically speaking about all of these awful acts of gun violence that have happened, stemming all the way back to Columbine and on to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. I like to take from non-fiction. It’s hard for me to write lyrics like a story or use certain characters. To me, it’s just more personal that way.
QRO: You’re just like a sieve, Frankie! You take it all in and funnel it out into something unique to yourself. You’re living proof of my favorite Joe Strummer line ever: “No input, no output.” Well, thanks so much for sharing all of this fabulous stuff with us today, guys, and especially for the gift of your time. I just want to say, as an ally, that I’m so glad you exist and that you are making noise out of it. Come down to the ATL anytime!
FR: Thank you so much for this opportunity!
MN: This has been so much fun and we’ll hope to see you out in person really soon. Thanks for supporting artists and musicians with your words.
The FMs plan to be tearing a hole in the sky somewhere near you this upcoming summer as venues continue to open post-pandemic. Stay tuned to their socials and website for updates, and in the meantime listen to “Song X/Bad Girl” on heavy repeat. Every cell in your body will send you an engraved thank-you.