Lanterna’s Henry Frayne: Soundscapes For The Open Road

The first track on Lanterna’s Highways(Badman Records) opens with a lull of softly reverberated guitars which fit perfectly into the open spaces of the Midwest landscape, announcing the return of another album of instrumentals by Henry Frayne. Centered around the guitar work of Champaign-Urbana’s musical veteran Frayne (Area, The Moon Seven Times, Menthol), this is his fourth LP under the Lanterna moniker.

With the help of fellow band mate Brendan Gamble, Frayne originally began Lanterna as a side project in the early 90’s when playing with the now defunct The Moon Seven Times. Frayne looked to work on something of a smaller scale to appreciate what he had with TM7X and self released a limited edition Lanterna cassette with an elaborate sleeve design. This eventually led to a vinyl release in Greece in 1993. Parasol Records picked it up in ‘95 and then Rykodisc three years later.

Frayne jokes how his friends bugged him that he spent much of the 90’s releasing the same album. However, this laid the groundwork for the subsequent Elm Street, Sands, and Highways all on the Badman imprint as Lanterna has become Frayne’s main creative outlet to this day.

Sitting down with Frayne, his character echoes his music in his often humbled and subdued ways. He notes, “Probably to a fault, I haven’t expanded what I do for a long time…I’m always working with a delayed signal, two guitars, three tracks. I’ve been pretty happy to experiment with that for the last 20 years or so, so to a fault I say I do what I do and I’m pretty happy with it.” Though this is part of Lanterna’s charm, as each album blends into the next leaving fans wanting more of Frayne’s instrumental landscapes.

Frayne’s parents were English and German professors who moved from New York City to Champaign-Urbana when Henry was young and listened to a lot of classical and opera in the house. So when a young Henry tuned in to an old AM radio he was fascinated by the 50’s and 60’s soul and R&B that he heard. This led to an interest in “any band you’d listen to in high school in the seventies.” However, Henry was especially drawn to “those songs with hazy or ethereal instrumentation …creepy kind of songs, all that sort of stuff would appeal to me in addition to anything by Eno Morricone.”

The more we talked, Frayne can pinpoint the moment when he decided to make his own music. He gives the disclaimer,” I don’t know why I tell people this, but it’s the truth” as he recalls seeing Boston’s “Don’t look Back Tour” and was so fascinated with the smoke and grand scale of the concert that a few weeks later he took up guitar lessons and was on his way. He really started writing a few years out of high school, though not in the Boston vein by any means. In fact the song “Last Practice” on the new record started from an old 4 track demo Frayne had recorded after his high school garage band broke up around 1983. “When your first band breaks up it’s like end of the world.”

Luckily for Henry it wasn’t. He met numerous local musicians that he was more than happy to work with. Much as the organic nature of the music flows from track to track and album to album, so does Frayne’s recording process. While much of Sands was recorded in the privacy of his own home, Frayne went into Mike Brosco’s Waterworks Studio for most of Highways.

He brought in eight and four track home recordings to the studio. Generally the guitarist puts down multiple guitar tracks, working primarily with a reverb and delay unit, and then invites other musicians to help fill out the rest with drums, bass, electronics, and even sparse vocals at times.

The results range from extended ambient tracks, such as the sprawling ten-minute-plus musique concrete-esque track that closes out the new album to the more upbeat acoustic and driving songs such as “Brooklyn”.

Looking ahead, Henry Frayne hopes to tour the coasts in July and possibly Europe sometime this fall. While catching Lanterna locally is a pleasant rarity for anyone who has had the pleasure, he did speak of a possible release show at the Cowboy Monkey in June. Keep yours fingers crossed.

Ultimately Frayne seems content and humble with his position. He gives thanks to “the rock gods for being allowed to put out records” on the flourishing Badman Label whose roster includes the likes of My Morning Jacket, Innocence Mission, Hayden, Red House Painter’s and other indie luminaries. While he would enjoy supporting himself full time on his musical work, he’s “just happy to put out records on any scale”, and many of us are happy to hear them.