Sacramento music wunderkind Michael Franzino talks A Lot Like Birds
Words by Julie De La Torre
Photo by Daniel Dare

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A Lot Like Birds isn’t, well, a lot like anything else you’ve heard before. Starting out as a two-man project led by frontman Michael Franzino, the experimental group soon picked up five additional members and hasn’t looked back. Since winning the Jammies with former band She’s a Dead Man in 2007, the precocious 20-year-old has not only grown up mentally, but musically, as well.

Submerge had the chance to chat with Franzino about everything from his main sources of inspiration to what it was like recording an insanely sophisticated debut release in the confines of a suburban living room. With their ball-busting stage presence and new full-length album, Plan B, A Lot Like Birds is proving to be one of the most promising up-and-comers of 2010.

So, first off, what are you trying to accomplish with A Lot Like Birds that’s different from your other musical projects?
In my previous and first band, our appeal lied solely in our live shows, due to youthful inexperience and naiveté in musicianship and our wildly eccentric and strong stage presence. People came to our shows to dance or laugh at how silly we could be. A lot has changed in my life in the two years since the demise of She’s a Dead Man, and a hell of a lot has changed since the beginning of it four years ago, when the majority of that music was written. It’s kind of like being a senior laughing at your goofy freshman self in retrospect. I’d like to think (or hope, really) that A Lot Like Birds gives people something stimulating or moving to listen to, while we lose our fucking minds on stage night after night.

What were your biggest challenges while recording Plan B?
That would most definitely be the drum programming process, which took five of the nine total months in the studio with the great Jack O’Donnell’s Shattered Records. I basically had a big MIDI spreadsheet before me with every possible beat and every possible drum and cymbal where I had to dictate, as a guitarist, every single drum note and how hard it was to be hit. That, and we had all kinds of nail-biting computer troubles; Jack never expected to record songs with over 100 tracks.

What have you taken from this entire experience? What have you learned since your days of winning the Jammies in high school?
What I learned most from this experience was the recording process really, and how to utilize it as another dynamic in my music. There are all kinds of tricks [and] ways to change moods or make parts sound bigger or spacey or creepy. Utilizing effects and compression appropriately can really make a song or part something different. There’s so much more to making a record than people think; it gives me such a new love for the albums I revere.

It seems like the album has a lot of Mars Volta/At the Drive In inspiration behind it. If so, how does that come into play? What/who are your main influences? 
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is certainly a hero of mine. If I take anything from the man, it’s a driving insistence upon challenging myself and an audience. Using chaos and discord to contrast gentle and beautiful or making tension and anxiety in a big build are some of my favorite dynamics, and Omar is a master of them among many other things. If the music I write is influenced by anything I can articulate, it’s moods or phases in my life. The past few years in which Plan B formed in my head were some of the darkest times I’ve seen. I think you can hear it in comparison to my embarrassing former work.

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What was it like to record with 10-plus musicians?
It’s absolutely amazing. I wouldn’t have it any other way; I like big compositions with all kinds of layers to tear apart and fall into. I’d be tragically bored in a typical three-piece rock band. The performances I witnessed in Jack’s studio were absolutely beautiful. Most of these guest musicians came in without hearing the music once and laid their parts down in one to two takes. I could not be more grateful to have such helpful and incredibly talented friends.

This album was very reminiscent of a rock opera—was that your intent?
It was not, but I had certainly hoped for the songs to flow well into each other and for it to be an album, not just a collection of songs. I think there is a difference; each song on the album is intentionally placed where it is.

Describe the live show of A Lot Like Birds… What do you think sets you guys apart from anyone else right now?
Our live show was an interesting entity to orchestrate, with the album consisting of so many musicians and all. Originally intended as guests on the album, Cory Lockwood, screamer; Ben Wiacek, guitarist [of post-hardcore project, Discovery of a Lifelong Error]; Athena Koumis, violinist [of folk-rock project, Life as Ghosts]; Juli Lydell, vocalist/keyboardist and Tyler Lydell, drummer [of experimental-folk project, The Dreaded Diamond] have all banded around myself and bassist Michael Litterfield. Making us seven strong, there’s rarely a time when you don’t have something to watch. We arrive to shows with every intent to walk off stage extremely sore, sweaty and out of breath.

What are your plans for 2010? Any ideas for a tour or additional albums?
We are going in to record an acoustic EP called Fuck Morrissey within the next two weeks and after that another full length, because if this took nine months to record, only God knows how long the next one will. As far as touring, we are most definitely going to tour at all costs this summer, hopefully with the backing of a label or management company, but DIY will suffice.

Any last words?
Yes, please listen to the bands whose musicians were guest on this album, including: The Dreaded Diamond, H. Letham, Life as Ghosts, Discovery of a Lifelong Error, Zuhg and our friends The Speed of Sound in Sea Water!

A Lot Like Birds

A Lot Like Birds headlined Jan. 16 at the Shire Road Club in Sacramento.
To find out when and where they’re playing next check out