All smiles 

Friedrich’s Teeth chews up the local folk-rock scene

On their new album, local band Friedrich’s Teeth plays “Blood Bath,” which features guitarist Franny Opatz singing, “Somehow I tear into your heart. I’m not looking for anything more than all that you possess. I’m not looking for anything more or less than your soul.” The sentiment could be creepy except for the fact that Opatz’s end notes trill in a hauntingly beautiful, Sinéad O’Connor sort of way, and her tone possesses the rainy day ease of The Sundays. It’s a disarming delivery. And when the band’s orchestral section weighs in—clarinet, cello, melodica—it sounds like the soundtrack for a bohemian roadtrip movie.

Opatz and her cousin, Isaak Opatz, both play guitar and sing in Friedrich’s Teeth, serving as the understated personalities of the year-old folk rock outfit. They switch out playing the ukulele given to them by their grandmother, though Franny plays it the most. They joke about having the same last name and the fact that people assume they’re husband and wife; they considered, briefly, spreading a White Stripes-like rumor before dismissing the idea as too pretentious and dishonest. (Jack White and his ex-wife, Meg, originally duped the media into thinking they were brother and sister.) Whatever edginess Friedrich’s Teeth might embrace with dark song lyrics is drowned by their good-natured, laid-back dispositions. They’re anything but drama queens.

The same casual approach follows in creating the band’s sound. The Opatz cousins don’t have any formal musical training, so their songwriting stems from playing around with whatever sounds good aurally. But Bethany Joyce (cello), Madeline Demahy (clarinet) and Jenny Hunt (flute) all come from the University of Montana music program and offer a much more technical backdrop.

“That’s really what I love about this band,” says Joyce, who’s made a name by playing in a growing number of local folk rock bands. “I love Isaak and Franny’s songwriting and I don’t think songwriters need to know song theory and how it’s constructed, they just go with their ear and their hearts and it sounds great. But it’s so much fun to have this little orchestral section—Jenny and Madeline and I—and totally nerd-out about music theory and progressions. We get so into it. It’s a really nice combination of people and backgrounds.”

The collaboration during practice—sessions the band calls “dentist appointments” or “teeth cleanings,” in reference to their band name—has evolved since the band formed a year ago. At first, just Franny and Isaak wrote the songs, but now the symphonic section weighs in on the creative effort.

“It makes it really fun in practices even though Isaak and I aren’t really very technically trained,” says Franny. “We hear the others talk about something random and they’ll go off and make this really cool part and we’re like, ‘Yeah, sweet! We’ll just play the chords.’”

The band’s first appearance at the Badlander was an open mic show, but they managed to bring in a large crowd because the local folk rock scene is so, as Franny puts it, “incestuous.” Most of the local bands— including The Pillar Saints, Travis Sehorn and the Pebble Light and The Wartime Blues, to name a few—all share band members and support each other. In fact, when Friedrich’s Teeth recently recorded their first album at UM’s Music Recital Hall, The Pillar Saints’ Kier Atherton engineered the effort.

“Kier is one of the most amazing people—an incredible musician and selfless also,” says Joyce. “He really wanted to record us and we couldn’t really afford to pay him anything, and we all have conflicting schedules. We basically had to do a one-night shot because that’s the only time we had. So we sort of loaded all of his equipment and brought it to the music recital hall. We got started around 10 p.m. and I think we left around 6 a.m.”

The new album covers a lot of ground. Franny wrote one of the more upbeat songs on the way back from her home state of Minnesota.

“I’d just received a mandolin for Christmas and so I was determined to write a song on it,” she says. “I went to a show up in Duluth with some buddies and we got snowed in. When we were driving back home, I just started playing the song.”

The cousins also do a spot-on version of “In Spite of Ourselves” that showcases how much they can sound like Iris DeMent and John Prine. But the album mostly follows the tone of “Blood Bath”—dark layers encased by pretty, melodic folk. In “Unhappy Whore,” for instance, Isaak provides a bravado similar to Neil Diamond on the chorus: “You are deep in love…I wish I loved you more. Love to make you happy but I would make such an unhappy whore.”

While the band may be forthcoming and easy going when it comes to discussing their music, one topic causes them to clam up—the album’s title. Getting the band to admit to the cheekily named effort—As Tits as it Gets—was like pulling teeth. And it’s still not something they seem totally comfortable with—Franny says they plan to make copies with and without the actual title so they can hand something more PG to parents and grandparents.

With one album done, Friedrich’s Teeth is already working on a second one that will feature new drummer Angelo Chiaverini. Franny says they’ll still record it in a single, all-night live session but this one will have a fuller sound and be more collaborative than the first album.

Currently, Isaak refers to the band as “open-minded folk rock,” a label that provides the band some leeway for the future of their sound.

“We have really different backgrounds and we play whatever sounds good to us,” he says. “I think eventually we might find some kind of way to define ourselves but right now we’re enjoying dabbling in just about everything. We don’t want to be too constricting.”

Friedrich’s Teeth plays a CD release show at the Badlander Wednesday, Dec. 3, with Blue Orpheus and Jackson Isbell. $5.
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