Oyster #93: Frank Ocean
"I can't think of good jokes; I can't think of good analogies. I'm nervous."
At 23, Frank Ocean is the oldest member of notorious hip-hop collective, Odd Future - notorious because of their lyrics, the topics of which can range from rape and murder to eating donuts, all in the one song. In spite of - or perhaps because of this, Odd Future have been welcomed with open arms by the mainstream music media, with Ocean's debut Nostalgia, Ultra receiving almost universal praise. It's easy to like: he sings over samples from Radiohead, MGMT and the Eagles and, unlike his comrades, he is more likely to talk about going to the movies with his girl than the piles of bodies in his basement. In Oyster issue #93 I gave him a call and interrupted his shoot with our photographer, Nabil.
Ariane Halls: Hello. How did the shoot go?
Frank Ocean: We're still shooting! Leave us alone! Ask the questions!
Frank: I'm just kidding.
Do you like Nabil?
Frank: You can't ask me that! I'm sitting right next to him. No, I hate him; he's terrible.
How did Odd Future meet?
Frank: Through mutual friends. Out. Like how you met one of your friends - well, maybe not. But yeah, mutual friends of mutual friends.
Do you actually hang out - do you go to the movies and go bowling together? Or do you just make music together?
Frank: We don't really go to the movies together as a unit and shit like that. We just take bitches to the movies. Yeah!
How long have you been making music for?
Frank: I did my first studio session, on my own, when I was 13.
In New Orleans?
Frank: Well, actually Kenner, which is just outside of New Orleans; at this studio called Festival.
What was it like growing up in New Orleans?
Frank: My childhood was cool. New Orleans was good to me; the city's got a lot of character. My family is cool. I was kind of a 'bad kid' as far as school and stuff goes, you know - I wasn't the greatest student - but I had a cool childhood.
And how do you find LA in comparison?
Frank: Well, there's no comparison; they're two completely different places. But, you know, I love LA.
So, how did you end up writing for people like Justin Bieber and Brandy?
Frank: Um? I mean, I moved to LA, got out here, and? I don't know, it was no big deal. I just started doing it.
What's Justin Bieber like?
Frank: He's chill.
Do people follow him everywhere?
So you signed to Island Def Jam? What happened? They just ignored you for a year?
Frank: Well, ignoring me sounds like they knew I existed.
How does it happen that they sign you and then they don't know you exist?
Frank: Well, it happens that way when you have a lot of people with signing power in a company. And, you know, so one guy in the building could have a pet project or something and not really put anybody else in the building onto that project, and just leave that project sitting there until it's convenient for him to work on that project.
Nabil: I was with Frank and a label executive yesterday, and the label executive said, "Oh man, I'm a big fan of your music!" and then, "Man, I wish I'd known you were on my label!" [At this point I realise that I've been on speakerphone the entire time. I hate being on speakerphone.]
Frank: He's not shitting you.
Nabil: This is? Well, it's one of the heads, put it that way. One of the big cats.
Frank: It's a true story. But it's all good and it was a gift; it was a gift. It allowed me to do my own thing and to not be fucked with.
Well, the mixtape [Nostalgia, Ultra] has had 979,000 downloads so far, which is amazing.
Nabil: When you print this, make sure it has hit 1,000,000.
Frank: That's crazy.
I read that you have synaesthesia. Is that true?
So... what happens when you hear music?
Frank: I mean, I just associate most songs and sounds and shit with a specific colour palette. It's nothing too crazy; it just sounds cool to say.
Frank: Yeah, he does. I believe him though, because you can just kind of tell - you can tell that somebody's approach? Well, I don't know, maybe not colours, because synaesthesia's not just colour association, but that's what I'm talking about when I say it, so we can just leave it right there.
Does it affect your songwriting?
Frank: It doesn't really affect it, I mean, I've never been without it; it's kind of just like, I don't know, I can't think of a good analogy, but it doesn't affect me. I can't think of good jokes; I can't think of good analogies. I'm nervous.
Don't be nervous. Although, I understand; sometimes I feel like I might throw up mid-interview.
Frank: Oh, you ruined my whole fantasy about you!
Frank: I'm just playing.
Do you ever go on Urban Dictionary?
Frank: I've been there occasionally.
It describes Odd Future as "A group of Satanic, skateboarding, rapist rappers."
How would your mother feel if she read that?
Frank: My mother would probably laugh and say it was funny, because she knows the guys a little bit better than the Urban Dictionary writers.
How would you explain Odd Future to my mother?
Frank: As something she should listen to. It'll make her feel like a teenager again.
So, what do you want to do next?
Frank: I'm kind of just going with the flow. I'm quite a few songs into my next project, I'm doing some cool visual stuff with Nabil, putting a show together. You know; stuff like that. Trying to save up so I can start a cool garage for nineties sports cars.
I liked the M3 on the cover of your album.
Frank: Isn't it gorgeous?
Yes. My dad has a red '87 M6; he would be impressed.
Frank: Your dad is swag. Your dad swags his shit out.
Is that your dream car, the '89 M3?
Frank: Well, I mean, yeah. I think that goes '86 to '93.
And you want to start a garage to restore them?
Frank: I mean, a private garage; just for my personal enjoyment or whatever. But that's an ambition of mine, sure.
And is it European nineties cars, or any of them?
Frank: Um, different makes. I like older Skylarks - you know, we can talk about this for a little while, but I had subscriptions to all those Euro car magazines and Japanese car magazines and blah blah blah when I was in middle school and shit. So I kind of have a thing for those cars.
Have you changed your name permanently now?
Frank: [Laughs] Yeah, I changed my name. Well, I started the process on my birthday, and there are quite a few steps along the way - like going to the Social Security office bullshit and DMV bullshit - but by the end of summer I'll be boarding planes as Christopher Francis Ocean.
Why did you change it?
Frank: I just caught a vibe [laughs]; I caught a wave. It was one of the cooler things I did in 2010.
What was the coolest thing that you did in 2010?
Frank: Ah? um? Yeah, that's difficult, you know what I mean? Because obviously I worked on this project? I think completing this record was the coolest thing.
Why did you call it Nostalgia, Ultra?
Frank: That was just the concept that I was holding in my head the whole time that I was doing it. You know, the old cassette sounds - a lot of the themes in the music are kind of nostalgic, you know; the longing for the past and whatnot.
I love that you kept the entire guitar solo of 'Hotel California' in 'American Wedding'.
Frank: How could you cut it?
I've heard people cut it!
Frank: Nah, that's wack.
Here's 'Novacane', directed by Nabil.