It’s almost time to EnterWILD, the elaborate album that 19 year old artist Frank Leone has been working on for three years. He plans to take listeners on an audio action adventure. If you pay close attention to independent hip hop you’ve likely heard of Frank, his EnterWILD singles have been premiered by Complex, HypeTrak and Pigeons and Planes among others. He’s a progressive, smart and very creative musician. Frank has a lot coming and more will be revealed, including some intricate visuals filmed by Peter Campbell, he’s also scoring Campbell’s film called WORSEBEHAVIOUR and some big shows will be announced soon. It’s an exciting time for Frank Leone. He’s all in on this project; made every beat on the album (Leone is King Supertramp) and all the cover art including different images for each song. His aesthetic is cohesive, artfully executed and still wild.
Frank comes from a small town a few hours south of Chicago called Monticello near Allerton Park where the adventure is set. His music shows great emotional range from the optimistic “Across The Earth” to the heavier and tribal sounding “War.” My son Noah and I met him at Big Bowl for Thai food where his fortune cookie’s prediction met with his laughter: Your influence has a profound effect on others. “Bullshit” he responded. I believe his music is about to have a profound effect on many, EnterWILD was completed on Feb. 26 and Frank said via Twitter that “The Release Date is so close…it could be standing right behind you.” It’s less than a week away, EnterWILD drops on March 10.
What is your musical background?
I started with piano. My mom made me take lessons in third grade and through high school, then I quit and I wish I hadn’t. I started with drums in high school, I was in drum line and jazz band.
I read in Interview Magazine that Kanye was an inspiration?
I was working at a summer camp in 2010 and that was when I first heard College Dropout. That made me really interested in rap for the first time and then My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy dropped and about a month later I started writing stuff.
When did you first release something?
Good question, I have a lot of really old, really bad tapes scattered around with kids I went to high school with and I hope they never make it out. The first project was in 2011. I actually dropped 3 projects in 2011.
(Laughs) Yes but no. I liked them but I don’t want anyone to hear them.
It seems like its getting real. When did you start performing and getting on these big shows with people like Ab-Soul?
My first show was for 5000 people. It was fun. It was one song and was for a youth convention, I’d won a talent show and that was the first time I performed in front of any group of people. I’d never even performed in front of friends before, they hadn’t heard anything yet. It was fun though and I loved it. At the Ab-Soul show when I first got on stage the crowd just stared at me for a little bit, but I go crazy on stage and they got involved. I played an 1833 show with Denzel Curry.
Favorite show you’ve played so far?
My headliner last year was the most fun I’ve ever had. It was at U of I and I brought Mick Jenkins and Saba and sold it out by hand. I put up posters and hand delivered tickets.
What brought you to Chicago?
The music, I’d been working remotely with people from Chicago for awhile. Let me backtrack a little. In early 2011 I was at a Lupe show and The Cool Kids were there as well. I looked over and saw Vic Mensa who was in Kids These Days at the time and he was with Greg and Nico. I was a huge fan. I went over and talked to him and I rapped over a remix of his a couple months before and I sent that to him. He responded really positively and said that he liked it a lot. He’s kind of the reason I’m here. He introduced me to Kami and a few people and it started all of this.
What can you tell me about EnterWILD, what is the title about?
It stems from a few different places. One of the biggest inspirations is Into the Wild, a story of this guy Chris McCandless who ditched all his belongings and then went to Alaska and cut off ties with family. He eventually died but the story was interesting to me, all the people he touched along the way. That’s where it started from, but I don’t want to explain it, I want people to figure it out when the album comes out and I’ll definitely explain more in a later interview. The title is meant also to shape the aesthetic of the album. Technically it is an action adventure album and it is set in this big forest called Allerton Park which is five minutes from where I grew up. There are miles of forest, and a sculpture garden… That’s the setting for the album, and it’s nighttime and there’s a bit of a supernatural twist to it.
You’ve been working on it for 3 years, do you have tracks on it that were recorded years ago?
Yes, every beat except for “War” was made before Kanye projected his face on the buildings. All the instrumentals are at least two years old.
And you made all the beats?
All of them. There is some acapella, and I worked with the drumline and some other instrumentation. The piano is me, I’ve got a trumpet player from U of I and a friend of mine plays bass and I incorporated that as well.
How did you get the drumline, people you know?
Well like I said, I was drumline in high school. My captain from junior year of high school Brandon Cantwell is the Illini drumline’s bass player now and I connected with it through him. We only had about 30 minutes to record them. We were just in a drum closet in the Armory at U of I and did the snares and kick there and I chopped it up later. I just used my own cheap mic and a laptop.
Did you record at any studio?
I recorded it all in my room and in my dorm room last year. I’m engineering with help from THEMpeople and Professor Fox.
Interview Mag called you a one man machine…
(Laughs) I do it by myself, haven’t found the people to do it all with. I’ve got some great people helping me right now, I’m working a lot with Hllwy (Jay) of OG Mattress. He’s been a huge help to me.
Did you spend a lot of time at Allerton Park?
All the time. There’s not a lot to do in Monticello. I had so much fun out there, if you’re ever in Champagne you have to go see it.
Noah asked about living in a small town versus Chicago?
I don’t like living in Chicago. I definitely need trees, I need stars. It’s a great city, I was conditioned not to like it but I had to try it. I want to live in L.A.
It’s beautiful and I have a lot of friends living there. I’ll probably end up in Montana or Colorado someday…
Why did EnterWILD take 3 years?
I think it was good to get some life experience, that was important. Another thing was building myself up to a point where I think I can release it and get, well I don’t think I could ever get to the point where I want. I want to release it and have the world hear it. I wasn’t in a place where I felt I could release it, I don’t want to have it viewed as a mixtape, like a stepping stone in your career. I want this to be a permanent staple of a “legacy” when I’m done. And because I produced it, it took a lot longer. And through living in Monticello and Champagne and then Chicago I developed more stories, so that all helped with it as well. I like to think of this as set on the the mainland. My first one was set on a beach called Deep Ocean EP. I came up with this pretty immediately after maybe one song. There was no beat that I made for the album that didn’t make the album. I’ve talked to a lot of people that say they made like 70 songs and then chose some for their album. For me, it was 14 songs. I was surprised by that, but it worked. I never go into production with a specific idea in mind, if I do, it doesn’t usually end up that way. I let the music dictate where it is going to go. There’s only one beat I considered giving away. I sent it to Vic and he didn’t like it. So I was like fine, I’ll use it. (laughs)
It sounds wild to me that your first contact in Chicago would be Vic Mensa.
That was just luck. I don’t think I would be doing this as seriously if I hadn’t met Vic and gotten that encouragement, once he responded positively to my music, I took it more seriously. The music industry is so small, it’s crazy. I think the reason my music is “different” is that there was zero rap scene where I was growing up and my friends don’t even like rap so in order to impress them with something, I had to work harder, not just make throw away songs. Where I grew up they hated rap, so it was interesting. When you distance yourself from what everyone else is doing you just focus on what you want to do and it comes together naturally. My mom doesn’t like my music because of the language, she likes that I work hard at it. She’s not proud yet, but she will be one day. If I was a parent I’d be the same way.
Coming from a situation where your friends don’t like rap, do you have to defend it?
Sometimes. That was a big thing at first, but when they started to see progress they got supportive but they’ll always give me a hard time. They listen to old music, Pink Floyd and The Beatles.
I listened to your mix on OG Mattress and you have a Glass Animals song, they are new to me but I love them.
I love them too, feel like we are on some same wave length. They have like a jungle themed thing and mine is forest. I found out about them because Jean Deaux did a song with them. “Pools” was my song of the year.
Do you listen to much hip hop?
Yes, but not much of the stuff coming out now. I think hip hop sucks right now. I like Isaiah Rashad, Monster Mike, Vic Mensa, the Leather Corduroys’ project Season is sick, Lupe’s Tetsuo & Youth is great. Odd Future is my home base always. I listen to mostly Chicago music.
I kind of want to check out SXSW, what’s your experience or the benefit of going there?
Meeting people. Within ten minutes of being there, walking down the street I passed Lil Bibby, OverDose and Wiz Kalifa – 10 minutes. So many rappers there. The street is lined with CDs, the fu-ist thing you can do is try to pass out CDs there. I think there’s a common understanding, if you’re down there, you are there for a reason, so let’s talk. Make sure you have food money and a place to sleep so you don’t end up homeless there like I did for a night last time.
Thoughts on social media regarding career development?
I hate social media so much. (laughs) I’m happy about what social media has done for me, but I hate what it’s done to our generation. People get sucked into it because it’s based in popularity. You can “track” your popularity, but that is not something you should keep stats on. It doesn’t define who you are. I have to keep that in mind. Someday I’ll delete it all.
(On Feb. 28, Frank amusingly referenced one of his big musical inspirations, Kanye, who just announced his next album title. Frank tweeted “So help me god if we have the same release date…” )
Any mentors in this business?
Vic (Mensa) early on. Tim Larew (manages Michael Christmas & Founder of The Fresh Heir) to me is the greatest manager in the industry. He’s a very informative guy, every time he speaks I learn something. He’s so good. OG Mattress, Hllwy (Jay) – He’s been really helpful with business advice and has introduced me to people. He’s a smart dude, someday he will have the biggest website for music. He writes fictional stories. You’ll see more develop if you pay attention to his site.