When the Frights drop their third studio full-length album, "Hypochondriac," on Aug. 24, don't be surprised to see "mature" -- that nasty, six-letter word music critics love so much -- thrown around a whole lot in reviews. Following the 2016 release of their surf-punk statement "You Are Going to Hate This" (produced by FIDLAR's Zac Carper), the band has turned down the lo-fi grit that endeared them to so many and are instead pumping out their own devil-may-care versions of what could be considered legitimate pop-rock radio hits. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from "Hypochondriac" though? That they just care more.
"At this point, two years later, we kind of started figuring out what we wanted to do more," the band's vocalist, guitarist and primary songwriter, Mikey Carnevale, told me over the phone recently. "Especially with writing, the subjects of my songs got a little more important to me and I guess a little 'deeper' -- I hate using that phrase, too, it sounds like I'm way up my own ass. Because with the last record, I just scribbled some s--- down and screamed and was like, 'There you go, there's a song' and Zac made it sound pretty, which was super nice of him. But now, it was a very different process writing, for me. It took me a year to write these songs and that was just a whole new thing."
It seems like every time we hear about the young band, it's "just a whole new thing." Six years ago, while still in high school, the Frights signed with Postmark Records and released two EPs and a debut self-titled full-length album in 2013. A deal with Dangerbird Records followed, along with national tours, the "You Are Going to Hate This" album (and their own popular mini-fests of the same name), and most recently, a huge announcement that they had signed with friggin' Epitaph Records.
"Believe me, you're not the only one who's kinda surprised," Carnevale said, laughing. "It really makes zero sense to us, too. Epitaph has been great. They're the first label who we're like, holy s---, these guys actually assist in doing s--- that actually helps us, with tour support and album promotion. It's starting to feel real and we've felt really fortunate that it's worked out at all."
Come Friday, Aug. 24, they'll release "Hypochondriac" [buy the album here] with a huge hometown record-release show at the Observatory North Park. It's a far cry from their early days, which if I recall correctly, had them playing a riotous opening set at a SoundDiego LIVE Halloween show once upon a time (see the photographic evidence here).
"I remember that party!" Carnevale said. "We were all, I think, 19, so we couldn't even stay in there and hang out. It was fun though and it was cool. We just sat outside in the van and drank beers. I think my mom was there too. [laughs] It is super weird, those kind of things always freak me out. We've been a band for almost six years and it feels like everything has gone by pretty fast. It's pretty crazy but I'm definitely stoked about it all."
If the new album's four singles are any indication ("Me and We and I," "No Place Like (Not Being) Home," "Crutch" and "Over It"), the Frights -- which, aside from Carnavale, is comprised of guitarist Jordan Clark, bassist Richard Dotson and drummer Marc Finn -- haven't lost their knack for writing memorable hooks and capturing the exuberance of their live show but it's a tad more measured now. If anything, they've made an even more accessible version of their sophomore album. Even "No Place Like (Not Being) Home" picks up right where their 2016 "Tungs" track left off, bouncing along on a straight-up reggae vibe.
"It's definitely intentional," Carnevale admitted, when asked about that song. "I'm super into reggae, I love reggae. It's just something that I've always had a soft spot for. I'm mostly into white-guy reggae. I'm, like, some white, middle-class dude who liked Sublime growing up and, like, Rebelution and s---. [laughs] What most people would call 'poser reggae.' ['No Place Like (Not Being) Home' was written when] I was sitting in my room and I think I had about eight songs at that point [for the new album] and Zac calls me up and he was like, 'Hey man, I think we need another boom-shakka song. Give me, like, your best Sublime.' And I was like, 'OK!'"
Turns out the Frights (well, their frontman anyway) are fans of another San Diego musical institution.
"I love Slightly Stoopid," he admitted. "Dude, f--- yeah. That's what I'm talking about! Those white dudes who try to sound Jamaican, you know? That's the kind of reggae I like." [laughs]
It's impossible to follow something like that with serious questions, and the guy is undoubtedly one of the funniest dudes around, so I decide to put him on the spot with some random questions. First up: Who's his doppelganger?
"When I was younger, I got Michael Cera, but that was when I was much younger," he said. "Now that I've discovered alcohol and gotten a little chubbier, I get Gibby from 'iCarly' a lot. This chubby little f---er. Not a big fan of that comparison but I'll take it, I can deal with it. And then I dunno, I get a mixture of Italian mobsters and s--- 'cause I got a big nose and I'm italian so that's an easy one. Oh, you know what? There's one more: That kid off that s---y, f---in' show, '13 Reasons Why'! The worst kid on the whole show, the meanest, most horrible person on the whole f---ing show who does horrible things to people -- people say I look like him, too. The captain of the football team, who just does every bad thing in the book; I'm that guy."
I can see it. Moving on, I tell Carnevale he's been drafted by the San Diego Padres: what's his walk-up song?
"If I was playing for the Padres, I'd definitely pick a San Diego band." He paused for a second. "What's Jewel's big song? What's her big hit?"
Uh, "You Were Meant for Me"?
"Oh, dude! Oh my God. That's definitely the song I walk up to. That'd be amazing! Yea, that's the song." [laughs]
That's actually really great. Next up, I tell him he's only allowed to bring one movie with him on tour -- what is it?
"Gimme one second on this one ... That's a big question. You know what? I'd take 'Big Trouble in Little China.' Yeah, it's my favorite movie. Everytime I watch it, I laugh at something different and that'd be a good movie to kind of run my brain through a hundred times. So that's my choice."
Good call. Jack Burton'd be proud. How about this brain-buster: Sega or Super Nintendo?
"Super Nintendo. I had a Dreamcast growing up ... and my uncle was super into video games, and he used to give me all these bizarre games that no one else had, or a kid my age, at least. I just never got into anything Sega ... I'm not a Sonic guy. I know that's very sacrilegious, I know, but I'm not into Sonic. I tried. Super Nintendo, that's just classic, dude."
Fair enough. One last question before I let Carnevale head off to the gym: He gets to pick one band to tour with, past or present -- who's he got?
"S---, this one's got endless opportunities. I'm trying to think of what would be better: A fun band to hang out with or a fun band to watch every night? I think I personally would go with someone fun to party with ... I bet Weezer would have been OK to tour with in the '90s, yeah? If I got to tour with Weezer in '98, that would've been my dream."
Come to think of it, a Weezer/Frights tour would be amazing. Epitaph, your move.
Dustin Lothspeich is a San Diego Music Award-winning musician, an associate editor at NBC SoundDiego since 2013, talent buyer at The Merrow, and founder of the music equipment-worshipping blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.