By Alexandra Hall
Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat. French Cassettes were never on a hiatus; “Rolodex” just took six years.
“We were seriously working day and night,” lead Scott Huerta said. “It was just a weird, different shift of gears. We weren’t in the same room writing songs like we were when we were 22. Almost like The Postal Service style, we were just recording a demo, emailing it, then going back and forth.”
Thankfully for listeners, the album emerged from the depths of the email abyss. A compilation of demos now exists as a polished display of the group’s lively sound. Nearly two years after its initial release, “Rolodex” holds up stronger than ever before.
The San Francisco-based quartet consists of guitarist and producer Mackenzie Bunch, bassist Thomas Huerta, drummer Rob Mills, and guitarist, songwriter, and singer Scott Huerta. They released two EPs “Summer Darling” and “Gold Youth” in 2013. Around 2018, they began teasing “Rolodex” with the release of four singles: “City Kitty,” “Sunday Soda,” “Santa Cruz Tomorrow,” and “Utah.”
Just when I thought indie rock was in a dry spell, the French Cassettes reappeared on my feed with their sophomore record “Rolodex.” I had been an unintentional long-time fan having heard “Us Kids” on some random playlist a few years back. I was drawn to the almost pop-punk influences of the sound that were encapsulated in such a vibrant sound. Since then, French Cassettes has clearly evolved into a glowing example of indie pop at its best.
“I started writing with my brother after school every day since I was 12,” Huerta said. “We were basically just knockoffs of the White Stripes… then we started recruiting people to play with because that’s all we wanted to do in our free time.”
In an attempt to rethink his relationship with songwriting and assess what kind of music he wanted to create, Huerta looked to artists like The National, Electric Light Orchestra, and specifically the work of Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields.
“My brother turned me onto them,” Huerta said. “There’s nothing miraculous about the instrumentation that’s around it, but everyone is just so drawn to what this guy is talking about. I don’t want to assume anyone is going to do that with my music… that would be presumptuous, but I just wanted to try and at least be sincere. At least tell a true story once in a while.”
One of Huerta’s favorite tracks on the LP, one beloved by fans, is “Sunday Soda.” The song navigates the narrator’s affection for someone and the struggle between not minding being alone but still wanting the person. The outro of the song stands out as it leaves listeners in limbo with the story.
“But I don’t mind waiting such a long time/ For patience/ For three red lights,” Huerta croons.
“I kind of fish for it when we do it live, but when we play it and we get to that last segment, I pause for a little bit waiting for a reaction,” Huerta said. “And without fail one person in the audience always goes, ‘woo!’ It’s so flattering. It’s the sweetest gesture.”
Although this might seem like an unwanted interjection to some listeners, the frequent appearance of “the woo” highlights the levity of French Cassettes’ energy. Their music is a reminder that spunk and fun can coexist with meaning and creation.
Since 2021, the group has released two singles, “Good For It” and “On/Off.” The latter was accompanied by a music video directed by Jared Gay. It was released in April and features the group alongside former “Jackass” star Johnny Knoxville. This video adds to their repertoire of thematic videos that possess both a vintage and timeless feel. Where the “On/Off” video explores a story of a made-up heist led by mob boss Knoxville, their 2020 “Santa Cruz Tomorrow” video, directed by Vanessa Pla, feels like a coming-of-age 70’s film in an 80’s time capsule. French Cassettes know how to build environments that are colorful and stick with listeners long after the screen goes dark on their songs.
“This was my first collaboration with The Frenchies,” Pla said. “I remember when I first heard the song, I was inspired by the lyrics “I think I Need Some Sleep.” Scott told me he was a lucid dreamer, he had some moves he was working on, and he loved David Blane. I found this amazing book about dreams that talks about turning lights on and off to know when you are in a dream. And then a soup of ideas came together.”
French Cassettes has built a solid foundation over such a long period of time that their success feels ensured. Authenticity rings underneath each song, whose introductory basslines draw you in and whose lyrics make you stay.
“I marvel at people who have found that thing— whatever that thing is— that makes them happy,” Huerta said. “I’m not demanding that the world cares. We just really, truly, deeply care about the music that we make. I think people can tell when a band is being genuine and when they’re not. And we are, if nothing else, a genuine band.”
Huerta hinted at a plethora of unreleased music that is now in the process of being organized and packaged for listeners. Until then though, it’s safe to say that my hope in refreshing, dynamic indie pop has been restored. Now that we’ve seen what they can do, I don’t think listeners mind waiting such a long time.
Until next time,
Find French Cassettes here:
Also watch their performances on Tender Loving Empire live at Coyote Hearing… they’re magic.