VIA KARL FRANK
Somehow, music found Karl Frank. He doesn’t know how. He grew up in Martinsburg, Missouri, a town of 300 people, a place too small for pizza delivery, too small for a stoplight and definitely too small for any sort of a music scene. No one in his family made music either — outside of an older sister who “can kinda play the piano.”
Before he could even conceptualize how to make music, Frank made music. There are videos of him in first grade, meticulously playing the piano, carefully clicking keys with his pointer finger. He remembers watching a scene in Mary Poppins, where Bert “one-man-band” performs for the crowd.
“I was like, ‘That's it. That's what I want to do,’” he says.
Decades later, that’s what Frank’s doing. He’s 34 years old, living in St. Louis, working a virtual 9-to-5 job as a car dispatcher, and carrying around $5 homemade CDs of his band, Boreal Hills.
“I just want everyone to lay down a gold carpet in front of me and shower me with gold and give me gold,” Frank says, laughing. “Nah, nah. I just hope that people dig it.”
This past January, Boreal Hills released its most recent EP — titled EP
. Its second EP, probably named EP2
, Frank says, will come out in the fall. It's the band’s first project since 2019, when it put out a 10-song album.
COURTESY KARL FRANK
Boreal Hills' released its newest EP in January. The cover photo, designed by Tyler Gross, is supposed to be a portrayal of Boreal Hills band member, Karl Frank, when he had bangs.
Frank doesn’t really have a system or a schedule for his music. He puts out music when he wants. He calls his collection of EPs and albums a “running diary” of his musical progress.
His EPs are the latest chapter in his diary. Each piece on his five-song EP has a different feel. Some songs sound like indie rock, others like pop or punk. In some songs, you can hear the lyrics clearly, in others, his voice is strained and contorted, with a melancholy feel.
“It's hard to pin my band down sometimes,” Frank says. “Like, I don't really know what it is. But I use pop a lot now. Pop is just so easy to blanket on anything. I don’t know what it is. It's the kind of music that I want to listen to myself. And I'm, like, my biggest fan.”
Frank calls his brain a “running soundtrack. “I'm always thinking of weird shit,” he says. “And then humming to it.” When Frank comes up with a good rift, he records it on a voice memos app so he doesn’t forget the tune later. Then he records the track with his buddy, Tom O’Connor, his Boreal Hills co-founder who engineers the music.
When Frank performs live, Boreal Hills features a full band, with Matt Stuttler on the guitar, Andy Kahn on the bass, and Adam Lucz and Austin Fogel on the drums.
But when he’s recording his music in O'Connor's basement, Frank likes to do it all himself. He handles everything from the drums to the guitar to the bass to the singing. He only lets O’Connor, who serves as the engineer for the entire EP and the drummer in one song, touch the music.
“I get the most enjoyment out of recording as much as I can personally on something,” Frank says. “I'm just probably a little bit egotistical or whatever — controlling at that point.”
Boreal Hills started more than a decade ago, in 2006, when Frank was a student at the University of Missouri–Columbia. There, he got degrees in forestry and fisheries and wildlife — a nod to his childhood playing in the woods and gardening in Martinsburg. On the side, he worked as a baker.
But Frank didn’t go to school with the goal of becoming a scientist. He went to school with another goal: to start a band.
That’s where Boreal Hills began, in an off-campus apartment at Mizzou, when Frank met a kid named Tom O’Connor, who wanted some weed. Frank knew where to find some weed, so naturally, they hit it off and ended up jamming together.
Not long after, Boreal Hills was created, a two-piece band, with O’Connor as the drummer.
For three years, Boreal Hills played around Columbia. Then Frank got a job in Chicago as a baker, and the group took a hiatus, he says. He joined another band in Chicago but found the music scene in the big city hard to crack.
After a year in Chicago, Frank moved back to St. Louis in 2012, with the goal of performing with O’Connor again.
“It was band first, figure it out second,” Frank says. He worked as a pizza baker at Whole Foods and a customer service employee for New Balance.
VIA KARL FRANK
In St. Louis, Frank resurrected Boreal Hills. They played at bars, house shows and parties in Frank’s basement. They toured across the region in Franks’ 1997 Chevy Astro Van and even flew overseas for shows in Costa Rica and Germany.
Over the years, Frank says he has matured. When he first arrived in St. Louis, he entered a punk scene that he calls “too bizarre.” He was a loose cannon on stage. He would walk into the crowd, steal people’s beers and chug them. He would kick his co-performers in the nuts.
“Now, I think it's just cooler to play good music and look cool, versus steal people's beers that they paid probably six to eight bucks on,” he says.
The on-stage antics are in the past. So is the pressure to make music for others.
“I don't need any praise. I don't need any messages,” he says. “Money is great,” he adds, laughing. "If it sounds like how I wanted it to sound, I win.”
Sitting in a bar in south St. Louis, sipping on happy hour beers, Frank wonders about how much longer he’ll record music and perform live. “How old is too old?” he asks.
But for now, he doesn’t see stopping any time soon. He hopes people will listen to his music, he says.
“I want the music to just get stuck in their head,” he says. “Because that's, in my opinion, the best compliment I've ever gotten from some people. They'll be like, ‘ah, dude, this morning, I couldn't get that out of my head.’”
And if people don’t listen to his music? That’s OK, too, he says. He’s going to keep recording on his voice memos app, creating music he enjoys and compiling it all on a homemade CD.
“Next step is to be Lady Gaga, let’s put it that way,” Frank says.
Then he erupts in laughter.
“No. Fuck no. All respect to Lady Gaga. Much more success than I’ll ever have.”
Listen to Boreal Hills new EP, EP, on Bandcamp.