Five years can be an eternity in the music business. Yet for The Herbert Bail Orchestra’s Anthony Frattolillo, whose songs often confront the illusory nature of time, a rushed follow-up to his collective’s acclaimed 2013 debut, The Future’s In The Past, was never in the cards.
“I took five years to make this album—I’ve seen bands rise to great success and fall in the time I’ve been working on it,” Frattolillo says of the L.A.-based Orchestra’s new sophomore LP, History’s Made At Night. “At some point, I wasn’t concerned with the idea that I should have released a follow-up four years ago, right after we had all of that momentum with the first album. I thought it was more important to get it right—that in the long run, in a hundred years when I’m dead and gone and somebody listens to this, they’re going to hear it and say, ‘Damn, this is good. It’s thoughtful, intentional—it's timeless.”
2013’s The Future’s In The Past saw the band praised at LA Weekly, Nowness, The Huffington Post and more. But with the new record, Frattolillo was interested in confounding the expectations of anyone who might try to classify his group based on their earlier sound. “Devotchka and Gogol Bordello were really popular at the time, and because we had an accordion and a trumpet, we got swept up in that whole gypsy-folk thing,” he says. “All the cool kids in Echo Park and the venue bookers were like, ‘Oh shit, it’s a gypsy folk band from L.A.—all they need is a bottle of whiskey and a good time will happen!’ and that’s what was written about us. But I always tried to get away from that because it felt limiting. It wasn’t a true reflection of our ethos.”
Like Pink Floyd before them, there is no Herbert Bail in the Herbert Bail Orchestra—the group’s moniker is actually an homage to a whimsical figure in Frattolillo’s life. “Herbert Bail was my grandfather’s real name,” he says, “though I grew up knowing him as Grandpa Jack. At the end of his life, we found out he was born by another name, and had another wife and a whole other family we never knew about. So the name Herbert Bail Orchestra is an homage to this idea that we all lead many lives and there are no single truths.”
On History’s Made At Night, Frattolillo—who’s also a filmmaker, selected in 2014 for the Cannes Young Lions Program—dives deep into these concepts of identity, as well as the aesthetic of his grandfather’s alter-ego. “Herbert Bail was classy,” Frattolillo says. “He was always in a suit, wearing a fedora. He ran underground gambling rings. His was a Horatio Alger story—he didn’t come from a lot, but he played his cards well and made something out of his life. I think this album lives up to that.”
Herbert Bail Orchestra’s new set of songs also broadens the collective’s sonic palette, instrumentation-wise, and—as befitting an album inspired in part by Frattolillo’s travels across America—has a distinct heartland sound. “I wanted to make the great American album,” he says. “On the song ‘Chains,’ which is a look at the modern state of America, I was going for something like Springsteen’s ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ And we used a lot classic American folk instruments this time, like singing saw and banjo.”
That’s not to say History’s Made At Night completely eschews the more exotic sounds of the band’s debut—songs like “Gavrilo” and “Radio Tower” instantly recall the Balkan-influenced vibes of The Future’s In The Past. But tracks like “Hometown Honey” and “Hold Your Own” build from quiet, acoustic opens into stirring, Americana anthems. And Frattolillo is charismatic enough as a performer to produce riveting results on “Shine” with only the barest accompaniment.
It’s impressive how all these songs written over such a long period of time, and recorded in three different California studios by producers Seth Olansky (Best Coast) and Chris Rondinella (Levon Helm, Shelby Lynne, Sara Watkins) lock together so seamlessly. Perhaps it’s because Frattolillo hones in on certain lyrical themes throughout: the deceptive nature of memory and time, the weariness and wonder of the road, the redemptive power of love and friendship. All of these are brought to bear on stunning pseudo-title-track “Mountain Bar,” where a long-ago club date by a Herbert Bail Orchestra precursor becomes a kind of creation myth.
“It was one of the first shows we played in L.A., at this now-defunct venue in Chinatown called Mountain Bar,” Frattolillo says. The place was packed, and everyone in the band and the crowd was having such a good time—eventually, they had to stop us from playing because they had to close down for the night but no one wanted to go home. So the party and the music spilled out into the street, into the Chinatown square. It probably would have gone until sunrise if the police hadn’t finally broken it up.
“With History’s Made at Night, I’m literally talking about the personal history my friends and I made that night and how it started us on the path to where we are now—about how our adventures and the stories we tell again and again take on their own lives and inform how we live and who we are.”
The Herbert Bail Orchestra’s History’s Made at Night is out Sept. 28.