Meg and Dia Frampton sound a lot older than they are on Something Real, the sophomore disc from the band that carries their names. Based on their serrated indie rockers like "Masterpiece" and "Getaways Turned Holidays", you'd swear that the half-Korean and half-Caucasian, Florida-based siblings had just parachuted in from 1994, which would put them somewhere in their early 30s. But even though the Framptons seem like they might have shared a practice space back in the day with such Lollapalooza-era footnotes as Letters to Cleo and Veruca Salt, guitarist Meg is 22 and singer Dia is just 20. And forget looking to the past; despite the retro feel of Meg & Dia's Something Real, the two are more fixated on where they'll be going in the future.
"When you're touring a lot, which we are, that gives an artist the chance to grow at a really quick pace," says Meg, on the phone from Salt Lake City, where the band is practising for an upcoming North American swing. "Touring means that you're on the road with other artists, you're always talking with other people about music, watching, listening, and learning. Because of that I know that I've totally grown as a musician, and I know that Dia and the others in the band have too. I've already written a lot of songs for the next record, and they sound nothing at all like the ones on Something Real."
As has been exhaustively documented, the Frampton sisters tend to spend more time in the classics section of their local library than they do trying to out-party Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. Consequently, much of Something Real plays like it was written for those who never miss a meeting of their local book club. In two of the more notable examples, the distortion-blazed kickoff track "Monster" riffs on John Steinbeck's East of Eden, while the sepia-toned piano ballad "Rebecca" reworks Daphne du Maurier's coming-of-age novel for the Warped Tour generation. The Framptons' literary obsessions weren't lost on their fans. As the band began to build a name for itself through appearances on Warped and regular touring, alt-pop bookworms began turning up at shows toting copies of the classics. Thus turned into logical spokespeople for future literacy campaigns, Meg and Dia responded by setting up book-exchange tables. But fans who used to show up waving tattered copies of Jane Eyre and The Grapes of Wrath will be traumatized to hear that the band won't just be messing with its sound on the next album.
"Our last record [Something Real] was written about books," Meg says bluntly. "This one is a lot more about metaphors that are tied into real life. I like the idea of taking something like, I don't know, laundry detergent or bath soap, and then relating it to something like astronauts or outer space. You can take things like that and use them to transport people to a dream world. That's what great artists and musicians and directors do to me–they take me out of eating Pop-Tarts at my kitchen table and take me into another realm. Lyrically, I really want to be able to take people to another place."
The guitarist freely admits that she never expected to find herself in a position to do that. A short while ago, she was committed to pursuing a higher education.
"I was three years into university when all this started," she says. "I was going to do a lot of things. I was going to be an architect, an author, I was going to go into philosophy–I wanted to learn everything. I really loved it, but it wasn't a huge decision to quit. I knew that I had to do this. It didn't matter if I was in class, working to help pay for school, or studying, the only thing that I could pay attention to was music. Everything always came back to that, no matter what I was trying to do in my life."
Before coalescing as a five-piece, Meg & Dia was literally just Meg and Dia, the duo performing acoustically in university coffeehouses. Hooking up with drummer Nicholas Price added some punch to the mix, after which bassist Jonathan Snyder and guitarist Carlo Gimenez were enlisted. Something obviously clicked as the band made the transition from Jewel-esque folk duo to the crunchy, organic-sounding pop unit it is today.
For Something Real, Meg & Dia entered the studio with coproducers Bill Lefler and Stacy Jones. That Jones has helmed projects by such acts as Letters to Cleo probably helps explain why the album ended up sounding like post-Cobain American pop. The dirtied-up guitars chug in all the right places on "Roses", while "Tell Mary" walks the straight and narrow between acoustic-folk earnestness and radio-ready grunge. Through it all, Dia sings with a winning mixture of wounded vulnerability and scrappy, wide-eyed wonder.
"Our producers took what they had and then did the best that they could," Meg says modestly. "At that time we were very young, and every experience was really new to us. When we were making the record, I didn't even know that we were supposed to have an album title."
Today, the Framptons know exactly what's on the line. From the likes of Ashlee Simpson and Avril Lavigne to fast-rising up-and-comers Paramore, these are good times for female artists who are convinced pop sounds best when it's been scuzzed up. What Meg & Dia have going for them as a bonus is that no one seems to be behind them pulling the strings, which is more than a certain acid-reflux queen can say for herself, not to mention that insufferable living Bratz doll. What really bodes well for the band, however, is that if the Framptons understand anything, it's the importance of not only finishing what you've started, but moving forward no matter how indebted you might seem to the past.
"I feel like I'm really lucky to be here," Meg says. "My grandpa always told me that you make a decision and then you make it the right one. I've got so many good things out of this experience that I already have no regrets, no matter what might happen tomorrow."
Meg & Dia plays the Croatian Cultural Centre tonight (October 18).