By Jeremy Hallock
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By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
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Sitting in a bar on Lower Greenville, Frankie Campagna, leader of local retro-punkers Spector 45, is charming, dogmatic, exceedingly forthright and never at a loss for words.
"I hate people who talk about moving to Austin because Dallas sucks or that Deep Ellum is dead," says Campagna, who many around town also know by his alias, Frankie 45. "This is from people who grew up and were raised here? I'm sick of hearing about how Dallas isn't any good. And now, it's all this talk about Denton, Austin's little retarded cousin."
Realizing that his last comment might ruffle some feathers, Frankie takes a second to think about what he just said.
"That doesn't make me an asshole for saying that, does it?" he ponders aloud, before becoming comfortable with his own opinion. "Well, I'm not real worried about folks coming down from Denton and kicking my ass."
Full of energy and enigmas, Campagna fidgets in his seat and looks around as if he expects someone to challenge his opinion. When no one does, he grins, shrugs and takes another swig of his beer. "I'm a huge fan of Dallas," he says. "The clubs and bars here have always been good to me and my band."
His band, Spector 45, has been around for almost 8 years. Started by a snotty trio of 15-year-olds, the band has grown from an almost-novelty act into something of a major player on the Dallas scene. And Spector 45's new, fourth album, Pist 'n' Broke, is the culmination of Frankie's twin loves: '50s-era, leather-clad, greaser shtick and old-school punk rock—particularly of The Ramones variety.
"The new stuff is a lot tighter, a lot more dynamic," Campagna says. "Kind of like early Offspring, but more rockabilly and more furious."
Furious is a word Campagna often uses to describe his music. The term could easily be applied to his life story as well. Throughout the band's existence, he's had his share of altercations, both verbal and physical, with numerous folks about town: "I've stopped doing a lot of the really stupid, idiotic things that I've been known to do in the past," he says. "I'm no longer into fighting with anybody or sleeping with anybody's girlfriend. "
Part of Frankie's slightly troubled past would appear to be him living up to that James Dean/Gene Vincent/Joe Strummer mythology that he obviously covets, given his tough, greaser appearance. But much of Campagna's chutzpah comes from the fact that he just wants to impress his old man.
His father is local artist, gallery owner and longtime music promoter Frank Campagna. The elder Campagna could well claim to be the father of Deep Ellum, as Studio D, his art warehouse-turned-concert hall, was one of the area's first venues. Some of the best local and national punk acts visited his establishment throughout the '80s. Not surprising, much of the younger Campagna's earliest experiences with music came via the tastes of his father, who introduced him to abrasive music and some of its most legendary practitioners at a young age. And the youngster has rarely looked back since his early introduction.
"My dad is one of the only people I've ever idolized," Campagna says. "Him and Joey Ramone."
And Campagna knew he wanted to make music that would make his dad proud. It took him several tries, sure, but with his new album, Campagna feels he's finally done it.
"I'm starting—just starting—to live up to my dad's legacy," he says. "Everyone in the band thinks of my dad as the godfather of the Dallas music scene."
But Campagna's dad never pressured his son to become a musician. He claims he was only 4 years old when he first saw the movie Rock and Roll High School and decided he wanted to become a rock star. And when he entered Booker T. Washington School for the Arts, he began making moves in that direction. In 2001, he joined his first band, Anth'm (where he met Spector 45 drummer and his best friend, Anthony Delabano).
A couple of years later, Spector 45 was born. The name of the band was a tribute to the legendary music producer (and, later, accused murderer) Phil Spector. The concept was simple: Campagna wanted nothing more than to emulate The Ramones, and his band's first three efforts (2003's 16 w/a Bullet, 2004's Girls, Cars & Rock n Roll and 2006's We Wanna Go!) were just that: gloriously simplistic, three-chord rants concerning cars, girls and music, and all unified by teenage frustration.
"All of our songs are fast, and they sound angry," says Campagna. "Anger is an emotion too, especially if you use it the right way."
On Pist 'n' Broke, nearly everything is used in the right way. Ironically, by diversifying Spector 45's punk-rock roar, Campagna and crew have discovered ways to vent their frustrations outside of the expected range. The tracks that best epitomize this shift are "They All Say" and "Fucked Up Over You." The first is a heartfelt ballad; the other is a tongue-in-cheek country weeper.
"I wanted to write a love song that I could be proud of," Campagna says. "That song is one of the few that doesn't have any cursing in it."
Besides the lack of profanity, "They All Say" is also notable for being a poignant tale of a loser trying to make inroads with a girl out of his league. No longer content with chasing the ghost of Joey Ramone, Campagna is finally getting comfortable pursuing the darker and more interesting muses of Johnny Cash and Nick Cave.
"I am definitely getting more diverse," he admits. "I'm getting to a place where I like to push the limits."
Last year, Campagna released his first solo album, Frankie 45 and Ben Martin, a primarily acoustic affair that showed a hitherto unknown side of the artist, a chance to let the man—not the teenage boy hidden under a stack of amplifiers—address his audience.
"I wanted to keep all the passionate, super-fast material for Spector 45 and save some of the slower stuff for solo efforts," he says.
Thankfully, though, with Pist 'n' Broke, the slower stuff has started making its way into the band's repertoire. Truer to the punk spirit Campagna so arduously admires, both "They All Say" and "Fucked Up Over You" point the way to a place where substance triumphs over volume, where cliché is relegated to teenage whims about having to kick ass and take names.
The latter only leads to trouble, Campagna's starting to learn.
"I'm tired of getting arrested for traffic warrants," he says. "I want to be left alone to write my music."