French Cassettes Delivers Dry Wit and a Look at the Past on New Album | Westword

French Cassettes Delivers Dry Wit and a Look at the Past on New Album

Hear the humor yourself when the indie rockers play Skylark Lounge on Wednesday, June 26.
San Francisco's French Cassettes has a new album of older songs out.
San Francisco's French Cassettes has a new album of older songs out. Courtesy Marisa Bazan
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The latest French Cassettes album, Benzene, hasn’t even been out for a month, but the ten tracks that appear on it aren’t necessarily new, according to lead singer and songwriter Lorenzo “Scott” Huerta.

While the songs were finally properly released on June 7 via Tender Loving Empire Records, most of them have been in the works, or at least initially written, for eight years. “Some of them are honestly from 2016, just demo ideas and stuff that we pulled out from the bottom of our hard drives and just worked on,” Huerta explains.

But Huerta, drummer Rob Mills, guitarist Mackenzie Bunch and bassist Andrew St. James typically pull from a deep well of song snippets and ideas that Huerta created during his more manic younger days. “I had a tendency in my twenties to just stay up as long as possible, sometimes until 7 a.m., throwing stuff at the wall, idea-wise, and recording it and just passing out and going to bed and forgetting about it,” Huerta recalls.

“The more-awake Scott would then go in and find these things — these little nuggets that I sometimes remember doing and sometimes was too tired to remember doing — and would make songs out of them.”

The process is like “opening an old yearbook,” he adds, even if the brain doesn’t exactly recall all of the details from back then. For example, on Benzene, the song “Normal Day” includes a fun piano lick that Huerta doesn’t remember writing at all.

“Whenever I listen to ‘Normal Day' — it’s not like an amazing piano part, by any means, but there’s a piano part on there that sounds circus-y, and I wrote that,” he says. "I do not play piano. I couldn’t play that right now for you. I have no idea where that come from. Like, 'Good job, Scott. You wrote a piano part.' That’s not in my wheelhouse at all.”
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French Cassettes is redefining what it sounds like.
Courtesy French Cassettes

The San Francisco indie-rock group has become known for its self-deprecating lyrics as well, thanks to Huerta’s dry, unassuming sense of humor. Benzene, the followup to 2020's Rolodex, showcases the same type of wit on such songs as “Baseball Bat” and “Medium Horny.”

While the process remained the same — so much so that Huerta sees the new record as more of an extension of Rolodex — Benzene also saw French Cassettes let go of any preconceived notions Huerta and company might have had about the band and how it should sound. Huerta’s favorite band is the Magnetic Fields, so he points to 69 Love Songs as the catalyst for that approach.

“I used to start a song and be like, ‘Oh, well, that doesn’t really sound like a French Cassettes song,’ and lose spirit on it. On Benzene, if anything, it would make us more excited,” he says. “Most of the fun was figuring out how it is a French Cassettes song. That was the turn that we took that was methodically different than before.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be too experimental or out-there, but I listen to a lot of Magnetic Fields," he continues. "If anyone listens to 69 Love Songs, the whole point was Stephin Merritt wanted to write 69 songs in a different style or era of music. I definitely did not do that. I didn’t even attempt, but I just loved that idea. If you go into it without any pretense, I just love that.”

Again, “Normal Day,” as well as “Up2You,” initially felt different, as though they weren’t French Cassettes songs, but the band kept at ’em anyway.

“I was really pulling for both of those because they were the runts, in a sense. I think they got lassoed in with the rest in a neat way,” Huerta explains. “Those are the ones where I was like, ‘I don’t know, but we’ll see.’ But they’re two of my favorites. That was the funnest part. If you really love the song, it’s going to show. If it’s coming from the same place as the other ones, that’s going to show as well, if we do our job.

“Stephin Merritt Inspired me in that way to just be fine with it sounding like its own song for a second, then you finish it and, usually, lo and behold, it sounds great playing right after this other track that we wrote,” he adds.

Now French Cassettes is on the road promoting Benzene. The group plays the Skylark Lounge on Wednesday, June 26. Local openers Body and Barbara are also on the bill.

Huerta can’t really put his finger on why he was so possessed and prolific back then, but he admits that a deep-seated fear every artist can relate to had something to do with it.

“I think a lot of musicians' biggest fear is that they’ll just lose it one day, they’ll lose the touch, and they just can’t do it anymore, no matter how hard they try,” he concludes. “I love that I at least put down on record and recorded when I was able to. Just in case I ever lose it, I have some hard drives I can fall back on.”

French Cassettes, 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 26, Skylark Lounge, 140 South Broadway. Tickets are $18.08.
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