Fromberg, 14, is an Oak Park high schooler who records experimental rock under his own name and with the Noise Orchestra. In 2011 he launched Grade School Recordings.
Interview by Leor Galil
Photos by John Sturdy
My dad, he lived in New York, went to shows at CBGB, and saw all the bands there in the heyday. I had music around me since I was born, and my [older] brother also plays music, so it kind of came naturally.
I got a guitar for my birthday one year, and I started to play music with some friends from school in a trio. [I was] maybe seven. We played a few shows in the area. They used to do a music festival over here, and we played at that a few years. I still play in some incarnation of that first band with friends. We’re calling it the Noise Orchestra.
Eventually I started to do solo music. I put out an album, and I got it released by Teen River. Once I got involved in that whole music scene, I had a lot of creative influence, which inspired me. I started to change the solo project from more of a pop sound to more experimental music.
I think maybe 2011, when I was 11, I sent [Teen River’s Jake Acosta] an e-mail and asked him if he was interested in putting out a tape of these songs I had recorded with my guitar teacher in the studio. He was really into it, so I started to go to some shows at [DIY venue and communal living space] Ball Hall, which was where all the shows were happening. I started to see bands like [Chicago art-rock act] Ono, and that inspired me to keep doing more stuff.
My guitar teacher taught me music theory. I used that to make very thought-out experimental music that was very carefully orchestrated using different scales and chord progressions. I used a loop pedal so I could fill out the sound as a solo performer more. When I first started I was into four-track tapes because some of my musical inspirations, like Neutral Milk Hotel and Modest Mouse, started on cassettes, so that seemed appropriate. I made some cassette demos, stuff I thought of on the spot. Now I use Pro Tools if I’m recording at home, or I’ll go to a studio.
I saw the band the Music Tapes at a house show—they’re affiliated with Neutral Milk Hotel, and it’s led by a member of [NMH]. So they would do these tours where they would just play in peoples’ houses, that was my first experience with house shows. So I sent Julian Koster—who’s the leader of the band—an e-mail asking for an address for the house shows, and he gave me one that day. I headed over with my dad. Before that I think I had been to a few shows.
Yeah, [my dad] got me into all the 18-and-over places. I saw Of Montreal every time they were in town from about 2008 to 2013. They have great live shows. I saw all the Elephant 6 bands when they came to town. And all the local bands are amazing here—Vehicle Blues and Distractions.
[Grade School Recordings] was mostly an imaginary record label I just did to put out tapes and CDs I made by myself for my friends. I don’t really do it anymore, it was a temporary project, but eventually I started releasing stuff by other people, including the first albums by Ben Klawans of Rubber and Mormon Toasterhead.
It’s hard to find music steadily that you can release. And it’s a lot of hard work to do it, and to do release shows. I decided I was more into the music aspect of it. But lately I’ve also been very interested in literature, which has drawn me away from the music a bit.
I’ve been doing lots of reading and writing essays about authors and literature. The Hunger Games. I loved those books. I was recommended 1984 because of that. And then George Orwell got me into J.D. Salinger, and then Kurt Vonnegut, and then up to James Joyce and Marcel Proust. Franz Kafka, Thomas Pynchon are some of my favorites. I’m getting into Nabokov now; I read Lolita and some of his short stories.
I’m starting my freshman year now at Oak Park and River Forest High School. I don’t get taken seriously when I say this, but it’s very similar to middle school. I don’t find much of a difference—it’s just a bigger school. There’s a lot more stuff you can do, so I’m trying lots of new things. I’m gonna be working on a play of Titus Andronicus by Shakespeare in a few weeks. I think it’s production assistant is what I’m doing. I’m not too into the whole theater world, but I think I’d like to try it out because it’s a great creative atmosphere. I do enjoy reading plays.
The most recent songs I’ve been doing [are] taking the shape of a novel, just the structure of action and narrative, and turning that into a song. So, for instance, V. by Thomas Pynchon—it’s two plotlines that are forming a V, they’re starting apart and then getting closer together, and then combining at the end. The idea behind the song is that it’s two songs that are alternating and then blending slowly, and then at the end it’s both of them at once. When I wanted to restart my music work this summer I decided that I’d blend my two interests, music and literature.
I probably don’t have enough stress. I feel like teachers aren’t as interested in teaching now; I mean, it’s their job to have us learn things. I feel like there’s more distractions in the classroom now and tangents that can happen that will cause us to not be doing any work. If I’m gonna be there I’d like to be learning things. That’s kind of the whole point.
I’d like to go to college. I think I’d like a traditional education. My grandparents both teach at Yale; I think that’s somewhere I’d consider going. I have no idea what I’d like to do. As of now maybe teaching literature would be a nice job.