• Frank Solivan Hold On Album Interview

    Hold On by Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen

    About the author: Dave Berry is a mandolin player, composer, and freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Bluegrass Today, the California Bluegrass Association Breakdown, and the Mandolin Cafe. You can read his works and access his album Morning Walk, a collection of original instrumental "fiddle" tunes, on his website or all streaming sites.

    Congrats on the new album. How do you feel this album is different from previous ones?

    Well, I wanted to write a lot of the tunes so I wrote six of the songs either by myself or with somebody. There are two songs written by my cousin Megan McCormick and her writing partner Amanda Fields plus there are two covers. What I want to do typically with a record is to have songs either I've written, a family member or a friend has written or something that has a meaningful moment in time for me so a lot of the subject matter of the album is inspired by that. It's fun to explore a specific moment of time with another writer or even just a line like "I'm Already Gone." Like 'I might still be here but I'm already gone.'

    Your band has been together for quite a while. Talk about the players on the album.

    Right, well I have my band who I recorded with, Chris Luquette on guitar and vocals, Mike Munford on banjo, and Jeremy Middleton on bass and harmonies. And the guests on this record, Megan came in and sang on one of the tunes that she wrote for me called "Modesto" which is a nod to where I grew up in California. Rob Ickes (dobro) has been on every one of my studio recordings and I've known him since I was a kid so he's a dear friend. He used to play a lot with my cousins at festivals when I was a young lad just trying to keep up with him and my older cousins.


    From the album, the instrumental track "Scorchin' the Gravy."

    Some readers may not know the story behind the name Dirty Kitchen. Can you recount that for us?

    Yea, I love the culinary arts. I used to work in a kitchen for A short while before I figured out that wasn't what I wanted to do but I love to cook and was inspired by my mother when she was around. Anyway, I wrote a little fiddle tune on mandolin and decided to mess around with it some more instead of cleaning the kitchen. I was like, I don't want to clean the kitchen, I want to play my instruments. So I named it "Dirty Kitchen" and it was the first track on my first solo project I Am A Rambler.

    So when I got out of the Navy Band, I was thinking of band names like should it be the Frank Solivan Band or what and that tune kept coming up in my mind for some reason. I asked a friend what they thought of Dirty Kitchen and they were like what's that, why would you do that so I figured if they were asking about it and thinking about it, then it's probably a good thing and it also reflects what I dig outside of the music.

    Have you always done co-writes?

    Yea, I've written some songs with folks. One of my go-to partners has been Jon Weisberger. We've written a number of tunes together that I've recorded. On this record, I also wrote one with my cousin Megan called "Goodbye, Goodbye," and "Find My Way" with Ronnie Bowman. I also wrote the title track, "Hold On" with my lady, Jillian Lea.

    Tell us more about the title track Hold On.

    Well, we started thinking about a song of opposites like what's important to hold on to and what's important to let go of. I kinda already had the idea for the melody and then one day I was in my garage where I do my leather and make picks and things and was playing my mandolin and realized, I had to write this song. It just hit me in about fifteen or twenty minutes and I basically got all of the verses down and ready to go. So even though she doesn't like me to say this, she helped write it, she inspired the chorus, and some of the lines are from that initial co-write conversation.

    What about the covers on the album?

    I generally only do covers when a tune really means something and that Buzz Busby song, "Lost," really struck a chord with me so I felt compelled to do it. It's a nod to the mid-Atlantic and DC metro area Bluegrass scene that has shaped so much of the music around these parts. He and Leon Morris were huge in that and also Bill Emerson, the Country Gentlemen, the Seldom Scene, all these people were from right here. "Sail to Australia" which was originally a New Grass Revival song has always been a favorite and we got John Cowan who sang on the original to come in and sing harmony on it.

    Talk about "Scorchin' the Gravy," the album's only instrumental track.

    I actually recorded that song in the early 2000s and everyone happened to know it before we were all in the band. I remember we were hangin' out at IBMA when it was still in Nashville and lookin' for a tune we could play and it was one that we all knew so it was actually the very first tune we ever played together as a band. We've been telling that story for quite a while so we just decided we needed to re-record that together as our group so that's what we did.

    I notice a lot of bands are doing CD pre-orders. Can you explain the thinking on that?

    It's a couple of things. It's basically a way to create buzz, media fodder, and excitement but also any sales you have leading up to the release count towards the Nielsen SoundScan data that Billboard charts use. It also is an opportunity to sell additional merch like signed copies of the physical album, T-shirts, and the like.

    The Hold On video looks like it was a lot of fun. Were there any challenges making it?

    Yea, the video was all filmed at DelFest this year from our shows and bits from the festival using the studio recording under the video. Editing the video was the tough part... done by Julian Guerra of Rainmaker Management who manages Del McCoury, Sam Bush, Sierra Hull, The Gibson Brothers, and more.

    The upcoming release tour looks great including a show with Béla Fleck and My Bluegrass Heart.

    Yea, we're flying out to Colorado for that show. The promoter asked if we could switch the date cause he wanted to have Béla on the show too and I was like ‘uh, yeah, let's do that.' There are also some shows at performance arts centers, one in upstate New York, and the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival with a great lineup including Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper. Then there are some good shows on the Atlantic coast swing including IBMA, and the South Carolina State Fair plus some yet-to-be-announced destinations that will be on the website so it should be good.

    You've toured a lot. Are there any shows that stand out as just being over the top?

    I would say there are a few. Both times I've played the Grand Ole Opry with my band, there were sold-out crowds, they treated us amazing, and you know, it's just great standing on the stage that everybody and their grandfather has stood on.

    Aside from my band, I remember playing in San Francisco with Alison Browns All-Star band that included Bobby Osborne, Peter Rowan, and also Tim O'Brien sat in along with Rob Ickes, Trey Hensley, and others. I wanna say there were like 50,000 people out there. If playing a show like that isn't cool enough, and I've done a bunch of shows with Bobby singing "Rocky Top" and all, but at the end of the set, I got to do an Allman Brothers song called "Whipping Post." It was pretty amazing having that big audience singing along with me so yea, that one stands out.

    I was lucky to have been there that sunny afternoon. Your mandolin sounded great even in that large setting. What rig do you use?

    I use a K&K pickup that has two transducers. Usually, they come with double stick tape but they suggest using superglue because it has a more direct contact and gets a better tone. I use that with a Grace Designs pedal called a Felix and a Boss Reverb Pedal to open up the top end. People say it sounds just like a real mandolin.

    How would you describe the tone that you admire and strive for?

    Wow, there are so many great players and they all kinda pull some different things. Some of the best tone I've ever heard comes from Grisman and Sam Bush, and then of course there's folks like John Reischman. I'm obviously striving for cleanliness. I don't want to be all jangly sounding and note separation is important. But really, finding that big fat tone in the instrument is what I'm striving for. I'm not trying to sound like anybody else, I'm just trying to pull the best tone I can out of the instrument. Though on "Sail to Australia," I definitely did some nods to Sam Bush's playing. You can probably hear some of that in the solo or the rhythmic things I'm doing, just leaning a little bit on Sam Bush.

    Tell us about your non-mandolin endeavors.

    Right, I do some leather work, high-end straps for guitar, mandolin, and banjo, and we're working on a design for dobro. It's all hand-tooled leather out of high-end veg-tanned cowhide. On top of that, I started a new business making picks called ToneSlabs with my business partner David Welch. We like to say that we make slabs of tone. Our materials, designs, and techniques to bevel the edges and so forth allow us to create a pick that we think produces the perfect tone. You can read more about it and get them on the website at toneslabs.com.


    What mandolins and strings do you use?

    I typically use those new D'Addario XT strings that start at 11.5 and go to 41 as far as gauges go. Sometimes I use the nickel bronze depending on what kind of sound I want but I realized they don't last quite as long.

    I have a few mandolins but I recorded most of this record with a mandolin I built with the help of Roger Siminoff. The other two I play are made by a luthier from Grass Valley, California whose name is Michael Lewis. I've had one of them since 2001 and that has been my main axe for many years. In 2019, I got a beautiful F5 from him which he calls his distressed model and it's the last mandolin he ever made because he is now retired and not building any more instruments.

    Thanks for your time Frank and best of luck with the new release which sounds like a winner.

    Thanks to you Dave for taking the time to ask these questions and to Scott and the Mandolin Cafe. I'm honored to do it.

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    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Don Stiernberg's Avatar
      Don Stiernberg -
      Great interview. Great artist.
    1. cayuga red's Avatar
      cayuga red -
      Quote Originally Posted by Don Stiernberg View Post
      Great interview. Great artist.

      Agree. One of the best interviews I’ve read on this site. And he plays great mandolins!
    1. Drew Egerton's Avatar
      Drew Egerton -
      Have listened to the record a couple of times through. I am enjoying it as much as I did the If You Can't Stand the Heat record, very good!
    1. John Soper's Avatar
      John Soper -
      Mine on order -Frank & Dirty Kitchen always drive a tune & have great vocals! Looking forward to the entire album.
    1. tuhker's Avatar
      tuhker -
      Quote Originally Posted by Don Stiernberg View Post
      Great interview. Great artist.
      Thanks Donnie. Frank is for sure top-shelf, just like you.