A time for place: The Anatomy of Frank makes discoveries on North America

The Anatomy of Frank’s new release, North America, is part of an ambitious project to record an album on every continent. “When we think of these places, the feelings we have about them are overwhelming,” says keyboardist Jimmy Bullis. Photo: Publicity photo The Anatomy of Frank’s new release, North America, is part of an ambitious project to record an album on every continent. “When we think of these places, the feelings we have about them are overwhelming,” says keyboardist Jimmy Bullis. Photo: Publicity photo

Take a look at The Anatomy of Frank’s song catalog and one thing is immediately clear: These guys are really into geography. The group named its debut album Pangaea, after a supercontinent, and its forthcoming second album, North America, includes songs with titles such as “Occupy Anchorage,” “Vancouver (for child astronauts)” and “A Bridge Over Lake Champlain.”

This constant rumination on place, says The Anatomy of Frank keys player Jimmy Bullis, is a fact of a band’s lifestyle: They’re often on the road.

The songs on North America are an ode to the continent, to the places the band has been and the people it’s met while on tour.

“The songs come from that cavernous mindset that you run into when you remember places,” says Bullis. “The memories [we make on the road] get filed in our minds under ‘place.’ ‘This was in Redwood National Forest,’ or ‘This was in the Cascade Mountains,’ or ‘That was at the continental divide in Mexico.’”

When Bullis points this out, guitarist and vocalist Kyle Woolard grins widely. “Our lives are totally about where things happen,” he says.

With the release of North America, the band takes on an extremely ambitious agenda: Write one album for each continent—seven total—recorded on each continent. It’s a massive undertaking that’s been in the making for years. A project that has roots in an imaginary cinnamon plantation in Sri Lanka.

When Woolard was a teen, he read Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family, a fictionalized memoir with elements of magical realism, and started dreaming about a life in the jungle of Sri Lanka. When he ended up studying astrophysics at UVA instead of moving to Sri Lanka, he says he started writing songs “inspired by how I felt about this longing, this craving for this place.” Then when Woolard’s dad started talking about Antarctica, Woolard began writing songs about the coldest continent. One winter break, he stayed in the dorms—with no heat, no running water or electricity—to approximate the arctic experience. He already has more than an album’s worth of songs, and the band is contemplating how it will travel there to record.

Woolard, Bullis and their bandmates—guitarist Erik Larsen, bassist Jonas Creason and drummer Max Bollinger—all contribute to the project. They’re constantly writing songs and learning them as a full band. In addition to the Antarctica tunes, TAOF’s two albums’ worth of material for Europe and South America is coming along nicely.

The Anatomy of Frank loves performing live. Not only do the members get to “moan about their feelings on stage for money,” says Woolard half-joking, they also become part of a rewarding exchange of music and said feelings with their audience. But, life on the road can be tough. Oftentimes, the band is far from home, with very little money and a certain number of CDs to sell to buy food or book a hotel room.

When nighttime approaches and a gig comes to an end, says Woolard, it can be a dreadful feeling, not knowing where they’ll be staying. Relying on the kindness of friends and fans, they’ve slept on floors and couches in Iceland, in the U.S. and throughout Europe. One fan (now a friend) even showed them around Paris. “It’s like we’ve found a sweet spot in the world with traveling…a whole [undercurrent] of amazing people,” says Bullis, who admits that even if the band reaches a level of popularity where they can afford hotel rooms regularly, he’d prefer to continue staying with these “saints of the road.” These experiences are, after all, the very substance of the band’s songs.

The Anatomy of Frank will hit the road this fall to tour North America around Europe. They’ve come a long way from Pangaea, a pop-rock record that doesn’t quite match the band’s current sound.

North America is Sigur Rós meets Sufjan Stevens, musically diverse and sophisticated in lyric and concept. The album opens with “Minnesota (part i), for Scott and Jeremy,” a shimmery tune with folk notes and bright percussion that builds steadily to the energetic swell of vocal harmony. Each song that follows captures a distinct feeling inspired by a place—some rock harder, some sway softer—but it’s cohesive, a neatly surveyed set.

Before TAOF goes abroad, the band is hosting what it says will be a raucous hometown album release show at Meade Hall. Charlottesville bands The Hill and Wood and Lowland Hum will open, and The Anatomy of Frank will be joined by string and horn sections on various North America tracks.

At that show, the band will gift a round-trip ticket to Alaska to someone in the audience, so he or she can experience the essence of the North America album firsthand, and see how vast and diverse the continent is, in people and in landscape.

“It’s awe-inspiring how people live within this same world differently,” says Bullis. “It’s too easy to forget.”

“You don’t have to go overseas to seek beauty,” adds Woolard, insisting that it’s all right here in North America.

–Erin O’Hare