RPM WEEKLY - Cover Story - April 26, 1980

Frank Soda & The Imps - A hot stage act goes on vinyl

by J.J. Linden

Frank Soda & The Imps have been together for some time, making a bigger and bigger name for themselves on the Toronto club scene through their energetic and entertaining stage show. With Soda on guitars and vocals, drummer John Lechesseur and new bass player Peter Crolly; the band has been attracting a constantly growing following of people who look forward to their shows.

RPM LOGOLately, Frank Soda & The Imps have also been establishing themselves as a recording identity. Their debut live album sold well last year despite a minimum of budget, promotion and distribution. Now they are signed to Quality Records, and Quality are launching the group's debut studio LP with a massive, full-scale promotion campaign which is as unusual as it is intensive. Quality is seeing the act as a major force for the present and the future, and for their part, Soda, the group and manager Robert Connolly are taking a very businesslike approach to assisting in their own cause.

Soda and drummer Lechesseur are Vancouver natives now based in Toronto. They've worked together in various groups for a number of years, but it is in the current alignment that they've come into their own, with the third part of the trio. Peter Crolly, being added in the last two weeks on bass. Soda & The Imps put on a highly energetic, somewhat humourous performance, which is a show in every sense of the word.

Soda's approach is one, which blends gimmickry with solid performance, props with something important to say. His props range from an exploding television set he wears on his head to a suit of lights. The show makes use of dry ice, confetti cannons and special lighting effects, and Soda reaches ever-greater heights with the use of a trampoline he has worked into the show. Having just acquired a bigger, better sound system, Frank Soda & The Imps are, needless to say, gaining momentum steadily through their live performances.

But in the last year or two, the group's emphasis has shifted in the direction of a recording entity. Soda and manager Connolly put together a label, Tube Records, and released the group's first album; In The Tube, a live set recorded at Toronto's Picadilly Tube. Although Connolly quickly admits that the record was really only a glorified demo, and although distribution was basically limited to only a few regions, the LP managed to sell about 6,000 units.

Heartened, Connolly took the group into Master's Workshop in Rexdale to record their first studio album. The result was this self-titled Quality debut, due for release this week or next. Connolly had taken the record around to the various record companies and was impressed not only by the offer Quality made but also by their enthusiasm about the project. So the album was leased, with options for future recordings.

The album is basically recorded with a live approach. There are few parts on it that the group cannot duplicate live. There are few overdubs, although Soda plays several guitar tracks through electronic and other equipment that roughly approximates a keyboard sound. Soda wrote all the material himself, sings all the lead vocals and plays all the guitars. He is, in every respect, the group's focalpoint.

The album is particularly wide-ranging, covering ground from very hard rock to gentle, pop-oriented material nearing AC in format compatibility. The jacket artwork is very strong, featuring Soda (pre-shaved head) drinking a can of pop (yes, Soda) with a very pretty young lady.

Quality's Director of Promotion, John Small, describes the ready-made promotion campaign. "Frank and the girl on the cover will be bringing around goodies to all the media people in Toronto and the surrounding area. We're backing the campaign with radio and a showcase at the El Mocambo on April 29, to which buyers, media and the press will be invited to see the act in person."

Soda's name, and the group's rather fun-loving, yet message-oriented musical approach, gave Quality its cue in designing the campaign. "The basis of his whole show," notes Small, "is sort of pop journalism. He's pretty much a street observer, and a lot of the songs he does in the show are basic reflections of what his attitudes are. He puts a comedy flair into it that presents a pretty wild show.

"When we saw him in person, after Quality signed him, we saw it was fresh and new. We took the same approach in the album design and promotion, and decided to have a little fun with it. Every press kit that is handed to our key people across the country will contain the usual bio, discography and pictures, but in addition to that, there will be four soda glasses, four long spoons, straws, and an ice cream scoop." There are even actual cans of pop being manufactured with the name Frank Soda on them. "We've carried this idea on into retail P.O.P." Small continues. "We will have hanging mobiles everywhere with pop cans hanging from the ceiling, so anytime you walk into a record store between now and the end of summer, you'll be banging your head on a pop can, courtesy of Frank Soda. The radio commercials have the same kind of pop-fizz attitude too. Basically, we're going to pour out the soda and hope they like it."

Quality Records have specifically chosen not to release a single. The album is so varied that the company simply doesn't want to pigeonhole the group into a particular musical slot. Quality, the group and manager Connolly are hoping for widespread acceptance of the album by radio stations in a variety of formats, with different stations likely playing different cuts. "The album really represents a large part of their repertoire onstage," notes Small, "and it would be, I think, unfair for the company, at this early stage of the game, to zero them in on a certain single that may not have anything to do with their image." Of course, should one track begin to receive widespread recognition from different formats, Quality is ready to change its mind.

Small is looking forward to having the promotion in full swing. "It's going to be fun for all of us. With the current 'entrenchment blues' that everybody in the industry seems to be suffering from, while there's a lot more business in the show business aspects of the industry, it's still fun to take something like this, which is so fresh and new, and do something with it from a marketing point of view that has a better overtone to it. So that's the approach we want to take with it. The show is fun, and so the promotion should be fun."

So with the album coming out, Small and Quality are looking for big things from Frank Soda & The Imps. "The promotion is the icing on the cake," the Director of Promotion concludes, "but after a while, the product does have to live on its own merits."