Tuning In with Jimmy Bullis

Posted on October 7, 2015 by

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The Anatomy of Frank at their album release show for

The Anatomy of Frank at their album release show for “North America”

Jimmy Bullis feels pretty good about what The Anatomy of Frank is doing as a band. And he should: the band just released their second album, North America, the first in a series of seven albums about the seven continents to be recorded on seven continents. (The album, produced by Lance Brenner, is goooooood. Check it out.) The Anatomy of Frank has been working on the album for four years, and it’s clear that the band’s experiences touring in Europe and North America have had an impact on their music and their lives.

Being in a band at the Anatomy of Frank’s level—they have pretty good recognition in Virginia and Iceland (yes, they’re kinda big in Iceland)— takes a lot of dedication. Bullis plays a number of instruments for the band and often learns new ones in order to create the perfect sound to complete a song. He primarily plays keys (piano, keyboard and organ) and contributes vocals, but he’s picked up kalimba, banjo and accordion as well.

He also designs the band’s album artwork and show posters and helps maintain the band’s Bandcamp site. And he has a bartending job that’s not flashy, but it pays the bills (and he gets to talk to people while doing it). In addition to being away from home for what can be months at a time, says Bullis, “We reinvest almost all of our [resources] back into the band. You have to make decisions and sacrifices to do what we’ve done, and that’s been sort of wildly invigorating and exciting, but it puts you deeper into what you’re doing because it dictates so much of your life and in a certain way it’s not entirely in your hands. So you have to give yourself further to it to take some of that autonomy back, and to give yourself the best chance you can to be fulfilled by it in return.”

But being in a well-received— and talented— band has its rewards. For Bullis, perhaps the greatest reward is making fantastic music with his bandmates and taking it on the road, where he’s had the opportunity to meet wonderful people and other talented musicians. These are the experiences that, when he thinks of them, he smiles widely and warmly.

Jimmy Bullis

Jimmy Bullis

Bullis also co-hosts a radio show with Anatomy of Frank bandmate Erik Larsen every other Monday from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on WTJU 91.9 FM. They spin music for late night driving, from upbeat tunes to quiet, pretty songs and straight up pop. While on tour, Bullis and Larsen meet many talented musicians playing in great bands, so they’re often personally fond of the music they play on their show. “We hope to expose people here and there to music that’s hard to find out about other than word of mouth or radio, music that, by virtue of it’s quality, would be very popular in a perfect world. We also play plenty of well known stuff.” It’s music that inspires them and they hope it inspires their listeners as well.

Bullis and Larsen also try to support as many local bands as possible. Bullis cites Lowland Hum, the Hill and Wood, Devon Sproule, Post Sixty Five, the Dawn Drapes and Manatree as some of his favorites. Between Richmond, Harrisonburg and Charlottesville, says Bullis, there’s some exciting music being made in Virginia right now, and he’s eager to share it.

To make his selections, Bullis created a big playlist of music that has recently resonated with him, then cut it down to a set of songs that flowed together to create a solid compilation. He says that it’s sad in parts, but has a few big moments popping through and ends on a happy note. What stands out in this set, though, is that Bullis— who is a softspoken, thoughtful and engaging conversationalist— has a personal story about most of the bands represented here. “I think Efterklang, Bill Callahan, Pedro the Lion, Owen, and Eluvium are the only artists included here that we haven’t met, played with, stayed with, or let sleep on my floor,” he says.

He describes some of those relationships below, and hopes that you enjoy the selection and find something new to like. “At the next Anatomy of Frank show,” he says, “come say hi and tell me your favorite song.”

Officer Jenny is an increasingly brilliant musical act from Provo, Utah. Stephen, the singer/songwriter, housed us for a night in Utah along with his roommate Adam, of Bat Manors (more on Bat Manors below). He then took us to this Kolach place for breakfast, which is like a Czech dough ball filled with all sorts of whatever you want. It was great and his company and conversation is second to none. Fantastic guy to talk to and just be around, in my limited-but-hopefully-not-final experience.

We opened for Cymbals Eat Guitars in Fredericksburg. Frontman and lyricist Joe D’agostina is a really funny guy. His lyrics on the last album, LOSE, are really outstanding and worth reading. The band was great to see in person.  I had met Joe briefly once before, when I went up to Philadelphia back in 2009 to see Cymbals Eat Guitars, The Depreciation Guild and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. It was great to finally see them again and especially after how good their music has kept getting. “Jackson” is one of the best songs I’ve heard in years.

Bat Manors is another Provo band that blows me away. Adam, the singer, was running the show we played there last year. Bat Manors didn’t play that night but Adam was kind enough to let us stay at his (and Officer Jenny/Stephen’s) place.  He gave us his sleeping mat and went to sleep at his girlfriend’s place so that one more of us was off the floor. He helped take care of us at the show and after; he’s that kind of guy. We asked him where we could find some good cheap late night food and he took us to the BYU hospital cafeteria. It sounds bizarre but it was the perfect place. He said he loves taking bands there because it really is exactly what you need after a long drive and a show: affordable, tasty and open all night. But the point is, he is someone who sees a band on the road, two thousand miles from home and thinks, “Hey, I know how you feel,” because of his own touring or maybe out of incredible empathy, and then knows exactly how to make you feel welcome and taken care of. That sort of treatment is really nice when you’re traveling like that. I asked about his own music before he left us for the night and he was kind enough to burn me a copy of Literally Weird (one of the albums of the year, in my opinion) even though it wasn’t out for a few more months. He also included a mixtape of songs he was really digging at the time; he’s even more awesome than you could expect. Both discs helped the Anatomy of Frank get through the drive across the Rockies and back home. When we left Provo the next morning, we put the Bat Manors disc in the CD player in the van, not knowing if it was gonna be any good at all, as soon as it started, someone said, approximately, “Goddammit why are some people just awesome at everything?”

I could talk about my admiration for Emperor X for far too long. He played in Charlottesville at the Tea Bazaar a couple years ago then came on my late night radio show for a bit of improvised synth playing and song picking, then napped on my couch for a bit before I took him to the Greyhound station to head on to the next show. He tours solely via public transportation. He was a physics teacher in L.A., or something like that, but lives in Berlin now and tours all over. His songs somehow make vast geopolitical themes into something intimate. He has a vigorous energy and manic brilliance, and his songwriting  for me is nothing short of genius. I saw him again in D.C. at a house show this year and it was unforgettable. Songs like “Ray Tracer,” “Canada Day,” “At a Rave With Nicolas Sarkozy,” “Go Captain and Pinlighter,” “Right to the Rails,” “Bashling”… the list goes on and it’s never short of magnificent, thoughtful, and emotive. Western Teleport is a great album to start with and begin digging into his material. For reasons that would take me too long to explain, he feels like one of the most important people in music right now, even if nobody realizes it.

The Hill in Mind might have put on the best individual set of music The Anatomy of Frank has ever had the pleasure of sharing a stage (read: house show) with. Honestly. It was jaw dropping. The guitar player, Max, is one of my favorite guitarists to watch. The keyboardist is effortlessly brilliant. The drummer was incredibly tasteful. The bassist was fantastic. And the strange charisma and unique songwriting of singer/ guitarist/ violinist Josh Hill just blew me away. We had played with Josh once before in Phoenix, Arizona; I remember distinctly that when he started singing the song “Dual Case,” I got this feeling I get rarely, only when something feels truly special. And being able to remember lyrics a year or two later from a song I’ve only heard once, live, is even more rare. Luckily for me, Josh was able to give me a copy of the first third of their then unreleased triptych album, Thimble, Needle, & Thread, and satisfy some of my need to relive that first show and the one in Tempe, Arizona, last year when I fully understood how phenomenal this band actually is.

Post Sixty Five is one of The Anatomy of Frank’s favorite bands. They played their first-ever show with us, and while they were impressive then, they are something spectacular now. If you haven’t seen them, then do so at the next opportunity. Their new EP is exceptional; I’ve got it in my cd player alarm in my room and wake up to it every day. Also, how great is this music video.

Tereu Tereu are another great Virginia/DC band. This song, “Beyond the Coast,” is one of the best driving songs I’ve ever heard. It’s the real climax of the playlist here. We had the pleasure of playing with Tereu Tereu in Fredericksburg and I’ve kept in touch a bit after that, but I think they’re overdue for a C’ville, or the other way around. They came to Charlottesville and slept at my place, and it’s always a joy to see them. They’re fantastic performers and even better guys. I got to nerd out with singer Ryan Little over the Appleseed Cast (another rock band) a little bit; it was right after Illumination Ritual had just come out. Can’t help rooting for these guys to keep doing what they do so well.

I tried to get Erik to come see Stephen Steinbrink with me at the Tea Bazaar last year but he couldn’t make it out. However, he did give him a listen online and found out what I found out in person: this guy writes some beautiful songs. He was out all the way from Washington (the state) and brought so much emotion into the room, it was another one of those times when you’re aware of how special it is as it’s happening. The production on Arranged Waves compliments the music so well, he is a joy to see in person, and the record does proper justice to how great of a songwriter he really is.

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Posted in: music, Tuning in