How Chicago Synth-Rock Duo Grapetooth Made One Of 2018’s Most Gorgeous DIY Albums

Alex Hupp

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It’s a crisp Autumn day in Chicago, one of the first of the year after a sweltering summer. There’s a hint of drizzle in the air, but nothing too threatening. I’m walking down the city’s cracked sidewalks on my way to an interview. Through my earbuds, I’m listening to the same album I’ve been obsessed with for the last few weeks. Morning, noon, night; in the car, in the office, laying around the house, I haven’t been able to shut it off. The album is called Grapetooth. The name of the band, or, well, the pair of guys who made it? Grapetooth. I’m just a couple of blocks from their apartment now.

Grapetooth is Clay Frankel and Chris Bailoni. If the former name sounds familiar it’s because Frankel’s regular gig is as one of the lead singer and guitar players in what many consider to be the most exciting band to come out of Chicago in years, Twin Peaks. The two guys are roommates and have been since 2015. The name of their band comes from their joint love and appreciation for affordable red wines. Argentinian Malbecs and Spanish reds are particular favorites. Their debut album is the culmination of years spent playing around with synths, guitars and a drum machines that they’d set up in Bailoni’s cramped bedroom.

Despite the guerrilla nature of their setup, the end result is a supremely gorgeous collection of ten different tracks that embody the soul of your favorite ‘80s synth-wave bands with the open-hearted punk rock angst of the Replacements. The album’s opening track “Violent,” might be the best song that Paul Westerberg never got around to writing.

I showed up to their place at almost the exact same moment that Frankel was stepping off his orange, Honda motorcycle, just back from picking up lunch from a nearby grocery store. Curiously, laying on the grass in front of their building is a dark pair of clean-looking Nike tennis shoes. After the initial greeting Frankel tells me that they’d actually been robbed the night before. Someone had snuck through their window and jacked his laptop and for some reason tossed Bailoni’s shoes out into the yard. They’d also chucked a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Thankfully, the thief had left most of the rest of their stuff, including Bailoni’s array of keyboards and synths untouched. “My heart was pounding when I walked to open the door to my room,” he said. “I’ve got enough stuff in there that I would have been f*cked.”

Frankel leads me through the front of the house and I pass by groaning shelves packed with heavy books and vinyl records. I meet Bailoni in the kitchen and together we huddle outside on the back patio. Frankel pulls out a large French baguette from his bag, some soppressata salami, a bundle of oranges, and a few plums, and underneath a panoply of grape vines and empty wine bottles, they tell me their story.