In 2001, writer/musician Cliff Frantz launched RECOIL Magazine — one year later the New York Times called it “The Onion of the Midwest.” The seed of the satire magazine, now online only, was planted in 1984, with the release of This Is Spinal Tap. Frantz was instantly captivated by the depth of the wit. It set the path of his life.
Now he’s living the rock‘n’satire dream, while giving a nod to his forefathers, via his Spinal Tap tribute band, Sext Farm. When the band’s not gigging in West Michigan, it’s also shooting its video web series, also dubbed Sext Farm.
Frantz chatted with Revue about how it got started and what’s next for the band and comedic series.
What prompted you to fire up Sext Farm?
When I quit playing guitar for a living and sold my road gear to start printing Recoil in 2001, I swore that the only way I’d ever get back on stage again with a guitar in my hands was if I was playing the role of Nigel Tufnel in a Spinal Tap tribute band. Leading a Tap tribute had been in the back of my head since I was a teenager, studying the comedy of David Letterman, Saturday Night Live and Monty Python, while also learning how to play rock guitar. That’s when This Is Spinal Tap came out — my first exposure to proper satire. Studying that movie influenced me so much that I went on to become a satirist after making a six-year run at the music business during my twenties. Spinal Tap showed me the lengths to which professionals were willing to go to tell a joke. It taught me that even if mass audiences don’t “get” a joke, the right people will get it — and that’s what’s most important.
Are all of your bandmates big Spinal Tap fans?
Each member of Sext Farm is a diehard Spinal Tap fan and everyone in Sext Farm knew what they were signing up for and did it anyway. We all see the humor in creating a spoof about a spoof. There are smiles all around during rehearsals because the music sounds so good. When we finish a song we all buckle over in laughter about how funny it all is, the entire concept of what we’re doing.
When did it officially get underway?
We started rehearsing in March of 2014 to perform a nine-song set of songs from the movie including “Rock ‘n’ Roll Creation,” “Heavy Duty,” and “Flower People (Listen to the).” We’ve performed and filmed four shows so far, most recently headlining Jake’s Music Festival’s 11th Anniversary show in April at the Wealthy Theatre.
There is the video aspect of Sext Farm. How would you describe the web series?
The 11-part YouTube series was originally intended as a full-length movie. It was supposed to be a cross between This Is Spinal Tap and the Sundance-winning documentary American Movie. Each six-minute webisode mixes our band’s live performance of songs like “Hell Hole” and “Stonehenge” with sketch comedy and real-life video to recount — in mockumentary fashion — the process of abandoning the print industry to pursue fantastic visions of rock stardom that continually fail to materialize. Sext Farm’s YouTube series is an effort to introduce the satire of Spinal Tap to a new generation of fans too young to know what Spinal Tap is and too busy staring at their cell phones for anyone to explain it to them.
The web series isn’t 100-percent scripted, how would you describe it?
We originally set out to film Sext Farm in the same manner as This Is Spinal Tap — with no script and only a loose idea of plotline. The production of Sext Farm is similar to Borat in that the outcomes of what I call “guided improv” scenarios drive the narrative. In that way, there’s no way of knowing for sure what’s going to happen in future episodes of Sext Farm because the events are yet to occur. We don’t have a million-dollar budget to shoot for an entire month under controlled conditions, so our filming is very guerrilla-style.
Where did Sext Farm get its name?
As revealed in Episode 7, “Wham! Against the Machine,” we originally named the band “Sex Farm” — in reference to Spinal Tap’s hit single from the movie. But there was a typo in the email to our young graphic designer, so our finished logo ended up reading “Sext Farm.” We couldn’t afford a redesign. The confusion over our band logo is a modern spin on Spinal Tap’s miscommunication regarding the size of their Stonehenge scenery. That’s one example of how we’re modernizing the spirit of Spinal Tap for a younger generation of audience through Sext Farm. I also use a Guitar Hero controller instead of a violin to strum during the guitar solo.
What’s up for season two of the web series?
We have a number of bank-breaking ideas for a season two, including the introduction of Grand Rapids’ PotatoeBabies as a rival band, sort of like the role of The Time in Purple Rain.