Music — October 10, 2013 12:07 — 0 Comments

A Frank Interview With Crystal Beth Fleenor

Beth Fleenor is one of the many gems in Seattle. From her management group, The Frank Agency, to her band, Crystal Beth, Fleenor is focused on artistic expression and beautiful human connection. The Monarch had a chance to chat with Fleenor about her work, her music, her fears and her joys. 


Jake Uitti: When you’re walking around in town or in conversation and you hear the word ‘Frank’ what goes through your mind?

Beth Fleenor: Ha! After 9 years of running the Frank Agency, ‘Frank’ has become so much it’s own entity in my life – as an outlet for a particular aspect of my personality, as a structural system of support and as a reflection pool – that I automatically refer all things related to that word/name back to my Frank. At least at first. For me it’s such a call to step up to yourself and others honestly, and that ethos comes through as a reminder every time the word comes up, even though its a tough challenge issued.

JU: And that’s sort of funny because, correct me if I’m wrong, did you start the agency with a masculine name to be taken ‘seriously’ or am I totally making that up??

BF: Well, not exactly, but it did come into play. Let’s call it a deep intuition that led to revelation through empirical evidence.

The name first came up as a joke. I’ve had this nickname since I was a kid – Beef Weiner, you know, for Beth Fleenor. In 2004 Johanna Kunin – incredible musician and dear friend – made the joke that I should start going by Frank because it’s more elegant for my adult self, and suited my preferred means of communication. So it was a joke – all Beef Frank.

At the time, I was graduating college as a performing artist, going through an excruciating divorce, and producing concerts & assisting a few artists individually. I had been doing this work since 1999 and in leaving school I wanted to create a ship to hold all of us – all of the artists, organizations and my own work – a single entity that could build, and transfer knowledge and systems between each of the visionaries I was working with, and amplify their efforts even more. I also saw the need to protect the artists – allowing them space to be focused on the work instead of dealing with the business (because these things really don’t have anything to do with each other, which is another tangent), and the idea of an agency felt like the right vehicle to accomplish that. The agency needed a strong name that communicated what it stood for, and being Frank felt perfect. Let’s deal with the nitty-gritty up front, straight to the point – we all know what has to happen here, so let’s get it done, let’s communicate.

So it became the Frank Agency because it felt right and personally meaningful. Then in taking it on, it opened lines of communication I hadn’t experienced before. Some because of the idea of the “Agency” and some because of the masculine connotation in that it appeared I, Beth, was assisting the man in charge, Frank. Beth was now working for the Frank Agency. It was actually startling to realize how much that made a difference in some people’s confidence in me – or how shocked they were to learn the truth. There was definitely a shift in how people interacted with the masculine name – the tone of conversation was altered.

Ultimately though, the greatest gift that has come out of the name is that it functions as a buffer for Beth the artist, and Beth the person, to not be affected by the business. Frank deals with that stuff – Beth focuses on the art.

JU: So, you’re a musician and an accomplished one at that. What – to touch on that tangent – is the dichotomy between the work, the art, and the work of the agency as an entity for the artist?

BF: Let’s start with what is similar. I see it all as communication – whether musically, linguistically, or interpersonally. That’s my stake in it.

My overall philosophy is that “Art is the discipline of being” – that human being and living in and of itself are the creative process. We are generating, creating, and improvising all the time (we have a lot to learn from the discipline of art). It’s in everything we do, and the more focus we bring to the act of living, the more mindful and dynamic the experience of it can become. At the same time, being an artist means pulling that awareness through the body and letting it collect and be redistributed in communication with others through the individual’s voice/perspective – that’s where the discipline comes in. Being willing and able to get down in the mud and sift for the truth & beauty, and try to then interact with it through a chosen medium. And do it over and over again, without concern for where it is leading – just working with the process and content itself. Trying to clarify a thought.

I think the actual “artwork” that is created is actually the feeling it transmits to whomever is experiencing it – it lives inside of the experiencer – the rest (or the hardcopy delivery system of the work, tangible, or intangible in the case of music) is an “artifact.”

The professional artist then has to figure out a system to connect those artifacts to the people who need/want them. I believe that there’s a place for everyone and the objective is to find the right audience to receive the work, and possibilities for the artist to sustain and create new work for a lifetime.

This is where the divergence starts. People are not products – they’re a process. Artworks and artifacts are not products, they are a process delivery system. A work of art is an experience. But our world is collectively obsessed with products and doesn’t know how to deal with a living, breathing, changing process or experience.

For the artists, this becomes complicated because making the work and talking about the work are not the same thing. It’s hard to have perspective about what you’ve created. It’s hard to find more words to describe it when you’ve spent so much energy creating the thing itself. And the focus of the artist should be on continuing to create and investigate the work, not on promoting, propagating, and explaining it. But to continue to have support – fiscal and audience – to make new work, to stay active – that takes an immense amount of planning, development, instigation and implementation. A constant conversation, and a seemingly unending list of decisions – and this becomes more so the case with each year.

In addition to the logistical aspects of maintaining a career, there are also two expectations of artists that I think are exceedingly difficult to process: One is that you are in a constant state of struggling to create something new, and making arbitrary decisions to seek support for a work – trying to clearly communicate to possible funders about something that has not yet been created, and then two, once it’s created, telling the world about it, trying to get people interested in it, and then releasing it to be criticized. It being “you” the artist in most cases.

The Frank Agency was created to assist artists in the clarification, articulation and amplification of their vision, while simultaneously connecting audiences to work that moves them. I’ve worked for the last 14 years in areas including management, concert production, grant writing, promotion & publicity, marketing, booking, development, strategic planning, and the like, to try to offer artists more opportunity to focus on the work itself. Eight years ago I also added in an increased focus on artist therapy, resuscitation, and oxygenation, as I’ve come to understand more about the immense psychological pressure heaped on artists trying to maintain a professional career.

As an artist, the fact that there is no destination becomes very apparent. No matter what success you have, you must continue to work to sustain. There is always more, there is no end, there is no place of comfort or rest. Therefore, creating a healthy system for yourself, in which you can maintain & deepen your work and also not be in a constantly dramatic state with it, is paramount.

You can’t take any of your personal validity, or the validity of your work, from the response or support it receives. Positive or negative, public opinion is separate from the work itself. Continue to realign and focus only on the work. That’s Frank’s viewpoint, and Frank reminds fragile artist Beth, and all the other fragile humans as well. As I always tell myself, “Just because you understand the process doesn’t mean you don’t have to go through the process.”

JU: So, in addition to all this work, this delving into the philosophy of creation, sharing, listening to audiences and yet realizing the work is, in a way, separate from the audience, where does Crystal Beth fit in?

BF: The short answer is that Crystal Beth is the release valve, the hurl every inch of yourself into the ring and feel it all simultaneously, visceral presence check point – the “this is it, one shot at being alive right now – push it to the edge” kind of release valve, but through my ritual – through my raw authentic sound. Music is like this consolidated, concentrated, seamless microscopic transmission of the macrocosm, which is human experience. With everything I do, ultimately, my interest is in a shared experience of connection. That connection is there all the time – between everything – but we’re surrounded by it so we often forget about it – the Alan Watts corollary is that the fish doesn’t know it’s in water – I love that, I think about it a lot… especially when I’m lonely.

The way I see it, life is an experience that no one else can experience, that everyone is experiencing simultaneously. Each person has an individual voice/language, entirely unique to them, sculpted through their existence. To find this, and have opportunity to share it openly, in any form, is a vulnerable and intimate experience which gives rise to the deepest sense of connection.

For me, Crystal Beth is that voice. It’s as “me” as it gets – with all its greatness & deep, deep flaws, Crystal Beth allows me to explore the dynamics of self. This is the first band I’ve ever had that entirely plays my songs. All of my past projects as a leader have been mostly improvisation based, with a few written pieces thrown in as triggers or pivot points. In Crystal Beth & the Boom Boom Band it’s all of these strange chant-based songs that I’ve been working on, back to back in the set. It’s intense for me, to show that much of my true self, to let myself have fun with it and embrace it, not judge it, and revel in it – to enjoy existing as the form that I am, accepting all of it and trying to dance with it. My hope is that if I can open up, if I can accept myself, it will inspire others to do the same and we can share our connection more openly.

I’ve been lucky to find a collection of musicians that speak Bethnic and are willing to work through it with me, and we’ve been sweating it out and trying to learn how to throw enough sound that we can push through to that other plane – where we realize how connected and powerful we are in that state of empathic presence. I adore those folks, the Workshop Ensemble players too, it’s similar there, but with a little less alien disco, primal screaming & hair metal *wink*.


Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney