Philip Frobos (Omni) and Matt Flegel (Preoccupations) on Threatening to Write a Book and Doing It

The friends and former tourmates talk Frobos’s new novel.

Philip Frobos is the frontman of the Atlanta-based post-punk band Omni; Matt Flegel is the frontman of the post-punk band Preoccupations. Philip just released his debut novel Vague Enough to Satisfy via Hex Enduction Books — as well as his debut solo album to soundtrack it — so to celebrate, he and his former tourmate Matt talked about the process of writing it. 

—Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Matt Flegel: So why are we here? We’re hocking stuff?

Philip Frobos: I’m hocking books and records — you’re kind of you’re kind of in cahoots, you’re helping me hock.

Matt: I’ve been trying to help. So Philip Frobos here has recently written a book, and I need to ask you a few questions about this, because I don’t know what your process is or how long it took or any of this. But is this mostly a result of the pandemic and having a lot of free time?

Philip: No. So basically with the book, I kind of started it when we were on tour in Europe, with no cell service. So I was reading all these classics and all this stuff I need to read, and it was kind of just this moment where I was like, Fuck, I might be able to do this. And I just kind of tried writing — I, like, went all the way back to my high school creative writing brain.

Matt: Did you ever threaten to write a book before? 

Philip: No, never. 

Matt: You were never in your twenties like, “I can write a book!”

Philip: Nope. No threats at all of book writing. But I never ruled it out, I guess. I honestly never thought about it until I started reading again.

Matt: Yeah. I feel like I have threatened it before. It’s like, Yeah, I can write a screenplay. You watch a few bad movies and you’re like, I can do that shit

Philip: Yeah, dude. I mean, especially this shit they’re putting out nowadays.

Matt: Yeah. So is that next on the docket, writing a screenplay? You’re gonna get this thing optioned?

Philip: I mean, I’ve got a buddy who’s interested in that. 

Matt: No way!

Philip: Yeah, I mean, not too much to speak of just yet. But that might be on the docket.

Matt: How long of a process was writing this, from initial conception to having this in your hand? I think — it’s probably an embarrassing question to have to answer, because you want to be like, “Oh, like two sittings.” I mean, it takes me sometimes months to write one song, you know, three verses and a chorus. And if you’re lucky, you get a bridge. 

Phillip: Basically, I was just kind of dicking around before COVID with it. Like every now and again, I would go get some coffee and write a little bit. 

Matt: You got a laptop going or—?

Philip: I was actually notebook-ing. I had this great green Japanese pen that Frankie [Broyles] gave me. 

Matt: Lined pages? 

Philip: Yeah, lined pages. I get out of control if don’t do the lines.

Matt: Yeah, it keeps some constraints on there. What’s your favorite medium, as far as your writing tool goes? Like a Bic pen? 

Philip: So the one that I got — I’m trying to remember the name of the brand, but it’s a teal green pen. It’s a company that we have here, but it’s Japanese made and it has Japanese figures and then whatever the brand is. Frankie orders them, and he gave me one back then and I used the whole thing until it literally just ran out on me in the middle of the book. 

Matt: That’s a satisfying feeling.

Philip: To use a pen all the way to the last drop, it felt good.

Matt: That’s a useful satisfaction. I get a satisfaction when I use a lighter all the way to the end, but I don’t know if it’s a useful satisfaction because it just means that — you know, it’s not usually candles. It’s usually cigarettes.

Philip: Yeah, right.

Matt: And arson. [Laughs.]

Philip: Well, the pen is super sexy, and it’s kind of like a weird hybrid. It’s not one of those pointy, drippy pen types, but it’s also not a ballpoint pen. It flows like a ballpoint, but it writes like a drippy type.

Matt: So do you have a draft of this novel in shorthand?

Philip: Yeah, I do. I’m doing that again for the next one too. A good part of doing it that way is, usually when I’m transcribing it to the computer after, I’ll throw in a little something here and there, because I’m basically just getting another shot at writing it.

Matt: It’s a good move. It’s hard to just make notes when you’re typing it on a computer. You can draw some arrows and some circles and highlight shit.

Philip: Yeah, exactly.

Matt: I have a tough time with words. I think I’ve been always musically inclined, I love music. I’m one of those people who maybe knows two lines [of other people’s songs], or the chorus, and then the verses, I’m just like, “I don’t know.”

Philip: Yeah, dude, I’m the same way.

Matt: I’m not good with that stuff. 

Philip: Maybe you would be good at it!

Matt: I guess it’s a different process, because writing a song, you’re trying to encapsulate maybe a novel’s worth of an idea into a few verses or something. And I think generally it’s less about the words and more about—

Philip: The feeling.

Matt: The ear hooks.

Philip: Yeah, it’s different.

Matt: As far as this process of writing a book and the process of writing songs go, what do you like better? I mean, you wrote songs to accompany this — there’s an accompanying album that goes with the book, which is pretty cool.

Philip: Yeah, a soundtrack to the novel. It’s almost like a pretend soundtrack. 

Matt: When you read other people’s books, do you put music on the background?

Philip: No. Well, actually, that’s not true. I do like to listen to jazz while I read.

Matt: Yeah, I throw on college radio usually, or something like that. No vocals. But you’ve got vocals on this thing.

Philip: I got vocals. Yeah, I’m a dick, I’ve made it about me. [Laughs.]

Matt: People are going to be scrambling to keep their place on the page whilst paying attention to these songs.

Philip: Yeah. Well, I told them, I’m not asking for the whole, you know, queue up Dark Side at the tornado moment in Wizard of Oz or whatever. It’s all merely a point of reference. You just want to see what the fuck I’m talking about on these songs, then you can look at the chapters in the book.

Matt: I was given the task of reading it a couple of times— not necessarily as a proofreader, but you were just like, “Hey, you read.” 

Philip: Yeah, “This guy, this guy reads. Help me out, man.”

Matt: I read from time to time. I had a tough time reading at the start of COVID because I had too much shit going on in my brain and I couldn’t sit down with anything. I feel like this is one of the first things I read start to finish, pandemic-wise.

I also have a hard time listening to other people’s music when I’m writing stuff myself. When you’re writing something, you’re trying to finish a book, on the side do you have a book on your nightstand you’re also reading? 

Philip: Yeah, I do. I actually probably read five or six books while I was writing this book, and I think that those authors’ voices definitely kind of leaked leaked in a little bit.

Matt: What kind of stuff? Who’s been blowing your dick off these days?

Philip: Richard Brautigan was a big one. 

Matt: I never really got into him. If I was to read one Brautigan book? Which one would it be? He does a lot of short stories and things like that?

Philip: Yeah, I need to read more. But I think of the three that I’ve read, you should read The Abortion. It’s just, despite the title, a delight read. [Laughs.]

Matt: Yeah, he’s on my list. Did you ever read Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer?

Philip: No, no. 

Matt: That was the best book I read during the pandemic. I think it won a Pulitzer two or three years ago. Fantastic espionage, like, war zone stuff. He’s a double agent. Beautifully written, written in the first person from, you know, the perspective of someone who is not a white dude like me. I feel like I’ve been reading a lot more of those kinds of books, and it really helps — I think reading anything in the first person kind of just puts your brain in someone else’s brain. It’s such a useful thing as far as empathy and seeing someone else’s perspective. I think I get more out of that than reading history, because it’s someone’s experience, you know?

Philip: Totally. This is not quite the same, because I’m still talking about a British guy, but one of the big ones that was really influential was Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. Have you read that?

Matt: Yeah, for sure! It’s been a while, I read that maybe when I was still in high school.

Philip: [Laughs.] Yeah, I’m catchin’ up on my high school reads. 

Matt: I remember loving that. I was just visiting my brother, and we just watched The Third Man.

Philip: Oh, so good. Mega fan of that.

Matt: One of the most beautiful films ever made. And I didn’t realize Graham Greene wrote the script to that. It’s set in postwar Vienna, in this crumbling, beautiful city. 

Philip: The one time Omni played Vienna, when we rolled in I was asleep, and I woke up in the van like, “Oh my god!” I saw the ferris wheel and I was like, “It’s the ferris wheel from The Third Man!” Everyone was like, “What’s that, dude?” We went into the theme park.

Matt: Did you go on the ferris wheel?

Philip: No.

Matt: It’s an old ass one, it’s from the 1800s.

Philip: Everyone was like, “Well, it costs 20 bucks man.” I should have done it.

Matt: Well, there’s a part in your book — so, a lot of the book takes place in Europe, mostly Germany, and at one part, you make this hard stance where it’s like, “We do not pay to go to the top of monuments.”

Philip: Yes, exactly

Matt: [Is that] true in real life?

Philip: It’s true.

Matt: I get it, man. Usually the monuments are pretty underwhelming. It’s like, OK, the Eiffel Tower? I’d rather, like—

Philip: Have you done it? 

Matt: No, I have no desire to. I mean, I live in New York City, I have no desire to go to the top of the Empire State Building. The new Hudson Yards one looks pretty cool, actually.

Philip: The only reason I even would want to go to any of these places is just because of movies. Like, I kind of want to go to the cafe on the Eiffel Tower just for A View to a Kill, the Grace Jones espionage scene. 

Matt: Hey, man, I know the movie. 

Philip: Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

Matt: Yeah. For me, it’s because of Rush Hour 3. The greatest use of the Eiffel Tower in movie history, Rush Hour 3.

Philip: [Laughs.] Part trois.

Matt: [Laughs.] I get that, though. I feel like for us, when we’re traveling in the band, we usually don’t have a bunch of time, usually don’t have a bunch of money. And my favorite way to see the city — and maybe this is just because of how we’ve had to see cities, because we have no daytime, we gotta drive during the day. So it’s after the show, middle of the fucking night. It’s like, “We’re in Paris, let’s get a cheap bottle of wine at the Dépanneur or whatever, and walk up to the Sacré-Coeur in the middle of the night.” That walk in the middle of the night is beautiful. I would pay 30 bucks to do that walk, but I wouldn’t pay 30 bucks to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower in, like, a little car with 20 other tourists. 

Philip: You’re absolutely right.

Matt: Although I understand I’m a tourist in these places also. It’s like, you always want to go to where the tourists aren’t and you’re like, You’re a fucking tourist, man. You think you’re better than everyone? 

Philip: I mean, I will say, us talking right now has made me realize that next time, I’m just going to go on the stupid ferris wheel. Just because it’s so old, and it survived two world wars.

Matt: I would love to go in that ferris wheel.

Philip: Hey, maybe we can do it together.

Matt: If we’re ever in Vienna together, count me in, one hundred percent. 

(Photo Credit: left, Hillary Sutton; right, Pooneh Ghana)

Philip Frobos is a member of the Atlanta-based post-punk band Omni and the author of the novel Vague Enough to Satisfy.

(Photo Credit: Hillary Sutton)