An interview with music duo veterans Fannie Suntag & Tomjo Frankin

by | Aug 20, 2022

Over 20 years in the music industry, From cartoon music composers to pop music duo: Meeting Fannie Suntag & Tomjo Frankin

In their latest project, they may both be singer-songwriters but Fannie Suntag & Tomjo Frankin are musicians first. This pair of music veterans, has been on stage for over 20 years, performing under various stage names in various projects. Fannie Suntag is a vocalist and a pianist while Tomjo Frankin is a saxophonist and a bassist. For 10 years, they worked at Trocadero Studio Ltd. as cartoon music composers. In the past, they have released an independent album gathering the “crazy” songs of their musical show played on stages like the Blanc Manteaux, the Trois Baudets, the Trévise in Paris and all the way to the Metissons Festival in Senegal. The duo have now reinvented themselves. They are releasing completely new music, this time just as Fannie Suntag & Tomjo Frankin. 1 In Music spoke to the music artists about their new venture, an album also reviewed here. Note that the interview has been translated from French. The original French interview can be found here.

The musical roots

1 In Music: So you have had all these different music ventures, what do you think is unique about your new sound?

Fannie Suntag & Tomjo Frankin [FS & TF]: We have indeed been on stage for 20 years. We’ve moved from Jazz to French chanson and more, as artistic encounters determined. The music we create today emerges from all that experience. We don’t put a limit between genres. We can do instrumental, Trip-Pop, jazzy, electro to acoustic, French chanson… It may be confusing, but in the past, we have always worked in a box. So, we decided to come out of the boxes. We now completely follow our inspiration, our mood of the moment. And what is fun for us is to find a precise meeting point between each musical root.

1 In Music: What or who shaped your music and who supports you?

FS: Even though I have eclectic tastes. I have a fascination for voices and melodies: In France, the Powwow, Liane Foly, William Sheller; among English-speaking musicians, Bobby Mc Ferrin, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Supertramp; and in Latin Jazz, the pianist Michel Camilo;

TF: My taste is more around Punk (Pixies), all the Motown era, Otis Redding, Bill Withers. I also enjoy Funk with James Brown, Maceo Parker , Earth Wind and Fire, Jamiroquai; Jazz with Herbie Hancock; but I’m also a fan of Latin music like the Bueno Vista Social Club; I also love beautiful voices like that of Amy Winehouse, or Linda Perry of the Four Non Blondes.

Tomjo FrankinFS & TF: The first people who warmed our hearts were the CIM teachers: Jean Claude Fohrenbach in harmony (saxophonist) Bernard Désormière for the piano, Arnaud Fournier (harmony, guitarist) and Michel Valera, the school director. Then there was the meeting with Oliver Decrouille, pianist, Pierre Goudard, drummer, and Jean-Hervé Michel, musicians who followed us in our madness. Their musical level and their kindness allowed us to move forward with happiness . In the middle of the song scene, Mireille Morisseau from Reseau 94 in Ile de France (Paris) gave us enormously amount of support. Then the Manufacture Chanson (Anouk Manetti, Hervé Delaiti, Stephane Riva, Olenka Witjas) in Paris was of great support in terms of training. We even received an ADAMI Jazz and Current Music Grant. The Académie de Villecroze has twice selected Fannie Suntag (under a different name) as a singer-songwriter. A great jazz gentleman, Giovanni Mirabassi came to one of their shows, he wrote them a little personal note which gave them wings (even if life cuts them off right after…this recognition is engraved in never in their mind). But it is all the same in the end, their work force and the multiplication of different eclectic artistic projects that allow them to do their job as performing artists, more than just musicians.

The musical journey

1 In Music: When did you realise you were going to make music professionally?

FS: It was very late for me. The theatre was my first love, so I got a Masters in Theater Studies. But I had been writing songs since I was a teenager. So, while studying I played sax in a group in college. But it happened in Paris, for the pleasure that I responded to advertisements for a singer, first with a trip-hop duo, then in the Parisian studios. (smoky at the time, so my voice broke at every rehearsal!). Then a group was formed with my compositions and the dates started to fall. But it was in 2002 that I decided to take a step forward by entering the CIM Jazz School in the PRO Vocal/Piano cycle. And there is the slap. I didn’t know anything about music. I knew it. I was attacking a mountain. And suddenly, I was embarked in jazz groups, from new orleans, and jazz clubs followed (until Sunset). Then everything was chained by dint of playing on stage, responding to projects. The profession in the field.

TF: I graduated from the S.A.E. as a sound engineer and production assistant. I also hold a degree in electronics speciality audio-pro. I was Technical Director of the First Sound Company (retransmission of concerts and shows (Awards of NRJ, “Bigard bourre Bercy”) – recording of concerts (Princess Erika, Kofi Olomide, for TMF9 (MTV Belgium). an audio-pro electrical technician at S.C.V., I took care of the maintenance of high-end sound equipment: SoundCraft/Studer VI6, BSS, AMEK, AKG… with a specialization in Lexicon 960L digital reverberations. I got to play in various funk groups as a bassist and was also part of a salsa orchestra as a trumpeter before moving on to the saxophone which I have always loved.

1 In Music: What type of music do you listen to?

FS & TF:Fannie Suntag Obviously, our tastes have evolved. Even if each of us has their preferences, there is a total fusion around Latin jazz music (Michel Camilo, Arturo Sandoval…). The brass orchestrations are a candy we can’t resist. We’ll always favour acoustic instruments. However, there is a trippy side to doing electro, and anyway, Fannie’s feet start like clockwork on this kind of music (a remnant of the long after party in the club after the catering services!) But in general, the 70s remain in place 1 of the podium. On the other hand, Fannie Suntag adores Pink, her energy and her voice, and Tomjo will listen with pleasure to an Uptown funk by Marc Ronson.

1 In Music: Who, to you, is the most undervalued music artist?

FS: I get greatly annoyed by the fact that Michel Camilo does not play at least once a year in France. If one day I have the means (we have the right to dream) I will make it happen!
TF: (with a great burst of laughter) Us 🤣😅 but we’re working on it

1 In Music: How do you prepare for your performances?

TF: We play almost every day at least 2 to 3 hours. And thanks to Twitch, rehearsals are more fun. We learn new covers to feed our inspiration. We constantly work on our vocal and instrumental technique. Suddenly, the sound is different time to tame a new feeling.

TF: When we compose, it’s almost like a dance. Fannie may bring a song with text, melody and chords. I then take and arrange it according to her idea, enriching or modifying the chords; I rarely touch on the melody which is attached to the text. but if necessary, of course we adjust.

FS: Otherwise, Tomjo brings up a composition, and improvises on it until something makes us smile. For this project anyway the key phrase is:

We keep searching until we are both satisfied.

1 In Music: What do you do when you don’t do music (creative or otherwise) and that you are passionate about?

FS: The list is long and very eclectic! It goes from subjects as distant as quantum physics: we don’t understand it but it fascinates us in documentaries/history books. We love walking in cities and discovering architectural treasures: Rome, Ostia Antica, Florence, castles (Bavaria, France…). We really like history, even if we don’t remember anything (well, Tomjo does lol). I love science fiction series, the Marvels, Louis de Funès, Rowan Aktinson, Tomjo has an idol: André Franquin (sic!) Gaston Lagaffe, and JoBarTeam. Here we go all the way from the intellectual to the popular. No boxes we said!

1 In Music: Success to you is…?

FS & TF: Money. loool

Success is having the freedom to do the job you want when you want. In this job, it is to bring to the public a moment suspended in time, a spatio-temporal breach of emotions and vibrations. It is to offer them a parallel world.

1 In Music: What do you wish you were told when you started out and that you think would help anyone who starts out?:

1- Life can be hard, rough, awful, without a warning. You just have to know it. Don’t just be surprised and stand there. You must consider your options.
2 – Not all people are nice. Unfortunate but true.
3- Be on stage to your fullest. Always learn and practice.
4- Never listen to just one side of a story.
5- Always hang around those who are better at your craft than you
6- Be (unfortunately) a little selfish (but it’s to be generous afterwards for the better!)
7- Learn from the past, from others’ mistakes, to avoid making the same ones. Even if we make new ones, it will already be less to bear.
8- Listen to your instinct, your intuition.

What next for Fannie Suntag & Tomjo Frankin?

1 In Music: Any upcoming projects?

F: This album stemmed from our need to relaunch ourselves after 10 very complicated years. Whilst work was going well, creativity suffered from problems outside the artistic life; we were supposed to release an album, but were diverted from our identity. We couldn’t find our way around, then there were health problems. We needed to release everything that had been waiting for years as well as new music (Norma’s Song).

We will be releasing in a few months an album called “Flood Artistic 2013“. This time, we will do it title by title as the new mode of digital distribution requires,  It will be a mixtape of tracks that have flooded our minds in the studio. We only have these leads. We can’t redo them, so we’re going to release them as they are. We are also working on another album, one of whose titles is “Running in the yard“. That track is in the same musical mood as Norma’s Song.

Nous allons sortir dans quelque mois, et cette fois ci, normalement, titre par titre comme le veut la nouvelle mode de distribution digitale, un album nommé “Flood Artistic 2013”. Ce sera une mixtape de morceaux qui ont été victime d’une inondation totale de notre studio. Nous n’avons plus que ces pistes. Nous ne pouvons pas les refaire, alors on va les sortir comme ça. parallèlement on travaille sur un autre album, dont l’un des titres est “Running in the yard”, dans le meme mood musical que Norma’s Song .

1 In Music: Where do we find you music and projects?