It’s hard to do what you love when you’re young; lots of things can get in your way, but for 20-year-old Richmond-based music documentarian and photographer Kathryn DeFrank, following her passion has led her up and down the east coast documenting the growth of music culture.
DeFrank has produced a full-length documentary on the alt-punk band The Oddbodies, and is in the process of editing her next project on indie up-beat band Modern Nomad. She has shot concert photography in 12 venues, from Richmond’s Stranger Matter to Brooklyn’s Shea Stadium and AVIV.
“At least once a week, there’s a night I’m not sleeping to cover a show,” DeFrank said. “I never regret it.”
As well as freelancing, DeFrank works for Vinyl Noise Blog, covering shows and interviewing artists for the music blog since May 2016. She has done interviews with The Tomato Dodgers, The Oddbodies, Modern Nomad, Illiterate Light and DENS. She has documented 31 bands, of which 20 are local to Richmond.
DeFrank said she was first inspired to pursue cinema production by documentaries covering The Libertines, a rock band from north London and “The Punk Singer,” which follows the life of renowned feminist punk singer Kathleen Hanna.
“It meant a lot to me to see someone’s life in a concise manner,” DeFrank said. “Using a camera, I could tell the stories of musicians and real people, rather than creating my own stories.”
DeFrank attended Point Park University in Pittsburg for the 2014-2015 school year to study cinema production, but said she constantly found herself at odds with the coursework.
While DeFrank said she was inspired by documentaries following bands and artists’ lives, the program stressed the production of fictional pieces.
“Getting a creative major is hard when it’s a complete 180 from what you want to do,” DeFrank said. “It was hard to be happy with the projects I was making.”
In spring 2015, after getting into contact with The Oddbodies for permission to use their music in an assignment, DeFrank decided that she would get her start in music documentaries with them.
“I realized I could just ask them,” Defrank said. “If you want to get into something, just ask. Be prepared to deliver and ask for what you want.”
DeFrank took a 17-hour bus ride to New Haven, and spent the next four days with the band, accumulating roughly 10 hours of footage which she spent the next six months editing.
The project has since won Best Feature Film in the Direct Monthly Online Film Festival in March 2016 and was an official selection at the Los Angeles CineFest.
“Kathryn was very professional in reaching out to us and really showed a passion for what she does and what she wants to do,” said Jack Kelly of the Oddbodies.
In fall 2015, DeFrank withdrew from Point Park University and started editing video for a production company.
“It made it better for me to transition from school to professional life because I was already doing professional work in college,” DeFrank said. “Having a strong portfolio you believe in outside of your college work can really help the transition.”
DeFrank has since marketed herself as a venue and promotional photographer to keep her name in circulation and continue to build her portfolio.
“If you can, stay in your scene and stay involved,” DeFrank said. “I handle my video editing myself, with months of turn-around. Working as a photographer, I can stay active in the scene.”
DeFrank sees herself as documenting the fourth wave of garage rock/DIY music after the original punk era, the ‘80s and ‘90s DC movement led by Fugazi, and the early 2000s London underground DIY punk/garage scene.
DeFrank said distance is expensive, both in time and money spent traveling to Washington D.C. and back, as well long-range bus rides to New York.
“Honestly, being female is hard because a lot of people think I’m in the game as a groupie,” DeFrank said. “It takes me a lot longer to be taken seriously as a documenter.”
DeFrank said she does a lot of work for free, out of love for the culture and to network. Especially in DIY culture, groups are nearly always self-funded and have no money to contract-out to cover their shows, like the Tomato Dodgers, who went on a 46-day, 42-show tour that was entirely self-funded. DeFrank trekked out to shoot three of their shows for free.
“As long as you’re passionate about what you’re doing, I’m going to respect you and I’m going to want to help you out,” DeFrank said.
DIY artists are often going on tour and coming home to bartending and serving jobs to fund their music careers because they love it, DeFrank said.
At the end of the day, the goal is for your passion to put food on the table and until then, you just have to change your outlook on yourself, DeFrank said.
“I have to put in four days at this cubicle so I can go do what I love,” DeFrank said. “My day job is like pre-production for me.”
DeFrank said people “love to hate” on social media like Facebook and Instagram, but it’s one of the most efficient tools at growing her network and brand. She said getting connected to the people doing what you want to do is essential.
“Don’t assume the people you see doing what you want to be doing just fell into it, or were given it,” DeFrank said. “Do research, and get involved step by step.”
DeFrank said her goal is to be like Pooneh Ghana, who lives mobily, following bands and producing tour documentaries.
DeFrank plans to continue to cover punk and garage rock music, but has began branching out into other scenes, working as a photographer for jam-band festivals. DeFrank said she also plans to document the lives of hip-hop and rap producers.
“I’ll just become busier, and never sleep,” DeFrank said. “The goal is to never sleep, and keep doing what I love.”
Spectrum Editor, Jesse Adcock
Jesse is a junior print journalism major and Arabic and Middle Eastern culture minor. He has walked in the valley with no water and bitten the heads off of snakes. // email@example.com
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