Orono band is red, hot and, frankly, pretty funky

The members of the Orono band Frank and the Redhots are avoiding talking about what will happen once they all graduate this May. They’re understandably in denial. The past three years have been way too much fun, and the thought of them not playing together as much (or at all) is kind of a massive bummer.

But that’s OK, for now. The important thing is that Frank and the Redhots are still around, still playing their blend of funk, rock and soul all over Orono and Old Town — including this Friday at the Bear Brew — and, at least until the summer, they can live in a state of blissful denial. And their many fans at the University of Maine are just fine with that.

“We’re just avoiding talking about it,” Ben Menzie, guitarist and co-founder of the band, said a little sheepishly. “We’re just going to ride out the summer and play as much as we can, all over the state. We love it. I’ll always love it.”

Menzie and drummer Bobby Attanasio met during their sophomore year at UMaine, when both were living in Kennebec Hall. Neither knew the other was a musician, until Attanasio mentioned, casually, that he played drums. Shortly thereafter, Hugh Valaitis began jamming on bass with them every Tuesday. By the start of their Junior year, keyboardist Danny Herasymchuck joined the band — and moved in with Menzie and Attanasio, into the house on Elm Street in Orono, that’s been home to countless University of Maine bands over the years, thanks to a huge, open barn on the premises that’s ideal for practicing. For the past two years, the four have been staples in the Orono and Old Town area, playing an array of covers — from Led Zeppelin to Curtis Mayfield — and amassing their own songs as well.

“The reason we’re so close and have gotten pretty good as a band, pretty quickly, is because we all live together,” said Menzie. “We can practice all the time. Every day. We’ve learned hundreds of songs. We’ve got about 20 originals, too. We’re always playing something.”

The name Frank and the Redhots of course comes from the hot sauce seen in stores nationwide — Frank’s Red Hot. The band chose the name because… well, because they like Frank’s Red Hot. But being intelligent college students, they made sure to write to the company that makes Frank’s Red Hot, to ask if it was OK if they called their band that name. And to ask if they could have a case or two of free hot sauce.

“They totally shot us down on the free hot sauce,” said Menzie. “But they were cool with us calling our band Frank and the Redhots. And now we feel like we’ve outgrown our name. We know it’s kind of silly. But we’re not trying to get famous or get on MTV. We’re not trying to be serious. We’re just having fun.”

Menzie and Herasymchuck also play in another band, Lost Between Sound, which takes a different tack from Frank and the Redhots — they’re more electronic in nature, with extended rhythmic jams and more keyboards, not unlike bands like Lotus, the New Deal and Sound Tribe Sector 9. That band will play Saturday night, with New England jam band the Brew, at Kingman’s in Old Town.

“It’s a totally different experience for us, than from Frank’s,” said Menzie. “There’s a lot of freedom to experiment. It’s a lot more freeform. I have a blast with them. I have a blast with both bands I’m in, really.”

That elephant in the room — will Frank and the Redhots have to break up at the end of the summer? — isn’t going anywhere. But Menzie and company know that regardless of what happens, they’ll always be friends.

“We’re college buddies. You can’t change that,” said Menzie. “I have a hard time believing that if we’re all in the same general part of the country, that we won’t have a practice and then play a show somewhere. Who knows where we’ll be a year from now? All I know is that they’re my friends, and that’s where it all comes from.”

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, a UMaine graduate, a proud Bangorian and an arts and lifestyle writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food, from media and the Internet to theater and dance. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra, to name just a few. She's interested in everything -- especially if it happens in Maine. She welcomes any and all feedback or suggestions for stories.