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Lumineers Co-Founder Jeremiah Fraites Releases First Solo Album


Jeremiah Fraites is best known as the co-founder, drummer and songwriter with the indie rock band The Lumineers.


THE LUMINEERS: (Singing) Gloria, I smell it on your breath. Gloria, booze and peppermint.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Several hits and Grammy nominations later, Jeremiah Fraites is releasing his first solo project, and it's called "Piano Piano."


GARCIA-NAVARRO: He joins us now from his home in Turin, Italy.

Welcome to the program.

JEREMIAH FRAITES: Thank you so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to say I feel my blood pressure going down just listening to (laughter) a bit of that song. The title of this album, "Piano Piano," has a lot of resonance beyond your instrument of choice, of course. First off, in Italian, of course, it's a phrase that means step by step or take it slowly. Can you explain?

FRAITES: You know, I think at first, I wanted to call the album something sort of scientific - something like "Jeremiah Fraites Solo Piano Album Composition One" or "Volume One"...


FRAITES: ...You know, kind of a mouthful. And this idea of piano, piano, little by little - and I think that kind of, you know, fed into sort of the story behind the making of the album. I mean, I recorded it doing everything in my home in Denver, Colo., where I spent the better part of a decade. I just moved to Italy about a few months ago - but sort of forced myself to do it and almost quit making the album probably a few different times just because it was very frustrating to be doing everything...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At home. I understand...


GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...You had to collaborate with a 2-year-old, a dog and a nearby construction project.

FRAITES: Yeah. I mean, that did not help at all. And I think that for me, you know, after making three full-length LP albums with The Lumineers, I've really fallen in love with sort of the full LP experience, you know? And I think for me, that entails going to a place and recording and really being able to dig in to just, you know, thinking about the music and what the album needs. And I think being at home in Denver with, you know, caring for the dog where - OK - our son Tommaso - he went down for his nap. I got to go downstairs and record the piano now. And whether I was feeling...


FRAITES: ...Inspired, whether I was feeling good, none of those things really mattered because I knew I only had between one to two hours to nail those takes before he woke up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Basically, you're saying your son, Tommaso, the 2-year-old, was your artistic director, I think is what I'm hearing here (laughter).

FRAITES: Yeah, I think so. And I think it - you know, it taught me a lot about the creative process - again, thinking that you have to be in this creative headspace, in that it was a different way to work. I don't know if I would ever try to work that way again. But I think there's a couple songs on this album that would've turned out differently had I not been home. And whether that's for better or for worse, I think categorically, the album would've sounded and felt differently.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Maggie" is about your wife's beloved dog who died during the making of this album - a terrible event. I had actually two dogs die during this pandemic.

FRAITES: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Yeah. That's terrible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Let's listen to "Maggie."


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about composing this. And I guess another question I have is, can you say all you want to say in an album that doesn't have lyrics?

FRAITES: Those are two good questions. I think that for "Maggie," it actually gave me the most trouble than - far more than any other song on the album. And to feed into your question about, you know, saying something without actually saying anything, you know, being a sans-lyrics, sans-words instrumental album, the song "Maggie" gave me a lot of trouble because 99.9% of the songs with The Lumineers have lyrics and words. So when we're working together, that's always coming into play.

You know, take it back to the song "Maggie" - the reason it gave me so much trouble was because during the verses, I really liked this sort of complex piano that I came up with. It's a simple idea. It comes across simple, but it has a complex time signature, which made me - gave me a lot of difficulty in writing the melody. So I knew I loved the song. But I was like, I don't know what the hell people are going to gravitate towards in this song.

And then, eventually, working with these two fantastic cellists, Rubin Kodheli from New York and this other guy named Alex Waterman - once I got many different cello takes and spent hours painstakingly going through them and trying to put them over the verses, I felt like I had enough interesting material to be like, OK, now it actually feels like a song.

But literally, the day that we were mixing the song - me and the engineer David Baron - we were mixing it remotely. You know, my wife had texted me that her dog Maggie had passed away in Italy. And it just - like a light bulb, it felt like the most fitting tribute to her. I've been - I met my wife seven or eight years ago. And I always knew that dog. So I loved that dog, too. And yeah, it felt like it was a nice way to honor her memory, I guess.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm so sorry.

So many of these songs have a hypnotic quality. And you've said this about the album. Quote, "I wanted listeners to feel almost as if they're sitting on the piano bench next to me."


GARCIA-NAVARRO: It has an intimacy. I mean, at a moment like this, is that something that you wanted to evoke because it is a time when we find ourselves so far apart from one another?

FRAITES: Yeah. I mean, I think that - I never wanted to make a COVID record. And I never wanted it to come across like I made this because of COVID-19. The only - it was just happenstance. This terrible pandemic afforded me the time to stay at home and be as safe as I could.

Before I recorded any notes, I really thought about, how do I want it to feel? - because I know that - I've always thought that sometimes the music is easier. It's never easy. But sometimes it's like the notes and what you have in front of you - you can comprehend that. But the way you want it to feel, that's the most je ne sais quoi. That's that undefinable DNA, how you want it to feel.

So, I mean, for me, it was kind of split between two different pianos. I have a big grand piano. And then I have a small upright piano. And for me, it was trying to find that balance of, if this song is on the big, beautiful grand piano, it almost made me feel like it was going to lose its authenticity or something, if that made sense. And then some of the songs, it was like, well, you know, it needs to be on the grand piano because it's just going to feel better. So I wanted to kind of flirt with that idea of it being really intimate and then also, at times, it feeling very world-class high production. So, you know, walking that line - that was the biggest difficulty I had with each and every song on this album.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jeremiah Fraites's new album is called "Piano Piano."

Thank you very much.

FRAITES: Thank you. Thanks a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.