POSTED ON MARCH 9, 2011:
Pupil and Teacher
Andy Frasco learns from the road and shares his experience with others
When you're looking for cool new music, sometimes it just (figuratively) falls from the heavens. Or sometimes it's just handed to you. In the case of Andy Frasco & the UN, it feels like a combination of the two.
Back in January, Frasco floated through Tulsa playing alongside Ben Miller at Mercury Lounge. The Ben Miller Band had already established its reputation as a killer live act, but the inclusion of Frasco on this particular show added to the buzz so I had to check it out.
What I found was a soulful young white kid adding to the blues and funk of Miller's already engaging trio. Upon speaking with Frasco afterwards, however, I found out he would be returning with his own band, the UN, for a show at Mercury Lounge this Saturday, March 12.
Technically speaking, Frasco slipped a disc in my hand before I left, encouraging me to check it out. Upon popping the disc into the dash of my car, however, the music came out like a refreshing rain. Not simply indie-rock or even the gritty Americana or garage-rock I've come to expect from bands that play Mercury Lounge, I was broadsided mix of Chicago Blues and New Orleans jazz and R&B that you'd never expect to come from a 23 year old white kid.
In fact, it's a departure from Frasco's debut disc, Growth & Progress, which he described as softer and more melancholy. Frasco's never been one to sit still, however: figuratively or literally. He's always been in motion and developing as he went along.
Frasco's story in shorthand? It all started when he started working for Capital Records when he was 15. After being taken under wing and shown the ropes, Frasco started booking bands for his own company, Drive-Thru Records. Then, at the age of 18, he saw Damien Rice in concert, decided to learn to play piano and packed his bags and moved to New York. After developing himself and recording his debut record, he then hit the road, booking nearly 250 shows a year for himself and his band.
Somewhere along the way, however, Frasco found his muse and new direction that feels and sounds more natural and heartfelt.
"I fell in love with the blues, being on the road," he said. Eventually, it all seeped into his music and changed his approach, delving into what he now calls party blues.
"Early on, I was playing with a great band and I was writing jazzy, kind of melancholy stuff. I listen to it now and it seems pretty damn depressing," he said with a laugh.
Growth and Progress. Joy and passion for both life and music is exactly what comes out in Andy Frascoís latest CD, Love Youíre Just Too Expensive. His sincerity and vulnerability are what makes the bandís take on classic blues and jazz so unexpectedly refreshing.
After falling in love with the music of Albert King, Dr. John, Buddy Guy and B.B. King, Frasco became saturated by the blues and began writing his interpretation of what it would be today. "I'm playing with a five-piece band and we try to emulate as much of that soul as we can."
"Basically, I'm just living," Frasco said. "I'm really feeling what I'm writing now. Like trying to keep a relationship together when you're on the road and the other person not believing anything you say, when you love this woman.
"I fell in love with this girl and followed her to Italy to express my love and she shut me down. I was being vulnerable when I'd always kept everything inside," he said. "My main focus now is to finally be free and say who I am. Before, I was trying to be something I wasn't."
That vulnerability comes across in lyrics of "Call Me Daddy," which came from Frasco's flight to Italy to let his love know how he felt. It might be lost on you, however, if you get caught up in the jazzy stomp of the tune. The combination of melancholy blues and rollicking soul calls for dancing and serves as a perfect explanation of Frasco's term "party blues."
The flip side of that is "Lie to Me," where Frasco and his band lay down a smoldering, moody blues in a tune that Frasco explained as basically expressing "When you're so far away, even if you don't feel it / Lie to me just to make me feel better about myself."
Although Frasco has grown exponentially as a musician and artist over the past few years, he's also been a teacher as well, sharing what he knows of the music business.
"When I was running a record label, I was more of a marketing kid," he said. "You can't develop bands when the industry is in upheaval like it is, but we need to find and grow bands so my generation can have groups with longevity like Led Zeppelin.
"We need to do it ourselves, though," he said. "And I try to teach bands how to do it themselves and not get screwed by the record labels. You can do it and make a living: I'm just a kid from the suburbs, but I'm proof you can live your dreams."
It's been three years, roughly 750 shows and nights spent sleeping on 700 or so couches, Frasco said.
"What keeps you sane is knowing you'll be playing for people the next night and I love it. It's all about how badly you want it, but I wouldn't have it any other way," he said.
That joy and passion for both life and music is exactly what comes out in Frasco's latest CD, Love You're Just Too Expensive. His sincerity and vulnerability are what makes the band's take on classic blues and jazz so unexpectedly refreshing. If you need inspiration, you won't miss Andy Frasco and his five-piece band, the UN, at Mercury Lounge this Saturday, March 12 at 10pm. Cover is only $5 at the door.
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