As the drummer and co-founder for indie folk rock band The Lumineers, Jeremiah Fraites has co-written songs such as “Ho Hey,” the debut single that brought the band international fame in 2012. On January 22, Fraites will reveal another side of his musicianship when he releases Piano Piano, his debut solo album (out on Dualtone Records). As the title suggests, the songs on this release are piano-based instrumentals.
Prior to the album’s release, Fraites is premiering the track “Chilly” here at American Songwriter.
“I think that it’s a part of me that not a lot of people might be aware of,” Fraites tells American Songwriter, though he adds, “With the Lumineers, there’s been some little hints that I really love the piano,” such as the tracks “Patience” and “April,” which are both instrumental piano pieces.
Although Fraites has been through three album releases with The Lumineers (most recently in 2019 with III), all of which were met with significant chart success and critical praise, he admits that releasing work under his own name is a new experience. “It feels massively different than releasing a Lumineers LP,” he says. “This was my first solo project—the first time I was going to release something without the safety net and protection of The Lumineers, so it was kind of scary, in a way. But [I’m] excited, too.”
Piano Piano has been a long time coming: Fraites says he first started writing some of these songs a dozen years ago. As he wrote material that didn’t seem right for The Lumineers, he set it aside and began thinking of doing a solo album—but between his band work and becoming a father a couple of years ago, it never seemed like the right time to do it. That changed when the pandemic forced The Lumineers to cancel the remainder of their 2020 world tour dates.
“I got home [to Denver] in the middle of March and tried to understand how long we were actually going to be home, and when it became apparent that days were going to turn into weeks and weeks into months, my wife Francesca was like, ‘You know, I think you should really do your solo album now,’” Fraites says.
Even though he finally had the time to do the album, Fraites admits that he still resisted getting started on it. “I was sort of like, ‘I don’t want to do it in the house. It’s going to be crazy: we have a two-year-old. We have a dog who likes to bark when I play the piano.’ There was a house literally being built right next door.”
Finally, Fraites relented and began working on the album. To start things off, “I really sat down and thought, ‘What do I want the album to sound and feel like?’ Because I think that’s really important before you start recording: you should have a decent idea of what you want the album not only to sonically sound like, but emotionally, what do you want it to feel like?”
With Piano Piano, Fraites says, “I wanted it, at times, to feel like you’re right there next to me on the piano bench, and other times I wanted it to feel like you’re watching a movie with no name, really high-fidelity quality.”
Fraites says he is especially pleased with how his musical vision came out on “Chilly,” which he wrote while on tour with The Lumineers. “I remember finding these chords and going, ‘Well, I think that’s beautiful,’” Fraites says of the song. He immediately recorded the melody in a voice memo. “I recorded it as quickly as the idea came. It’s crazy that quite literally a life-changing idea can happen in a matter of seconds, so you’d just better have your phone handy to record it.”
The spaciousness in “Chilly” is, Fraites says, entirely intentional. “I’ve always been attracted to music when I hear big spaces. The composer John Cage, who I think is a genius, talked about this idea of, ‘Don’t interpret space as a negative.’ What I took away from that quote was, don’t interpret [silence] as, ‘Well, you didn’t know what to write; you didn’t know what to put in that space.’ It’s more, think of it as an intentional positive void.”
Fraites feels “Chilly” captures this ideal, as it “reminds me of the epitome of minimalism, the epitome of really trying to find a simple idea and moving and expanding and letting it evolve very slowly. I think honestly it’s my favorite track on the album currently,” he says.
This same level of thought and care went into aspects of the album beyond the music itself. “Without lyrics to guide the themes, I think the song titles meant a lot to me and I really spent time making sure they were just right,” Fraites says. “Even the album title Piano Piano has a lot of meaning to it,” he adds, explaining that his wife Francesca, who’s from Italy, told him how the word “piano” has multiple meanings in her native language. “So in Italian, if they say ‘piano piano,’ it means ‘little by little.’ I thought was so quirky and cool,” Fraites says.
The album title’s meaning also perfectly summed up the way in which Fraites approached this project. “I really tried to have patience with the album and little by little construct it, instead of trying to force these songs out of me,” he says. “I really tried to make sure that I was almost having them transmitted to me and I just needed to get them down.”
While writing songs comes relatively easily for Fraites, recording them on his own was initially problematic. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented him from working in a recording studio, so he had to learn about home recording for the first time. “The biggest struggle in the beginning was setting up the microphones,” he says.
Fraites credits David Baron, who has previously worked with Vance Joy and Shawn Mendes, with helping him figure out the correct way to do things. “I worked a lot with David, who co-engineered and co-produced the album from Woodstock, New York,” Fraites says. “We would FaceTime and I would record a piano take and he would say, ‘What the hell is that crazy truck [noise] in the background?’ [I’d say,] ‘I am so sorry, that’s the house being built next door.’ He was like, ‘Holy cow.’ It was pretty crazy. It was a lot of stress, a lot of me not knowing what the hell I was doing.”
Learning recording techniques is just the latest music-related skill that Fraites has mastered: he began learning to play drums and piano when he was growing up in New Jersey. His family encouraged his interest in music (his parents, brother, and grandmother could all play instruments). While he would go on to find fame as a drummer, Fraites recalls that piano music was a big early influence on him: “I fell in love with Beethoven’s songs, particularly his sonatas. So it’s been deeply ingrained in my musical background, the piano.”
Since then, Fraites says, “My passion, my obsession, for music never really waned. Even eight or nine years ago, when I was a busboy at a sushi restaurant in Denver before [The Lumineers] made it, I still was a musician—I just wasn’t a successful one. I really think, had we found success or not, I always would have been obsessed with music.”
Fortunately, Fraites did become successful with The Lumineers, and now Piano Piano reveals more facets of his talents. “I think it was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” he says of this solo album. “It’s actually something to look forward to for me. I’m excited it’s coming out!”
PHOTO BY: Roberto Graziano Moro