Frank Viele Ventured to Muscle Shoals to Make New Music, Found “Claws”

Everything shifted for Frank Viele in 2018. After picking up the New England Music Award for Songwriter of the Year for his album What’s His Name? the Connecticut-based singer/songwriter was presented with some new opportunities to record in Nashville. Before heading out, Viele’s friend, Americana singer Christine Ohlman, who has been featured singer in the Saturday Night Live house band, suggested that he change direction and instead go to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to work on his next album, out February 2024.

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“She was right as I started digging through my record collection and saw that pretty much all my favorite albums had roots in that town,” Viele tells American Songwriter. Before long, Viele was on the phone with Alabama-based producer named Jim Nutt (Percy Sledge, The Blind Boys of Alabama), who invited him down to write a song or two. The pair met in the Southern town where Bob Dylan recorded Slow Train Coming, Sledge locked in his 1966 R&B hit “When A Man Loves a Woman,” and countless others, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, The Staple Sisters, and more laid down tracks and musical roots.

Viele also learned that he would be meeting with Nutt’s “buddy James” who turned out to be songwriter James LeBlanc, who penned Travis Tritt’s 2002 hit “Modern Day Bonnie & Clyde,” along with other songs for Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride, and Kenny Chesney.

“I flew down there and in one day wrote two songs with those fellas and pretty much went to Muscle Shoals songwriting boot camp,” shares Viele. He wrote “Hearts We Left Behind,” during his first day there, followed by “The Trouble with Desire,” and the new single “Claws” — three of 13 tracks on his upcoming release. 

Recorded at The NuttHouse Recording Studio and co-produced by Nutt and LeBlanc, Viele’s new album is centered around “perspective,” says the singer/songwriter.

“All of these songs look into my journey, the sacrifices I’ve made after almost 18 years touring, and tie together in a message of struggle, rebirth, hope, perseverance, and understanding through things I’ve witnessed along my creative journey and tough lessons learned along the way,” shares Viele. “The artwork for each single also weaves the story together and will continue to unfold as more singles get released.”

The artist admits that the way he approaches songwriting shifted drastically after his time working with LeBlanc and Nutt in Alabama. Before Muscle Shoals, he typically wrote the music first and would build the lyrics around the instrumentation.

“I was an unorganized writer that wrote from a place of groove,” he says. “There was a lot of stream of consciousness in the way I wrote on my earlier records, and I found myself in hindsight struggling to push my craft further. Once I learned how to focus my ideas and use the melody to emote feeling, it freed up my vocal delivery and opened a whole new world of lyrical possibilities.”

Now, Viele calls himself a “title first” writer. He writes a minimum of 10 song titles per day and works through them to find the one that best inspires him when it’s time to write. This title exercise also helped Viele land on the track “Claws.” After seeing an old box bearing the Claw alcohol logo at a friend’s yard sale, he wrote the song titled “Remove Your Claws” but didn’t give it much thought after that day. 

Viele later revisited the title while he was dealing with a loved one’s mental health issues. “As I have found throughout my life, writing music helps me understand my own thoughts and feelings as well as the feelings and perspectives of others,” says Viele. “So I sat down in a very organized fashion as I had learned from the fellas in Alabama, and the phrase I had written in that notebook ‘Remove Your Claws’ leaped off the page.”

Fear can be a virtue / And love can be a lie / But I can’t believe this feeling / Could truly ever die, sings Viele in the mid-tempo ballad revolving around all the anxiety and uncertainties that can arise around love.

“The song is a personal one and was originally just meant for me,” adds Viele, “but after my producers heard me sing it, they turned the computer back on the morning of our last day in Alabama and said ‘We gotta lay that one down.’”

Another part of Viele’s songwriting “education” was a daily listening routine he started, whereby he’d listen to 365 different vinyl albums, one per day, per year without distraction. After each listen, he’d pull his favorite track from each and add it to a digital playlist. 

“Getting schooled on the art of the song from the Muscle Shoals guys and religiously focusing on expanding my listening habits,” says Viele, “created a whole new way of approaching songwriting for me.”

Photo: Donato Biceglia / Courtesy of Tell All Your Friends PR

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  1. It’s kinda crazy if you know the history of the Muscle Shoals production and sound.
    Literally, at the time, in the middle of a cotton field until moved to its current location.

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