“I am afraid to die!” admits Bianca Caruso of the duo, Freddy & Francine. “Who isn’t right now?”
Caruso met her romantic and folk duo partner, Lee Ferris, in Los Angeles in 2008. One night while performing at a set inside a local restaurant, they introduced one of their songs as a “1950s Prom Rock Ballad.” To engage the crowd, they encouraged folks to grab a partner and choose a cheesy 50s name; Bianca chose Francine and Lee picked Freddy.
“We just naturally filled into these fictional roles for the song Lee and I wrote together,” Bianca recalls. “By the end of the set, everyone was chanting ‘Freddy and Francine,’ so we just rolled with it.”
Under their new name, the two made three records together on the West Coast. In 2018 they moved to Nashville after a hiatus from their music work. They re-entered the scene with producer Dan Knobler (Lake Street Dive) on their 2018 EP, Moonless Night. Today, Freddy & Francine release their timely, self-produced album, I Am Afraid To Die!
They decided on the title in mid-January when coronavirus was just a distant, small-print headline of global news. Initially, the album content was combating the normalization of narcissistic leadership. When March came around, their initial messaging developed in an eerie, universally applicable way.
“Originally, it’s a response to everything that’s going on in our country since a certain someone took office a few years ago. Within the context of narcissism, there’s this idea of people’s pride being on display, so much so they hide their deepest fear — that they’re going to die. An unmasking of that fear brings violence, rage, and competition. Ego puts people down and separates you from others. So when the pandemic happened, it really shined a light on all of our deepest anxieties and worries.”
Bianca adds, “We wanted to put an exclamation point at the end because we wanted to be joyful about it, and not morbid because we do feel like it’s okay to say it.”
Songs like “Budget,” “Slow Down,” “I Just Wanna Listen to the band,” and “Sad Small Town,” pre-date the pandemic. Yet, their topical overlay given the current context of things emboldens issue statements within the lyrics.
“We’re not just musicians anymore in 2020,” says Ferris. “So little of our work is music or songwriting. You have to be so much these days, an exhibitionist on the internet. Faced with all of that, I go back to the most simple idea. I like making art because I’m alive and it’s exciting, and this is a crazy time to be alive’.”
As artists, the two called into question the preciousness surrounding a typical album release and which parts are no longer reasonable. They forwent publicists and label backing, approaching the release with humor and joy. Freddy & Francine distributed the album as part of a ‘survival kit.’ Dressed in hazmat suits, the duo delivered their new music along with pandemic essentials like branded hand sanitizer, a mask, a fear inventory, and a bath bomb to fellow musicians whom they admire most.
“I want to make bold statements always in my art. I’m learning more and more that it is the risk that you take,” says Caruso. “By doing that, it’s worth it. Sometimes people get uncomfortable, especially with this album title. It is uncomfortable. That’s what it’s called because guess what? You probably are afraid to die.”
Listen to I Am Afraid To Die! from Freddy & Francine, here.