It’s been 50 years since the “Summer of Love,” and though the liberal mores which were then taboo and revolutionary are now commonplace, the refrains of go west and chase your dreams or make sure to put some flowers in your hair, are clichés that have died an agonizing death.
No longer do you pack up the Subaru a day after high school graduation and try to alchemize raw talent into instant fame. Those who make that attempt are basically saying “f*ck clichés,” and give hope there are still pioneers out homesteading in exotic, star-studded locales, whether they survive or return slightly bruised. Carly Fratianne did just that and quickly faced the stark reality of the quixotic Los Angeles music industry.
“I don’t mean to dog it—it’s a great place,” Fratianne says about her Pacific odyssey. “That city and that whole part of the country is magical. It’s that haze that’s over everything. I don’t know if it’s smog or pot, but it’s there. I just didn’t think I was making anything honest. You feel this compulsion to succeed in the binary of success which is a freaky weird thing that we do. I was a stranger there.”
Given Fratianne’s small, but sonically impressive, body of work as Souther, it’s hard to believe a random mogul at Capitol Records could send the 23-year old Westerville native back to Columbus empty-handed. After that sojourn, the failure energized Fratianne, who then wrote, played, and produced her debut EP, Is for Lovers, with little help from the outside world, if only because she’s yet to forge a community that nurtured her complete independence. Fortunately for Columbus audiences, having her on local stages more often than not is the chance to see a star evolve and rise in real time.
During our conversation Fratianne spoke with a hyper-relaxed vibe, like a mix of Matthew McConaughey’s “Wooderson” character and Joni Mitchell circa her Laurel Canyon days. In other words, Fratianne speaks with the tongue of a clear-headed musical visionary simply taking the waves as they go. That’s likely where the poles of her songs also blend—in the Venn of dazed classic rock and complex indie earnestness. Though there’s little talk about influences or favorite records, instead Souther is rooted in Fratianne’s love of the blues.
“The blues is my language,” reflects Fratianne on what connected her to music, “It’s my way of interfacing with the world. It truly conveys my intent. I took a few guitar lessons when I was younger, but quit pretty quickly. What I gleaned from that was the blues pentatonic scale, and I went from there.”
If the blues is how she speaks, it’s certainly not in a Black Keys gibber, or a traditional W.C. Handy holler—it incorporates a corporeal and metaphysical communication, through psych, metal, folk, all trying to orbit the center of the music. Her contemporaries, like St. Vincent or the War on Drugs, dabble in the same kind of epic pop drama. Maybe “space blues” would be more apt, as Fratianne’s haunting voice, spooky harmonies, and crunchy riffs produce an atmosphere of danger and staring down some darkness.
Though Souther is now a full band, working collaboratively on a forthcoming full length album, it’s more than apparent that the project remains completely from the mind of Fratianne. What’s most impressive is how she’s gone from being self-taught—learning her production skills through “guess and checks” and scouring for guidance on the Internet—to, what sounds on record and live like a consummate professional. With a band in tow, it’s much easier to include all of the textures and arrangements in the songs, but playing solo is what Fratianne finds most pure.
“If you do that, the dynamic tends to happen organically,” says Fratianne. “I’m not thinking about it, I’m just allowing it to happen.”
What’s not ambiguous are the lyrics that are at the center of her work. The painfully honest confessions that narrate “Honest” and “Desk” read like a road warrior, or at least a character who has experienced plenty of heartache and subsequent rejection. Fratianne doesn’t claim the songs as autobiographical, though very personal, they also speak to something completely universal.
“I don’t think I can pick any one specific scenario that inspired each of these songs,” explains Fratianne, in conclusion. “It’s about that great wait, whatever it is. We’re all trying to get to that homeostasis that people are trying to sell us. It takes time. It might not even exist, we just all think that it does, because that sounds better than saying ‘maybe’.”
Whatever the language, whatever the response might be to that “great wait,” Souther is bound to find some of those secrets, and we are the voyeurs of Fratianne’s grand quest.