Nick Frater first came to my attention with his first Big Stir release Fast And Loose. That album was a good example of what could be done with Brian Wilson’s work, not so much with the Beach Boys, but his solo masterpiece Smile.Frater's new album Earworms does much the same with bands like ELO, and is a lot of fun to listen.
My thanks to Nick for being kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
Andrea Weiss: Most people know you now, but for those who don't, can you give a short musical history?
Nick Frater: Thanks for asking! I’m Nick Frater, a songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer based in Croydon in the south of London, England. I’ve been in countless bands and projects nobody will have heard of, but over the last few years have had a few critically acclaimed albums out. The latest one, Earworms, is my seventh, and features collaborations with several of my musical heroes including Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (Jellyfish) and Darian Sahanaja (Brian Wilson/Wondermints)!
AW: I hear ELO the most in the music on your new album, which is great. Would you say they're an influence?
NF: Jeff Lynne is one of the all time great producers! ELO are obviously excellent, and managed to pay homage to their Beatle influence, but still create something that is recognisably their sound.
However, it’s Lynne’s production work on Traveling Wilburys and the reformed Beatles that shows his skill, both recording-wise (I love "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love!") but also managing to get those projects over the line with the amount of egos and record company people who must have been involved!
AW: I also hear the Beatles, Beach Boys, and Todd Rundgren, which is also good. Would you say they're influences too?
NF: Never heard of them!
Although eagle-eyed/eared listeners will spot a Todd Rundgren reference on pretty much every one of my albums. Sometimes visual, sometimes in the title, sometimes musical.
AW: Your lyrics can be so happy and positive, which I like. Is it hard to write those kinds of songs, since one of the hardest types of songs to write are happy, positive ones that don't sound silly?
NF: Many people have picked up on the positive lyrical themes, which is surprising, as I hadn’t noticed that writing them. A lot of the lyrics tend to have a darker or bittersweet subtext, although there’s no denying I have deliberately tried to fill this album with hooks and melodies. A lot of those are hopefully catchy, which I guess convinces the brain that it’s a happy song! There’s a psychology thesis there somewhere! Earworms opens with "It’s All Rumours," which I think might be the first time I’ve ever written a ‘story song’. Songs just tend to appear in my head often from hearing a turn of phrase used in my day-to-day life, so it’s hard to predict what the next one will be about. However I’d like to try and explore this lyrical approach again.
AW: Or is it easier to write songs about troubled relationships?
NF: I absolutely love listening to and writing songs that break your heart. There is something hugely powerful and almost addictive of an emotional rush from a sad film or song. I guess like listening to the blues, it has a restorative power! Are they easier to write? I’m not sure. For me the process of writing is the most enjoyable, whatever the mood; that moment when a nugget of hook arrives from the ether and turns into a song is hugely exciting! I tend to just follow wherever that idea is leading…hence the many styles and ideas on last year's bonus lockdown album, 59 vignettes - the world’s first (and probably last) Instagram concept album! (@59vignettes)
AW: What do you think has changed, musically, between your debut and your new album?
NF: Becoming a dad! Which is wonderful, but radically changed the time I have to sit messing about at the piano. So that means my songwriting technique has moved from the piano to my voice/imagination. This has resulted in stronger melodies, or at least ones in a key I have a fighting chance of singing! My earlier albums were all written at the piano; and some songs incredibly complicated harmonically, sometime deliberately seeing how many chords I could possibly squeeze into a song! My newer songs are deceptively simple/more complicated than they sound. Catchy, but nothing ever quite repeats exactly.
AW: Do you hope to tour the US, now that the pandemic is easing?
NF: If I could make it work I would love to tour, or at least do a few shows on the West Coast, the spiritual home of power-pop. Gigging as a solo artist is a fairly new thing for me. Having done thousands of gigs as a sideman, being out front is a whole different game! The music scene, even before Covid, here in London is a tough place for power-pop. It’s only really David Bash’s IPO at The Cavern flying that flag. Pulling a band together for 15 people at The Windmill isn’t really sustainable…although that is always a hugely enjoyable place to play!
AW: Since you had success with your first album, what advice would you give to someone who has had a taste of success musically?
NF: Always follow your heart. Make the music that you love and that you would make whether people are listening or not. If you’re looking for cash, take up plastering! Music is, or should be, its own reward, but there is no denying that knowing other ears genuinely enjoy your music is a wonderful feeling. Are there ways to make money from it? Maybe, but I’ve not found them yet!