Jeremiah Fraites, co-founder of The Lumineers, communicates through music alone in his highly anticipated, intimate solo debut album, Piano Piano, writes Nick Benson.
The Lumineers co-founder, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah Fraites’ solo debut album will bring him closer to his fans than ever before.
A collection of songs that have been in the works for the better part of a decade, Piano Piano features gorgeous, intimate piano-centric instrumental songs capturing Fraites’ reflective moments from his Denver home.
Fraites’ songwriting reaches into deeply personal spaces with moving grace and stark elegance, retaining the folk-inspired melodicism so familiar from his work in The Lumineers, transported into a more classically sophisticated setting.
In addition to piano, Fraites plays nearly every instrument on the album, including guitar, drums, synths, and programming. It was co-produced and engineered by David Baron (Jade Bird, Vance Joy, Shawn Mendes) and features other collaborators such as The Lumineers’ violinist Lauren Jacobson, cellists Rubin Kodheli and Alex Waterman, and Macedonia’s 40-piece FAME’S Orchestra.
The album is made up of 11 tracks, including singles Chilly; Tokyo; and Maggie, while the vinyl release will include a bonus 12th track, Lullaby.
Speaking about Tokyo, a brisk string-swathed portrait of the titular city, Fraites revealed that it is one of the oldest songs on the record.
“I believe I wrote it about seven years ago,” he said. “I went back and forth on whether to record this song on a grand piano or my custom felted piano nicknamed ‘Firewood’ – I ultimately landed on using the softer, more distinct Firewood because I felt that captured the soul of the tune better.
“This was a song I was guilty of over-thinking and confessing to my wife that I ‘just don’t think it was ready’ for the album. I suppose finding that fine balance between overthinking and not thinking at all is the key when in the studio. Currently this is my absolute favourite song on the album.”
However, while Tokyo may be his favourite song, Fraites admitted that the track he is proudest of is Maggie, an elegiac dedication to his wife’s beloved dog who passed away during the recording process.
“I am most proud of Maggie because of how difficult it was to record and to get ‘right’ – I probably said out loud on five separate occasions that I was not going to use it and delete it from the record as it continually seemed to fight me,” he said.
“It was also titled something completely different, but while finishing the mix at my home in Denver, my wife’s beloved dog Maggie passed away far in Italy and the name just fell into my lap.
“Adding the drums at the 11th hour of recording – per my wife’s insistence – was the lynchpin for finishing this song. Not only could I no longer imagine the song without drums, but no longer imagine the album without this song.”
On the surface, Piano Piano is a succinct description of the album, but the deceptively simple title for Fraites’ stunning debut uncovers more than its initial meaning.
While the doubled word in musical terms means ‘soft’, evocative of the music’s tender lyricism and rapturous vulnerability, when translated from Italian it also means ‘step by step’, a phrase that concisely captures the journey that Fraites has taken to realise this long-held dream. The language itself reflects the most recent step along that path; Fraites’ move to his wife’s hometown of Turin, Italy.
Tracing the New Jersey native’s evolution reveals other signposts along the way, beginning with his childhood love of classical music, through wistful piano tracks such as Patience and April written for The Lumineers albums, up to composition work for the Hunger Games movies.
The songs that make up Piano Piano have been stockpiled along the way, penned in fleeting moments backstage or on the road, waiting to finally be given full expression.
The hushed beauty of Fraites’ songs and the striking intimacy of the album’s recordings make for a radiantly moving experience throughout Piano Piano.
“I wanted listeners to feel almost as if they’re sitting on the piano bench next to me,” stated Fraites. “I love the idea of communicating with people through music alone, which can sometimes say more than words ever could.”
Piano Piano by Jeremiah Fraites is out now on Mercury KX.
Picture: Jeremiah Fraites. (Danny Clinch).