Song-by-Song: ‘Piano Piano 2’ by Jeremiah Fraites

Jeremiah Fraites. Photo: Rachel Deeb
Jeremiah Fraites. Photo: Rachel Deeb

Jeremiah Fraites: “If you make anything, save everything because you never know when it might come in handy down the road.” Photo: Rachel Deeb

The Lumineers co-founder takes us through each track on his atmospheric new album, there’ll be ‘No Surprises’ when you’re through

Best known for his work with the renowned roots-rock band The Lumineers, Jeremiah Fraites released his debut solo album Piano Piano in 2021. A set of largely unembellished piano instrumentals, the eleven tracks showcase his strengths as a composer. Now comes the follow-up, Piano Piano 2. Bolder in production, there’s enough melody and atmosphere to convince us that songs don’t always need lyrics. A cover of Radiohead’s No Surprises, complete with vocals from Gregory Allen Isakov, brings the album to a close. So it’s over to Fraites to tell us more…

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Howdy, this is Jeremiah Fraites and I’m going to be talking about my new album Piano Piano 2. It just came out recently. I think that this album to me… the best way to describe it is that the piano is my all-time favourite instrument and think of this album as a soundtrack for a movie that hasn’t been made yet. A lot of these ideas feel very cinematic to me and feel like they would work inside of movies or epic scenes of captivating television whatnot.

GHOSTS

It’s funny you know, I can’t always remember where my wallet or keys are, but I can vividly remember a piece of this song being started on Thanksgiving, maybe 20 years ago. I remember finishing Thanksgiving with my family in New Jersey, going upstairs to my sort of lair and working on a piano piece that eventually became this song.

It felt like a confident, almost aggressive track, so I thought it was a good track to start the record. I really like the beginning where, before I started recording the piano, I said to Dave Barron my co-producer and co-mixer co-engineer, “Are you ready?” and we actually kept that in, so when you hit play on the album you hear it. I like that because it was live in the studio and this organic moment, but also it was a subtle nod to the listeners that this album is different than the first record.

SPIRALS

The second song Spirals is my current favourite one. That was something I wrote, recorded and finished while I was on a two-year tour with The Lumineers. I really love this song for a number of reasons. The name Spirals stems from how chaotic and crazy it gets at the end, usually I name songs when I finish them. For this song I had a really strong sense that I knew I wanted to get crazy at the end and feel chaotic, a downward spiral of sorts. So the name came about very early and I made sure that, creatively, it worked with the name, which is sometimes almost rarely never the case.

There are some samples on the song that are very personal to me. Everything from my children playing to, I was on tour far away from home and you can hear my son saying, “Have a good show,” and our two-year-old daughter saying, “I love you daddy.” Then there’s a phone call of me and my wife where she’s laughing and I put that in there.

The most haunting memory is probably the one from a 1989 VHS tape where my brother’s probably six or seven, playing with his friend. In the United States we had these things called Battle Beasts; they were action figures that were all the rage back then and you can hear him saying that towards the end. So yeah I quite literally recorded audio from a 1989 VHS tape, so that’s kind of cool.

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Jeremiah Fraites. Photo: Rachel Deeb

Jeremiah Fraites: “I made a bunch of different ideas but the movie never even got close to being made.” Photo: Rachel Deeb

CHAMPAGNE

I think it’s probably my favorite piano I’ve ever written for a chorus. It feels quite meditative and I wrote it originally in Denver a few years ago. I just really love this song. Ryuichi Sakamoto. who just recently passed, was an incredible Japanese artist and composer who inspired me greatly as a piano player. So I feel Champagne has that vibe. I don’t know if I have any interesting anecdotes other than that I love the song.

SPIDERS

Spiders is a song, again, that was one of the first original creative musical ideas I ever wrote many years ago. We’re talking probably 18-20 years ago. So it’s a good lesson to all those artists out there reading this that, if you make anything, save everything because you never know when it might come in handy down the road; whether next week or two decades later…

There’s an amazing cellist on this song, Rubin Kodheli. He is the cellist on this track, he’s an incredible cellist and artist and musician and yeah, I just really love this song.

RIO

It was called something else, I think it was called Falling In Love Again. Essentially I finished it on tour with The Lumineers again. I was in a hotel room in Aspen, CO. I think I worked on this song for like 10 or 12 hours, holed up in my hotel room on a day off and was just chugging coffee working on the song. I had done a take using a VST MIDI player which, for those of you that don’t know, is a fake piano. I did such a great take that I really loved it and I thought, “You know what, as sacrilegious as it is to put a fake piano on a piano record I’m going to do it.”

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I loved the take so much and I thought, “I can’t beat it.” In fact, I tried to beat it in the studio and I wasn’t able to so I really was like, “I’m just going to keep it, that’s that’s the take.” It sounded good, but I think deep down I knew it could have sounded better. It’s called “demo-it is” when you’re under the illusion that you can’t beat the demo.

Fast-forward a few months later, and again that tour with the band, we were down in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. My wife Francesca Lazzarin, is credited as the executive producer on this record; she helps me out with everything from track sequencing to creative ideas to constant inspiration to organizing everything for the album. So she said “Listen Jer, I think you know you can beat this take. You’re in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, you have a day off, see if your team can find you a studio.”

I was so exhausted and in a pretty crummy mood. I was homesick and tired, I just wanted to enjoy the beach in and do nothing. I don’t know any studios; I don’t know anybody in Rio de Janeiro. My team found this studio super last minute that had the most beautiful grand piano I ever played in my entire life, this Yamaha. I did two or three takes and I went in the control room and listened and thought “Damn, I beat it, she was right.” When it was finished she said, “You should call the song Rio because that’s a super cool name for a song and it has the special meaning of the location.”

WELCOME

This next song is called Welcome. A few years back I was actually approached by a movie director to work on a movie. I thought it was a very captivating compelling interesting story and I started making songs for the movie just because I get that way. I get very excited and inspired. I made a bunch of different ideas but the movie never even got close to being made, let alone starting. The cool thing for me was that I had that inspiration and made some cool and different ideas that I normally wouldn’t write had I not had that opportunity at least given to me for that brief moment.

So this song Welcome was quite literally my idea of an opening credits song, hence the name. I think that was just a quick name I wrote down and it stuck and yeah, I love the idea.

Jeremiah Fraites. Photo: Rachel Deeb

Jeremiah Fraites: “Think of this album as a soundtrack for a movie that hasn’t been made yet.” Photo: Rachel Deeb

EXTRA LIVES

Extra Lives is a great song. I love the freeness of it. It was recorded with no click and I recorded it at my friend’s studio in New York City in the Village, this beautiful, large old space that used to be a venue and got turned into an apartment. I played with this great cellist and I like the simplicity of the the song just grand piano and cello.

SNOW FALLING

The first half of the song, believe it or not, is a voice memo and it was recorded in Denver, Co. It was this meandering stream of consciousness, just like I knew I had a cool idea and hit record. The original voice memo was over four-minutes long and it’s a lo-fi recording. I think you can hear the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher or something in the background. There’s lots of noise and I love that, it’s very intimate and personal and raw.

I had this really cool idea, what if the listeners are listening and they’re like, “I get it, it’s a lo-fi recording, I’ve heard that before,” but then these violins come out of nowhere and then “bam!” it goes into a massively high-def recording and changes scene completely. It was very hard to do in the studio but we got it right. I’m really proud of that. So the first half of the song you can tell it’s a sort of lo-fi recording and then, once the pizzicato violins start to come in, it shifts to a brand new record.

I re-recorded the grand piano and that synthesizer bass with this forty person Macedonian orchestra called the FAME’s Orchestra. That song was a ride and a lot of fun.

PLUCK

I wrote this during the pandemic. I was in a weird place, as we all were during the COVID, at home for many months on end, isolated. I think that the main piano is this meditative thing. I was trying to see how simple I could I be when I write a piano piece. I feel like the song really took off when David Baron, my partner in crime, started to add all these electronic drums – it was really cool. And then also Lauren Jacobson, she’s an amazing violinist that plays with The Lumineers on tour and has recorded with The Lumineers, she actually did all of the plucked pizzicato violin.

NO SURPRISES

Gregory Alan Isakov has been on tour with The Lumineers a few times and me and him became quite close. I’ll give credit where credits due, Dave Baron said, “Jer what if you did a song with a singer, whether an original or cover it could be cool?” He actually mentioned that to me on the debut album Piano Piano and I said “no,” as I had very strict rules: mostly piano, all instrumental, no lyrics, no singer. But on this record I thought that could be a cool change.

I really like this song, it’s one of my favourite of all time by Radiohead. I listened to the song again and realised, “Okay there’s a lot of guitars, there’s a lot of drums, you have Thom York singing, let’s make sure that this cover is vastly different from the original.” So no drums no guitars in our version, mostly just piano. I played the piano almost like a child or caveman, where the left hand is just “dum dum dum” that was all intentional. And Gregory just did an absolute amazing job, he knocked it out of the park.

I sent him a few keys, I think it was F major and maybe C major and D major, some pretty standard keys just to get the ball rolling and he was great. He said, “You know I like this key but maybe my voice sounds a little too low here,” and then I would hear something and be like, “It sounds good the verse but the chorus is kind of sleepy”. So I think he said, “Jer can you just send me the idea in every key?” so I think I literally sent him the song idea in every key.

I was on tour with The Lumineers, I think we were in Montana. I just played a show, my wife and kids were asleep in the bed and I was on the couch, couldn’t sleep. It was around 1:30 in the morning and I realised I had all these different versions from Gregory. So I listened to a few. I sort of did a blind taste test, where I didn’t know what I was listening to because I just wanted to react to what I was listening to. There was the one key that kind of levitated me off the couch, which I think was E flat major/D sharp major, and I said, “Gregory this is the key man, you got to do this one, I love it.” He agreed and the rest is history.

Piano Piano 2 by Jeremiah Fraites is out now through Mercury KX/Dualtone Records. Learn more at lnk.bio/jeremiahfraites

Read how Jeremiah’s co-founder Wesley Shultz in The Lumineers shares ideas




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