Jeremiah Fraites, co-founder of The Lumineers, songwriter, and multi instrumentalist releases his solo debut album on January 22nd and it’s not at all what the casual music listener would have expected.
‘Piano, Piano’ is a collection of pieces centred around the piano. The instrumentals beautifully capture reflective moments and was recorded at Jeremiah’s Denver home. It is desperately intimate in places and the listener can almost feel the emotion as it moves effortlessly into beautiful orchestration in others.
It is cinematic in scale and brings to mind the wonderful live version of the theme, ‘Time’ from ‘Inception’, in which Hans Zimmer lets a piano theme organically emerge into something grand in scale and yet still hugely intimate. Jeremiah achieves this feat on this wonderful album and it’s lovely to see the beautiful music accompanied by some evocative visualisers online, complete with a mini Jeremiah.
I recently spoke with bandmate Wesley Schultz and he said he had been urging Jeremiah to record the album but it seems that it was his Italian wife, Francesca, who we have to thank for the beautiful record that has emerged with her encouragement and faith. We maybe should thank her for the title of the record too; ‘Piano, Piano’ seems an obvious title for a record so based on piano driven themes but in classical music, the Italian expression means ‘go slowly’ and if you are getting a little stressed in Italy, you would not be surprised to hear the words “piano, piano,” which loosely translates as calm down, chill out. So we see a record that is named and conceived perfectly for the strange times we are living in.
If you feel the world is getting just a little too much at the moment, you could do worse than to lay back, close your eyes, listen to the music and “piano, piano”.
I was thrilled to speak with Jeremiah about this wonderful release and gain some insight into the music. Enjoy the chat but please do listen to the music and let it wash over you like a calming, inspiring wave.
EP: ‘Piano, Piano’ is quite a departure from The Lumineers. Is this beautiful record something you’ve planned for a while?
JF: Yes, it’s been playing for a while in the back of my head and I think it’s one of those things that people will never know that I wanted to do something like this, or people would never know that I’m capable of doing something like this, unless I just do it. So, there was a crossroads a couple of years ago where I thought I could have taken these ten or eleven songs and maybe waited for the off chance of meeting a director of a movie or a TV show and pass these ten songs out to ten different projects and then I said, you know what, I’m just gonna put something out there and see what happens. I’m going to take my best ideas that I don’t think work for The Lumineers and I’m going to put it out in an album and that would be that.
I think there’s been some breadcrumbs laid along the way and hints that I could do it. There’s a song called ‘Patience’ on album two of The Lumineers, and there’s a song called ‘April’ on album three that I think show people a different side of me; this piano side, this cinematic aspect. I’ve always thought of writing The Lumineers music as being this cinematic thing even though it’s not literally cinematic music but it feels that way in it’s nature, in the way the songs get constructed and written and finished.
So, yes, I think this album ‘Piano, Piano’ has been a long time coming but I’ve always dreamed of composing and writing music for movies. Some of my favourite artists are composers for movies and film so I think this is something I’ve always been drawn to and I’m glad I didn’t wait for ten different projects that may never have fallen into my lap and just put this on an album.
EP: Thank you…your answer leads me beautifully into something I wanted to ask. I love ‘An Air That Kills’ from the new record; it’s almost natural evolution from tranquillity to the grandeur of the strings. It reminds me of some of Hans Zimmer’s scores. You alluded to it there but have you considered writing for movies? Watching the visualiser videos you’ve made shows how wonderfully your music lends itself to image.
JF: It would be amazing if the right project came along. I think the best natural way for it to happen would be the music supervisor, or more importantly the director, would need to be a fan of what I do and my solo stuff. They would understand what I’m capable of and understand what type of musical DNA I provide and if they loved that, or liked that thing that I provide it could be a match made in heaven.
I think what would be a real bummer for me would be getting hired to do a movie and then being asked to edit a lot of my stuff or do things that I’m not necessarily comfortable with. I guess that’s obvious to state but you’d be surprised; I’ve talked to some friends who have scored for movies, whether they’re big or small, and one guy said they’d never do it again. He said it was an awful experience with a lot of enmity and a lot of nit-picking, and that sounds like a bummer, so the short answer is yes, I’d be thrilled to do it. The long complex answer is it would have to be the right project but I think it would be a wonderful experience of something different.
EP: So, with that in mind, who are your inspirations within the world of film music?
JF: There’s a guy named Jon Brion, he might be my favourite for film scores. He’s really fantastic. He’s done things like ‘Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind’, he’s done so much brilliant stuff.
There’s a guy named Thomas Newman who’s also done some really brilliant stuff; he did ‘Shawshank Redemption’ and I think he did ‘American Beauty’ as well…iconic films that are absolutely amazing. Some of that ‘Shawshank Redemption ‘ stuff is mind-blowingly beautiful, the piano sounds are huge, so cinematic. When a song is that good as an instrumental, I think it can almost capture more than a song that has words because, for me on a personal level, it embraces that aspect of humanity that is so out of reach from describing and is soul-crackingly beautiful that it does more for me than songs with lyrics, believe it or not. So Jon Brion and Thomas Newman for me.
Or, an odd choice…Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead has done a lot of films and stuff and his career outside of Radiohead is so prolific, arguably profound. It’s really incredible to see what he’s done too, he’s got some fantastic pieces of music that I’ve really been inspired by as well.
EP: I recently had the pleasure to chat with Sacha Puttnam who has released a record of piano interpretations of movie scores from his father’s movies, David Putmann the producer, called ‘Spirit Of Cinema’, music like The Mission. I think you should check it out, you guys are kindred spirits.
JF: Oh Cool…
EP: Sorry, getting back to your record, there’s a real feeling of different pianos for different pieces. What instruments did you use?
JF: Every time I had a song finished, and when I say finished I mean I knew all the parts and the pieces and I knew how to perform it well enough to start recording it, there was two different piano that I used, and I think it’s quite palpable there are two different pianos because they don’t sound anything alike. One was a Boston Steinway that was a big piano that was on songs like ‘Maggie’ and ‘Chilly’ and I think it was on ‘Air That Kills’, and then there was an upright piano that was muted. I bought a piece of crimp felt and I cut it with some scissors and I taped it in between the string and the hammer, the hammer that hits the string. I put in this piece of acrylic felt that I had bought at a department store in Denver, spent about $2 and was able to get more than enough of this felt, and it creates quite a soft muted, almost odd sound and that was on songs like ‘Tokyo’ and ‘Possessed’ and ‘Arrival’. It’s quite dark and quite difficult to record and it was very temperamental at times. I had to do multiple takes. Even if I played it perfectly there were these random sounds that it would make. It would creak and crack, like recording on an old ship or something. It was totally worth it in the end but it gave me a lot of problems too. So, I think that for me it made sense in my head. It was funny too because once I had a song done it had to go on one instrument or the other. I really felt that categorically only one song would work on one instrument. For example, the song ‘Tokyo’, one of my favourites off the album, was originally intended to be recorded on the grand piano and I recorded it on the upright and it just made sense to me that it had to be on the upright. There was no way around it and other songs had to be recorded on the grand piano and they would have sounded weird otherwise. That was a fun aspect of the sound. Most of the songs were done sort of deciding upright or grand and how to make it feel right.
EP: it really works , there’s a different atmosphere to each piece…
JF: Yeah, I tried to make that happen so I’m glad…
EP: Absolutely, in many ways lockdown has been so difficult for artists everywhere but maybe a silver lining, if there is one, is that it has given birth to wonderful solo projects like this and Wesley’s (bandmate Wesley Schultz’s ‘Vignettes’) that may have gathered dust on the proverbial shelf. Was it a conscious effort on your part to make sure something good came from something bad ?
JF: I think it was because I had this time and I had to do something. For the rest of our lives, whether we have children or not, people are going to ask in ten, twenty, thirty years, “what was it like, what did you do during that time?” and I realised I’ve got to do something, I’ve got to have an answer for that question. So, I’m in my house all the time climbing the walls and once we’d figured out how to stay safe and get food delivered to the house and other things that we needed to figure out in America during the pandemic, isolation and staying safe meant staying in the house a lot and my wife was great. She pushed me to record the album in the house. I thought it’s crazy, it’s going to be troublesome, it will be too difficult and will be too frustrating to do but once it became apparent that this was going to be months and not weeks, many months, I started to do it. It took me about three months to record. In a home environment what would normally take a day in a real studio probably took five days at home. It took longer than would normally be the case in a real studio but I think it was the best possible way to spend that time considering the alternative of climbing the walls.
EP: When I chatted with Wesley, your bandmate in The Lumineers, he said he felt his solo project would help the sound of The Lumineers going forward. Do you feel ‘Piano, Piano’ will do the same for you?
JF: I think so, absolutely, because I think it’s dislodged something, not that there was a blockage. I think purging this music, getting it out there, working on it myself, just myself, for those three months or so in Denver. Forcing myself to sit down and listen to hundreds of voice memos and try to figure out which ones went with which, and more importantly figuring out the good ideas but also the bad ones. Making sure you don’t waste your time on bad ones and just work on the good ones. Connecting idea A with idea B like two missing puzzle pieces.
I think it made me a much stronger writer and I think it really helped. Going forward writing Lumineers stuff, I think it will help me make decisions quicker and be more in tune with what’s actually happening. I think going through that experience in Denver was really good for me in a multitude of ways so absolutely I think it will help Lumineers stuff going forward.
EP: Well the results are beautiful. Did you have much input with the visualisers that accompany the pieces and really bring to life how cinematic the music is? I loved the little Jeremiah graphic.
JF: Originally the idea was to have actual photographs of little Jeremiahs, or some iteration of photograph of Jeremiah. The first iteration was of me with a guitar and it looked very bizarre to me. Looking at photos of yourself is the least fun thing I could think of to do and so I was very: “I wouldn’t want to look at this”. It looked quite strange objectively, it wasn’t just because I was looking at a photo of myself. I think I was on to something and I said so to my buddy, Nick Bell, who’s done a lot of stuff for The Lumineers also, artistic stuff. Nick is the guy that designed the album cover. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see the vinyl but it’s like a photo of me but it’s also like a tiny little Jeremiah. It’s a nod to that. So I said to Nick, what if you took the little Jeremiah graphic that you’ve made and used that instead of photos. I think it might be a little more playful, a little cooler. He loved the idea and from then it was off to the races. This guy Nick Bell, and two other guys that did all the visualisers.
For the most part I would be sent something and I might say can you make me walk faster, can you make me walk slower but as far as the concepts and stuff I really wanted to let them do what they were inspired to do. That type of work is very time intensive , it’s very difficult to do. Simple gestures take a lot longer than I ever realised so it was fun to let them go nuts and do what they wanted. I had some feedback, constructive criticism, for sure but for the most part it was spot on. Kindred thinking about what should happen.
EP: Well the results really work with your music. In fact, the whole record is a huge success. I love it and wish you lots of good fortune with it. Thank you for the music.
JF: Thank you, it means a lot. I really appreciate that.
EP: it’s been an honour talking with you. Stay safe out there and good luck.
JF: Thanks, you too.