THE SCREAMiNG JETS
iNTERViEWS THE BELiEVERS
LUCKY iN LOVE
CYD FRAZZiNi AND CRAiG ASPEN OF THE BELiEVERS
TALK TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT THEiR LATEST CD LUCKY YOU
AND USiNG THEiR DiFFERENCES TO THEiR ADVANTAGE
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
Itís probably a little too early to tell if the third time is the charm but it sure as hell sounds that way after listening to THE BELIEVERS latest release LUCKY YOU (clearly they had the same thing in mind when naming the album!). For close to a decade, the band - fronted by the duo of CRAIG ASPEN and CYD FRAZZINI - has wowed Americana press outlets with their alt-country sound that is one part GRAM PARSONS and EMMYLOU HARRIS and part JOHN DOE and EXENE CERVENKA. With the release of LUCKY YOU the ASPEN/FRAZZINI partnership falls under column ĎBí as they move beyond the roots sound that earned them their acclaim in the hopes of making an edgier album. Fortunately, the band succeeds especially on the blistering title track and the foot-stomping Hurricane Katrina tale ĎRING RING RING.
ROCKWIRED spoke with CYD FRAZINNI and CRAIG ASPEN over the phone. Here is how it went.
LUCKY YOU is your third album.
CYD FRAZZINI:Yes it is. Itís amazing when you hang with somebody that long and get three albums out of it. Weíve always had this superstition about taking band photos and now with this third album weíve kind of broken that rule.
What superstition is this?
CYD FRAZZINI:When you take band photo, then the band breaks up. Maybe youíre not familiar with that one.
I think I can see it now.
CYD FRAZZINI:Yes. This is our third album and weíre excited about it.
How many years is that for this band?
CYD FRAZZINI:We started our first record in 2001 and we started recording it about three weeks after we met. It was one of things where we knew instantly that we had something here. We wrote for it while we were in the studio and here we are three albums later.
Whatís different his time around from the previous two releases?
CYD FRAZZINI:With any career, you would hope that you are able to evolve. I think we still have some of the root causes from our first record, which was very innocent and very grass roots and then the second one got a little poppier and rockier. This one has significantly more pop rock elements to it but we still have the grass roots/folk thing going on. We just like to say that weíre a rock band with a country problem. Thatís our whole thing. We canít let go of the rock. You could also say that this album is also a bit more mature. I guess that those are differences.
How did music begin for you?
CYD FRAZZINI:Itís really interesting. First of all, I was extremely shy so the idea of me getting up in front of people and singing was something that I couldnít even imagine. I donít think that my friends could either. I had heard some music once that someone had turned me onto where there was this really cool rock chick playing harmonica. She was just out there on the front line singing kind of a blues thing and I thin that was what kind of got me excited about it. Most of my influences came form listening to folk music and a lot of female singer-songwriters. JONI MITCHELL was a huge influence for me just because of her poetic lyrics. I just think you take a little bit of everything that youíre influenced by and kind of shake it up and what comes out is what we are now. Iíve always really like certain elements of country music with people like EMMYLOU HARRIS and then I got into GILLIAN WELSH and those people and then it sort of happened from there.
How did THE BELIEVERS begin?
CYD FRAZZINI:I was turned onto the this new kind of music for me which was basically STEVE EARLE. STEVER EARLE became a really big jumping off point for me in the time before THE BELIEVERS started. I was in a rock band so I never listened to anything like that. Someone had heard me sing Ė I was doing some PATSY CLINE Ė and this person said that I needed to meet this guy. This guy was described to me as being STEVE EARLE meets ELVIS COSTELLO or something like that. I was so into STEVE EARLE at the time and I was like ĎThis Iíve got to hear!í I went to a club and I heard CRAIG do a solo thing that he was working on and I knew that he was looking for someone to do some back up music for him on a recording and that was how we ended up being introduced. When we got together, we were sort of just playing around with guitars and we started singing together and it was like ĎWow! This just might work!í From there we started going into the studio and recording. We said that we needed a name and CRAIG said ĎHow about THE BELIEVERSí and there you have it.
What do you thing that CRAIG brings to this project both musically and personality-wise that has made this project worthwhile.
CYD FRAZZINI:First of all I think this project has the whole yin-yang thing. There is this polarity in the group, which stems form him being make and me being female. He is just an amazing songwriter and I couldnít ask for anything better. In every band that I had ever been in before THE BELIEVERS, I was always the front person. It was always about me being up front and so I really like this teamwork of us being together and it helps that weíre actually a couple now as well. Itís tough being out on the road and now I canít imagine going out there and doing it all on your own. Itís like taking the family out.
So THE BELIEVERS didnít start as romantic partnership. It became one.
CYD FRAZZINI:It didnít start out that way. It evolved. It was like ĎHere we are! Weíre together all of the time so We might as well see if this is going to work.
With all of the great rock couples, romance came first.
CYD FRAZZINI:It wasnít like that at all. We were friends at first. It was the music that sort fo drew us together.
Talk about how songwriting gets done in this band.
CYD FRAZZINI:Weíve never really sat in a room together and wrote a song. Actually Ė for this album Ė we did for the first time and we almost had a divorce over it. We ended up dropping a song on this record. The record company that we were working with for the European release said that if we were going to drop a song, we were going to have to add a song. We had already written music for a tune that we hadnít put lyrics together for so we had to write and record this song in one afternoon and get it out because we had already sent out our masters to RAY KENNEDY in Nashville. We got in the same room and said that we were going to do this until we were finished with it. Hat was the only time we had ever been in the same room together. Usually we will come up with some ideas and let the other person play with it for a while until we come together and work through the arrangement. I canít speak for CRAIG but I really need to be in my own headspace when I write. I donít know how people in Nashville can sit in rooms that they lock themselves in with other people and start writing. They donít come out until theyíve got an album done. I donít know how they do that.
From LUCKY YOU, what songs stand out for you and why?
CYD FRAZZINI:Because of the polarity between the two of us and our different backgrounds, we bring so many different influences into this project. Heís east coast and Iím west coast and with the man-woman thing, we really draw from a lot of different experiences and I think that it why this album is such a diverse musical endeavor. Punk influences will come into the work sometimes and from me there is a definite rock influence. CRAIG lived in New Orleans, so there are a couple of songs from his days of living there. RING RING RING is about the flood as well as the song HIGHER GROUND. I really love those gutsy songs and then you have the song HURTINí WAYS which is this folky kind of power ballad that I just love singing. WHOSE YOUR BABY NOW has that pop sensibility that is a lot of fun to listen to and a lot of fun to play.
What would you like someone to come away with after theyíve heard this album?
CYD FRAZZINI:I just think that anytime you are putting something out there that comes from all the places you lived Ė not necessarily geographically Ė but at certain moments in your life, you just hope that people will come away feeling the moods that you had tried to create. You want the music to speak to everyone and then you want everybody to like you too. Just like me please!!! I think with every song, you just want someone to go ĎThatís a damn good song!í Thatís all that you can hope Ė that people will just take the music home and live with it for a while.
At the time of this interview, THE BELIEVERS were on the road touring. When my interview with CYD was over, I spoke with vocalist/guitarist CRAIG ASPEN. Here is how it went.
Youíve got a great CD here.
CRAIG ASPEN:Thank you very much!
that itís out there for everybody to hear, how do you feel about it?
CRAIG ASPEN:This CD is a little bit of a departure for us but itís also more of the same for us. Itís got more rock and pop elements on it which was kind of intentional and kind of not. When the album started landing on peoples desks, some of the Americana and folk people that had championed our previous records were a little put off by the changes.
You mean people like PASTE MAGAZINE?
Well screw Ďem!
CRAIG ASPEN:Someone had forwarded an article from them in an e-mail. I think the guy that wrote it wanted to take a stab at the genre in general. It just happened to be one of the records that landed on his desk that week.
Ripe for the picking I suppose.
CRAIG ASPEN:Yeah, you canít win them all.
You sound puzzled about how the album came out. You were saying that the rock direction was intentional but that it wasnít. Could you explain that?
CRAIG ASPEN:We took a long time making it. We started working on it and then we went on tour and then we came back and went on tour again. Usually when you sit down o make a record youíve got a clear-cut idea of what you want to do and how you want to do it. IF you can get it all done within a month or two itís pretty much going to have some continuity to it. It canít help but have that going for it. This album didnít have the continuity because it took too long to make. Itís got things that are definitely folk, itís got thing that are definitely pop and itís got things that are definitely rock. They were all done at different intervals.
How did music start for you as an individual.
CRAIG ASPEN:I canít think of a time when I didnít want to put on a guitar and do this. I think that maybe the earliest thing for me was seeing THE STONES on television and I think I looked around at the rest of my family and I looked at the TV and I was like ĎIím gonna do that!í I think that was pretty much it. I was about six or seven. I had a toy guitar that they got me for Christmas one year and I kind of putzed around on that and posed with it mostly. I think at the time we probably had SIMON AND GARFUNKELís GREATEST HITS and THE BEATLES ĎLET IT BEí on 8-track and I got turned onto al of that. My sister was a little older and she got turned onto THE RAMONES and THE CLASH and that whole thing and so I got turned onto that as well. It pretty much went for SIMON AND GARFUNKEL to THE CLASH.
Talk about your life before THE BELIEVERS.
CRAIG ASPEN:Do you have my police record in front of you? Is there a Federal agent in the room.
No, there isnít. But I am recording this.
CRAIG ASPEN:Is it a secure line?
CRAIG ASPEN:I played in tons of bands all with pretty marginal success. I grew up in New York City and I did the folk punk singer-songwriter thing there. I also lived in New Orleans and I had a band there, which was the same thing I did in New York only mixed in with their local influences which was kind of cool. Then I came up to Seattle where I am now and it was here I met some different people and I got turned on to what people would eventually call Americana. No one was calling it that yet. I got turned onto GRAM PARSONS for the first time. My grandpa had some JOHNNY CASH records and that was my first introduction to country music. I liked that pretty much but my only other reference to country was the GRATEFUL DEAD side of it. It was more country coming from a place of rock. When NO DEPRESSION MAGAZINE started coming out, it was like this style of music finally had a name. For me it was great to see that there were other people that kind of dug this sound too. I really started branching out and taking the folk songs that I was writing and they just got a little different. There was no nig shift or anything. When I met CYNTHIA, even though she comes form more of a rock background, she was more of a bona fide country singer and it was really easy for us to start singing together and we didnít even have to try. It just sounded country.
And in talking with CYD you guys are now a romantic partnership after spending so many years a creative partnership. How easy or difficult is it to work with the person that you sleep with?
CRAIG ASPEN:I donít have much to compare it to. We do a lot of stuff together. Sheís got her own separate bunch of friends who have been her friends forever that she can do her own thing with and Iíve got my own friends. For the most part we do this thing together. We have a car together, a dog together.
And a band together.
CRAIG ASPEN:A band with three records.
How does songwriting get done in this band?
CRAIG ASPEN:For the most part, one of us will have a clear cut idea of what to do in terms of melodies and that weíve been sitting around with for a week or so. Then, somebody will get serious and write verse or two and then once the other person sort of owns it for a little bit, they bring it to the table. Weíll sit it in the living room and Iíll bring out the guitar and Iíll show it to her and show her how to play it and then she put her ideas to it and either change something or write a verse. It works in the reverse as well. Sheíll present me with an idea and Iíll chip in m two cents. Usually, a song comes out of this.
Talk about what you think CYD brings to the table that makes this project worthwhile.
CRAIG ASPEN:She is a huge source of stability. She was very close to having a career in her life. I was pretty much a drifter. Sheís got actual roots and family and stability. She just has a way of getting things done that I had never known before. Sheís a girl and she can sing certain things that I canít sing. I donít know that I would want to listen to an album of just me or just her. Itís nice to be able to break things up like that and then some of the songs that she writes arenít exactly things I wouldíve thought of or had written. Itís really good for me because its not all about me.
From this album, what songs stand out for you and why?
CRAIG ASPEN:Usually my favorite is not everybody elseís favorite. My favorite song is the last track on the record ĎTHE DAY THE CIRCUS LEFT TOWNí, but I think that most people are digging the HIGHER GROUND song.
I could see that, but why that last song?
CRAIG ASPEN:Itís got some of sentiments that I like in a song. Itís got great visual imagery and I love the arrangement and instrumentation and I love the melancholy way in which she delivers it. I wrote the music and the lyrics f that song and I wrote coming form a place of TOM WAITES. It doesnít come across sounding that way because I donít have that kind of delivery and neither does she.
How have people responded to this new material in live shows?
CRAIG ASPEN:We just played in Seattle last night at our homeport THE TRACTOR. We did our very first show there ever. I think that people really dig it. Itís different because the production on the record, for some of the songs, are poppy and rocky, but the context that we played these songs on last night lent itself more to our traditional roots arrangements. We had an accordion player, a guy who played mandolin and banjo and I played guitar, as did CYD with a bass player and drummer. It was rock but it had all of the country and folk stylings. I think they responded well to the songs though they are done a little differently than they are on the record.
Since youíve been a BELIEVER, what has been the biggest surprise for you?
CRAIG ASPEN:How easy it is. I think the thing that is most appealing about it is when we set up to sing, I donít have to think about it. We just do it and itís easy. With the little bit of success that weíve had in the States and the nice bit of success that we had in Europe was also a bit of a surprise.
What would you like someone to come away with after theyíve heard this CD?
CRAIG ASPEN:I would like them to come away with the fact that people are still writing great songs and it doesnít necessarily have to be boxed into a certain genre and packaged and sold. There is still such a thing as album oriented rock and itís okay to like that. I would like it if people heard these songs and really identified with them.