With full band in tow, Carly Fratianne takes Souther to new heights
On Christmas Day years ago, Carly Fratianne and her younger brothers were disappointed. The much-anticipated gift-opening session hadn’t lived up to expectations. It was a downer.
Then Fratianne’s dad told the kids to head down to the basement of their Westerville home, and disappointment turned to elation. Her father had reassembled his old drum kit from the ’70s and purchased a couple of pawn shop guitars. Jamming commenced, and it never really stopped.
At first, Fratianne was drawn to the visceral release of the drums, but soon she gravitated to guitar. Early on, she drew inspiration from the music she heard at church and from country songs (Keith Urban was her first guitar hero), and later she immersed herself in the blues and folk music of the past and present.
“I was really into emotive music and the tonality of vocal deliveries and expressive things,” Fratianne said. “I listened to Conor Oberst a lot. The songwriting was great, but it was more about, ‘How does this make me feel?’”
In her teens, Fratianne would cruise around her neighborhood on a skateboard with earbuds in and an iPod cranked. “I only had like 50 songs on there. I would listen to them and skate around and be a loner, and then I would come home and try and hit those licks, like, ‘How do I bend this note just the same way?’” she said. “As a kid there’s nothing more cathartic than going really fast and listening to music. That was my drug of choice. … I almost got hit by a lot of cars, I’m sure. I was a neighborhood menace.”
After graduating high school in 2012, Fratianne was restless for adventure, so she moved to Los Angeles, where she worked service-industry jobs while writing songs, though the experience left her jaded with the music industry. “There’s no honest soul,” she said.
She worked with a producer for a time but didn’t like the direction it was going. “In LA, the way you make money is by making ambiguously relatable songs with sick bass drops, but I just couldn’t do that,” she said. “It felt like I was forsaking some part of me.”
Eventually Fratianne headed north to Olympia, Washington, where she hoped to stay with a friend, but soon she found herself homeless and wandering the dorms at Evergreen State College. Then everything she owned was stolen. She knew she had to come home.
In 2015, Fratianne drove back to Ohio with a friend. “I was totally fine, just trying to diffuse my own mental roar, and then I dropped her off at her house. … There was a Beatles song on the radio, something off of Abbey Road. And I just lost it,” she said. “I screamed for like three minutes on a random side street in suburbia, and then I collected myself and drove home, said hi to my family and got really, really drunk … in the place I swore I was never gonna be ever again.”
Acclimating to her old life wasn’t easy. “It was like digging through ancient ruins to figure out how to relate to these people again,” she said. “I was feeling like a total alien.”
Secluding herself in her dad’s basement, she felt song ideas bubbling to the surface, so she taught herself the basics of home recording and began building songs, singing and playing all the instruments herself under the name Souther. The sessions resulted in a five-song EP, Is For Lovers, which stays true to her love of music that places feeling above all. Fratianne’s voice can range from a whisper caught in the back of her throat (see “Wonder”) to an emotive wail, and her guitar can take a backseat or center stage (see the bluesy solo on “Honest”). It’s all in service of the song.
“Looking at pretty things is great for some people,” she said, “but I have a very emotional need that I need to be served with art.”
In addition to forming the equally promising folk-pop duo wyd with Maddy Ciampa (catch them at Brothers Drake on Feb. 11), Fratianne filled out Souther with drummer Jack Lynch and bassist Alex Randall, with whom she recently finished recording a full-band EP, Blume, due out this spring. She’s also itching to hit the road again, but this time with her band.
“I wanna make some big, loud noises,” she said.