The journey of Souther’s swan song, ‘Creature’
Carly Fratianne chronicles the end of the Columbus rock trio and the band’s just-released, final album
It crossed Carly Fratianne’s mind to never come home again. In March of 2020, when the entire world began shutting down, the idea of traveling back to Columbus from Texas and living an indefinitely paused, sedentary existence felt terrifying. Sitting still sounded like hell on earth.
With music venues closed, Fratianne couldn’t tour with wyd or Souther (both former Alive Bands to Watch), but she had to find a way to keep moving, so she got her bike out and started riding down dirt roads.
“Everybody found their weird little hobbies over the pandemic,” Fratianne said recently by phone, en route to Texas for a bike race. “I found one that allowed me to be moving, but still alone. … It was a nice head change from all of the things that I'd been obsessing over artistically and musically for so many years.”
Fratianne also converted an old cargo van into a mobile home she named Oates, which allowed her to slow down while staying in motion. For a couple of months over the winter, Fratianne and Oates settled into a remote part of Texas hill country, an area she grew to love. “The colors and the terrain, the smell... it's like you want to get a tattoo of it inside you,” she said.
Slowly, over time, Fratianne made friends in the bike racing community, but for the most part she dropped out of touch with people. In the vastness of Texas, her world shrunk to the size of a van, and in that time alone, she found herself ready to reflect.
“I realized that I really overwhelmed myself with some of the ways that I’d begun to think about the art I was making. When I had the space from it, it made me sad to feel like I had put too much pressure on something that used to be my very favorite thing ever,” she said. “It ended up making me a little bit better writer, and it made me ask myself why I was doing it and what the pull was for writing songs anymore.”
Paring down her songwriting process to a guitar and a yellow legal pad in a small room gave Fratianne “emotional flashbacks” to writing and recording the first Souther EP, Is For Lovers, which she wrote and recorded on her own about five years ago, before filling out the rock trio with drummer Jack Lynch and bassist Alex Randall — her first band ever.
In the last few months, after writing “stacks of songs” in the van, Fratianne was reminded of the album Souther recorded a couple of years ago. After releasing a few singles and 2018 EP Blume, the band’s full-length record was just sitting there, and she didn’t know what to do with it.
“I had been trying to shop it around, and I'd been really disheartened because it's hard to be an advocate for your own art in that way. Being an independent artist is amazing, but there are things about it that can be really demoralizing,” said Fratianne, who was proud of the record but had a hard time placing it in “the music scene of the world.”
When the pandemic shut everything down, including most of the music industry, Fratianne realized it would probably take another year or two to put together a release plan for the album. “The longer I waited, the more I felt like the returns would be diminished for me and for people that wanted it,” she said. “I started working on side projects and stuff by myself. Everybody kind of went their own way for a while, and I realized that maybe I wanted to let it go.”
Souther seemed to be coming to a natural end, and rather than doing a big promotional push for the band’s swan song, Fratianne took the opposite approach. “I didn’t really want to parade it around. I just wanted to give it away,” she said. “I don't know how smart that is, but it felt like the right thing to do.”
Last week, Souther simultaneously announced the band’s end and released its final creation into the world: Creature, an excellent, eight-track rock album with loud guitars, bluesy solos and raw, open-wound lyrics. Some of the songs date back to Souther’s very first writing sessions; others the trio never had a chance to perform live.
After Fratianne uploaded the album and posted the band’s goodbye note on social media, she hopped on her bike, put on some headphones, listened to Creature (loudly) for the first time in months and had a good cry. “When I listened to it this last time, I had a lot of visual accompaniment surface. The ones that we played live a lot, I can vividly remember the times onstage that I played them with the most conviction,” she said. “It's been so long since I've just ripped a guitar solo onstage, and I had that feeling where your feet come off the ground a little bit. And then I also had that feeling of, ‘Damn, I really meant that when I said it, didn't I?’”
Souther and wyd are flip sides of the same coin, with wyd tending more toward ethereal, experimental sounds and slow builds, while Souther channels Fratianne’s grounded, visceral, fleshy side. “That was the impetus for the name Creature. I tried to make it the most corporeal body of songs that I could put together. They're pretty raw. I didn't mince too many words,” she said. “I think that's what Souther was for me. I did it with my hands. We worked with our hands on that stage. It was loud.”
Moving forward, Fratianne said wyd is “greasing up the gears,” with more music to come, and she’s finishing up a forthcoming solo EP, as well (“It's very, very different. I'm very excited about it. It's a new direction,” she said.) She also wrote a short, poetic epilogue for Creature, describing it as “an album for the end of the world, just in case,” and providing some open-ended listening instructions:
“If you find anything, anything at all in here, plant it deep in the ground, and as you move through the world, allow yourself to be astounded and reminded and in love and bitter and forgetful and devastated and know that these feelings cannot be made or erased for as long as you are.”