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This question raises a vexing ethical issue for Frost, who sees file-sharing from two distinct vantage points. "I love downloading stuff, and I used to file-share a lot," she says. "I was heavily into Audiogalaxy when it was up, and Napster before that. I collect stuff that's mainly out of print -- weird-ass records and stuff like that. And there's no way, unless it's on eBay, that I'm going to find it, so there's really no alternative to file-sharing. But I finally stopped anyway, because I got scared of the RIAA" -- an organization ostensibly devoted to helping artists just like her. As for Frost's own material, she asks, "How can I not have mixed emotions? I'd go to Audiogalaxy, and my entire life's work was up there."
She knows from personal experience that her music's availability may not translate directly into rent money. After all, she admits, "I don't buy nearly as much stuff as I used to before I could download. A lot of people say the opposite; they say they buy more things. But for me, it's so rare when I find somebody out there who I like enough to actually go buy something. I did that with Jolie Holland, but it doesn't happen very often." When it comes to her music, she wishes she "could control it and say, 'This is the stuff I want to give away for free, but please don't give away the whole album' -- but it doesn't seem possible, the way it is now. I mean, I could write to sites and say, 'Hey! Stop it!' But then they'd think I was a dick, and I don't want that. Besides, I think for indie artists, file-sharing probably helps more than it hurts, because it gets my name out and gets people to hear my music who otherwise wouldn't."
Playing live beyond Chicago's city limits accomplishes the same goal. Still, performing her sometimes delicate material in venues more accustomed to hosting punk-rockers can be a trial. "The only time in my life that I've screamed at the audience was in Denver, at the 15th Street Tavern," she recalls. "They have this crowd of regular pool players, and this one time, they were really cracking the pool balls and going, 'Woo-hoo!' It got louder and louder, and finally I just yelled, 'I can't hear myself think!' Everybody laughed, and it was funny, but Jesus!"
Fortunately for Frost, she'll be accompanied on her current jaunt by several members of Manishevitz, which is joining her on tour; the group's latest album, 2003's City Life, on Jagjaguwar Records, is first-rate. "When it's a rock club, I do so much better with a band. It's kind of hard to hold my own otherwise," she says. "But I want to do some solo stuff, too, because I feel really strong, playing-wise. I've been practicing a lot by myself -- getting myself ready to get back out there again."
No wonder her apartment's such a mess.