“I’m Andy Frasco, and I plan to drink this whole bottle in 45 minutes.”
The frontman of Andy Frasco and the U.N. was clutching a handle of whiskey as he launched into a scalding afternoon set at Denver’s ill-fated Grandoozy music festival in September 2018. He was wearing a tank top and grinning, a 21st-century Dionysus leading his fans into a frenzy.
His set started strong. Drunk by the end of it, he stumbled and slurred. The crowd loved it.
But Frasco's persona was crumbling.
“I was always building this facade that I’m always happy...and that who I am and the stage show are the same person,” he says. “I’m not that person.”
He swears that in his daily life, he never drank as hard as he did on stage — but he played 250 shows a year. Drinking that hard was his daily life. And after more than a decade of touring and joyfully pounding the bottle and amping himself on drugs to his audience’s delight, he was falling apart in front of his fans. They mocked him for being sloppy and worried about his implosion.
“So glad I saw him a few times before he began the slide,” wrote one person on Twitter after Frasco’s Grandoozy set. “Last time I saw him he could barely function. #selfdestructmodeinitiated.”
“Hi, I’m Andy Frasco. And I’m a jackass,” wrote another.
But really, Frasco was lonely and an alcoholic. ”I was living on this road to destruction,” he recalls. “I was using alcohol and coke and one-night stands to get me through my depression. I was overusing it, and I wasn’t getting happier. I wondered why I wasn’t getting happier.”
So last year, Frasco found a therapist whom he started seeing over Skype while he toured.
“He was this old Jew who does all the comedians,” he says. “He made me realize I’ve been depressed for twenty years. I was doing stuff to suppress my depression. I realized what I could do to help myself not be as lonely. From that, I started looking inward. It’s helped my show and helped me become a better artist.”
He started remembering things that brought him real joy: the Lakers, making his friends happy, connecting with his family and bringing them back into his life. “I wasn’t talking to them a lot because I was so absorbed in my own shit,” he admits.
Growing up in Los Angeles, he'd been the family misfit. “My sisters are doctors. My dad was a real-estate agent. My family was all about making money,” he says.
In contrast, he started booking Battle of the Bands events at the local Jewish community center. As a teenager, he interned at independent label Drive Thru Records, a force in the pop-punk and emo scene. By the time he was eighteen, he'd risen up the ranks and started managing bands.
But in 2006 the label crashed, and he was left figuring out what to do next.
“I said, 'Screw it,'” he recalls. “'I’m going to micro-market myself and hire bands on Craigslist and try to do the Chuck Berry thing in every town.’”
While he had spent most of his life listening to punk and folk, “I fell in love with soul and blues when I hit the road,” he says. Along the way, he cobbled together a band with musicians from across the country, all as energetic as he is, backing him with an onslaught of brass, saving him when he stumbled.
Along the way, he still struggled with whether he was living up to his parents’ expectations; he blames much of his depression on old-fashioned Jewish guilt. But after twelve years on the road, he had finally found financial success — and it was clear that he was making it, at least by his family's standards. The therapist is helping him reach his own standards.
“The guilt is gone,” he says.
Two months ago, Frasco bought his first house — in Denver, a city he had played around fifteen times. His management company, 7S, was in town, as were many of his musician friends. The city's scene — enthusiastic about jam bands, folk and alternative music — had embraced him, and living here was a better fit than New York City or L.A. “I might as well be with the people who are on my side and have my back,” he explains.
As he settled in, he was looking forward to making new friends, throwing barbecues at his house, and enjoying all the arts and culture Denver had to offer.
Then COVID-19 shut everything down.
“That’s life,” he acknowledges. “You can’t have it all. I’m trying to figure out me while I’m stuck in this house.”
He’s also trying to promote his new album, which he released from quarantine on April 24. The record is a joyful testimony to the power of addressing mental health issues and addiction, loneliness and emptiness.
His label wanted him to postpone the release, but he thought that the theme — summed up in the title Keep On Keepin’ On — had an appropriate urgency in the middle of a pandemic. Yes, his tour is canceled at least until August, but people need hard-earned hope now.
“I’m talking about heavy stuff,” he says. “The lyrics are about trying to find therapy, understanding who you are, figuring out loneliness.”
But the music is bright, and all of that heavy subject matter is lightened by Frasco’s relentless optimism. It’s in his voice — and even in his words.
“We can roll around in our shit if we want to,” he says. “It helps in clarifying this shit.” But simply expressing despair — like childhood emo heroes such as Death Cab for Cutie — isn’t enough for Frasco. He wants his songs to help people who are stuck get out of a rut and find happiness.
That optimism also shapes how he’s handling being shut inside.
“For me, it’s fucking great,” he says, laughing. “I’ve been on the road for thirteen years. Forcing myself to chill out is something I’ve needed.”
While he’s stuck at home, he’s producing as much content as he can. A while back, he started Andy Frasco’s World Saving Podcast, in which he interviews people about their adventures and struggles; he's now produced more than eighty episodes. And at 8 p.m. Thursdays on Facebook, he's begun hosting Andy Frasco’s World Saving Shitshow, a live stream where he plays music, throws an ’80s dance party and hangs out with friends and musicians.
When he hears that his friends in town are lonely, he invites them over to hang out.
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“It’s probably illegal,” he admits. “I’ll probably get a ticket for it.”
But as the coronavirus pandemic has kept people isolated from one other, he’s been as concerned about those who are struggling with depression and anxiety as he has been those who are vulnerable to COVID-19. Whatever risks he takes inviting people to his house, he's hoping to save lives...his own included.
“Writing happy music and doing things that are optimistic helps me get through the day,” he says. “I’m always going to try to stay optimistic. I always try to stay optimistic through dark times.”
Hear Keep On, Keepin' On at Frasco's website.