Lumineers co-founder and multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah Fraites planned to record a solo album in 2021 or early 2022, after his band’s world tour was finished. But when the run, including a headlining gig at Coors Field last August, was scrapped because of the pandemic, Fraites’s wife, Francesca, urged him to work on the album from home.
In April, Fraites began recording his eleven-track solo debut, Piano Piano, which Dualtone Records/Mercury KX will release on January 22. While Fraites penned a few new cuts for the instrumental album during COVID-19, many of the songs have much older seeds. Fraites says the track “Nearsighted” originated thirteen years ago, when he was 21 years old and studying abroad in London. He recorded a guitar track on his laptop after a long night at the bar.
“That's the same exact take that I kept for the record,” Fraites says. “It's kind of cool to find that and bring that back to life.”
Fraites also built upon song ideas that he’s worked on since he and Wesley Schultz started the Lumineers fifteen years ago in New Jersey. That was when Fraites also took up the piano. The two musicians moved to Denver in 2010.
“Me and Wes write all the music together for Lumineers, and I just wrote so much music that a lot of it was Lumineers, but then a lot of it just sits on sort of proverbial shelves and collects proverbial dust,” Fraites says. “Over that time period, I've just always saved all these files to a Dropbox folder. It's been about a decade and a half of writing the songs for this album.”
Around the time he began piecing together material for the album in April, construction began on a new house next door. While recording tracks, he had to deal with the sounds of hammers and saws. Fraites would send mixes to engineer and co-producer David Baron, who’s worked with the Lumineers, Jade Bird and Shawn Mendes.
“He would say, ‘Look man, it's a great take, but there's just like this crazy, insane low rumbling,’ which I wasn't hearing with my headphones,” Fraites says. “But he could hear it very easily on his big speakers at his house. So it was sort of like sub-bass, and there would be a truck rolling by or maybe just a distant hammer.”
There were also sounds from Fraites's two-year-old son, Tommaso, and their dog, Maggie, who liked to join in when he played piano. Sometimes Fraites would record at night, when the house was quiet, and combine song ideas from over the years.
“And that's honestly how this album Piano Piano got made,” he says. “A lot of it was piecemeal. It was not written in a linear fashion at all. I think there's some magic about that.”
When making Piano Piano, Fraites says, he walked the line between bringing the listener into the room and revealing all the cracks and imperfections in the piano while also creating a high-quality sound.
“I wanted to walk that fine line, because I didn't want to make it feel and sound so indie or so raw that it turned people off," he says. "But I also didn't want it to be so clean and so vanilla; piano records can be so perfect and pristine."
Fraites recorded about half the album on his favorite piano; it has a crack on the bridge, and the strings haven’t been changed since around 1955. When he asked piano tuner Michael Jackson what he thought of the upright piano, Jackson replied, “Partner, it's firewood." Spitfire Audio, the British-based company specializing in sample libraries and virtual instruments, recently released Originals Firewood Piano, a virtual replication of the sound of Fraites’s upright.
He plays the firewood instrument on “Possessed” and “Tokyo,” two of the four songs that are available to stream from the album now, as well as “Maggie” (an elegy for Francesca’s dog, who passed away during the recording process) and “Air That Kills."
Fraites initially composed “Tokyo” on his Steinway Boston grand piano, but when he played it on the Firewood, he says it felt like the instrument was screaming for the song. “Possessed,” on the other hand, was first written while he was watching cartoons on the TV with Tommaso and fiddling around on the guitar before adapting the piece for piano.
On half the album, he plays the Firewood, and the other half, he's on his Steinway. On some tracks, he's joined by Lumineers violinist Lauren Jacobson; cellists Rubin Kodheli and Alex Waterman; and Macedonia’s forty-piece Fame's Orchestra.
At its crux, Piano Piano, as the title suggests, is a piano album. Francesca, originally from Torino, Italy, gave him the idea for the title, using piano twice.
“In Italian, ‘piano’ means the word piano instrument,” Fraites says. “It also means the word ‘slow,' and when you say ‘piano piano,’ it literally translates to 'little by little.' So, I thought, ‘Wow, that's pretty cool! That's a great name for this album, because it's thirteen years in the making.'"
Piano Piano is available for digital pre-order plus limited edition vinyl, CD and more here.
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