An Interview with Grant Frazier
UVA singer-songwriter Grant Frazier released his debut album, “Runaway,” this summer. It’s a collection of original songs which showcase his strong talent for acoustic pop composition in the style of John Mayer or Matt Nathanson.
“Runaway” is an intimate album, owing to its minimal instrumentation (Frazier sings and plays guitar and piano, and he is joined by a cellist and a drummer on several tracks) as well as the palpable connection between Frazier and his songs.
Frazier has been performing frequently in support of the record, but was available for a Friday morning cup of tea at Grit Coffee, as well as an interview with scene editor Taylor Ruckle.
Ruckle: How long have you been writing songs, and how did you get started?
Frazier: So, I started writing probably when I was probably a freshman or sophomore in high school. […] I picked up the guitar and piano in freshman year, and then after that I just started writing. I picked up music when I was two or three, I learned to play violin by ear, and then I played trombone in high school and middle school, and then I finally picked up the guitar and piano. And I just started writing, my mom is a screenplay writer, so I feel like I definitely get that from her. And then from there on it was just kind of like a snowball effect.
R: Do you ever get drawn to that storytelling kind of mode?
F: I do, absolutely, I think I love songwriting because you can tell a story and incorporate music into it, and incorporate rhythms and patterns, I just think it’s really awesome. It’s a great way for me to portray my feelings and everything.
R: Who are your biggest influences would you say, and how did you get into their music?
F: My biggest influence is John Mayer.
R: That definitely comes through on the album.
F: He’s easily my biggest influence. Funny story, when I was probably five or six, I was just going into Target with my mom and my brother, and my mom said “go get a CD.” The first CD I ever picked out was John Mayer’s “Heavier Things” album.
R: And the rest is history!
F: Yeah, the rest is history, it was literally that I just randomly picked out an album. And that was it. And I’ve been listening to him ever since. And then I really got into Ed Sheeran in high school, and Jack Johnson, and all those acoustic singer-songwriters. So I think they’ve had a big influence on my writing, just how I write and how I play music.
R: So, you’ve been playing music your whole life, and writing songs for a long time—how did you know it was time to make an album?
F: I just felt like, you know, I had the material, and I felt like it was really just right for me, at a point in my career I feel like I’d played out a lot, and I feel like I’d gained a pretty decent-sized following, and I feel like I needed to come back with that, with something where I’d be able to get people excited.
R: How long have you been working with this particular set of songs?
F: So some of them, one of the songs on the album was actually one of the first songs I ever wrote, when I was 15, which was “Fly.” So that’s, I think that’s the last song on the album. Some of them I just wrote this past spring or summer, so some of them were pretty new. There’s a wide range of when I’ve been writing them.
R: Not to be weird, but I did google you beforehand and I saw something where it was like—“Grant Frazier, 15, performing”—
F: Yeah yeah yeah, so that was the first song I ever played live. I think I just love playing that song, because it’s just always something great to go back on.
R: That song and [“Stay Now”] I notice you did live in the studio as opposed to the other way. Why those two?
F: I feel like you get such a more intimate feel, an intimate setting with the songs, you know, they’re more piano-ballad based. I didn’t want to heavy it up with all this instrumentation, you know, I wanted to keep it simple. And I wanted the listeners to be able to just really connect with the feel of the song.
R: Which track of the bunch is your favorite, and why?
F: I’ve been answering this a lot, I don’t want to like, keep telling people different answers—
R: No, that makes it more interesting!
F: Right now, I would probably say “Wait” is my favorite song right now. It’s just a super upbeat love song. It’s just really, I think it’s probably the most upbeat song on the album. […] The other favorite one I’d say is “Wasted.” I just think it’s, it just really portrays to just, you know, to be like the best version of yourself and to not, I guess, waste the talents that you’ve been given—just go out and just do the best you can.
R: Now I want to go a totally different way, because one you haven’t talked about before I think is the title track, “Runaway.” What’s the story behind that one?
F: Yeah, so “Runaway” is a song that I wrote probably winter of this last year […] it’s a really personal song for me and my family. When I’m playing it it’s really, it’s tough to play because it really gets to me and it’s something that’s like, been at the forefront of the core of who I am as a person, and it’s really made me who I am as a person. It’s […] one of the songs that really just gets to my emotions whenever I play it. It’s such a powerful song.
R: You featured some cello and some percussion on the album, and I know you’ve done gigs with them accompanying. Are there plans, you know, to put together a permanent band?
F: That’s the plan, that’s the hope. The cello player, he was actually in my orientation group going into UVA. Nick Rupert, he’s just a super-talented cello player. And I got into contact with him, I guess it was last spring for the O Records showcase […] and I said, why not have him featured on the album too? You know, it’s just, he’s such a great feature to a lot of the songs. He really just adds a lot to them. The drummer, I had a set player come in, Nathaniel Davis, he just plays all around up in Northern Virginia, everywhere. But I’d really just love to keep playing with him.
R: Tell me about O Records, what’s been your experience? (Editor’s note: O Records is a CIO for UVA musicians)
F: O Records has been probably one of the best groups that I could have joined at UVA. You know, they’re such great musicians and great people, I mean you can really create a network within Charlottesville, you can get connected with so many different venues and so many different live settings, and so many different opportunities to be able to play out. Just create these amazing relationships with other musicians.
R: So, speaking of gigs, do you have any pre-show rituals before you play a show?
F: You know, I just try to take it all in […] when I was first starting off playing live I would get super anxious, and I’d get really nervous, but now since I’ve been doing it a lot I try to just relax as much as I can. I drink a lot of tea before gigs.
R: Good for the voice.
F: Yeah, really good for the voice, I bring it on stage with me too. But I don’t know, I just take in the moment, I just really enjoy it and just relax and have a good time with it.
R: Aside from O Records, how do you think the Charlottesville scene […] has impacted your music?
F: The Charlottesville music scene is amazing. The people who come out and listen to the shows, they’re just super energetic, they just have a passion for the arts […] It’s something that’s really special, and it may be a smaller music scene obviously compared to big cities, but you, know Charlottesville, I see it as an arts community. I didn’t see that coming in, I had no idea about the whole downtown area, and the Jefferson, and everything.
R: What’s the best show you’ve seen in Charlottesville this year so far, besides your own of course?
F: I went to Ben Rector’s show at the Jefferson, I guess it was last month. It was the first time I’ve ever seen him live. He was, it was by far the best concert that I’ve ever been to. It was amazing. He was just super like, he’s very personal with the crowd, he was just really able to get the crowd going and then when he was doing his more like, ballad songs, it was really amazing.
R: If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be?
F: The easy answer would say John Mayer, but I’m not going to say John Mayer. [laughs] You know, I’m really big into jazz, and so I would definitely collaborate with a jazz artist. I would love to, I don’t know if you know Chris Botti, but he’s a trumpet player, and he just, he does a little bit of jazz, a little bit of everything. I would totally collaborate with him, or like, a Trombone Shorty, something like that.
R: When’s your next show?
F: I’m trying to get contacted, so I’m talking to the Ante Room right now to get a show going, I’m trying to talk to Grit, to do a show here, obviously the O Records Showcase is coming up [November 11th at the Ante Room] and, I mean I’m just playing little shows here and there.
R: Do you ever drop by Ante Room open mic on Tuesdays?
F: Yeah, I was there a couple weeks ago! It’s a really cool night. So, I’m definitely going to have a lot more, I’m playing, I’m guessing next year, I’m playing for the Fralin Art Gallery. I’m really excited about that one. But I’ll be playing shows all around downtown and on the corner.
“Runaway” is available on Spotify and iTunes. For gig information, follow Grant online at facebook.com/grantfraziermusic
Taylor Ruckle is a fourth-year who hoards autumn leaves to jump in them year-round.