Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Isabella Gomez Sarmiento | NPR Music
The music of Aaron Frazer feels a bit like stepping into a time machine: It’s got touches of Curtis Mayfield and Carole King, but it’s also very much of this moment. The Baltimore native, who’s best known for playing drums and singing in the band Durand Jones & the Indications, says he was in the middle of making dinner one day when he got a call from Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, asking if they could make a record together. That solo album, Introducing…, was released Friday, and Frazer joined NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro to talk about it. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lulu Garcia-Navarro: I understand you and Dan Auerbach wrote the album together in the course of just a few days?
Aaron Frazer: Yeah, that’s right. We wrote the record over the course of four days. I think we came out with like 16 vocal tracks and four more instrumentals. It was a sprint, but I’ve never had a writing session so fruitful.
Is that what it’s like when something just clicks with someone? All that creative energy just explodes?
Yeah, I think that’s right. I think Dan tried to get me to a place of accessing my intuitive songwriting because, like you said, Carole King, Curtis Mayfield, those are such finely crafted songs. Each one is like a watch, or something. We both love 45s, these singles that sound raw and from the gut. I think the idea of this record was to find a midpoint between something that feels good in the brain and something that feels good in the gut and in the ear.
And Durand Jones and the Indications are known for this very retro-soul kind of sound. But on this album, you expand beyond those roots. Tell me about the song “Have Mercy.”
I love boleros — I’ve really fallen in love with them over the past few years, learning more about them and their history. I wanted to put a touch of that in the song. This one is pretty autobiographical: the story of me meeting my lady and that feeling of being like, ‘Oh my gosh, this person is so special.’ And the fear that comes with that, of ‘I don’t want to screw it up.’
You brought in a wide range of musicians to record: members of the Memphis Boys, who backed icons like Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin, but also some younger artists. Tell me about that dynamic and what they brought to the album.
I think everybody, both old and young, brought such sensitivity and empathetic playing. Most of it was done live. A bunch of stuff on the record, musically, you’ll hear happen on the two [beat]: Like, one, boom. That’s because you have people who are listening first and reacting, letting other people set the tone and doing what needs to be done in response. I think that’s the working dynamic at Easy Eye, Dan Auerbach’s studio — everybody working together to make things happen. It’s like a barn raising.
There’s one song in particular I want to listen to, which reflects a lot of what we’ve been hearing lately. Can you tell me what “Bad News” is about?
“Bad News” was written two Novembers ago, but I think it’s only gotten more timely as release day was approaching. I wrote it to be heard almost from the perspective of Mother Earth — like, I’m on fire, I can barely keep it turning. But it’s also all of us in this moment of relentless, ‘Yo, can I catch a break? Please?’ But we have to keep marching forward and waking up the next day and going back at it. … “Ride With Me” is another climate change song. It’s classic gospel sort of imagery — the train is at the station, you can hear the diesel humming and we can’t afford to miss it. It’s an issue I think a lot about, and stress out a lot about.ARVE Error: src mismatch
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Given that so many artists who have come before me, especially artists of color, have given me so much, I feel like I have a platform and I want to use it. I think I can bring people joy and light while also bringing them some place to feel mourning or anger, outrage, sadness. All those things. That’s what my heroes did: They made time to, on their records and in their lives, express all the dimensions of themselves in that way.
Tell me about this time for you. How has it been not touring, not doing live music?
It has not been my favorite year [laughs]. It’s really hard not to tour. Being able to travel and meet people all over the world, I’m so thankful to have had that opportunity because I feel like it’s helping me expand my perspective and understand other people’s perspectives. Especially because the kind of music I make is [enjoyed] pretty widely across the board: Maybe it’s not your number one thing, but generally people don’t hear soul and soul-adjacent music and go, “Oh my God, I can’t stand this.” So yeah, not playing shows has definitely made me feel disconnected. But it’s also been a time to take stock of what the last few years have been.
I wonder about what art is going to look like after this period. Because you’ve been in New York, which has been so affected by the pandemic, do you think that’s going to make its way into your music in the future?
Durand Jones & the Indications, we’re starting our next album, this weekend and we definitely have a couple of moments on there that were born from what we all shared and went through together this year. I think that this year will affect things to come for a while, as so many past past moments of political chaos and other kinds of chaos have been reflected in folklife, whatever form you define it. I think a lot about Gil Scott-Heron’s “H2Ogate Blues” and how much it maps onto today.