The pitch perfect falsetto vocals of this singer might sound familiar to you. The Brooklyn based musician Aaron Frazer has not yet released anything under his own name but lent his voice and musical skill to several other projects like the Soul five-piece Durand Jones & the Indications and his local gospel band The Flying Stars of Brooklyn. Introducing… is his first solo output.
Early December, a month ahead of the album release, the musician is zooming in from his flat in Brooklyn. On another pandemic influenced press day, we talk for half an hour via video chat and even though most of us are probably sick of constant Zoom calls, speaking to Aaron was refreshingly effortless. “I think many people have gotten to know me as the drummer who sings on Durand Jones & the Indications or through my gospel project. So, when it came to making a solo record, I wanted it to be an introduction to my different musical styles,” Aaron says about the album title.
“You only get to make a first impression once – so make it a good one!”
Post Hip-Hop Soul
Throughout the record a wide range of influences shines through. From the doo-wop rhythms of Have Mercy, to the blues rock of Bad News, and the overall 50s and 60s soul reminiscent vibe, Aaron Frazer is an artist who does not want to fit into a single box. Partly inspired by producer Dan Auerbach’s journey the musician wanted to show us the versatile facets of his musical talent. “Dan created his solo project to explore his full artistic range and identity beyond the very specific sound of the Black Keys. He loves many different styles of music and that resonated with me. I am also a very eclectic listener – I love soul and gospel of course, but I also love folk and blues, rock n roll and hip hop. Dan encouraged me to explore all of those influences on my record.”
“Because of all these influences, the style of the record is hard to pin down”, Aaron adds when I ask him how he would introduce his style to someone who has never listened to his music. “There are so many dimensions to it, but I keep coming back to the idea of post-Hip Hop soul”, he goes on after a few moments of thinking.
“It is soul music filtered through the 90s Hip Hop era. I found soul through my initial love for Hip Hop and through its sampling practices. The simplicity of sampling still comes through in the music now, I think, even though it is not explicitly Hip Hop.”
While different genres resonate in Aaron Frazer’s musical output, Hip Hop has always played a special role in the artist’s life. “When I was younger, my mother would play Jackson Five, Carole King, and some Motown but when I heard Hip Hop for the first time around the age of 10 it lit up my brain completely. The first song I heard was Jay Z’s Hard Knock Life on a compilation.”
“Hip Hop was my first love. For many years I thought I was either going to be a Hip Hop producer or, when I discovered The Roots in high school, I wanted to play in a Hip Hop band.”
How Aaron Frazer Learned to Sing
Even tough Hip Hop is still present in the artist’s life, he takes inspiration from different genres as well. “I learned to sing to a Black Keys song”, Aaron tells me, for example. His vocals might not sound like it, but Aaron Frazer actually only started singing in public when he got into college. “When I got my driver’s license, I could be in a car where nobody would ever hear me, and it had something so liberating. As a kid you do not have a lot of privacy and freedom and having a moving box where no one can hear you was great! I think I learned to sing by singing along to a lot of the early Black Keys albums.”
It might be the musicians early shaping by the band’s style or the touches of Dan Auerbach behind the producing desk that gave Introducing… its Black Keys reminiscent vibe. But Aaron Frazer filters his various sources of inspiration through his very own musical lens. The outcome is a record cohesive in style yet versatile and engaging with each song. And I couldn’t describe it better than the musician did himself – it is a compilation of soulful songs that could be from the 60s but where shaped by music history and the Hip Hop era providing the bridge for past and present sounds.
Finding the Beat
A singing drummer is a bit of a rarity – at least when it comes to a band leading drummer and singer. With The Indications, Aaron explains, he has always sung from behind the drum kit but when it comes to finally touring his solo record, he might take a different approach. Not wanting to give up either one of his passions, the artist is planning on switching from fronting the band on stage to sitting back down behind the drums.
“I have been a drummer since I was nine years old.” That is an even longer time than his making off as a singer. But contrary to what you might expect, it was not a groovy old-school Hip-Hop song that inspired Aaron’s love for the drums. “I wish it were a cooler song”, he laughs. “We used to drive in the car, my mother and me, and on the radio, they were playing a song by a pop singer – Jewel – which had this loud drum part in the pre-chorus. I would always drum along to it and at some point, my mother suggested I start playing the drums.”
Tracing the Roots
Drums and voice are a pretty decent setup. But on Introducing… the other instruments shine as well. Especially the bass parts and the funky guitar riffs give the songs a well-rounded feel. “I dabbled in guitar when I was younger but, on the record, I am only playing drums and singing.” As if that weren’t enough, the musician still felt tempted to try out another instrument. “I wanted to play something melodic and so I picked up the harmonica. It terms of getting a decent sound out of it, it is a fairly easy instrument. Anyone who can breathe can play. But of course, it takes talent and practice to get as good as the harmonica greats!”
In his hometown of New York, the musician fell in with the large folk and country crowd where the harmonica fits right in. “Brooklyn is full of enclaves of unbelievably talented folk musicians. New York City has a rich history of folk; the scene is still there it has just moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn.”
Playing off the album title, I asked the drummer who he would like to get introduced to in the music world. Closely following Motown legend Smokey Robinson is his childhood idol Jay Z. Aaron laughs and tells me that as a kid the rapper shaped his view of what coolness was. “He is still a very important musical figure in my life, and he has this tough but sophisticated air about him.” And to be honest, Aaron Frazer’s soul-infected instrumentation would work well for a collaboration with the rapper, so let’s see if that happens at some point!
The personal meets the political
Aside from its musical eclecticism, Introducing… also touches on a large scope of topics from personal to political. Many songs are about the relationship the artist is currently in, which he called the healthiest so far, like the romantic Love Is and Leanin’ on Your Everlasting Love. Love is a theme that draws itself through the record like a silver lining and when Aaron Frazer croons “love is anything you make it”, the falsetto enhances the lyrics by giving them just a touch of vulnerability.
“A lot of people would argue that the personal is always political”, Aaron says. And his songs are not primarily one or the other. Instead, following the example of his musical idols like Dusty Springfield and Curtis Mayfield who struck the balance between personally relevant topics and political issues on their records, Aaron aims to walk that tight rope as well. “My musical heroes have made room for the political in their personal lives, in their music, and vice versa. I want to go about it the same.”
Bad News for example is about the impacts of climate change and goes in hand with the initiative that Aaron Frazer is part of. “The Good News Bad News campaign is something I started in collaboration with the Sierra Club – one of the largest environmental preservation clubs in the States.” In each segment, shared via social media channels, the musician highlights and introduces a different frontline group to raise awareness for those who are the most or will be impacted the first by climate change.
“The song is inspired by the problem that feels so big and existential that sometimes you just want to look away. But it is exactly in those moments that it is the most important to look the hardest. We want to bring attention not just the issues of climate change but also the different organizations advocating and working against climate change and uplift them through the platform we have – for what it’s worth.”
The things we miss
Introducing… is an extensive effort by an artist who has so many facets it is surprising that he managed to comprise them into merely twelve songs. The impact that Aaron Frazer wants to make goes beyond putting all of his musical influences together. And after introducing himself properly, it will be exciting to watch where the talented drummer and singer takes it next.
At the moment touring the record is still just a hope but the artist, like all of us, is eager to get out and play concerts again. Aside of playing music for a crowd Aaron misses another thing about touring life: the opportunity to hunt for records in different places. “Europe for example has so many cool record stores and they are always a little different in each town. Especially if you are looking for specific things, sometimes you can only find them there. I loved getting to know those region-specific records while touring.”
“Introducing… is exactly the record I wanted to make.”
Introducing… is out on Friday January 8th via Dead Oceans.