Photo Credit: Brett Ballachino
Other than being one of the most beloved/hated rides at Disneyland, it truly is a small world when you think about our existence. Not only is Mike Frazier from a place in Virginia perhaps not everyone would recognize on the map, but he’s also from where my in-laws call home as well. With an instant connection, I was more than happy to talk to alt-folk artist about his upcoming release, Where The Valley Kissed The Sky, staying the same, and so much more.
Kendra: I saw you were from Virginia and the title of your upcoming release, Where The Valley Kissed The Sky, and in my heart knew before I even read it that you were talking about the Shenandoah Valley. My fiance’s family lives outside of Harrisonburg. So it’s nice to talk to someone from an area close to my heart. It’s also nice to hear that this record is about an area of the country that doesn’t get much highlighting. When did the wheels start turning that the outskirts of the Valley would be the inspiration around your sophomore album?
Mike Frazier: That’s amazing! So cool you have that connection. The valley is more than home to me. It’s become part of my core being that I never really appreciated or understood until I got older. My family goes way back here and it dawned on me that I don’t have to look so far for inspiration. I started writing these songs with the intent to make a record with the setting of the album in the Shenandoah Valley. It follows these characters who live and die in places like Winchester (where I’m from). It’s also one of the most beautiful places in the world so I think that the contrast between beauty and tragedy is what I really tried to paint.
Kendra: For many, they hear Virginia-based and they might think country but you’ve got this Frank Turner, Americana with a punk edge that’s refreshing and quite surprising. When you first got into music was that the style you had or did it evolve over time?
Mike Frazier: I’ve been playing and listening to punk since I was a kid. It was the cornerstone sound for my formative years in writing music. If you listen to my earlier releases you can hear that heavy. Especially my last record which came out on Anti Flag’s label AF Records. I always say I had two musical awakenings. First, it was punk and then it was Bruce Springsteen. However, the kind of music I play now has been around me my whole life. My earliest musical memories are of CCR and Neil Young. So I guess in a way I just went back to my roots.
Kendra: Looking back, how does the first song you ever wrote compare and contrast to your latest single, “Stay The Same?”
Mike Frazier: I don’t think “like night and day” would be the right answer because it’s not like I took some crazy turn in the way I write songs. I’ve always leaned heavy into the pop structure of verse/chorus. Also just like the first song I wrote when I was 13 and this tune both were done on an acoustic guitar. I think the biggest change for me over the years has been the lyrical content and attention to the lyrics as well as shaping the sonic landscape. I don’t think I ever imagined my self using 12 string leads in the chorus with screaming organ. But I’m sure glad I turned out that way.
Kendra: Where The Valley Kissed The Sky covers some pretty serious topics from opioid addiction to death. Were you ever afraid to tackle these realities?
Mike Frazier: I was careful in my approach to this sort of narrative. I tried to touch on these topics with a sense of empathy because when you look at the issues affecting the South it’s easy to focus on the obvious. I tried to dive a little further into the desperation in searching for why things might be the way they are. That makes me feel a little less nervous with writing about these topics, however, it’s never been a breeze.
Kendra: You’ve noted how Harrisonburg is this progressive city. Why would you say that? Is it just compared to what’s around it?
Mike Frazier: When you drive 15 minutes in any direction you see a very different part of the valley. One that’s much more in line with the stereotype of central Virginia. Towns like Harrisonburg are really special hubs in the state. Since it’s a college town it’s brought a lot of new thought and awareness to this part of the state. It’s also a refugee resettlement area. I’m friends with a few organizers from the town and it’s really inspiring to see the work they’ve done. There is a sense of urgency there.
Kendra: Shows in April and a some in May and June out east and in the Midwest. Are you making plans to head west later in the summer?
Mike Frazier: I’d love to make it back out west in the fall!! I’ll be working those dates out real soon.