Jeremiah Fraites Maintains His Piano Roll

Dean Budnick on May 17, 2024
Jeremiah Fraites Maintains His Piano Roll

Photo: Rachel Deeb


“What’s crazy, is going back 18 years to when Wes Schultz and I started The Lumineers in New Jersey, I was a drummer and that’s all I was,” Jeremiah Fraites discloses. “I couldn’t play a piano chord to save my life. The reason I jumped to piano was because we had a mutual friend named Justin who was a drummer and only a drummer. So when the three of us decided to gig out—we were a bar band mostly doing covers—I tried to play piano, really just for fun.”

Nearly two decades later, Fraites is not only adept on the instrument, he has also completed a pair of solo albums built around it. In January 2021, Dualtone released Piano Piano, a collection of original compositions that Fraites recorded at home during the pandemic. Piano Piano 2 is the latest installment in what he suggests will be an ongoing series (a deluxe edition with bonus tracks will be released on May 31).

As for the name, he points out, “My wife Francesca came up with it. I think that title really hits the nail on the head. She’s the executive producer of this new album, Piano Piano 2, and as far as I’m concerned, the uncredited executive producer on the first one. In Italian [his wife’s native language], it means a lot of things, including the instrument, but when you say those two words together, ‘piano piano’ translates to ‘little by little’ or ‘step by step.’ I thought, ‘Man, that’s the coolest title ever because it says so much about what I’m doing.’”

Fraites likens Piano Piano 2 to “a soundtrack for a movie that hasn’t been made yet.” While piano remains the principal instrument, the music is a bit richer and more layered. On his debut, Fraites selectively added strings to a minimalist environment. This time around, he also incorporates percussion, acoustic guitar, spoken-word elements, and even a few synths to expand on the moods and textures.

While Piano Piano came together at home, Fraites recorded much of its successor during his free moments during a two-year Lumineers world tour. His song title “Rio” references one such session. “I thought I had finished the song in Aspen many months earlier,” he reveals. “Then, at the 11th hour, my wife said to me: ‘I just listened to the song. I feel like you can beat that take.’ I had a day off and my team found this beautiful studio in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, with this $200,000 piano and an incredible engineer. I went in and did a few takes—sort of stubbornly and against my will—then I called my wife and said, ‘Damn, you were right again. I did beat the take.” She was like, “You know, you’ve got to call it ‘Rio.’”

While on the subject of names, Fraites notes that “Spirals” came about because “I had an idea where I wanted the song to feel crazy, like the train is going to go off the tracks. I wanted it to spiral out of control.”

As with Piano Piano, Fraites pieced together many of the compositions from voice memos, with the ideas spanning decades. He says, “While ‘Rio’ was finished in November 2023, ‘Spiders’ is at least 17 years old. I always credit the piano in the Lumineers song ‘Salt and the Sea’ as my first bona fide creative original piano idea. It involved experimenting with a delay pedal about 20 years ago. I thought it was cool to be able to use that on a Lumineers song, probably 15 years later.”

Piano Piano 2 concludes with a cover of Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” featuring guest vocals by Gregory Alan Isakov. “I liked the subtle irony of ‘No Surprises’ being at the end, where having a singer on the record is a bit of a surprise,” he says. “In fact, my co-producer, David Baron, who also did the first album with me, had suggested the idea of doing a cover with a singer on the first record. I said no because I was really stubborn about that album. I wanted it to be mostly piano and all instrumental. That was a hard rule I had. For this one, I wanted to do the Radiohead song, so I decided to ask Gregory. I knew that he was a champion of the first record. He has a farm in Boulder where he lives, and he had told me: ‘I love Piano Piano. Whenever we’re washing the vegetables, we play it.”

Fraites’ relationship with Isakov also led to the American debut of the Piano Piano project this past September. Fraites recalls, “He asked me: ‘Do you want to open up for me at Red Rocks?’ My response was, ‘Yeah, I’d love to. Who’s going to play after me and then before you?’ He was like, ‘What do you mean? It’s just going to be you. I thought it would be cool to do instrumentals before our set. It’ll be awesome; trust me.’”

The sold-out crowd certainly concurred, as Fraites debuted a new Piano Piano ensemble. “Three of the musicians were connected to The Lumineers— Lauren Jacobson, the violinist, Byron Isaacs, the bassist and then my drum tech Derek [Brown] played drums while I played piano,” he recounts. “I had previously done it with this really amazing band living in Italy. I already have some shows booked for this year. I’m going to be playing in London, where it’ll just be me, a piano and my trusty sampler, which helps me do some other electronic stuff in addition to the piano stuff. I hope to get back to the States as well.”

His reaction to the Red Rocks show also reflects his feelings regarding Piano Piano. “I took a tour of Red Rocks when I first moved to Denver years ago,” Fraites remembers. “Then I cut out the photo of Red Rocks on a brochure and put it on a corkboard in my room. I looked at it every day. The first time we played Red Rocks with The Lumineers was absolutely mindblowing and magical. Then to open up for Gregory there with this instrumental project brought back all the memories. I recently had a similar reaction, thinking about how at one point, I was not able to play the piano at all, and now, 18 years later, I’m releasing this second album. I had this moment where I stopped and said to myself: ‘How cool is that?’”