The Tao of Andy Frasco
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Despite being stuck in self-isolation, the U.N.’s hard-touring, stage-rocking madman is pushing forward with a standout LP, numerous livestreams and a commitment to his newfound metal clarity.
Andy Frasco loves folding laundry. “It’s so therapeutic,” he says with a chuckle, sitting in his Denver home in June. And though the 32-yearold bandleader/jam scene rabblerouser seems particularly mellow at the moment, he is still keenly aware that the outside world is both reeling from a global pandemic and energized by the renewed focus on the Black Lives Matter movement.
Just hours earlier, his music video for “Better Day” was released, showing real-life footage of the clash between protesters and police officers—as well as more peaceful acts of civil unity. “The goal throughout my musical career is to get people together to be present, and to be with each other,” Frasco explains.
With that mission in mind, Frasco became one of the first musicians to spring into action in the age of social distancing, pivoting his weekly podcast into the World Saving Shitshow internet broadcast, as well as launching the I Wanna Dance with Somebody livestream program. Both projects have already nurtured their own dedicated online communities, helping facilitate Frasco’s ongoing dialogue about music, culture and more.
“This is when we need art the most,” Frasco says, while tapping the buttons on his washing machine. “People are confused and sad and scared, and I just want to try to rev the engine, per se—to get people to keep creating. We might not be able to do it live, but we have these different platforms and the ability to make an impact on people’s lives through the unknown. I said, ‘I’m going live, we’re going to do the Shitshow, we’re going to talk about things that are important, and we’re going to play music and try to get people out of their heads for a second—just like live music does.’ People go see live music to escape. If we can escape through livestreams, then that’s how we can make a difference right now. Because art heals.”
Frasco is also the first to admit that his concerts are just as therapeutic for him as they are for his crowd.
“The reason why I play so much is because it helps my anxiety,” he says with his typical flair for honesty. “When I’m onstage and I’m surrounded by people that are feeling the same way, it just makes me feel less alone.”
Frasco came of age in Los Angeles surrounded by a mix of aspiring directors and actors. But he always saw music as his creative path. There was just one problem: He didn’t know how to play an instrument.
“Because of that, I thought I might as well just be part of the music industry,” he says with a shrug.
He managed his friends’ bands throughout his teenage years and eventually landed a gig as a booker/promoter at the independent pop-punk label Drive-Thru Records, working with acts like Hellogoodbye, New Found Glory and Something Corporate. By 2006, he had scored a job at Capitol Records, booking bands at West Hollywood’s Key Club. Everything was going swimmingly until the economy crashed, causing the record industry to take an unprecedented nosedive. Frasco, who was only 18 years old at the time, was one of the first to get axed. “They fired all the kids,” he recalls.
However, instead of wallowing in his sorrows, Frasco took his unexpected free time as a sign, learning to play keyboards and hitting the road on his own.
“I had $8,000 from my bar mitzvah fund,” he says. “I bought a van and started Craigslist-ing all these musicians in every city. I would just drive to each town by myself and have local bands play with me. I did that for like seven years until I learned how to write songs. I lived on the road for 13 years, and I booked myself about 250 shows a year for the first eight years—grassroots style—and, 13 years later, I’m starting to find myself.”
Early on, Frasco even used the not-so-clever name Drew Mitchell—based off his own name Andrew Mitchell Frasco—to pose as a booking agent.
“A lot of the music industry is smoke and mirrors,” he chuckles. “It’s like a big catch-22. I just made up everything until they believed it. I started my own record label. I started my own booking agency. I wasn’t going to wait for someone to tell me how I should live my life. I’ve applied that philosophy to everything I’ve done—to building my podcast, building my livestream. I just want to make sure that, if I want to do something, I’m not going to wait for someone else to tell me that I can do it.”
That radical self-reliance is reflected on this year’s Keep On Keepin’ On, Frasco’s debut on SideOneDummy Records. As Frasco digs into the mental health issues he’s struggled with his entire life, the 11-song set finds him looking inward while still moving forward. And though Frasco’s onstage persona is still pretty wild— he’s guaranteed to down a bottle of Jameson and crowdsurf at any given show—Keep On Keepin’ On hones in on a deeper lyrical message. In contrast to the frontman’s previous, party-focused material (“Smokin’ Dope and Rock and Roll” and “Blame It on the Pussy” come to mind) Keep On Keepin’ On is open and sincere, filled with joy and stunning honesty. At a time when everyone in America is looking for answers, he’s a relatable voice of the people—just as likely to share a joint with a fan as he is to converse with them about the pitfalls of depression.
Frasco credits his relocation to Denver as a turning point, a move he chronicled on 2019’s Change of Pace. He’s found peace being part of the city’s creative community, and enjoys the serenity of its natural beauty. After living on the road for so long, he’s “finally found a home.”
“The minute I left LA was the minute my dreams all started coming true,” he adds. Frasco’s bandmate Shawn Eckels is also a Denver resident. The guitarist has made regular appearances on Frasco’s World Saving Shitshow, helping test out some Keep On Keepin’ On tunes that have yet to truly be played live due to COVID-19.
Eckels—who has been the band’s permanent guitarist for almost a decade—first met Frasco in his native Missouri. At the time, Eckels was at a crossroads, trying to rebuild his career after his band Speakeasy—who had found some success opening for bands like Umphrey’s McGee and Little Feat—had slowed down. Frasco was booked to open for one of Eckels’ new projects, and the guitarist quickly realized that the rowdy performer had something special.
“I was like, ‘This guy’s got some fucking energy!’” Eckels laughs. “And we became friends. He came through town a couple more times and then, he’d be like, ‘You want to come to Tulsa? You want to come to Fayetteville? You want to do a week? You want to do a month? You want to do two months?’”
“I would just put people on the spot, like, ‘I’m leaving tomorrow. If you want to come with me, then let’s go. I’ll try to take care of you. We’re not going to make money, but I’m going to feed you and we’re going to make this a sustainable life.’ At one point, we had 13 musicians rotating in and out. So we called it The U.N. because we’re all coming together for this one purpose, music,” Frasco echoes.
After road-dogging it for many years, Frasco eventually established in on a more stable U.N. lineup: Eckels, saxophonist Ernie Chang and drummer Andee Avila. Onstage, they run around, stomp their feet, swap instruments and vamp to the crowd. On a recent, wrestling-themed tour with BIG Something, Frasco would end the show by jumping off his keyboard and flying through a folding table.
“Frasco’s usually quiet as a mouse a couple hours before the show,” Eckels explains. “But when we go on, it’s ‘green light, go.’ We all just turn that thing on and try to wear ourselves out.”
Over time, The U.N. started gaining traction on the festival circuit; Eckels cites Yonder Mountain String Band’s 2012 Harvest Festival as Frasco & The U.N.’s first true foray into the jam scene. And, thanks to their high-energy performances and their frontman’s magnetic personality, the group scored a huge breakthrough aboard Jam Cruise in 2018.
“Jam Cruise plugged Andy right into the middle of the jam scene, and I mean, he’s in it,” Eckels says. “It’s amazing. He’s like, ‘Oh, I’m friends with moe.’ And I fucking idolize moe. All these bands that I look up to, I get to be friends with. We all get to mix it up with all these guys. It’s a dream come true, the best.”
However, Frasco’s journey was not without its setbacks. He’s continued to struggle with anxiety, depression and body image issues and, despite not drinking or doing drugs throughout his teenage years, Frasco quickly found that life as a hard-touring musician could easily give way to bad habits.
“I started drinking and it took a path where I was drinking too much and getting too crazy on the drugs and I was losing sight of why I was doing music in the first place,” he says. “When I was taking ecstasy to wake up and shit like that, I looked at myself in the mirror like, ‘This isn’t why you’re doing this in the first place, and you need to focus back in on what you love.’ We’ve got to always keep exploring how to be the person we want to be and, when you start veering from that road, that’s when you start losing sight of who you are, and that’s when you start getting anxiety again and start having panic attacks and whatnot. That was the best thing about the jam scene. They accepted me for who I was. They accepted my weird stage presence and that I never give up.” He even found kinship with elder statesmen of the scene like Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman and Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools, both of whom he considers his close friends and spiritual advisors. (Schools co-produced Keep On Keepin’ On.)
“Vince taught me to be myself. I look up to him so much with his career and his ups and downs,” Frasco says. “To see him still smiling gives me the fire to do what I want and just be genuine. Dave taught me how to focus and how to dial into who I wanted to be. He’d say, ‘What do you want to talk about? What do you want to bring to this community?’ And I never thought of it that way. I thought of it as like, ‘I’m just filling time. I’m just filling space so I can stay on the road.’ And Dave’s like, ‘If you want to write timeless music, and if you want to have a timeless band, then you just have to do the research.’ I had never listened to music in that way before; I was always a sports guy. I’d just listen to the oldies my mom played for me. I had never worked on my craft. I had never worked on my piano playing or worked on my singing. Look at Dave: He’s suffered with drug issues. Vince suffered with addiction. They realized that about themselves and it made them better people.”
While crafting Keep On Keepin’ On in the studio, Frasco continued to refine his production skills, acting as his band’s quarterback while still empowering his friends to collaborate and take part in the songwriting process.
Eckels contributed the framework of standout tracks like “Feel It in Our Bones” and “Get Away,” building the tunes alongside his bandmates in a freewheelin’ yet hardworking atmosphere.
“For ‘Get Away,’ there was nothing,” Eckels says. “I just had a guitar riff. And, by the end of the day, we had that whole song. Boom—it’s produced, recorded.”
Now, with the future of live music still quite uncertain, Frasco remains at home, bursting with inspiration and itching to get on the road.
“I miss the interaction; I miss walking through a festival and high-fiving people—hugging, sharing a drink with someone or watching a band. I miss going backstage and hanging out with my friends.”
“We’re high-energy people,” Eckels explains. “When we don’t have that outlet—the payoff of putting out the energy and putting on a show, and seeing the crowd—it’s like ‘Fuck, what am I supposed to do?’”
For the immediate future, at least, Frasco has the internet to satiate his creative energy, from his livestreams to his shot-by-shot parody of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. For one clip, he even enlisted members of moe., Umphrey’s McGee, Greensky Bluegrass, Khruangbin and more for a lip-synced remake of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Currently, it has over 1 million views on Facebook. And Frasco is approaching his newfound fame cautiously.
“I’m no different from anyone else,” he proclaims. “I just followed my dreams and I am trying to inspire others to do what they want to do in their life. I still haven’t figured it out; we all haven’t figured it out. Maybe we never will but, if we’re trying, then we’re all doing this together.”