Layla Frankel doesn’t fit in a box, and she’s decided to stop trying. When she moved to Nashville in 2017, fresh off a cross-country tour in support of her debut EP Tame The Fox, she tried. She sought out her proper musical standing in the neatly defined singer-songwriter scene and the cliques of wannabe country stars. But she was too bluesy for the country artists. Too poppy for folk. And she had more soul on stage than most Nashville audiences had seen before. So this was it, she thought. This was the moment when another aspiring musician throws in the towel and starts working an office job. But opportunity arose at just the right time when a producer heard her music and asked to collaborate on a new, genre-bending EP.
Frankel’s path toward this moment has been meandering at times, but it’s been filled with music since the very beginning. Her father Joel, a singer-songwriter in Chicago’s folk scene, put her on stage at age 4. Dinner conversations revolved around the discography of Elvis Costello and the lyrics of Tom Petty. “We’d watch TV with instruments in our hand,” she says. “That’s how we would connect with each other.”
It wasn’t just her home life that immersed her in music. Her involvement in the internationally acclaimed Chicago Children’s Choir gave her a foundation in music theory that she still draws on today. The city itself gave her a soundtrack of hip-hop, R&B, and Latin beats. Even her favorite rock station played folk and pop. That accessibility to so many genres shaped her outlook on what music should be: unbound by labels, and free to experiment with form, sound and musicality.
Since then, her music has developed into a form all of its own, with a genre that might be best described as “Soulcana.” It integrates the vocal style of Bonnie Rait and the sophisticated pop sound of Sheryl Crow. It pays homage to the cryptic, poetic lyricism of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. Most notably, it plays with melodies and unexpected chord structures, learned from studying jazz, and showcases her stunning vocal power and agility. Every song is written with intentional artistry, taking twists that surprise her listeners — and even surprise herself.
You shared a picture collage of friends around the globe wearing your t-shirt. What inspired the LF “Shelter in Place Tour” T’s?
The T’s are a joke. The back of it is your typical tour T-shirt format but instead of venues and cities, it says “ 4/1 Living Room, 4/3 Dining Room, 4/4 Office…” etc. It’s just poking fun at the ridiculousness of our lives right now, and during quarantine especially. I played a lot of shows last Spring, but they were all live streams and I never left my house. So the “Shelter in Place Tour” T’s were kind of a way of turning lemons into lemonade; no shows, but it made for a clever, memorable T-shirt.
But with that said, I’m grateful for the lessons learned from quarantine and all of the new creative ideas that came from it. The live stream format has been a wonderful discovery in a lot of ways; I’ve been able to reach fans across the world which is very fun.
How will the return of touring throughout the music industry help the economy recover?
I don’t know exactly, but I could only imagine that with a thriving music industry comes a thriving entertainment industry in general. Venues, bars, restaurants, cafes often rely on musicians to bring in guests. Festivals are a huge draw for tourism in a lot of cities, and Nashville especially depends on it. It’s hard to say for sure, but it can only help.
Postcard from the Moon. “Releasing new music is inherently frightening because you’ve put all this time and love into making a polished recording of a song and it becomes kind of like your treasure, and then you release it out and hope that maybe it will go somewhere. I hope to continue to get stronger and more accomplished as a songwriter, but in the meantime, I view musical releases as markers along the way. This is just milestone number one from this currently Nashville chapter.” How have you used the time off the road this past year to become a stronger and more accomplished songwriter?
To put it simply, I’ve just been spending a lot of time writing. It hasn’t necessarily been structured all the time, but I’ve been grateful to just be able to put some hours into craft as opposed to performance, and really keep on working towards those 10,000 hours. In the past year I did some songwriting challenges with other songwriting friends which was a great way to hold myself and others accountable, and I’ve worked hard to implement some kind of morning writing routine. It’s not always inspired, but it’s important to “show up for the muse” and try to get into the creative headspace regularly. I’ve also had several people contact me for custom song commissions which has been a real treat. I’ve loved hearing peoples stories and getting the opportunity to turn them into song. It’s a new challenge for my songwriting craft and I’ve been really enjoying it.
A year ago, in addition to the pandemic, Nashville was recovering from the devastation left behind after a tornado struck the city. You co-wrote “Stay with Me Tonight” with Claire Kelly about the aftermath, being part of the community cleanup efforts that left you with a feeling of ownership and belonging in Music City. How does songwriting help you work through what can’t be controlled?
I’ve always found writing to be a path to clarity and control in the midst of chaos. I may not be able to control my surroundings, but at the very least I can name how I feel about them. There’s power in naming and articulating sensations, and feelings and emotions. It’s the most beautiful thing about being human, in my opinion. I started journaling from a young age because it helped me navigate my emotions and move through life more easily. I think thats the mission of songwriters and writers in general; to articulate emotions and experiences and in doing so create a platform for connection.
Connecting with fans, writing custom commissioned songs to create a unique special gift to launching a Patreon page. What role does feedback from fans play in your musical process?
Layla Frankel is creating music, art, and a creative way of life | Patreon
"Every child is an artist. Perhaps the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." --- Pablo Picasso That…
I think the operating word for me isn’t so much “feedback” as it is “connection.” I think that’s the essence of what I’m trying to do in all aspects of my career. I’ve been a performer my whole life — as a kid, I was always entertaining and putting on shows for my parents, my friends, their friends — so performing has always given me a sense of purpose. Maybe when I was little it was about attention, but as I’ve gotten older it’s become much more about connection. A fellow musician friend asked me once, “What is your goal with your music? What are you trying to achieve?” and I think as an artist that’s a really important question to keep asking yourself. Because the business can be a lot of noise and can distract you from seeing the real purpose of making art. For me, I’m trying to give people chills. That’s the mission. If one person feels something at all, then I’ve done my job.
“You Can’t Love Me Like I Loved You” was selected as a finalist in The John Lennon Songwriting Contest (one of three in the R&B category). Songs are judged on originality, melody, composition, and lyrics (when applicable). Proceeds from the international competition help support the non-profit John Lennon Educational Tour Bus mobile recording studio, which provides young people opportunities to create original music and digital media. How did the Beatles, and Lennon as a solo artist, change music, from their “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to his “Imagine?”
Oh Gosh, there are so many Beatles experts out there who could give you a much more developed, educated answer on that, but for me as a songwriter their influence is undeniable. They knew how to craft interesting melodies, play around with different sounds and song forms, and they were so incredibly prolific in their short career as a band. I learned how to play the guitar by playing Beatles songs because they’re so approachable, and of course they are the best songs to sing around a campfire or jam (one of my favorite ways to experience music.) It’s hard to pinpoint their influence on all of music exactly, but I know that you can hear Beatles influences in probably every song I write.
“Josephine” especially. Beatles songs are the essential pop songs, in my opinion, and I’m always striving to reach that level of mastery.
Listen to the latest single, "TLC" "As the instrumentation begins to swell with fluttering woodwind instrumentals in…