Interview: Is Arts Fest Headliner Andy Frasco Growing Up?

Could it be that Andy Frasco is maturing? He’s returned to touring and Utah fans at this year’s Utah Arts Festival can expect Andy Frasco and the U.N. to still bring the party on stage (or somewhere in front of the stage when Frasco is crowd surfing). Frasco will headline the Saturday, June 29, 2024 music lineup along with funk band Cool Cool on the Festival’s scenic Amphitheater Stage. 

But the singer/keyboardist is toning down the partying and other shenanigans that typically happened on and off stage on past tours. 

“I’m doing it for my liver,” Frasco said when he phoned in for a recent interview. “I’m all about the party, but I want people to know that I’m a songwriter, too. So I’m just really dialing in my songwriting, really dialing in my musicianship, so I know I can’t blame my partying for my sh***y songs…I love partying and I love giving the people their entertainment, but I also want to give them something to think about.”

The fact is, by the time the pandemic hit in spring 2020, Frasco was not in a great place. He’d been drinking too much and doing cocaine and finding his life-of-the-party behavior had left him wondering who his friends were and battling some genuine bouts of depression. 

No one wanted the pandemic, but being forced off of the road gave Frasco the much-needed opportunity to take a hard look at himself, figure out how to get his life in a better place and decide if he still truly loved writing music and going on tour.

“I was just very selfish,” Frasco said, citing one of the contributing factors to his emotional issues. “I was like doing things and not thinking about others. All of a sudden people wouldn’t start calling me back. I realized maybe it was me. I always blamed everyone else that I was on an island. But maybe I’m putting myself on an island. So I had to figure out the (situation) and realize what was making me sad.

“Before the pandemic, I didn’t want to be there. And I was faking a smile because I was just too depleted,” he said. “I had to look at myself in the mirror, like what are you doing this for if you’re not going to wake up? You preach happiness and you’re not even happy, so why do you keep (doing) it?”

One significant change was to kick his cocaine habit. He also cut back on drinking, although he admits he still enjoys his beverages. But the supply of Jameson liquor is lasting longer these days, as he and his band have moderated their intake onstage these days.

“There’s still drinking. I’m not going to lie to you there,” Frasco said. “But it’s definitely more toned down. We’re drinking half a bottle of Jameson a night, not the full bottle.”

The changes in behavior won’t surprise those who’ve been paying attention. Especially on the 2020 albums “Keep On Keeping On” and “Wash, Rinse, Repeat.,” the album that arrived in April 2022, it was clear Frasco wasn’t just offering escapism in his music.

That was a main theme for Frasco after he founded Andy Frasco & the U.N. in 2007, began touring and released the first of what is now nine studio albums in 2010.

One look at song titles like “Mature As F***,” “Blame It on the P***y” (from 2016’s Happy Bastards) or “Smokin’ Dope ’n’ Rock ’n’ Roll” and “Commitment Deficit Disorder” (from 2014’s Half a Man) and it was obvious that Frasco and company were bringing the party with funny, sometimes bawdy lyrics, a disregard for rules, decorum (and sobriety), and a rowdy sound that mixed rock, funk, blues, soul and pop.

The approach generated a good bit of popularity, as Frasco and the U.N. began what became a consistent routine of playing roughly 250 shows a year—a pace that continues to this day. Along the way, the band especially caught on in the jam band scene and festival circuit.

But especially with Keep On Keeping On, Frasco started to shift the narrative of his songs to more thoughtful subject matter, a direction that continued on Wash, Rinse, Repeat. Frasco still kept the tone of the lyrics light, while the music on these two most recent albums stayed buoyant and catchy as ever. But Frasco’s lyrics now wrestled with topics like getting older, maintaining his mental health, finding happiness, being considerate and appreciating life as it happens.  

Keep On Keeping On arrived shortly after the pandemic hit, and with touring halted, Frasco didn’t worry about taking the next musical step for quite a while.

Instead, he took to social media. He hosted a video I Wanna Dance With Somebody Dance Party, and started an irreverent variety show podcast series he called Andy Frasco’s World Saving S***Show. But much of his podcasting work was devoted to a series he calls Andy Frasco’s World Saving Podcast. It features interviews—some of which get downright deep— with musicians and other celebrities, commentary and comedic bits. The series has gained considerable traction and Frasco, who is frequently joined by co-host Nick Gerlach, has continued doing these podcasts even as he returns to a full schedule of touring, songwriting and recording.

With all of this activity, it wasn’t until about six weeks before he was due to return touring in 2021 that Frasco realized he wanted to have new music for the upcoming shows and charged into making Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

He traveled to several cities—Nashville, Charleston, S.C., Los Angeles and Denver to write and record with other songwriters, a process that helped him sharpen his songwriting chops as the album took shape.

“It was basically like going to songwriting school,” Frasco said. “Like I wrote with 20 different songwriters and I wrote with like 15 different songwriters in Nashville, and I wrote with a couple of guys in Charleston and a couple of guys in L.A., and instead of like the mind state of I know everything, I went in there with my mind state of I don’t know anything. It kind of helped me grow into the next phase of my career.”

Feeling he was in a creative space, Frasco spent a chunk of 2022 making his current album, L‘Optimist. The new album reflects a new development in Frasco’s life.

“I think it’s a love album. I finally committed to someone and I’ve been writing about her,” Frasco said. 

The songs, though, aren’t all about romantic bliss.

“It’s scary as hell. I’ve never had a relationship,” Frasco revealed. “I don’t even know what the f*** I’m doing. That’s what I’m writing about. Like is this OK?”

Some of the songs from L‘Optimist are popping up in set lists on Frasco’s current tour with his band, along with material from his back catalog. 

 “I have two different philosophies when I write songs,” Frasco said. “Sometimes I write songs for the record and sometimes I write songs for the (live) set. And these new songs, I was focusing on trying to write it for both. It’s been really nice. It’s given me confidence that I can write songs for both the (album) and the live show.”

  • Who: Andy Frasco & the U.N. with Cool Cool
  • When: Saturday, June 29, 2024
  • Where: The Utah Arts Festival at Library Square, SLC
  • Tickets and information: uaf.org

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Alan Sculley
Alan Sculleyhttp://saltlakemagazine.com
Alan Sculley has operated his music feature service, Last Word Features, for more than 25 years. His music features and reviews have appeared in more than 100 daily newspapers, alternative weeklies and entertainment publications.

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