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Jeremiah Fraites of The Lumineers on his new album 'Piano Piano 2'

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Jeremiah Fraites remembers the early days of his band, the Lumineers.

JEREMIAH FRAITES: When we started the band, you know, I couldn't play a piano chord to save my life, quite literally. I was a drummer at the time, but when we started The Lumineers, we had another drummer, so I was sort of, like, relegated to the piano, which I liked. I liked the challenge.

RASCOE: Fraites says as a child, he treasured cassette tapes of Beethoven's piano sonatas and that they inspired a curiosity about the instrument that has since become a passion.

FRAITES: Many years ago, I was lucky enough to be in Vienna, Austria, at the House of Music, and it's this museum about classical artists and whatnot. And there was a quote from one of the composers that said, you know, when I sit down at the piano, that feeling I have I wouldn't trade for all the king's gold in all of the world. And I honestly just connected with that idea so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEREMIAH FRAITES' "WELCOME")

RASCOE: In 2021, Fraites released a collection of piano compositions. Now he has a second called "Piano Piano 2."

FRAITES: I just write stuff that sort of gets me high. I write stuff that really clicks something in my brain. There's this great producer who sort of said, you should consider the audience last, and in that way, you'll actually serve the audience more. And I think that really holds true for any creative project I take on. I think that if you sit down to try and please somebody else creatively, you're going to fail before you even start.

RASCOE: How do you tell a story through solo piano music?

FRAITES: I think that when you start to write an idea and when you start to work on it and actually start to record it, the idea communicates back with you because some ideas, you think, oh, I want to make this really big and huge in the studio. I want to add all these strings and drums and bass. And the song quite literally rejects everything you do to it. And some songs - there's a song that comes to mind off this new record called "Spirals."

(SOUNDBITE OF JEREMIAH FRAITES' "SPIRALS")

FRAITES: I knew I wanted it to feel big. I knew I wanted it to feel chaotic. I called it "Spirals" very much intentionally because I wanted that spiral - downward spiral journey. And it seemed like the more I added to it, the better it got, in my opinion. So some songs are just like that.

RASCOE: Well, speaking of spirals, it features the voices of what sound like children.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEREMIAH FRAITES' "SPIRALS")

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Laughter).

RASCOE: What are we hearing there?

FRAITES: So we're hearing a lot of stuff. I took many samples that were, you know, personal to my life - a phone conversation where me and my wife, Francesca, are talking, and she's laughing, our kids playing on there. I remember at one point I was on tour. And I got an audio message on my phone. I was missing home. And, you know, something from my son - have a good show, daddy. And from our 2-year-old daughter, she's like, good night, daddy. And that's on there. I think that when someone listens to it for the first time, even if they don't know all that backstory, they'll just hear this sort of, at times, chaotic cocktail effect of spoken word against some pretty fast piano. So I think, yeah, it's one of my favorite tracks for that reason.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEREMIAH FRAITES' "SPIRALS")

RASCOE: You know, I read that "Piano Piano 2" was recorded around the world. What were some of those places? And did the pianos become characters in your mind? Because different pianos have different - have a little different sound to them, right?

FRAITES: Yeah, exactly. So I was on tour with The Lumineers for the last two years. We finished in December, and I was working all the while on this "Piano Piano 2" record. I mean, I worked on this record anywhere from Denver, Colo., to New York to Canada, LA, Brazil at one point. Like you said, each piano - like, they couldn't be more different from each other. And I think that when you're writing on a grand piano or when you're writing on an upright piano or if you're writing on a felted upright piano, which is when, quite literally, just a little piece of felt goes in between the hammers and the keys and gives it this really cool, soft, sort of curious sound, I think all those things combined I really obsess with. And I love that, at the end of the day, that there's seven different pianos on this record.

RASCOE: Your song "Extra Lives" is especially poignant and dreamy. It has this warm quality about it, but it's also mournful.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEREMIAH FRAITES' "EXTRA LIVES")

FRAITES: You know, my father - he passed away...

RASCOE: Oh, I'm so sorry.

FRAITES: ...Just a few weeks ago now. He was 77. And I just thought about all the times as a kid waking up in Ramsey, N.J., where I was born and raised, him just, you know, waking up at - coming down the stairs at 7:30, getting his big thermos of coffee, kissing my mom and then going out the door and then coming back at 5:30 or 6 p.m. every day, five days a week for 40-plus years to put food on the table and that sort of role he played to provide for me and my brother and my mom.

And I feel like in a way, he really gave us all extra lives. I mean, he did so much to set me up for success with music, to allow me to take over the whole house, to learn how to play the drums. I mean, what a terrible thing that must be to endure for - especially for a guy that loves peace and quiet, to let me learn the drums. And, you know, that's where the Lumineers started. We were practicing and learning songs all day, all night. So yeah, I think that meaning sort of developed, and it was a nice way to dedicate something to him. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEREMIAH FRAITES' "PLUCK")

RASCOE: Many people treat instrumental piano music as something that plays in the background at a social function or while studying. How do you want listeners to experience "Piano Piano 2"?

FRAITES: I think I want people to listen to it in the way that works for them. I kind of love the idea. I watched the Eagles documentary. It's, like, a three- or four-hour documentary, and Don Henley was talking about - he said, you know, the Eagles - we didn't just make music. People listen to the Eagles' music as soundtracks to their lives. He was like, people had moments, you know, their first kiss in a car or going on that first road trip across America. Like, their life was happening while the Eagles were in the background. And I was like, if that could ever happen, whether it be with The Lumineers' music or this "Piano Piano" stuff, I think that's the highest compliment if people can listen to it in that regard, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF JEREMIAH FRAITES' "PLUCK")

RASCOE: That's musician and composer Jeremiah Fraites. Thank you so much for joining us.

FRAITES: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEREMIAH FRAITES' "PLUCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.