Fragile Confessions From New York Singer-Songwriter Ciarra Fragale
We all remember our first heartbreak and we'll never forget the ones that follow either. Though it feels like tragedy, it's often the thing that makes for the greatest art. Ciarra Fragale knows this. That's why the New York singer-songwriter's debut album, Seasons, is chockful of tender confessions and memories she penned in the wake of a breakup. Released last year, the record is rich with Ciarra's unique talent: the quiet kind, the humble kind.
Seasons opens with "I Met You In The Summer," a sparse introduction that finds Ciarra's sweet, distant vocals slipping among an acoustic loop. Later, "Taxi" is a bittersweet ballad built on acoustic strums but led by Ciarra's vocals, resigned but desperate as she sings (and aches) lines like "Oh what a pity, I'm taking something for granted." Next comes "Heartbreaker's Tale," possibly the most poignant and beautiful moment on the record. Here, the arrangement remains in its signature minimalist treatment as just a simple guitar line and soft percussive thumps fill the space. Above the gentle instrumentation, Ciarra's vocals are at their best, and so is her songwriting. Her airy folksy falsetto singing "It'll always hurt to love someone who doesn't love you back" makes a soul-crushing line sound like something much sweeter, like heartbreak without the hurt.
"By The Water" opens with resounding echoes of blooming harmony before those soft, fresh vocals come in once again among an emphatic rhythm line, coming to the surface as those ghostly vocal chimes remain buzzing throughout the track. On "Consider Me Gone," things get raw as Ciarra confesses, "Oh, I could be present but I'm somewhere else." The acoustic line gains urgency as bursts of jangly percussion ring behind it, each element pausing abruptly then activating over and over again, the whole arrangement building to a crescendo with flavor and a frenzied sincerity. The album ends with a Brett Miller remix of Ciarra's "Haven't Said A Word," a slick piano-based club track with an insane build-up, quick drop, and delicious blasts of electronic beats that pack a punch and completely change the dynamic of the record, a bizarre and unexpected conclusion to a collection of quiet folk gems, but one that smashes the soundscape and re-charges our senses.
Seasons is as intimate as it gets, the cordial offering from Ciarra Fragale to step inside her soul. Packed with simple acoustic arrangements and soft vocals, the complexity lies in Ciarra's songwriting, in her soul-bearing, in her generous sharing of her deepest emotions -- the ones she hopes we can relate to, and, thanks to Seasons, we certainly can.
The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell The Music Mermaid a little about yourself and your music?
Ciarra Fragale: Sure! I'm Ciarra. I grew up in the Hudson Valley in New York. All my life I've been a performer, always putting on little shows for my parents and always making up these little songs just for fun. When I was between the ages of 8 and 10, I picked up a guitar for the first time -- and haven't really put it down since. I'm fortunate enough to have parents with great tastes in music, so growing up it was a lot of Pat Benatar, Peter Gabriel, and all these powerhouse voices and songwriters. I try to emulate that epic but intimate feeling in the music I write.
TMM: You’re from the Hudson Valley -- what’s the music scene like there and how has it influenced your work at all?
CF: Living in the Hudson Valley has given me a wealth of inspiration. I went to college in New Paltz and the scene there is just incredibly rich with talent and spirit -- I was always going to shows and playing out, not even just in New Paltz. I feel like the Hudson Valley is this little hidden gem of art and culture. There's just so much here.
TMM: We’re in such an interesting digital age right now where the music scene is over-saturated, sure, but social media can help to either make waves or evade the spotlight. What has your experience in self-branding been like?
CF: I talk about this weird dichotomy with social media all the time. Like the aspect of being online 24/7 and having that presence really makes me anxious, but I see how necessary it is. When it comes to the self-branding aspect of it all, I try to keep it at a healthy level. I never want it to be something that I rely on, but I want to make sure that I am seen and heard on all those platforms. Naturally, I also want to keep the personal stuff personal because I really value privacy.
TMM: Last year, you released your debut album, Seasons, a really beautiful collection. Can you tell us about the production process behind that record?
CF: Thanks so much! That record was 100% a labor of love. I produced it, engineered it, and played everything entirely by myself. Basically, when I set out to record this album, I wanted it to be very raw and intimate, like you were sitting right there next to me as you were listening. I wanted people to hear the process.
The whole thing was recorded in my home studio. A lot of the songs on it I wrote when I had just ended a serious relationship, so I was in a vulnerable place. It was really my first time ever wearing the producer hat and having to ask myself really constructive questions (Should this song be faster? As a listener, does this song evoke some sort of feeling? etc) and I honestly had a blast figuring all of that out. The whole process really made me grow as a musician.
TMM: Which song off Seasons do you feel closest to and why?
CF: I think the song that resonates with me the most is "Heartbreaker's Tale." It was actually the song that inspired me to make this record. It's such a simple song, but at the same time it's very complex. It really says what it needs to say without being layered in a bunch of metaphors and that's what I love about it. I'm trying to write more songs like that -- just clear and to the point.
TMM: What is the songwriting process like for you? Are there any tropes you tend to write on? Any major inspirations that assist your lyrics?
CF: The thing that I love about songwriting is that every song has a different way of being written. I really try to exercise my writer brain by switching it up. Sometimes I'll have a lyric in my head that I'll write the music for at a later time, and sometimes it's the other way around. It all changes.
I've been writing a lot around drum beats lately -- there's definitely a future in that for me. As far as inspiration, of course I take from personal experience, but nature often inspires me as well. There are so many beautiful, tragic, funny, lovely things in nature that it lends itself perfectly to lyrics and vibes of things. I also find a lot of inspiration from whatever musicians I'm listening to at the time. I use everything as a learning experience.
TMM: Lucky for us, you’ve got a new record coming (sometime soon hopefully) and a new single set for the end of the summer. What can we expect?
CF: Yes! I'm very excited for the single to come out. I think it's kind of a different sound than some might be used to from me, but at the same time I think it is a very natural progression. I think (I hope) it could really take things to the next level.
TMM: Who are three musicians you think the world needs to hear ASAP?
CF: Well for one, I think we all need to be listening to Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer on repeat. She really changed the game.
Ami Madeleine (a dear friend of mine) is someone that I always tell people to listen to -- she just hits you right in the heart in the best possible way.
People already listen to them, but the girls in HAIM fucking rock. They are so inspiring and empowering, they make me want to write all of the jams.
TMM: What has been your most memorable musical moment so far?
CF: That's a great question. I think it was last year when I was playing a packed-out show at Sidewalk Cafe in New York City. It was the second to last show of this little Northeast tour I was doing. I had so many close friends show up, friends that I hadn't seen in a long time. For some of them, it was the first time they were ever hearing me play live. It was just a really special night and the audience was 100% in it with me, and the fact that I got to share it with my friends made it a show I'll never ever forget.
The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for Ciarra Fragale?
Ciarra Fragale: Some real good stuff! I'm in the studio, cooking up some things I'm real excited about!
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Featured photo by Joseph Wright