Layla Frankel – Postcard From The Moon EP
Chicago native, Layla Frankel’s fan-funded new ep Postcard From The Moon is a really good example of this Nashville based singer songwriter’s style and the depth of her songwriting. The sounds range from blues and soul to acoustic folk and jazz. The songs include a John Lennon Songwriting Contest finalist, a beautifully gut-wrenching piece inspired by the Parkland school shooting and “Without Suffering” really showcases Layla’s feel for the blues. We’ll find out about her background growing up in a musical family, recording the ep on Music Row and get the stories behind some of these songs today. Postcard From The Moon is out now.
AnaLee: Your voice is so pure and filled with emotion, Layla. I’ve really enjoyed playing some of your songs on WMOT’s The Local Brew Hour. You’ve been in Nashville about four years now and are new to us here at WMOT. I understand your family was quite musical, your dad a songwriter and musician too. Would you tell us about your journey from performing as a child, growing up in a great music city like Chicago and making the move to Nashville?
Layla: Absolutely! As you mentioned, my Dad is a songwriter and has had a long career in Chicago as a Children’s musician, so I grew up in an environment where I was not only encouraged to sing but also given opportunities to perform on-stage from a really young age. My first experience recording with him was when I was 4 and as I got older, I became more of a featured performer in his shows, helping with crowd engagement and sometimes even helping him sell merchandise. It always made me feel really special to be a necessary part of the act and, as a professional musician now, I can see directly how my early exposure to the music business has really informed and built confidence in my own career pursuits. It’s just been a way of life for me for as long as I can remember.
I think being from Chicago actually played a key role in my development as a musician, not only because of the performance opportunities that it allowed for my father (festivals, libraries, museums, community events, etc.) but also because of the cultural richness of the music community. My family has always been actively involved at the Old Town School of Folk Music, which is a well-known arts community center in Chicago, and as I got older, I started singing with the Chicago Children’s Choir – another well-regarded Chicago institution – which really took my musicianship to another level and gave me an introduction to formal training. Singing with the choir exposed me to diversity in every sense of the word, which is one of the most beautiful things about growing up in Chicago. There are so many organizations like the CCC that work to cultivate community engagement in the arts in Chicago, and that really celebrate the cultural diversity of the city. Nashville has an incredible music community as well, especially as a songwriter, but I’m really grateful for my musical upbringing in Chicago as I think it allowed me to see the arts from a different angle; not just as commercial entertainment, but as a way of community engagement.
AnaLee: The first single you sent me was TLC, the song you said was in response to the Parkland school shooting in 2018 but it really resonates now and sadly, probably will for many years to come. You sing about being armed with emotion, never learning to fight and just looking for tender loving care. The arrangement really conveys that sorrow in such a beautiful way. Talk a little about writing this song and how it feels today.
Layla: I wrote this song about a week after the shooting, after days of news reports and posts on social media had started to catch up to me. I wrote the lyrics first and then sort of messed around with a Tom Petty-inspired finger picking pattern; after a few hours the song came into itself. I don’t view it as a political song; it was really just a way for me to process the situation and the despair I was feeling for our country. It’s just a call to pay attention to the people in your life and maybe look out for those among us who are feeling particularly lonely. This was actually the first song I sent to Jim, my producer, back in September of 2019. I really felt that with more and more reports of mass shootings over the years, it’s a song that needed to be heard. I think it resonates with a lot of people right now, or at least that’s the hope.
AnaLee: You recorded the album on Music Row at Starstruck Studios with producer Jim Kimball. I feel like I’ve gotten to know you through some of these songs, Layla! It feels very authentic and I love songwriting and singing that hits me like that. Would you fill us in on the crew you and Jim assembled for the recording and what that experience was like for you?
Layla: Awww, that’s sweet to hear. I’m always striving to stay authentic, so I’m glad to hear that that comes through in my music.
Regarding the recording experience, I think it’s important to note that this project wouldn’t have happened had I not met Jim, because prior to meeting him I was really ready to quit pursuing music altogether. I had plans to record maybe another single or two, but not an EP, and then I met Jim at a party on the East Side, which is kind of the quintessential Nashville story. We got to talking about music and he told me to send him a song. And then a few weeks later we were working on pre-production arrangements in his studio. He was such a joy to work with on this project because he really understood my artistic vision and the sound that I was looking for on this project. It was a beautiful thing because when we got into the studio, I trusted him to steer the ship and that way I was free to just track vocals and enjoy the process. I think it’s so important to work with producers who really understand your sound and work with you, not just for you. We both put a lot of love into this project and that level of support was incredibly valuable to me. I feel really lucky.
The crew on this record are some of Nashville’s top session players, and that’s one of the reasons I was so excited to work with Jim; he has access to the best of the best. Jim has been a touring guitarist with Reba McEntire for almost 20 years and he called up Reba’s bassist, Mark Hill, who was just a joy to work with. He also brought in Nir Z on drums, who is such a force, Sol Philcox Littlefield on electric guitar, and then Jim himself on acoustic guitar. It was important to me to have Alex DeVor on keys and piano, as he’s been one of my primary collaborators since my move to Nashville (he co-wrote “Without Suffering”) and I really love his funk and R&B-influenced style. We tend to play really well together, and Jim enjoyed working with him as well, so I’m glad to have made that introduction.
But overall that experience in the studio was probably one of the high points of my life. We recorded all of the tracks with only about two takes, three max, and when you’re working with that quality of player, they’re never just playing to a click, they’re really catering to each song and the sounds that each individual song requires. There were moments too when Nir or Mark would offer arrangement ideas, or Sol had a different idea for a solo. Just to see these songs come into themselves in real time was such a thrill. I remember standing in the vocal booth, singing into Reba’s microphone, the live band tracking in real time in my headphones, and thinking to myself “all those years of choir performances, voice lessons, hours of practicing...this is what it was for. This is what I’ve been working towards.” It was kind of a profound moment.
AnaLee: I included a live version of the song “Without Suffering” below, I really get a feel for the joy you get from performing. Tell us a little about this song and if you have any plans for a tour or playing live around town in Nashville as things are starting to open back up.
Layla: It was actually kind of a surprise addition to the collection; Alex and I wrote it while I was putting together files of demos to send to Jim for consideration. So, at that time, the intention wasn’t to write a song to put on the record, but I really loved what we came up with and when I showed it to Jim, he immediately liked it and thought it could be something. The coolest thing about that song is the places it goes; it starts off slow and ruminative and by the end it's raucous and lively. It’s a pretty emotionally vulnerable song as it’s about allowing yourself to work through painful memories or experiences in order to move on, grow, and “let love in.” In a way it’s about facing self-sabotaging tendencies and there’s a lot of growth in that sentiment. The development of dynamics and tempo throughout the arrangement is meant to mirror that emotional growth and liberation in the lyrics. And I think it does a good job of that.
As for live performances, I have a few dates on the books, but I’m slowly easing back into it. I’ve been playing some rounds at Belcourt Taps on what seems to be a monthly basis so that’s been a low-pressure, fun way of getting back on stage, but I’m really itching to play full sets. I have a few solo shows booked out West and in Chicago in June which I’m looking forward to, but it will likely be a little while before I can get a full band show on the books. There are still a lot of unknowns, but I’m optimistic for the Fall and really looking forward to playing with a band again, hopefully in the near future.
Layla Frankel, “TLC”
Layla Frankel, “Without Suffering”