Jul 01, 2021
By Caleb Campbell
Photography by Rebecca Kavaler
Massachusetts singer/songwriter Ciarra Fragale has been growing in leaps and bounds, with each release becoming more assured and honing an even more potent edge to her wide-ranging style. Her 2019 sophomore LP, Call It What You Want was barely out before Fragale found herself gathering material for the follow-up. After a year of heavy touring Fragale relocated to her new home of Western Massachusetts where her third self-titled LP took form.
She explains the record saying, “A friend asked me what this album was “like” a few weeks ago and I, half-jokingly, said that it’s a ‘sonic/cosmic spaghetti western set in 1978 California, featuring a female protagonist who is only seen driving on an empty highway at night. Her final destination: outer space.’ The more I thought about my off-the-cuff response, the more I realized that it was kind of spot-on. My 3rd LP, Ciarra Fragale (written & produced by me) is an album that encompasses the last 18 months of my life, and is an album that feels the most ‘me.’”
Fittingly, for a record that feels the most “her,” Ciarra Fragale refuses to be tied down or boxed in. Fragile samples ‘60s Motown-tinged heartbreak pop on “It’s Only Raining,’’ spacious celestial soundscapes on “To See Your Face,” and gliding synth melodies paired with dusty spaghetti wetern guitar solos on “Drive Home Part II.” Meanwhile, tracks like “You Don’t Call Me Anymore” show an artist pushing at the boundaries of her musicianship, with instrumentation that rushes between subdued contemplation and striking ascendant power. It’s a more confident work than her previous releases, showing off an impressively elastic range to her songwriting and soul-baring honesty to her performances.
Check out the album early below, out tomorrow July 2nd. You can also read Under the Radar’s exclusive Q&A with Ciarra Fragale, touching on her record, inspirations, and other ventures.
(Under the Radar) How do you feel your sound or style has changed between Call It What You Will and this release?
It’s really cool to look at your bodies of work and see an evolution. Since CIWYW, I’ve grown exponentially—as an artist and as a woman. Which is great, because I never want to stop learning and growing. I gave myself a lot more agency in terms of how I wanted to approach writing these songs, which inherently changed the style of them. I’m a way better guitar player now than I was when making CIWYW, which is showcased really well on this record. But it feels good to look back on all of those bodies of work, different as they may be, and still know that I made them.
You’ve said before that you really tried to take more risks with this release. What tracks do you think are the biggest surprises on the album?
Overall, the scale of the album is bigger than anything I’ve done in the past, so that in and of itself is a surprise, but a welcome one. I played drums for half of the record, which to me was a huge risk. “It’s Only Raining” is written in a style that I’ve never tried to write in before, so that was really fun trying to navigate that. One of my favorite moments on the album is in the first 30 seconds of it—not to spoil the surprise, but it’s a really powerful musical moment that I think will really make people turn their heads.
What were some of your thematic and musical inspirations behind the record?
Self-exploration is really the soul of this record. When I was making it, I pretty much looked at everything through that lens. I was listening to a lot of conceptual albums, like Caroline Rose’s latest Superstar, and Andy Shauf’s entire catalog. While I wouldn’t say this record is super conceptual, I did try to establish some elements of a thru-line (like in “Drive Home” and “Drive Home II”). I love little hidden nuggets like that in a record. It makes the listener excited to discover something they might’ve missed when they go back and listen to it again.
Why did you choose to self-title this record?
I truly felt like I couldn’t call it anything else. This record feels like the most “me,” and there’s really no better time to self-title your record when you feel that!
What are some of the experiences you drew from when writing the record?
The reader’s digest answer to that question is: break-ups, make-ups, and becoming more self-assured.
I spent a lot of time working on giving myself over to the present moment—which allowed me to look at my relationships with myself and others in a way that provided a lot of clarity. I had to look within to look out.
I also love the album’s cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” What inspired you to cover that song?
Thank you! Yeah, I love love love that song. I was so attached to the original, as well as Peter Gabriel’s version. That song struck an emotional chord in me and I really wanted to marry those two versions together. The result is more or less the version we hear on the album. I’ve been doing that cover for years now, and it’s been the opening for some of the most important and meaningful sets of my life. It felt right to put it on the album.
Aside from your singer/songwriter output, you’ve also done some composing for theater and film. Do you feel like that informed your songwriting when you were writing the record?
Totally! I am obsessed with the art of storytelling, and all of the different ways we can do it. Writing for those styles allows me to see the world in a particular way, and that definitely crosses over into the solo stuff—and vice/versa!
I also saw that you work as a freelance vintage wholesaler. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Yes! Vintage is my second passion in life, I’ve been collecting since I was 13 or so. I became obsessed with finding these lost pieces of history, doing research, using the past to express ourselves in the present. It’s so cool to me. I started out as being a cherry-picker for people who owned stores, because I had a lot of patience and was totally stoked to go out and find things—still am! I now have a small (but growing) client base that I go out and find specialty things for (mostly t-shirts and denim, but other, weirder stuff too). It’s so personal to me, and I love being able to share that with other people.
Where do you hope to go next with your music?
I hope I keep looking back on previous bodies of work and say “man, I know WAY more now than I did then.” I want to keep evolving, keep learning, and keep pushing the envelope. The goal is to play bigger shows, connect with more people, and keep using music as an outlet to discover who I am.