Nick Frater – Earworms (Q&A)

Nick Frater is very productive, and that raises the quality of his songs even further. He explains to Sweet Sweet Music how he does it.

Earworms is an ode to 70s AM rock and will be released by Big Stir Records on November 19, 2021.

The love for 70s AM rock, or even Soft Rock, is increasingly cited as an inspiration. What do you find attractive about that music, and what bands do inspire you the most?

There’s no denying that I have a massive love of music from before I was born, particularly from around 1965-1975 (give or take). But within that time, there is a noticeable shift in melodic, harmonic, and songwriting techniques that tell your ear that you hear a song from either the 60s or the 70s.

The last album, Fast & Loose, lent a bit more towards the 60s garage/The Band vibe – or at least that was where my head was at when writing. The songs on Earworms all seemed to lend themselves firmly into the 70s feel, so I chose to embrace it and try and make an album that would feel right if you put it on in between albums of that era.

The most audible influences on this record are probably Cheap Trick, Steely Dan, and Todd Rundgren. However, there are a few deliberate musical quotes buried in there too. It’s All Rumours was written with a sample from Jellyfish’s All Is Forgiven, which I’d pitch-shifted into the right key. I make music on the tiniest of shoestring budgets, so I didn’t have the means to clear samples from Virgin Records, so I wondered if Roger Joseph Manning might be up for recreating it, and he was, and worked up some incredible harmony parts for the rest of the track too!

But for fans of ludicrous musical references, Not Born Again features a bass drum quote from ELP’s Trilogy. If you’re not familiar, I thoroughly recommend checking out the Endless Enigma opening suite on that album, absolutely excellent! Hopefully, you’ll recognize the drum quote and think, “how did they do that!?” probably followed by “why did they do that!?” – the answer is that music is fun and should be enjoyed! Even if writing and recording is a pretty downbeat ballad, which I love to do often, there is still a huge emotional surge in making that kind of music, similar to making upbeat tunes. 

It seems that the songs came about in a fit of creativity, or do I hear something that isn’t there and was it just hard work?

You’re absolutely right; I seem to be going through an unexpected purple patch! It’s kind of weird to have written so much material over the last few years – it’s probably too soon to talk about it, but since finishing Earworms, I’ve got about three albums in the can already. The CDs are already printed for one of them. If anyone out there is looking for songs, give me a call!

Songwriting is quite a strange thing to do. It feels easier the more I do it, that sometimes, particularly when writing a first or second album, that everything needs to be the greatest song ever made;  slaving over every note and word. However, I’ve found the opposite to be most enjoyed by other people. My phone is filled with little doodle melodies and lyrics that pop into my head when doing all the mundane things of life – and when worked up into songs quickly, and lyrics committed to early on, going with that first idea, they somehow turn out the best.

I’ve lost count, but I think there are well over 100 tracks under my name currently on Spotify, and at least the same where I’ve contributed to other peoples’ songs too. I’m not sure practice makes songwriting perfect, but it does make it more natural and enjoyable. There’s a kind of half-hearing, a bit like when you see things in your peripheral vision, that is the ideal state to be in to capture songs from the ether. Don’t focus on them because they’ll drift off, but allow them to land in your voice and fingers, probably similar to how dreams form, and they arrive….but a bit of more focused thinking once they have obviously helps turn that little idea into something you’d ever consider pressing to vinyl!

When did you decide the record would be called Earworms?

When you sell as few records as I do, I think a little bit of misplaced confidence goes a long way!

But in seriousness, there was a different approach to songwriting on this album, with pretty much everything written from the voice and starting from the melodic line, rather than how some of my earlier songs, which were worked up at the piano from complex and dense chord structures. 

This change feels like it’s given these songs, and the ones on the three albums a bit more melodic immediacy, and hopefully capture your ear and your heart. I can’t recall exactly when the album title was chosen, but it was pretty early on. That strive for classic pop/rock melodies and sounds was there from the start of this album.

The guitar solos of Lucky Strike and Star-Crossed will make me smile for the rest of the day. Do you recognize that feeling?

I’m so glad to hear you enjoy the guitar solos! As a pianist/bassist, my guitar playing tends to be very ‘un-guitaristy’. Thankfully I know some great guitar players, such as Mike Randle, who can do the flashy playing, while I do the weird ‘piano player doing strange shapes on the guitar’ routine. 

However, both Lucky Strike and Star-Crossed solos were played by me, again coming from singing melodic phrases and finding those notes on the guitar. Lucky Strike is a tune from one of my old bands, and Tom Shotton (drums on some of the album) helped to write that solo, but Star-Crossed was me going all out to make the most 70s thing I possibly could. I love how that one turned out, particularly the high synth/organ sounds that sparkle like a satellite towards the end of the track over the top of the solo. 

You knew you had a lead-off track when you recorded It’s All Rumors?

It’s All Rumours definitely had a’ side a, track 1’ feel to it when I wrote it at the piano. Hopefully, there are many music moments to enjoy on Earworms, but this song kicks off with some filthly double-stop guitar notes over a fun piano riff. On the face of it, the chords are just G/C/D – however, every single time they happen, everything is in a different inversion, with different bass notes and a different rhythm. So, on the one hand, totally meat & potatoes rock music, but also surprisingly complex!

For fans of musical moments, there’s a cheeky bar of 7/8 as it leads into the bridge too. We were talking about musical references earlier; the cheeky bar of 7/8 before the bridge is a nod to Roy Wood, who liked to do that in his big Christmas tune!

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