LIGHT IN THE CITY: AN INTERVIEW WITH HANNAH FRALICK
I first came across Hannah Fralick during my short time being involved in Flint’s open mic scene. I remember seeing her thumb through a notebook full of songs carefully choosing a few cover songs to play. Those songs stood out that night, her talent far above the majority of the regulars that showed up on the first Friday of each month to share their talents or try out something new. The ones who had the most talent were often the most humble, sharing their talent as if they were unaware they had something special to offer our community. Since those days, Hannah has continued to grow as a a performer and as a songwriter. She has become a staple of the musical community in Flint through her work on various projects. And she doesn’t keep her gifts to herself either. She has taken to sharing her talents through teaching piano. Hannah has something special to offer. Ever since hearing her latest e.p. that came out this past January, I knew I wanted to have her share that something special here on The Green Couch. Thanks for taking the time to listen in on our conversation.
1.Tell me a little bit about your journey as a musician. I think I first heard you play at an open mic night in town. And I know you’ve released a couple records of original material and collaborated with some other artists. Can you talk a little bit about the movement from where it all started until now?
I come from a family of musicians, so becoming one myself was imminent. I have four siblings and all of them have musical gifts. In fact, I started performing in the community with my older sister when I was probably about 15. We played our own arrangements of covers and I played guitar while we both sang. Eventually I started performing on my own and switched to mostly originals. I did the coffee shop/open mic rounds for a few years before I started branching out into regular gigs at established venues. I’ve played piano since I was 8 but I found guitar was easier to write songs on and easier to travel with, so although I have more experience with the piano, I don’t use much of it in my songwriting. I have done a lot of collaborating with other musicians, and there was a short time where I had a small band called The Beards and we did a few shows and recorded an EP. For the most part I have remained a solo act, though. I’ve had a lot of support from the Flint community and have performed on behalf of The Flint Folk Music Society, The Creative Alliance, Greater Flint Arts Council, and TEDxFlint, to name a few.
2. You also teach piano, right? Can you talk about how teaching others has influenced you as an artist?
I started teaching piano sort of by default. It wasn’t necessarily something I always wanted to do, or went to school to become (although I did go to college for music), but some close family friends opened a music studio in Fenton. They needed another piano instructor, and I felt that I had enough experience and education to give it a shot. A couple of months later I found myself with thirty students! That was three and a half years ago and it’s been an incredible learning experience since then. Teaching is such a challenging but rewarding profession. It’s given me a chance to put my college education to use and it keeps me on track with my own practicing regimen at home. I think being a songwriter has been a great tool for me to use to help my students get excited about music and be creative with it. I like to have a lot of fun and be goofy during my lessons, but I also have high expectations of my students and take it seriously- which is kind of how I am with myself.
3. What is the best part about teaching someone how to play an instrument?
It’s such an honor when I get the chance to be the first person to introduce someone to the realm of music, at least in a more organized fashion. It’s exciting because I know that even if that student doesn’t stick with the instrument for very long, they will always have that experience to remember and be inspired by. It’s really disheartening to know that music is a dying subject in public schools. Kids don’t get the exposure to music that they need. All music means to them is whatever they hear on the radio, and that’s really sad. I try really hard to help my students be open to all different kinds of music, and see how it can be relevent to their own lives. That’s the most important thing, I think. Music needs to matter to you personally in order for you to appreciate it.
4. Since the release of your Hannah Fralick and Beards record, what have you been working on? Can we expect any new releases soon? New projects? Will you be playing out more or are you leaning more towards the education side of music?
Releasing the EP was pretty much the last proactive thing I’ve done in my songwriting career this entire year. I did lots of cover gigs over the summer to save up money for a nice stage keyboard, but that’s about it. It was weird because as soon as the EP was released in January, I immediately sort of went underground to hibernate for the rest of the winter. I didn’t promote the album very much because I just felt exhausted. I figured I would snap out of it by spring but I never did. I haven’t written any new legitimate material in over a year but I’m not really sad about it. Ok, that was a lie. I’m a little sad. It’s frustrating to be a songwriter and not actually be writing any songs. I just feel like I’m resting and percolating. Sort of like my creative well is dry and I’m giving it time to fill up again. But I feel like resting is the right thing for me to be doing right now. I have a lot on my plate, and a lot to think about. I’m really enjoying doing collaborative stuff with other musicians, but other than that, I’m still under the radar until further notice.
5. This is kind of a standard question I ask at the Green Couch. How has community and/or collaboration played a role in your art?
I think collaboration and community go hand in hand. When you’re collaborating with other musicians, you’re in community with them. When your community is inspiring you to write, you’re collaborating with your community. Collaboration is incredibly crucial for me as a songwriter. I am finding that to be more evident now than ever. It’s so easy to get burnt out when you only have one well to draw from. When you’re working with other musicians, everyone gets to pick each other’s brains and there’s plenty of creativity to go around. The city of Flint has definitely been a major influence on my songwriting too. The majority of the Beards EP is a reflection on my life and observations in Flint and it was all written while I lived on Oak St. A lot of people probably wonder why an artist would want to live in a post-industrial, dilapidated city with a very small arts community when you could be someplace like, say, Ann Arbor. But honestly I would rather be here than Ann Arbor. Flint is recovering and growing, the arts are growing. It’s an exciting time to live here, and it’s full of opportunities.
6. I know you also spent some time living on Oak St. in Flint. I used to live there, too. It was a pretty formational time in my life. Do you have any moments or memories from your time on Oak Street that have shaped you?
Haha, I don’t think anyone has ever lived on Oak St. without being somewhat changed by it, and that’s not something someone would understand by just driving down that street. You have to live there to understand. I moved into Stephen and Pam’s (from Empty Orchestra) upstairs apartment in their house when I was twenty. It was my first time living on my own, long-term. I had already gone through a lot of weird and new experiences by then but I feel like my adult life, as it is now, truly began cultivating while I lived there. I had a new city to live in and explore, new people to meet, old people to let go of. I met my husband while I lived there. Probably one of my most memorable experiences while living on Oak St. was during the arson fires. It inspired me to write Ovation after I had watched more than a few houses burn from my livingroom window.
7. As we wrap up, can you share a little bit about some of the other local artists or projects that are making an impact on you right now?
I don’t know if this really counts or answers your question, but one thing I’ve been doing a lot lately is going to the library and picking out random CDs that I’m not familiar with. I just peruse through the selection and grab a bunch that look interesting, then I listen to them in the car during my daily commute to work. I don’t like driving so it helps me look forward to the trip, but it’s also fun to discover new music that I otherwise wouldn’t have known existed. A sort of side perk that I didn’t see coming is that some of the music gives me ideas for my own songwriting, even if it’s really awful. I guess it’s my own customized version of Pandora. Without commercials. And more randomized. Some great artists I’ve discovered through this game is Kitty Wells, The Dirty Projectors, The Sundays, and this crazy David Byrne/Fatboy Slim rock/disco musical about the First Lady of the Philippines (which in a strange way sort of inspired me to try writing a piano suite about the seasons in Michigan. Look for the release of that in spring 2032).
To check out some of Hannah’s work go here.