In trying times, Vancouver singer/songwriter Frazey Ford turns to Aretha Franklin and gospel music

Frazey Ford’s new album is out today. Alana Paterson photo.

U kin B the Sun, Frazey Ford‘s new album, is officially released today (March 27). It marks the third solo release from the East Vancouver-based singer/songwriter, who first came to international attention as one-third of the local folk trio Be Good Tanyas, and her first since 2014’s Indian Ocean.

The soulful, rootsy album features the molasses-lie vocals and intimate, defiant lyrics of Ford backed by her band of local musicians, including Darren Parris, Leon Power, Craig McCaul, Caroline Ballhorn and Phil Cook. In a four-star review, the Guardian says that U kin B the Sun is “an album that doesn’t grab your attention with pyrotechnic displays, opting instead for a slow-burning, unassuming kind of power: a low-key delight, but a delight all the same”.

We talked to Ford about finding comfort in creativity and solace in Aretha Franklin.

Q: You got four dates of touring in before this happened, with the last show in Victoria on March 5  before being scheduled to start up again in Seattle on March 18. What was that period like between the last show on March 5 and the one scheduled for March 18?

A: I was just on Instagram and someone was saying, “Oh, I’m so glad I caught your show in Nanaimo.” That’s one of the crazy things about this time is that a concert feels so last century. It’s such a world away.

To be honest, I hadn’t been paying that much attention to the pandemic. I’m not a germaphobe, I’m more of the attitude of keeping up your immunity. Often mainstream news is a little fear-monger-y. But in the time between the Canadian tour and when we were supposed to leave for Seattle on the 17th, I read all the statistics. I’ll pay attention to science but not necessarily mainstream news. And I was like, ” There’s no f***ing way I’m going to Seattle.” And I called my manager to tell her we can’t play Seattle. And then all the promoter called and it was like a domino effect and it (the tour) was gone.

Q: A lot of musicians are doing live streaming shows on social media. Are you considering one?

A: Not right now. I’m not thinking about that right now. Everyone’s scrambling to do these things and I respect it. I don’t want to force anything like that. It’s awesome but it doesn’t replace the live show. I’m just letting myself take the time to absorb what’s going on. I am however back in my writing zone, which is helping me cope with the situation. Whenever I’m working on an album I’m writing a lot of songs at the same time. It just happened that with the last album (U kin B the Sun), those were the songs closest to being finished. I’ve been sitting at my piano and working away on stuff. I think creativity is really helpful right now because you access your own joy.

Video—Frazey Ford, “The Kids Are Having None Of It”

Q: Are you hearing from people that your music is giving them comfort?

A: Yeah, I’m getting that a lot. Even my publicist texted me at 5 a.m. from the UK saying “I was so freaked out and then I listened to your album a couple of times and I feel better.” But for me, I’ve been through a lot of really intense stuff the last couple of years, my whole life really, and not in a victim-y way, and music has always been a vehicle for me to stay connected to joy and beauty and to my own strength and to come through stuff.

I think what’s interesting for me right now, in the last year I’ve had a couple of family members die, close together, and I’ve been in a space of dealing with such a big thing and writing a lot of music. Now everyone’s on this page together and we’re all dealing with something that is so emotionally huge. I’ve been joking, “Welcome to the jungle.”

Q: Whose music do you turn to for comfort?

A: I listen to Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace (1972), the album she recorded with a choir, daily. I’ve been listening to a lot of Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson. I put together a playlist on Spotify of African music. I don’t know why but I’ve just been going back to my record collection. But in particular Aretha Franklin and gospel music.

And I’ve been doing yoga. Some days I’m totally fine. Then yesterday, so many people… if you have a lot to lose right now, you’re losing it. So I had a day yesterday where I was feeling pretty anxious. Gospel music is very helpful to me right now.

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