In kemp ridley, the indie-leaning pop-rock outfit that singer/songwriter Cayla Fralick led in her undergraduate days at the University of South Carolina, the nascent talents of both the group and the frontwoman were difficult to deny. Fralick possessed a nimble, billowy voice and an enviable knack for pop melodies and hooks, while the band behind her reveled in turbo-charging the sturdy structures of her songs with voracious guitars and genuine anthemic lift.
That group gradually disassembled in post-college life, playing their last show in 2013, with their members going on to various other pursuits and Fralick essentially disappearing from the scene even as she was getting her MFA in fiction at USC.
About a year-and-a-half ago, Fralick broke that extended absence and began performing as a solo artist with a startlingly good set of new songs. The story of those songs, as she often admits, is complicated.
“In grad school when I started approaching writing as a craft, it became a different thing entirely to me,” she recalls. “I was very overwhelmed by it, so I didn't really write any [songs] for those three years.”
Following a move to Baton Rouge in 2016, outside of any music community and in emotional turmoil, Fralick found her songwriting voice again, using songs as a way “to process a lot of what was going on” in her relationship.
“It was a very lonely time. I grew up in Columbia, so I was homesick all the time. My relationship was suffering for a lot of different reasons, so I was just very sad,” she explains. “At the same time, I also had all of these tools in my belt when it came to writing. I don't know why it didn't click earlier on, but suddenly it was like, I saw songwriting more like I saw my fiction and stuff.”
The songs poured forth, pairing the early pop-rock smarts that Fralick displayed years ago with a keen literary sensibility and evocative emotionalism in a way similar to artists like Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers, both influences she readily cops to.
“I listened to [Bridgers’ debut album **Stranger in the Alps**] and only that record for like a couple of months,” she admits. “That record honestly gave me the courage to be like, ‘Well, I can put these songs [I have been writing] out somewhere. That you can write these very honest songs that aren't really hiding a whole lot. I can put them out there and it might be OK and it might resonate with somebody else.”
When Fralick decided to move back to Columbia last year with her new songs in tow, she immediately hit up Archer Avenue producer/engineer and erstwhile multi-instrumentalist Eric McCoy to work on a new album, using a few familiar players, including former kemp ridley bassist (and frequent Free Times contributor) Cam Powell and A Fragile Tomorrow drummer Josh Kean, but mostly forging a distinctive sound all on their own.
The two charted out a sound awash in synths and warm, sympathetic guitars, embracing some of the indie rock grandeur of Lucy Dacus or Julien Baker on tunes like “Yours” or “Some Hotel,” but also trying out experimental-tinged electronics and vocal-filtered beds on tracks like “Back to Water” and “In the Fire.”
“Eric and I have a weird thing where we just work really well together,” Fralick says. “We would shoot each other songs back and forth by other artists trying to think about vibes and what we wanted it to kind of feel like. It was a very important thing for me — I wanted it to have a very specific feel. I could not have done any of it without him, for many reasons.”
They worked for months in the studio, layering keys and guitars and peppering the songs with electronic, vocal and percussive accents in an effort to undergird the emotional drift chronicled in the lyrics, to impressive effect.
The resulting record, entitled **Anyway, Here**, feels like a remarkable fruition of talent and labor, journeying through the power and frailty of intimate communication with consummate skill and tenderness, both musically and lyrically.
“Honestly, making this record felt like something I needed to do to be able to move on to something else,” Fralick points out, noting the emotional realism at the heart of it. “It’s made with a single person in mind, and it’s about this kind of ambivalence that has kind of been the way that we've been engaging with one another for the last year and a half. So the title **Anyway, Here** is kind of like, ‘Alright, here's this thing. I don't know what it's going to mean to you, but it means something to me.’”
“It’s also about getting back into doing something that I loved very much and something that I was away from for a while,” she continues, “now realizing that I have the capacity to, you know, create something like this.”
What: Cayla Fralick
Where: New Brookland Tavern, 122 State St.
When: Saturday, May 11, 7:30 p.m.
With: Stagbriar, Grace Joyner, King Vulture
Price: $10 ($8 advance; 18-plus only)
More: 803-791-4413, newbrooklandtavern.com