By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Being the daughter of singer, songwriter and children's entertainer Joel Frankel, it was inevitable that Layla Frankel would become a musician herself.
The Chicago-based folk/soul songwriter and singer will celebrate the release of her debut EP, "Tame the Fox," on April 30 with a show at SPACE, 1245 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. The show starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com.
I had the chance to talk to her about the new album.
Q - Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "Tame the Fox," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?
Honestly, my main goal was just to complete it! This project has been years in the making and there’s such a thrill in simply having this body of work as a studio recording. So in that regard, yes, mission accomplished!
As far as more specific goals within the project, my objective was to not only record these songs but to truly do them justice; to produce my songs in a way that really showcases the songwriting and my abilities as a vocalist. That meant bringing in strong, versatile musicians and finding a sound engineer who understood and believed in the project.
The album features Dave Hiltebrand on guitars and bass, Robert Rashid on drums/ percussion, and Eddie Ganet on keys; all of whom were wonderful to work with and crucial in bringing these songs to their full potential. And Josh Richter, the sound engineer at Victorian Recording, made the whole recording process fun and comfortable which is so essential when you’re in the vulnerable state of recording your first CD.
I really could not have been happier with the team involved.
Q - I understand that you carried the book "The Little Prince" during a 600-mile hike last year on the Israel National Trail. In that book, The Little Prince meets many interesting characters during his travels. Did you meet any interesting characters on the hike?
Yes, many! Although, considering I was the one hiking in a foreign country, they probably thought I was a character.
Many of the people on the trail were young Israelis who had just finished their army service and hadn’t even begun to think about their career paths or university/college educations. Their worldly perspectives were very different from my own as well as the cultural expectations and communication styles.
I had a lot of miles to spend thinking about my cultural background, habits and idiosyncrasies, and when you surround yourself with a new culture it gives you a completely different understanding of your own life and the choices you make. I think my time on the trail - time spent away from music - only helped guide me right back to it.
Completing the trail was my way of proving to myself that I can accomplish that which I set out to achieve, and while I was on the trail I told myself that, if I could complete my two-month-long hike, the EP release would be my next metaphorical “trail.
I came up with the name “Tame the Fox” on the trail after being inspired by the fox’s quote in “The Little Prince,” in which he exclaims that to tame means to create a relationship with someone or something so that they are “unique in all the world.”
What better mantra for a debut release? This is me; this is what I have to offer; this is how I’ll tame the fox.
Q - As a youngster, you appeared on stage with your dad, Joel Frankel, and also appeared on his children's records. How did that experience shape you and prepare you for your own musical career?
Let’s just say being a doctor or a lawyer wasn’t really in my cards.
Growing up the child of a freelance songwriter and performer, it was just a job like any other parent’s job. Counter to the societal stigmas around careers in music, his livelihood as a musician never seemed to be particularly extraordinary or unstable -we lived comfortably. So pursuing music always felt like a viable option.
I certainly attribute my comfort as band leader to my early experiences with him both on stage and off. I grew up watching him perform, analyzing his stage banter, and helping him come up with song arrangements. And I first recorded with him when I was four years old, so singing and performing is somewhat second nature.
Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?
Chicago loves all kinds of music so any style of music can find an audience here. That being said, I find the music scene to be as spread out as the landscape itself.
I practically grew up at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago because that was the musical niche that my father was in and that particular community has always felt like a musical home. Since returning to Chicago post-college and exploring a variety of styles including more jazz, soul and pop sounds, I’ve branched out of the cozy folk circle and found there to be independent musical niches all over the city.
In the past year I’ve attempted to bridge the divides to some degree by featuring various artists at my monthly showcase, “All Write in the Round,” and have met some really talented, creative, and motivated musical counterparts.
It’s a challenge; there are so many people in places I wouldn’t think to look, but I find that what this city lacks in music industry it makes up for in artistry and collaboration. I’m just hoping to keep meeting people, gaining inspiration from their work, connecting and collaborating.
Q - I know you teach songwriting at the Music Institute of Chicago. What are some of the things that you try to convey to your students?
It’s all so subjective; sometimes I think they’re teaching me just as much I’m teaching them. I work primarily with beginners, and my main objective is to give them prompts and guidelines that help generate creative ideas for them.
I just want to help them find their creative footing so that they are excited to explore the medium of music and lyrics. One of my favorite exercises is to have them listen to their favorite song, figure out what they love about that song and then put themselves in that artist’s shoes.
You can only learn by copying what you know and love, and through that you’ll find your voice.
I also encourage writing and finishing bad songs. It’s better for them to write 100 bad songs than no songs at all.
Q - You are also the host and curator of a monthly musical showcase, “All Write in the Round,” at Wishbone North in Chicago. Do you think that such events help strengthen collaborative efforts between musicians? What do you get out of the experience?
That is the goal! I try to bring in an array of artists each month with varying sounds - sometimes they know one another but often they don’t.
In a city as spread out as Chicago, my mission was to create something that made the music community feel a little smaller and more accessible. Whether the rounds lead to further collaborations between artists I couldn’t say, but I can tell you that at every performance I try to create an open, organic, collaborative environment on stage which has lead to some really spontaneous and fun musical moments.
I like to believe that the simple existence of a series like this contributes to a city-wide collaborative culture. I certainly feel its presence in my own musical relationships.
Q - What goals do you have for the rest of the year?
Write more songs, play more rounds, and continue to play shows with my phenomenal backing band. I have some collaborations in the works with other local artists including video projects and songwriting co-writes so I’m looking forward to those types of projects.
I also have a dream of going on a house show tour - basically road tripping from Chicago to New York on a run of intimate performances in peoples’ living rooms. Hopefully that will be my next metaphorical “Israel Trail.”
Only this time I’ll take an automobile.