When the pandemic shut down the tour supporting their first full-length, Hillary Grace Fretland and her bandmates Luke Francis and Jake Haber were relegated to promoting their music from home through front porch and living room performances via social media. That was barely a year ago, and the Snohomish, Washington outfit is primed to reintroduce themselves and fan the fire that’s been smoldering ever since. Fretland’s new album picks up where the band’s self-titled debut left off, but there’s an emotional shift that feels less of a sequel and more like an awakening. Could Have Loved You is mist, reverb, and aching balladry sweetened by emotionally rich vocals and lean lyricism. With their sophomore effort, Fretland expands on an already cultivated sound that whets an independent Pacific Northwest edge across the ever-expanding plane of Americana.
AI- You released your debut just a little over a year ago when this whole planet was on lockdown. That had to be an absolutely harrowing experience. No other generation of artists that I can think of has ever had to do what this one has. As a matter of fact, I believe you said at the time that it looked like everyone’s first rodeo.
HGF- Yeah, exactly! Even the second record, we’d really thought that this would all be over! So to be releasing a whole other album within the same pandemic was definitely not our idea of a good time. We didn’t do that on purpose, necessarily (laughs)! But certainly like everybody else, we’ve just had to adapt in certain areas and play the waiting game.
And I hope you don’t mind me saying, but in a lot of ways, Could Have Loved You sounds like a different Fretland. Is that 2020 leaving streaks or is there something else there?
Well, we had recorded the album in January of 2020. So the streaks of this last year are gonna probably end up on album three (laughs)! But, yeah, I think that just comes with new material and growth as a band and really tryin’ to figure out what we’re doin’. Just growin’, just changin’.
I was gonna ask when you were puttin’ it all together. So you had recorded it when you were getting ready to release the debut? You were already aware that there was gonna be a different sound songwriting-wise and sonically between what you were doing then?
I’ll tell you what strikes me about the songs on this album versus the ones on the debut is that they seem to get to the point a little bit more deliberately.
I think that there’s a little less imagery. I didn’t really think about it that way, but it is a little bit more straightforward for sure.
I’ve spoken to other artists and while they have completely lamented the loss of revenue from touring, they’ve also felt a strange relief. In many ways they felt like the pressure to deliver and to produce has been lessened. They’ve felt like they can really sit down and write– or not sit down and write. Does that sound familiar to you?
Yeah, I think it took me a while to feel creatively inspired. At first, I felt like maybe there was some guilt– that I should just be on my guitar and writing songs [since] I have so much time. But that definitely wasn’t the case. So it took me a while to, I guess, feel that release of pressure to perform because I felt like if there was any time to be creative, it was right now. But of course, the world was kind of on fire. That’s not really how I write. I have to let things settle quite a bit before I put pen to paper.
You got to do, if I understand this correctly, before the bottom fell out of everything, you and the band went out on your very first tour. And then you had other grander plans that got scrapped by the pandemic. Is that something you’re looking forward to diving back into? Do you feel like you missed an opportunity to prepare yourself even more?
Absolutely! I think that for all the different ways, a canceled tour, all the canceled plans for everybody in March of 2020, I feel like, for myself, it was the first time that I was gonna be as close to being a full-time musician as I’ve ever been. I knew that that was gonna be really, really challenging, but I had prepared for that moment so much mentally, just because I knew that if I could do this part of the job, that it would all be worth it. All of the emails and all of the groundwork, it was like if I could just play every single day and still enjoy myself then there’s no reason I wouldn’t want to do this forever, basically.
Is that a concern? That once you do finally get to the point where you can do it every day that it won’t be everything you wanted it to be?
No, I have a pretty good idea. At least for me, it’s not a concern that I will find out that I don’t enjoy playing music every day of my life (laughs) because that’s my happy place– on stage! I was more just saying that I think for the somewhat unknown of the challenges that come with that and working through them, I just wanted a little bit of credit under my belt, so to speak, so that I knew that I could do it. And I knew that I could do it beyond the glamour part of it, which is meeting people and other musicians and playing to a different crowd every night. That’s the exciting thing. It’s the getting gas and being in a van with three other dudes (laughs) and just all the unknown stresses that come with waking up and getting in the van and unloading and the monotony of it. I don’t want to underplay how hard of work it is. It’s just something that I haven’t gotten to experience yet, and I was really looking forward to that!
You’ve said that Could Have Loved You, this album, you wanted it to feel like home. Can you explore that a little bit?
I think when I was saying that, we were talking about imagery and kind of how we use a lot of outdoor shots for a lot of our music videos. And of course, I write most of my songs at home, which is probably why maybe either they just remind me of certain places within my hometown, whether I came up with the chorus on a drive through the valley, or I was sitting around a bonfire and made a little voice memo there. I think that just geographically, this album is very close to home and it’s easy to pull from those memories to paint a picture visually for other people.
I want to bring up one of the tracks on the album, the lone duet, “Do You Think Of Me”, that you do with Luke Francis. All of the songs on this album in some way or another explore a relationship, whether it’s something utterly new, like on that song, or something more intimate like the title track. It almost sounds– and this is something that I have always considered– that as a songwriter or as a character, it is the sum of all the people that you’ve loved that have made up these songs.
I definitely agree. I think in retrospect, I’m reminded that in songwriting, there’s always a little bit of me in everything. Whereas when I’m writing, it’s really nice to be able to disassociate myself from them so that I can maybe explore them more honestly. So yeah, I think that this album explores a lot of heavy aspects of relationships and feelings like loss and regret. But that song is definitely a bright spot for me on the album. I think it’s like a welcome, hopeful feeling for sure!
After releasing one album in a pandemic, and we kinda touched on this earlier, what have you learned as you’re getting ready to release another one? I know that we’re hopefully coming out of this in many ways, but there’s lots of things that haven’t changed in the last year. What have you learned? As I said at the beginning, everybody’s kind of on their first rodeo. What has this meant for you in the learning process and for what you’re gonna do going forward?
I think it’s the importance of connecting with the people that are supporting your music. Social media has never really been my strong suit and I still don’t pretend like it is, but for whatever reason, we’re still getting in front of people that we haven’t had the opportunity to play for, which is usually where you make new fans or you make new friendships with people who want to support what you’re doing. That’s been the biggest blessing out of all of this, which is having a record released during a pandemic, not being able to play a stage, and get exposed to new people. And a lot of that has to do with our amazing team. Just our team believing in this record has been so, so helpful, but it’s always gonna come back down to the listener and then reaching out and expressing gratitude for the people that make what we do possible, which is music lovers. So I think just the importance of connection, for sure.
Something that I’ve seen through and through this last year with artists at every single level, no matter whether you started on your first tour or whether you’re on your 50th tour, the pandemic has really grounded everybody and put everybody on a… Level playing field might not necessarily be the right description, but certainly more level than I think it’s ever been in the music business. And one of the reasons, I think, for that has been social media and technology and the ability to stream shows. You’ve done some of those streaming shows with a great deal of production attached to ’em, and I’ve always felt that that was going to sort of be the future of live music going forward. Do you see things being able to go back to the way they were before the pandemic? And I’ll follow that up with do you think they should?
Hmm. I think when we’re talking about a more even playing field, I feel like, at the end of the day, all artists are just trying to take their creativity and share it. And if there are more avenues for that, I think that could only be a good thing. I don’t think that things will ever go back to the way they were, and I don’t think that they should, but I certainly hope that some elements of playing for a packed room and merch tables and all of the nitty gritty-ness of this industry comes back full force. But that’s really taxing on a lot of artists and that might be a reason why somebody doesn’t decide to pursue music, which is because that work is too grueling. So if there’s a way to be successful and to write beautiful music and get it in front of people without that toll on their mental health then I think that’s only a good thing. I think that can only be good.
It’s interesting you bring that part up about it. I recently spoke to Jade Bird and something that she’s been very vocal and passionate about was how [the pandemic] has affected the next generation of artists, that it’s gonna cause a lot of bands, a lot of artists and songwriters to not even take the chance or get anywhere that they could have beforehand. My retort to that was that I felt like, “What’s more rock n’ roll than that kind of rebellion? You legitimately got something fight against!” What about you? Where do you fall in that argument? Or not argument. In that line of thinking?
I’d probably agree with you. I think it’s pretty rock n’ roll! I feel like there’s this whole other part of this conversation where it’s like, “Do you make art for yourself or for other people?” The state of the music industry is so much about the consumer and so much about what people want or think that they want. The beautiful thing about this year is that so many artists experience burnout just trying to keep up with the consumer and the demand for product. And now the consumer couldn’t even ask that! The music lovers couldn’t even get what they were asking for!
I think in a lot of ways, it evened the playing field between artists and the people where it was like, we experienced burnout too. We’re tired too. All of us lost our jobs. This isn’t a time to be demanding of creative people. This is a time to support in a different way. Moving forward, I feel like, yeah, if somebody doesn’t want to go back to the old way, but they still want to be creative, then more power to ’em! I’m sure I’ll get there one day to where I want to make something, but maybe I don’t want to go on tour, come home, write a new album, pitch it, go on tour for the rest of my life!
But it sure is gonna be nice when you get the opportunity to find out, huh?
Yes! I am welcoming the opportunity to burn out in a fiery ball of flames. I want to fall so hard!