Coming into her album release show at The Royal American on May 10th, Cayla Fralick was something of an unknown, especially on a bill that carried the likes of Stagbriar, Grace Joyner and Mechanical River Dream Band. Part of it is that she hadn’t really played in Charleston before. Another part of it is that the album that she released is her debut. And then there is the fact that unlike a lot of up and coming musicians in the age of Bandcamp and Soundcloud, there was not much of a buildup to this album, titled Anyway, Here. Fralick did release two singles to preview Anyway, Here (“Back to Water” and “Some Hotel”) but there wasn’t that, “Hey, here I come!” slew of performances around the state to gather interest.
Instead, she had the cojones to hop on a bill with three of South Carolina’s more established performers and let it rip. Not many people could pull that off. She did.
Fralick grew up in Columbia and has lived there almost her entire life. Her first venture into music was in the early 2010’s when she was the lead singer of the folk alternative band Kemp Ridley. “We were never a cool band, however you want to define that, but it was fun while it lasted,” Cayla says. “We didn’t take ourselves very seriously. We won like a battle of bands in Five Points and got some free recording time at Jam Room. Then we did a little EP and an album at Archer Avenue, which is also where the new album was produced.”
Kemp Ridley’s last release came out in 2012, putting a seven year gap between Fralick’s musical releases. Naturally a lot has happened in those seven years, including getting her Bachelor’s and MFA from The University of South Carolina, becoming an adjunct professor in the college’s English department, and a brief move to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“I was totally out of the music scene for about four years, while I was in grad school especially. I couldn’t write anything that I thought was any good, partly because I was thinking more about language than music and it got in my head,” Cayla explains. “When I used to write songs it was, ‘inspiration, sit down, write out whatever comes out.’ Regardless of whether or not it was a terrible line, it just needed to fit. And then that just stopped working. I paid more attention to songs I liked and why I was attracted to those songs. In grad school of course I was more focused on my thesis so that was why I stepped away from music. But after that I thought about it more as a craft and it was less about the inspiration and more about how can I workshop this and make it better. Not to say I don’t need inspiration to write a song, you do have to catch that feeling to make it happen. I used to just write really abstract things about feelings, but now I know that some of the most highly emotive stuff is based off of a particular image that’s just really well crafted.”
Apart from her time in school, the move to Louisiana also played a major part in her return to music. “I was by myself a lot,” Cayla says, “and I was writing a lot of music and had nowhere to put it. That was where this album came from, that time and then the road between Louisiana and South Carolina.”
On Anyway, Here, you can hear that loneliness as well as the conceptual “road” that’s equal parts daunting and comforting. The album was born of someone who is looking forward even in the midst of loneliness, or what had been loneliness. It’s a sign of maturation too, seven years of changing will do that to a person. It is not the product of someone who won a battle of the bands to get here, but someone who had to experience the whirlwind of being in your twenties at a point in time where it’s getting progressively harder to be young, and let that accumulate into a ten track collection of personal stories and internal thoughts.
While Fralick does cite Eric McCoy as being the producer of the record (he did a bang up job with it), Cayla herself does deserve a lot of the credit for the auditory feeling of Anyway, Here. It’s very full sounding and uses pop production with more modern folk songs to make a solid, unified sound for both her album and her live set. The sound came from Fralick’s fascination with pop music.
“A lot of Eric and I’s relationship is based around us just standing in a parking lot and talking about and dissecting pop songs,” she says. “I’m a sucker for pop music, unfortunately. I’m so attracted to the sleekness of it. I don’t think it’s very smart content-wise, but the sound is something that I really appreciate. The first time I really started to think differently about pop and electronic sounds was when Eric and I had a debate over Katy Perry of all things. We were talking about ‘I Kissed a Girl’ and he said, ‘This is great music,’ and I said, ‘This is hot garbage,’ and he put on the song and there’s a synth line in that song that stays the same note for the whole song and you don’t really notice it. For some reason that was a game changer in how I thought about pop music production. I started loving hooks.”
When asked about how Columbia’s music scene has changed since she started getting involved with it, Cayla says “I think Columbia has outrageous potential for a really incredible music scene that hasn’t fully been tapped into yet. We do have our more popular bands and with good reason, I could gush about Niecy Blues for hours and hours, but it is harder to get people to come out to see bands that they haven’t heard of. And that’s not anyone’s fault, I admit I’m guilty of it too. The thing is I don’t really know how to change that. I hope that things can expand, we’re growing as a city in general.”
“When I was grad school in 2015 and 2016 I was sort of coming to terms with wanting to stay in Columbia because things were growing and you could tell something was about to happen but then I moved! Now I’m back and I have been thinking about community and being supportive of one another because at one point I was thinking about wanting to go Nashville and just focus on songwriting, but Columbia is still kind of in need in cultivating. So what’s our role? What do the people who have been around for a while need to do in making it what it could be? I’m proud of Columbia, I want to be there to help turn it into something else, whatever that thing is.”
She’s sort of an ideal hometown hero in a way. If she’s met you before, she genuinely puts in the time to talk with you. She really cares about how you’re doing and she loves talking about music and art and social justice issues and every bind that ties that all together. In talking to her there were moments where I was just as much the subject of the interview as she was. After the Royal American show she was talking with people who made the trip down to support her as well as newfound fans in Charleston.
If you missed the show at Royal but have an opportunity to see Cayla Fralick in the future, take it. Her banter during the set was that of someone who’s thrilled to be in her position on the stage and is still absorbing the fact that they have their own music out. It’s sweet, but of course it’s understandable for the album release show of someone who probably didn’t think they’d be putting out music as recently as four or so years ago. But when she and her four-piece band got into each song, it was heavy. Not heavy in the sad sense, but that it was sonically full and powerful while still giving room for the lyrics to take a starring role. Not to mention, she can really sing.
Through the live show and the album itself, Fralick has immediately proven that she doesn’t need the developmental stage of small shows and the slow construction of a devoted fan base. She’s already primed for a spot in the starting lineup. Maybe that’s because she’s always been here, letting things naturally build up for the right moment. The moment’s come, and she seems more than ready for it.
Anyway, Here is available for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp. Listen below.