Sideline Spotlight: Andy Frasco Talks Mental Health and Writing His Best Album Yet

Andy Frasco and the U.N. got together in Los Angeles in 2007. Since then, they’ve made waves in the indie scene with their insane touring schedule and seven studio albums to boot. Frasco and his band sport an indie-rock sound with hints of jam band and classic rock sensibilities that have made them a consistent festival favorite for the better part of the last decade. I got a chance to talk to Andy on the phone and discuss his love for classic soul music, his mental health journey, and why his new album Keep On Keepin’ On is his favorite collection of songs yet. 

You and your band are musicians from very different musical backgrounds. How did you all come to start playing together?

I bought a van with the last of my bar mitzvah money, and I basically just started Craigslisting in every single town until I found the right guys that wanted to live on the road. We’ve been doing 250 shows a year for the last 13 years or so.

That’s a crazy touring schedule. Was it your plan from the beginning or has it just happened on its own?

I just like being on the road, and I feel most comfortable when I’m on the road. I really enjoy it.

You and your band are known for really high-energy, off-the-cuff live performances. What goes into this? What’s your mindset? Do you plan them out?

I just go out there and let it happen, man. I don’t like having a setlist. I’m not a guy who really focuses on that. I wanna really be present with the show. If I have an idea, on the fly then I want to do that. I don’t want to be stuck. 

Has that mentality ever backfired?

Oh yeah, it’s backfired! Especially when I’m doing two shows in a row in towns that are a hundred miles away, I kinda go into autopilot. I might play a completely different show. I’m working on that. 

If you could play a show with any musical artist or group who would it be?

Oh The Band for sure. Or Frank Sinatra! The guy was a legend. I would love to just pick his brain. 

What is your favorite show that you’ve played. 

I would say Jazzfest. I had a great time at Jam Cruise, and a great time at Panic on the Fly. I like festivals — I feel like I shine at festivals. 

Is it the bigger crowd? The atmosphere?

I think everyone’s just happy — everyone’s focused on living in the present. My band works best when people are present. That’s my goal as a live act, trying to keep them present, trying to keep them focused on just being the people they want to be.

Do you write most of your music when you’re on the road?

Yeah, I write the majority of my music on the road. I actually wrote all of this new album on the road.

So do you find it tough when you need to switch into recording mode and put the songs you’ve written on wax?

Yeah, totally. You gotta just turn off your brain, so you can do something totally different. You’re not trying to make music for your live show, you’re trying to make music just to make music.

You have a lot of different musical styles. I’m curious what kind of music you grew up on, and what you find yourself inspired by.

I love the old soul guys. Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett, all those guys really speak to me and mean a lot to me. I love all that stuff.

You have a new album coming out soon.What aspect of it should we be most looking forward to?

I think I’m maturing as a songwriter. I think I’m talking about stuff that we want to talk about now. I’m just diving into who I am as a person, and who I want to be, so I’m really excited about that.

How did your experience play into writing that song and this album?

Basically, I’ve just been listening to all the people who have been there with me, and trying to hear them out more. [I’m] trying not to be someone who is so focused on themself and on how to succeed. I’m taking a step back and understanding that I’m a person too, and trying to find out all my insecurities rather than feeling like I’m invincible. 

Were you done with this album before all the Covid-19 lockdowns began happening?

Yeah. The album was done a couple months ago. I don’t want to say “Covid’s awesome or anything,” but it worked out because on the album, I’m talking about things like isolation. And we’re all going through isolation right now. It’s important for people to listen about this kinda stuff you know?

Would you say this is something that everyone needs to hear especially right now?

Yeah, 100%. I’m just trying to keep people optimistic about the future. When we’re stuck in such gloom with all this bad news, we feel like it’s gonna be forever. This record is mostly about how, in life, these ups and downs are temporary. So let’s just stay focused because it’s gonna get better.

In the promo material for the new album, you prominently feature pills as a motif. Drugs are mentioned frequently in your music, one of your most popular songs is “Smokin Dope n Rock n Roll.” What are your opinions on drug use as it relates to music?

I mean I’m not one to advocate for you to go do a bunch of blow or heroin. But like with anything, if you abuse something, and you’re doing it more than recreationally and getting addicted, then maybe you need to start thinking about substance abuse [treatment]. It could be anything, it could be alcohol, overeating, all that stuff is a drug if you take too much of it. 

On the single art for “Keep on Keepin’ On” you are shown being bombarded by bottles and pills that have been thrown at you. What’s the symbolism there?

People just cure their problems with pills and drugs when they don’t know the roots of them. I’m not saying don’t take antidepressant pills if you need them, some people do need them. But don’t just take pills because someone tells you to take them. I think the way we deal with a lot of things is just a quick fix … It’s like a band-aid.

Which album has been your favorite to record?

This one. I mean, I got to write lyrics that I actually cared about. Not that I didn’t care about the other ones, but it’s just been a change of pace, as I’m starting to focus on lyrics and dialing in on who I am as a songwriter and a person. This new record is pretty authentic to who I am. 

Are there any new musical directions on it?

Yeah man, there’s a lot of indie stuff that I’m rockin’. I’m just trying to keep developing as a musical composer — lot of soul stuff, lot of indie stuff. On this record, I’m really focusing on the lyrics and trying to get different melodies that will get those lyrics across.

You’re starting a podcast right?

Yeah, I’m doing this thing called “The World Saving Shit Show.” It’s a livestream where I interview my favorite people in the world and try to make them have fun. 

So who are some of the people?

I’m doing J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr., I’m doing Widespread Panic, I did Twiddle, a lot of jam bands, Khruangbin … I’m just trying to do anyone who wants to be on the show and have fun a little bit.

What are some of your goals for the next few years?

I’m gonna try to stay alive.

That’s a good one.

I just wanna keep doing what I’m doing. Everyday getting better at my craft, being the person I want to be, improving as an artist whether it’s through comedy, music, screenwriting. Whatever it is, I just want to be authentic to who I am during that present time. 

Many thanks to Andy Frasco for the interview! Make sure to check out his Instagram and Twitter, and hear the music yourself on Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal!


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