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Frazey Ford on sewing, healing and U Kin B the Sun

When I reached Frazey Ford at her East Vancouver home two days before the launch of her third solo album, U Kin B the Sun, she’d been spending the day in a very East Van sort of way:  making granola and sewing an outfit for her upcoming album launch tour.

“It’s a copper sequin shirt that has one shoulder as a puff sleeve and the other is off the shoulder,” she explained, “so it’s kind of very like 80s rock n’ roll.”. 

Frazey’s love of shiny fabrics is evident in her videos, but I had no idea that the twice-Juno-nominated Be Good Tanyas alumnus made her own outfits, and I marveled aloud at her obvious skill with a sewing machine, particularly given that puff sleeves and sequins are not exactly the domain of beginners.

It’s a grounding pastime in an era of social media, she explained, one that connects her to her fellow crafty friends and to her female ancestral line. 

“In my sewing kit, I have my mom’s sewing machine, I have my grandmother’s – a bunch of my grandmother’s stuff – and I even have my great grandmother’s buttons,” she said.

Sewing also allows her to avoid the exploitative elements of the fashion industry, she added.

“I’m like, ‘I’ll be my own sweatshop,’” she said laughing. “It’s funny because in the era of convenience, we forget how pleasurable it is to just make something for yourself.”

I have to admit, I’d never recalled Frazey being especially talkative on stage – though admittedly it’s been three or four years since I last saw her live – but in conversation, she is friendly, authentic and extremely down-to-earth, talking candidly about her musical journey to heal from a childhood marked by violence, abuse and addiction.

Recently, things have begun to shift for her, she said, and those shifts manifest themselves on U Kin B the Sun in the form of an increased sense of freedom and a willingness to let go of control.

“There’s something different that came out in my voice that was sort of more in myself,” she said. “And I think if you come out of a lot of trauma and all that stuff … control is really important to you, and I think I allowed myself to kind of unleash anger and joy and sexuality …”  

An example of this unleashing is found on “Purple and Gold,” one of the album’s many moody, groovy, down-tempo numbers, which she said is about the depths of disappointment that come with realizing you’ve given away too much of yourself to someone who wasn’t caring for you equally.

“It’s such a common [thing] for people that come through what my siblings and I came through,” she said. “We tend to recreate or be in a dynamic and not know that someone’s not treating us well.”

It’s a song that is part tragic, part empowering, she said, but it’s not a song about being a victim; it’s about accepting something that’s really hard for what it is.

Creating U Kin B the Sun was an extremely organic process, Frazey said, with many of the songs evolving spontaneously in the studio.

That includes the resplendent opener “Azad,” which sounds so finely-crafted, it’s hard to believe it’s actually the product of a 10-minute jam.

“Oh young thing, you cannot be tamed in this life,” she belts out in the soaring chorus. “Find your feet / Go wide for the red western sky.”

 It took listening to “Azad” over and over again to figure out what it was about, said Frazey, who engages with her artistic process much in the way that many people engage with psychotherapy – expressing herself in an unbridled fashion then working out the meaning of it later. In the end, she said, a picture emerged of her eldest brother speaking to her and her sister during their troubled childhood in the commune her American parents had settled in after arriving in Canada to dodge the draft.

“He was always just pointing out beauty,” she said of her sibling, “and to me, to come through what we came through and to survive, you really do need to have a sense of beauty, and that’s kind of one of the things that’s sort of an important thing for me in that song.”

Frazey hits the road Feb. 29 to launch the new album, starting with a show at Petit Campus in Montreal. And despite being a talented clothing-maker, she claims to be terrible at ordering merchandise for her fans to buy.

However, she has contemplated launching a clothing line, she said – one that would empower its workers, of course.

“I traveled a lot as a younger person, and what I really clearly remember was, in some countries like Guatemala, these women’s collectives that started up, they were a really powerful financial cornerstone to communities,” she said. “It can be a powerful way to empower women is to create work opportunities that are well-paid and all that kind of stuff.  It’s something I think about for sure.”

See Frazey live:

  • Feb. 29 – Petit Campus, Montreal, QC
  • Mar. 2 – Mod Club, Toronto, ON
  • Mar. 4 – The Port Theatre, Nanaimo, BC
  • Mar. 5 – Capital Ballroom, Victoria, BC
  • July 17-19 – Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Vancouver, BC
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