“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies,” Aristotle mused.
Watching Jessie Frye and Kaela Sinclair share a conversation is like seeing the philosopher’s words come to life.
One gestures freely, moving about in her chair as she talks.
The other, leaning back, speaks infrequently but forcefully.
One has a bawdy streak, casual with coarse language and quick to laugh.
The other, more reserved, smiles easily and isn’t shocked by rude humor.
These two are a pair of friends in near-perfect equilibrium.
But for all their differences, it’s the similarities that are more telling.
Both are passionate musicians, artists with a forceful vision brought to life with encouragement, not only from each other, but also local-music heavyweights. Both women live in Denton. Both favor the piano as a primary instrument, both teach music at Southlake’s Hall Music Productions, and both embraced Kickstarter to help achieve their goals of recording their debut records.
Sinclair was first out of the gate with Sun & Mirror, which DFW.com named as the best local album of last year, and now, it’s Frye’s turn, as she releases her first full-length record, the darkly beautiful Obsidian, on Tuesday.
Frye will perform at Lola’s Saloon in Fort Worth on Friday, and she’ll be joined by Sinclair, who’ll open, along with Pullman Standard and We’rewolves. (Frye also has an Obsidian celebration Saturday at Deep Ellum’s Three Links.)
Given that the two women have so much in common, we thought it would be interesting to sit them down for a moderated chat of sorts to see what they think about not only each other’s music, but a whole range of topics. What follows is a condensed, edited version of the half-hour conversation between two of the most promising musicians North Texas has to offer. For the complete transcript of their conversation, as well as video highlights, visit dfw.com/music.
On how they met
Jessie Frye: I met her when I started working at Hall Music [Productions in Southlake] and I don’t think we — that was in February 2012.
Kaela Sinclair: I started working there in 2010, when I was still in college. We didn’t actually talk —
Frye: For, like, six months.
Sinclair: It was weird.
Frye: It’s because I was moving around from room to room. I didn’t have my own room yet.
Sinclair: Then you settled in one and claimed it, and it was right next to mine.
Frye: I switched rooms with her boyfriend. So we were literally roommates at work. … The friendship was kind of inevitable.
Sinclair: We’d trade teaching techniques and writing techniques and complain sometimes.
Frye: And then it would kind of going into, “Hey, want to hang out afterwards? We should actually be friends!” She lives in Denton too, so it was just —
Sinclair: We have a lot of things we can relate to each other about.
Frye: And a lot of common friends, so it just made sense to get to know her more. It felt really natural, though.
Frye: I feel like I’m talking about how I fell in love with you or something.
On how they became musical allies
Frye: It’s kind of weird — I think, honestly, our friendship really began to become more intimate when we realized that we were both recording a record at the same time. I remember the first time we hung out. You came over to my house —
Sinclair: Oh, yeah, and I showed you that song … Coral Castles and Like Kings, and they were like the really rough ones, but you were like, “That’s a good direction.”
Frye: I think I showed you the really rough demo of Never Been to Paris and we just hung out and talked about music. And then I think from there, we started to realize that we have extremely similar opinions and passions.
Sinclair: And goals.
Frye: And we get annoyed by the same stuff.
Sinclair: For sure, we definitely do.
Frye: So we would go through the same things almost at the same time.
Sinclair: It was kind of weird.
Frye: So if something upsetting happened to her, a similar situation was also happening to me at the same time. That really helped us, like, “You understand too?” Well, she sang back-up vocals on four of the songs on Obsidian. My voice sounds like a munchkin when it’s doubled. It’s not good.
Sinclair: Our voices blend really well together — they don’t necessarily blend, but they complement each other.
Frye: Yours is really like, like, fluffy and warm.
Frye: And mine is like —
Sinclair: You have the laser-beam quality.
Frye: A laser-beam voice? Awesome! When I sing, it just attacks people?
Sinclair: Like in a really good way!
Frye: I was at some sessions and she was at some of my sessions, recording. I feel like we were a big part of each other’s records, in terms of support. Not making decisions, being there.
Sinclair: I think it was a rare and awesome thing to have a friend there who actually totally gets what you’re going through and not just, “Oh, yeah, I recorded my album five years ago and it was hard, too,” [but] “I’m doing the same exact thing right now.”
What they thought when they heard the finished albums
Sinclair: I was proud, you know?
Frye: I was there on the last day! I was there when it was finished.
Sinclair: We were kind of listening through the last of the stuff at Redwood [Studios in Denton] and everyone was in there.
Frye: I know what she went through to make this record happen. We both had really long journeys in different ways, so it almost felt like there was a sense of completion for me, too, for you. Definitely a feeling of being proud. I think as an artist everyone has their own certain amount of self-esteem, a certain amount of confidence. But you’re never able to see yourself the way other people see you. So I knew that you were going to get all the good press — I could see it coming. And I knew you were going to get the best record of the year and all that kind of stuff. I was really excited to see that happen for you.
Sinclair: I can see all the same stuff happening. When I heard your stuff finished, I was like, “This is amazing.” We were sitting in your car listening to it and we were both like, “Oh, this is totally coming together.”
Frye: And to know whatever does happen with those songs, your voice is on it, is a really really cool feeling.
Sinclair: Scrapbooks are for suckers — we got CDs.
On which of the other’s songs they wish they’d written
Frye: That’s an interesting question. I have two. I wish I wrote Like Kings, ’cause that chorus is so killer. And I wish I wrote Remnants Of. Isn’t that the really creepy, beautiful piano song?
Sinclair: Yeah. Do you remember that I was working on that one and the first time I showed it to anyone, I showed it to you at work? And I was like, “I don’t know if this is worth going [on],” and you were like, “You have to.” It definitely became something way more, but I almost threw it away.
Frye: We also really did help each other decide which songs to put on the record. When I heard her play Remnants Of, I got goosebumps, and I think I started crying because the lyrics are just so profound and obviously very personal. There are strings on that on the record, right? That just makes it even more emotional. I remember telling you, “That has to be on the album or I’ll be mad at you.”
Sinclair: That’s why I needed you, because I needed to know that one needed to be on there. I love Never Been to Paris. I think that one is one of my favorites. That was the first one I heard.
Frye: And that’s actually the first song I wrote for the record. Totally weird.
On the virtues of crowdfunding
Sinclair: I definitely think it was worth doing; I had a lot of awesome support. It was really moving to have a lot of people giving me their money. I don’t think I would do it again, not because it wasn’t great — because it was totally worthwhile — [but] because I feel like it was a stepping-stone, people helping me begin my career, people helping me lay the foundation. It would feel a little unceremonious to do it again, unless I was really, really hard-up, then I could play that sympathy card again.
Frye: That was my second successful Kickstarter; the first one was a smaller amount.
Sinclair: It was also for a different thing, right? It was for a music video.
Frye: It was for a different thing. So I waited a year to do the next one. I know there’s some controversial opinions about Kickstarter, but the bottom line is if your fans and your friends want to support your art, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s not like you’re making them give you money — if they want to support and be part of the record, then I don’t see why it’s a problem.
Sinclair: I think it’s great.
Frye: But I do think in terms of a public image, if you keep coming back to Kickstarters or — what are the other ones? — Indiegogo, you’ll appear to be money-hungry. You’ve gotta be careful. I think some people even get to the point where they ask “Help pay my rent!”
Sinclair: I’ve seen people, “Help me buy a new piano?” Like, OK.
Value of originals versus covers
Frye: You know more about that than I do.
Sinclair: For me, the original music is the heart of it. It’s the creating that matters most to me. That’s not to say you can’t create with covers as well. I gig a lot, playing piano and singing covers. That’s a little soul-sucking sometimes, but it’s really good for becoming a better musician.
Frye: I always tell myself I’m going to do a cover of something interesting. Then I sit at the piano and I’m trying to figure it out and I’m like, “This is [expletive]; I’m not doing this. This is boring.”
Sinclair: I feel that way when I’m on gigs sometimes, playing them, but then I just have to keep going.
When I’m playing a restaurant or something like that, and people come up and they’re like, “Oh, my gosh, can you play Celine Dion?”
Frye: Frank Sinatra.
Sinclair: Well, Frank Sinatra, that’s still better, ’cause I can do jazz, the jazz school thing.
Frye: Celine Dion, she’s a good vocalist.
Sinclair: She is. She is. But I — Celine Dion, if you ever see this, you’re awesome.
Frye: “Can you do me a cover of Firework?”
Sinclair: Or Ke$ha?
Frye: Oh, how would you even do that?
Sinclair: I had someone request Pitbull. Yes.
Frye: How are you going to do that on the piano?
Sinclair: I didn’t — I actually did not.
Frye: It would be really dorky, but maybe a polka arrangement.
On working with male producers
Frye: I don’t really care that it was a guy. I am never really fazed by gender. That doesn’t really affect my art. I do consider myself, internally, kind of a tomboy, so I feel like I can be seen as one of the guys a lot of the time. I grew up with an older brother, and hanging out with him all the time, it rubs off on you. Matt Aslanian produced and mixed Obsidian and then my fiance, Jordan Martin, co-produced the record. … I feel like working with Matt, he has a good understanding of sexy rock ’n’ roll. When we were doing vocal cuts for some of the more rock songs on the record, he understood the personality that was coming out and appreciated my crass personality.
Sinclair: [Laughs] Oh, man. Working with McKenzie Smith, we produced it together, it was very much a partnership there. On the other side of that, we were both more sensitive-soul types. He definitely was in touch with the side of music that I was trying to portray. I didn’t really feel like, musically, there was never any tension, like I’m pushing this way and he’s pushing for more of a dude sound. I don’t even know what that would mean, but —
Frye: “Can you press the dude button?”
Sinclair: “Turn up the dude. Let’s turn up the manliness.”
Frye: I think he really had a passion for your vision. He really understood what you wanted the record to sound like. He cared a lot.
What pushes them
Sinclair: I would say, probably for both of us, the push is something very internal. For me, I have definitely had a pretty intense drive to do this since I was a kid. Every day it’s just about getting to that next little achievement, working toward that next step and trying to see the big picture of where it all leads. Recording the album really pushed me musically and creatively, just because it’s such an intense process, you spend a lot of time really making decisions —
Frye: This is what it’s going to sound like forever.
Sinclair: All those little steps keep the drive going. As far as goals and ambitions, I really want people to love my music. My thing is, I don’t need everyone to like it, but I want some people to love it.
Frye: I think people having strong opinions about anything is good. I’d be just as excited if someone really hated my music. They care enough to have an opinion about it, which really says something. Not that anyone would ever hate your music.
Sinclair: There’s more, but —
Frye: I think a lot of times, I have trouble getting out of bed. Oh, my god, I overthink life a lot. I overthink life a lot to where I spend a lot of time staring up at the ceiling freaking out. The idea of living is so overwhelming to me sometimes. It’s too much — I think, well, I’m good at this, sort of, I think, and I’ve been doing it for a long time. Everyone has something they’re good at.
Sinclair: Well, it’s like, what gives our lives meaning? This is what.
Frye: I wish I could say I’m some super gifted, talented human being, but I don’t think it works that way. I think that it’s luck, being genetically blessed and being lucky and working hard. I think what pushes me to create is that it’s much more interesting to do that than not. Life would be pretty boring if —
Sinclair: I think we would be very different in nine-to-fives. Probably be fired a couple times.
Frye: Yeah. I’d probably be an alcoholic. And smoke cigarettes.
Sinclair: I’d be late all the time.
Frye: You already are.
Frye: It would be cool to be famous and not have to do anything for myself ever. Who doesn’t want that?
Sinclair: Let’s get famous.
Frye: Make a lot of money, lookin’ hot and doing stupid stuff. No, I’m just kidding.
Sinclair: Hot tub limousine. That’s one of my goals.
Frye: I would like to be able to make a living off my career longevity.
Sinclair: I wanna have medium-sized venues sell out.
Frye: Medium-sized? This is going through a drive-through? “Can you make it a medium-sized venue?”
Sinclair: “Can I get a grande venue filled up, with extra enthusiasm?”
Frye: I think there’s something really charming about doing well on an indie level. It’s good.
Sinclair: Like Feist.
Frye: But she didn’t get famous until she was in her 30s. You’ve gotta be ready for that. Your youth is escaping you.
What they hope people take away from their albums
Frye: What do I want people to take away from Obsidian? Obviously, be moved by it in some way and enjoy it and take it seriously, I suppose. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. I think it’s nice to think about the records that have affected me. I’m a really hardcore, obsessive fan with some bands. When I love a band, I love it really hard. Some records have quite literally shaped who I am as a person.
Sinclair: Oh, totally.
Frye: Not that I would expect my record to change anybody’s life, but it’s the idea that it’s in someone’s hands or it’s comforting them on their way to work or something else that’s happening in their life.
Sinclair: I feel I can add to what you’re saying, because for me, I feel very similarly. I want someone to have it in their car for a long period of time and they listen to it a lot, and then five years later, they hear it again, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that time in my life.” There are records I loved that had a cohesive vibe and a feeling — a really specific feeling to those records, when I listen to them now, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, that time.” I want some people —
Frye: I feel like if they get my record, they — well, they may not like me as a person, but it feels like they would get you on a certain level.
Sinclair: Definitely. If you like and get and kind of relate to my music and like the way it sounds and the style of it —
Frye: Especially the lyrical content —
Sinclair: Then you’re kind of understanding me on a level. Validation! It’s what we all want, right?
JESSIE FRYE ‘OBSIDIAN’ RELEASE SHOWS
9 p.m. Friday
Lola’s Saloon, Fort Worth
$8, $12 day of show
9 p.m. Saturday
Three Links Deep Ellum, Dallas