If you’ve never heard the music of Paula Frazer, you’re seriously missing out.
She’s been in the music business since the early 90s, when she fronted the alternative band Tarnation. While she’s also recorded under her own name and currently under the name “Paula Frazer and Tarnation,” the music has always been haunting, sparse, twangy and melodramatic. And it’s always featured her pure, crystalline voice, which soars effortlessly above whatever the backing happens to be. She makes it look, and sound, easy.
What hasn’t been easy has been keeping track of the different projects, different bands and different labels that she’s been affiliated with over the past few decades. The Z Review decided to catch up with her on the occasion of her new album, “What Is and Was,” which was just released by the independent New High Recordings label, after a 10-year absence from recording.
TZR: What’s the difference between Tarnation, Paula Frazer, and Paula Frazer and Tarnation?
PF: They are the same. I have always had different members in my band over the years, depending on people’s availability, people too busy or moving away. I like being able to use just my name when I play shows solo and a band name when I play with other musicians.
TZR: What did you grow up listening to, and who do you consider your biggest influences?
PF: Billie Holiday, Karen Carpenter and Patsy Cline were my first influences. Then later Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and Chrissie Hynde.
TZR: What did you do for the 10 years between your new album and the last one?
PF: It was a struggle financially to finish my new record, and also some health issues these past four years made it hard to get it done. Also just the state of the record industry… it took a while to find a label.
TZR: Tarnation was on a major label for one album in the 1990s. Was that a good experience or do you have horror stories?
PF: Yes, it was a great experience with Reprise. Reprise prided themselves on artist creativity development. They were very supportive.
I wish things were better in the industry these days so that new musicians who are doing alternative types of music could also have that experience. It was great to be able to pay musicians a decent wage to play and record with me as well as other artists involved doing artwork, videos and recording engineers.
TZR: Has the music business become so difficult to operate in that it’s almost not worth it from a financial standpoint to make records? Even mega-successful groups like Metallica have said they make all their money from touring — are you better off just performing or is there something you get out of making records?
PF: Yes, it’s very difficult now to make a living at playing music. I don’t make money at shows either, so it’s really just a drive to release songs more than anything.