Interview: “If It’s Something Heavy, We’re Going To Lean Into It”: Hillary Fretland


On Recent Singles And The Band’s 2021 Album Could Have Loved You

Washington State-based band Fretland finished up a West Coast tour in January 2020 and after having a European tour postponed, released their self-titled album in May of 2020. The collection of songs represented a long period of development for the band and the release of the songs digitally built up impressive streaming attention from fans struck by their authenticity and Americana-driven mixed genre elements. It seemed like no time to slow down for Fretland and they immediately started working on another collection of songs, which we’ll see released as Could Have Loved You on March 26, 2021.

So far, the single and video for title track “Could Have Loved You” and the single “Do You Think of Me” have been released, suggesting interesting directions for the new LP with a more stripped-down feel and ongoing experimentation in combining different musical traditions. Fretland have also been performing in different livestream sets on Facebook, but also from The Paragon in Seattle, and as part of the Fisherman’s Village Music Festival Transmissions 2020. Hillary Grace Fretland took the time to speak with me about Fretland’s journey so far, adapting to livestream performances, and working on the songs for their upcoming release, Could Have Loved You.

Americana Highways: I noticed that you’ve been doing some livestreaming from The Paragon in Seattle and have a relationship with them. How did it come about to work with them as a local venue?

Hillary Fretland: We actually had a very personal connection to The Paragon. My good friend Vic Taplin is doing their videography. He mastered our first EP forever ago. He introduced The Paragon to our music and we’re so grateful that they wanted to have us. Our first livestream there, something just really clicked. It feels like a real friendship at a time like this.

AH: I saw a different concert that you did that was quite different, for Fisherman’s Village, with a stage and multiple camera angles. How did that one come about?

HF: Ryan Crowther is the founder of Everett Music Initiative and he also happens to be our manager. We met in 2018 and had an Easter Sunday slot at four o’clock that he managed to catch and we’ve been blessed to work with him ever since. It’s usually a weekend of shows at various locations and it’s so much fun. This livestream was by far the biggest production we’ve done in a while.

AH: It’s a great show and we got to hear a new song which is from the upcoming album, “Too Much.”

HF: I’m really excited about that one. It’ll be the last single to be released.

AH: That song itself was one I really enjoyed. At first, when I heard the song, I was thinking about people I’ve known who I might criticize as people who “drink too much, dance too much” but then around the middle of the song, it flipped around, and I realized that people are likely to say those things about me. It’s ambiguous in a great way.

HF: I like playing with those phrases and making people second guess if they are the good or the bad guy. You’re spot on. This song definitely came from a personal judgement on myself, since I can be really hard on myself. If you have too good a time, you wake up the next day, asking, “Was I obnoxious?” I dissect everything to death until all that joy is lost, and I’m left being a people-pleasing bag of a human. It started off as a commentary on how I need to give myself a break, and that it’s okay if people think I dance too much. They might be right, but I don’t have to kill myself trying to meet my own standards of those of people around myself.

AH: That’s really well said, thank you. It does seem like women are more likely to be judged in this way and also be harder on themselves about it, too.

HF: Yes, there’s a quote that I always think of in Little Women. It’s when Marmee say, “Nothing provokes speculation more than the sight of a woman enjoying herself.” I think about that all the time because Marmee is wisdom incarnate. Every time I have a really good time and am not judging myself, when I revisit it, I wonder if I got too loud, if I smoked too much. But later I realize that people are still going to love me, even if I did.

AH: That real-life experience brings a lot of depth to that song. I totally relate to what you’re saying, too. I think the moral of the story is, “Can we all just please be easier on ourselves?

HF: And hopefully that inspires us to be easier on each other. There’s just a lot going on right now.

AH: Your title track song, “Could Have Loved You” is out right now, with a video, and I have a weird question about it. Some of the ideas in the song reminded me a little of a line in your earlier album, “Must’ve Been Wild.” It’s like a little bit of it got taken in a new direction.

HF: I can see that, like it’s the same story, but a different take on it? I like that.

AH: Though the sound on the new song is very different. Do you feel there are differences in sound between the self-titled album and the new album coming up, even though they were created so close together in time?

HF: I think that there’s a definite change in sound. For the first album, I had songs on there that I had written when I was 18 or 19. I’m hoping that this album sounds a little bit more mature, whether it’s a feeling or a palpable thing in the music. I hope it feels more sure or more aware in my writing. A lot of these new songs deal with heavier things. I feel like the first album did a good job of hiding these really heavy moments in these more upbeat songs. Whereas this album definitely doesn’t do that. If it’s something heavy, we’re going to lean into it. I think there’s a shift for sure.

AH: I can totally see that now that you’ve laid that out. On the upcoming album, were all the songs written in the past couple of years?

HF: There’s only one older song, and all of the songs otherwise have been written with the guys post-studio from the first album. We’re still a young band and we’re still going through some changes, but it’s been a good year to really get to know each other and musically process what we want to do.

AH: It’s hard enough managing to navigate seeing friends and family right now, I can’t imagine what it must be like going full steam in a band and then having to figure out if and when you can work together during this time.

HF: It’s definitely going from expecting to see their handsome mugs every day to hardly at all. It’s different.

AH: When did you manage to record the music video for “Could Have Loved You”?

HF: That was in the autumn, probably about a month before we released it. It was kind of a last effort but I definitely wanted it to be that golden hour, late summer, early autumn feeling, so my procrastination paid off. You also have to count on the weather here, which is hard to do.

AH: The lighting and the colors of the countryside in the video work so well.

HF: Yes, it’s right before the light goes away. Right before the flame vanishes!

AH: You’ve got that bonfire image in the video to make that point too. I come from a mountain community, though I’m from the East, and a lot of it just felt true to me, too, of a rural area and rural life. When I saw the album cover art for Could Have Loved You, with the giant, jungly plants, I was aware again of how nature seems to play a big role there, just as it does in the video. Was that intentional?

HF: I think that is what I’m around all the time. The music video was partly shot at my house, and we’re lucky enough to live across from a flower farm. All those shots were taken on my neighbor’s land. But yes, I’m definitely always inspired most when I’m walking, or when I’m driving and exploring back roads. I really like taking the long way to avoid highways. Subconsciously, the reason I’m most comfortable branding ourselves as something very organic is because I want the association to stay there.

I love music that remind me of urban jungles and cities, and there are definitely artists who evoke those feelings for me, but I want Fretland to feel like home and like that long road that you take over and over again.

AH: That’s a great description. The cover art for the first album reminded me specifically of Americana music because of the outdoor setting, but the new album art is something a little less expected, so that was interesting to me because it looked more cultivated. It raises questions, so you get the best of both worlds, I think.

HF: I like that interpretation a lot. I’ve never been good at putting our music, specifically, into a genre or a box that tells the whole story. If you’re getting little nuances that say, “Maybe this is Americana, but maybe this is a little something else, too,” then that’s very on-brand for me.

AH: Actually, I think that’s true of both albums! They defy categories in interesting ways.

HF: I appreciate that. Usually, I just feel like I’m breaking rules because I don’t understand them.

AH: How do you feel about releasing music via different formats? I see that you’ll be releasing on vinyl, CD, and digital coming up.

HF: I definitely don’t purchase CDs like I used to, though I still have all my CDs in one of those giant binders. I need those mix CDs. While I love vinyl, and I still purchase vinyl, a lot of my collection comes from guesswork and thrift stores. I never trust myself to spend a lot of money on vinyl because I have never really invested in knowing what to look for. I do have a collection but it’s kind of eclectic.

AH: Mine totally is, too, because I’m very opportunistic. Second-hand stores are the best place to find weird, inexpensive vinyl.

HF: Exactly! I pick albums because of the art and it turns out that it’s a great album. I have a lot of Doris Day and a lot of soundtracks and ballet-inspired music.

AH: You have another single out, “Do You Think of Me,” which is a really fascinating song, and it’s a duet, which brings in even more possible interpretations. I saw your social media accounts asking fans to weigh in on how they interpreted the song. But what I was struck most by was the sound. It sounded experimental and has more of a Pop element going on, but it’s also so alternative.

HF: I agree. I was really surprised that our label wanted to make that one a single and I really wasn’t expecting that. I thought, “This is too different.” I thought it would be a bonus track for the weepy lovers who liked the song. But we’ve been very blown away by how much people love it. It came about differently, for me, personally. I am trying to get better at co-writing, because I think it’s a great opportunity to grow, and to find a different voice and perspective. We were in the studio jamming and singing and I love humming and singing melodies. Pretty quickly, I started singing the chorus, and Luke said, “What is that?” Pretty quickly we built on it to see where it would go. Then Nick Wilbur at The Unknown asked, “Did you guys just write a studio song?” I said, “I didn’t even know that was a thing, and yes, we did.”

AH: Yes, there’s such a tradition of that. Way to go!

HF: There was some debate about whether it would end up on the album because we were still fleshing it out when our time at the studio ended, but we went back to The Unknown and recorded that version.

AH: It has a lot of spontaneous feeling to it. Was it a goal to capture more of a live sound on this album?

HF: I think what you’re picking up on is just that a lot of these songs are just a lot younger. With songs that I’ve been singing for almost a decade, I’m very comfortable with them, and I know them. You can over-produce something when you’re so used to it. But when something is as fresh as “Do You Think of Me,” post recording that, we would sing it all the time together, so by the end of the summer, we wanted to rerecord the song. We said, “We are so much better at it now.”

And the label said, “Please don’t. It’s so perfect. It’s so timid and shy in all the best ways. We get that you have more confidence now, but there’s something there that you’ll lose.” I think that they were right on the money. It serves the song well because of the message of being insecure but having a good feeling about something.

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