Three months ago, Will Fraker was a relatively unknown entity. A singer/songwriter and producer native to the Bay Area, Fraker has been making music since he was eight years old. At 12 he began singing, adding to his repertoire alongside a background in classical piano. In the years following, Will grew into a talented musician with an astute musical intelligence and sharp ear. The Oaklander has always remained in touch with the Bay’s music scene, working with local groups and performers providing his signature R&B flourish.
Among Fraker’s first major contributions to the scene was a vocal sample in Caleborate and G-Eazy‘s Bay anthem “Want It All.” The track features samples from a song Fraker put together, and has been a driving force behind Caleborate’s ascendency to a Bay staple.
Will and Caleb’s relationship has proved fruitful—the two linked up again on Fraker’s debut single, “Can’t Read.” The single sees both Fraker and Caleb venture out of their comfort zones, blending Will’s classic R&B vocals with Caleb’s energetic bars to meet somewhere in the middle, creating what Will describes as an “R&B banger.”
“Can’t Read” was Will Fraker’s introduction to the world. The track blew up, and Fraker kept the momentum with the release of his debut album, the self-titled Will Fraker EP. A collection of six tracks including “Cant’ Read,” the EP picked up where the single left off and was prominently featured in Spotify’s R&B discover section and on the front page of iTunes. The project’s popularity was unprecedented, but completely warranted. It’s a concise demonstration of Will’s immense talent, and for the amount of work put into it, well worth a listen. I got the chance to sit down with the man himself and talk to him about the creation of the project as well as his future in the music industry. Revisit the Will Fraker EP and check out the full interview below.
Introduce yourself to anyone who may be unfamiliar with your work; who is Will Fraker?
Will Fraker is a singer/song-writer, producer. Now living in Brooklyn, but based in Oakland. My sound has its roots in R&B. I love hip-hop grooves and I love jazz changes, but when it comes to vibes and energy, I’m shooting for something in the realm of R&B or neo-soul. I grew up playing classical piano so that’s an influence on my style as well, since it shapes my harmonic sensibility and the way I voice my piano chords. But yeah, I try to mix a bunch of influences.
How has being where you’re from shaped your musical style? Can you identify any of the influences that dictate how you make music, be it geographical or just as a fan of music?
I grew up during the hyphy movement; I remember listening to people like E-40 and Too $hort, and while obviously that style isn’t specifically channeled in my music, that energy was so contagious and really instilled in me a sense of bay pride. Even though my music isn’t really geographically specific in its style, having gotten my start here and working with people like Rexx Life Raj and Caleborate is a continuation of that pride.
I see a really cool renaissance happening in the Bay right now, and I’m excited to play a role in that, however small. The shift towards more soulful, harmonically driven production and vivid, nuanced story-telling is putting the bay back on the map, and I’m so excited to see where all the amazing artists can take it. Even though I’m not [living] here now, I still feel a really close affinity to this scene.
You’ve mentioned a lot of different names, as well as a background in classical piano and jazzier stuff. Your music draws on classic R&B, but also contains some more modern techniques; I feel both play out really well in Black Berry. Stylistically, how did you try to put your stamp on this EP?
I feel like my music is very often a product of what I’m listening to. Every artist has their own sound, of course, but at the same time every artist is just channeling their surroundings through the filter of their creative identity. I definitely was intentionally going for a neo-soul/electronic R&B vibe, but was also just hoping to tell my story as honestly as I could by writing from the heart.
I remember hearing James Blake for the first time and feeling like I was hearing something that was so genuine that it didn’t matter if he fit neatly into a genre or followed traditional song structures; he was actually one of the people that inspired me to make music for this reason in particular. Frank Ocean is also huge influence and inspiration of mine. He helped me see that you can tell your story and share your perspective even if it doesn’t fit people’s expectations, in fact even better if it doesn’t. The impressionism of his writing is something I aspire to big time.
That’s always something that’s struck me as unique to where we are in the music industry, there’s so many platforms to put out music. It’s really beneficial to new artists but it can sometimes work against them, instead of being the “first Will Fraker” people are the “next James Blake.” How does it feel for you to work with those kinds of comparisons?
Obviously that’s a great comparison to have made for me at this stage [laughs] but at the same time I’ll never be that because our styles are actually quite different. I have a much heavier jazz influence and my production will never venture quite as far into electronic and dubstep as his does. It’s flattering obviously, but I really want to distinguish myself as well. If you’re constantly being compared to someone else it’s going to be really hard to shine brightly on your own.
“Can’t Read” was my first introduction to your work, and I’d imagine many people’s first taste of your music. I was struck by how you took the reigns on that song. How did that particular collaboration come around, and was there one thing the two of you were going for that made it work so well?
t was an honor to have Caleborate rap on it. Making that song was a crazy process. I wrote that hook one day after recording the keys on an actual Wurlitzer and the bass on a monophonic synth with a friend at his house. I recorded the vocals and had this little demo made up. I wasn’t really sure if I was going to release it – we make a lot of shit just messing around that never gets released or finished – but I was really stoked on this hook so I gave it to Kyle Betty [who works with Raj and Caleb] and he flipped it into one of his signature hip-hop beats. It turned out Caleb was psyched to rap on it so I was like “damn now I’ve got to write a solid verse.” And what I ended up with felt a little bit like rapping-singing, which is a little outside of my comfort zone. I just sat down and wrote it and let it evolve in my head; it turned out to not really have any repeating melody – it was just this free-form verse that just sort of happened..
And then it blew up. You rode that wave a bit into the release of your first EP, which was just as popular. Were you expecting the exposure and success of your project or did it catch you off guard?
Definitely caught me off guard. First of all, I have so much gratitude for Caleb and Raj because having their names on the project helped it so much. Much love to those dudes. That was a huge, huge opportunity for me.
But yeah, it totally caught me off guard. I was really proud of what I had done, but wasn’t expecting anything. I’ve been making music since I was eight and singing since I was twelve and I had always wanted to release something polished, so the goal was just to finally have a solid piece of work. I’ve played in some bands over the years and I released some stuff in high school that I’ve since banished from the internet [laughs], so this was really my debut. The goal for me was to get at least a few people who didn’t know me to listen to my stuff so it wasn’t just some good EP that my mom listens to [laughs].
I was confident, I liked how it sounded and I was really proud of it, but I had no real expectations. So when it got the love that it did, I was super excited and humbled and motivated. I figured that having Caleb on “Can’t Read” and Raj on “Show You More” would help it get exposure, but when the whole project took on a life of its own that was really really exciting. And then the Spotify placement happened, and the project being placed on the home page of iTunes R&B happened, and I started realizing that people were listening to it that hadn’t even heard the single. It was a really special feeling and lit a fire in me to keep going. It felt good to finally have something to show for my years of just telling people I make music [laughs].
You’ve been making music for so long, and obviously have a lot of musical intuition, but getting that first project out is always hard. Talk us through the creation of the project and how it felt to get over the hump of a debut and the creation of your project.
I was not overly precious about it. Ultimately, things just fell into place and we had the six tracks. I was working with Ian [McKee] and we were under a time constraint more than anything. I have so many half songs that I’ve written and songs that go through different iterations, so when certain songs started to become finished products, I just rolled with it. Tracks like “Show You More” were once totally different. With that one in particular, I loved the chords but did not fuck with my original melody at all. One day, I was in the studio with Raj and he helped me re-write the hook, and all of a sudden it was something new. Raj fired out a verse – he’s one of the most prolific rappers I’ve ever seen, he’s one of those people that can just write it then and there. With the chorus and the verse in place, it was close to finished so I had to go with it. I ended up writing my verse in the car on the way to the studio for my last session with Ian [laughs]. To be honest, a lot of the project was like that, very last minute or in the moment, stuff that I was forced to come up with on the spot. But that’s how I function best – the pressure helps me tap my creativity.
Tell me a little bit more about the creation of the songs on your EP.
“Can’t Read” and “Show You More” I definitely wrote to feature a rapper, you know? “Tracks” is a funny story. I had sent Ian this video I made on some acapella app on my phone. You know that four-part harmony you hear when “Tracks” starts? That’s literally the iPhone sample. And then Ian flipped those vocals to be the harmonic foundation of the beat, those slowed-down vocal chords you hear throughout the song. That was different from anything I usually do – in general, I like to have full creative ownership over the song, you know, writing it all the way from start to finish – but I really liked the beat Ian made so I went with it. “Black Berry” was the next one. I sent him the stems of the demo and we worked on it from there. That’s probably the song I had the most creative control over. “Swan,” on the other hand, was originally produced by Ian and Turk. I really liked the vibe and had a specific experience I wanted to write about, so they let me write to it and add my own bridge. Overall, it was a very organic process. I didn’t try to overthink it and by the end I had these six songs put together and I was like “you know what? This feels pretty good.”
I’d be interested in hearing something like what you were talking about with really stripped down, gospel vocals, just you and a piano. Do see yourself trying to create a certain, very distinct sound or pursuing certain subgenres of R&B?
I love the hip-hop and neo-soul vibe, and I definitely want to continue working with rappers, but I also really love the sound of just me and the piano, which is something I’ve been doing more as I’ve started doing performances in New York. It was hard to translate tracks from the EP to a live setting, so I’ve written a bunch of songs that work well with just me and the keys. I could definitely see myself leaning towards a more simple, stripped down R&B sound going forward.
This is a very exciting time to be an R&B fan, there’s so much going on all over, and also a very exciting time to be you. You made this EP, left the county, and then you come back to see its on the front page of iTunes, Spotify discover, and people all over are showing it tons of love. What’s next for you?
Definitely more music. Coming as soon as possible. Moving to New York was a big step towards me developing my live set. I love being in the studio and messing around with writing and producing new music, but I also wanted to get my live chops back up and perform more, do bigger shows. I felt like I was kind of lacking that for a while. So, since getting to NY, I’ve been focusing primarily on performing. Recently, though, I had a session with a studio and recorded a cover of a song that they’re going to try to sync to a movie or TV show, which is rad. I’m being very intentional about moving forwards and putting in the work but I’m also just going with the wave. The next big goal right now is finding a creative partner. I’ll probably be releasing some singles soon and ultimately a full album would be great down the line, but until then I’ll just keep working, keep networking.
Berkeley and Brookyln are two areas pretty rich with musical talent. Are there any artists you could see yourself or would just like to link up with?
Well first of all I’d love to keep working with Ian. That was an amazing creative relationship and he really helped me realize my vision. He really paid attention to what I was hearing in my head, which was dope. But yea, absolutely, there’s other producers from the bay I’d love to work with, someone like Mikos Da Gawd – that would be awesome. I’m in contact with Drew Banga which is something I’m excited about.
But right now I’m mostly looking for a producer in NY that I can work with steadily.
There’s so many people out here, so it’s important to just put yourself out there and not stress too much – it’s just not possible to have complete control over your trajectory. Things start to pan out with patience and hard work – have to trust the process, you know.
As for artists, there’s so many singer/songwriters that I really look up to; there’s this guy Moses Sumney who I’m a big fan of, Nick Hakim, Gabriel Garzon Montano – these are all people that are role models more than collaborators, though. If I ever got to work with any of them it’d be a dream come true.
What advice would you have for other aspiring artists or performers out there?
Just do it! I wasted so much time. I always wanted to be an artist but I was too passive about it, and now that I’ve released a project I look back and think: “fuck, what was I doing?” It’s easy to get backlogged with music, songs, half songs, whatever, and not want to release anything, get too attached. Just go for it. Finish a song or two and find someone who can help you push it out.
Anything else to add?
Please look forward to more music. I’ll be creating more and I’m super glad to be where I am.
Keep an eye on Will Fraker. His musical talent, drive, and humility is a combination that promises a great deal. Stay up to date with him on Facebook, Soundcloud, and Twitter, and keep bumping the Will Fraker EP on Spotify, Soundcloud or Apple Music