Andy Frasco looks like a fighter when he sits down with Live For Live Music on Jam Cruise 17. Not because he’s intimidating in any particular way, but because of the bandage wrapped around his head and down to his chin that’s covering up a gash on his ear. The bandage hadn’t been there on night one when he’d crashed the stage to introduce Leftover Salmon‘s set.
It doesn’t take long for Frasco to call attention to the injury. “Oh man, I’m kinda loopy.” he confesses. “I cut my ear last night. I started partying with all the bands at like 5 a.m. and I guess I hit my face on a wall or something because I woke up, my face was hurting, my ear was hurting. All of a sudden it looked like Rocky Balboa. I mean, my ear was just [explosion sound]. But my show’s tonight! So they stitched me up, 20 stitches. I’m drinking coffee, couple beers. But I’m good. I got a show tonight, we’ll see how that goes [laughs] … You know, I promised myself I’d crowd surf to the top of the theater. Smack that shit.”
Later that night, he would make good on that promise. Sporting pink boxing trunks and head wrapped in gauze from his party-related battle wound the night before, Frasco led his band, The U.N., and 10+ special guests in a clinic on unhinged partying. As the climax of his Jam Cruise late-night set, Andy crowd surfed to the top of the theater and back to the stage. With a head full of stitches.
“We want to be the punk rock band for the jam scene, you know? … We still jam, we still spread our songs out, but we want to punch ’em in the f*cking face. My shtick might be a little too over-the-top for some really serious jam listeners, but for the majority of them, they just wanna party and have a good time. So that’s my thing, I’m the ringleader of this f*ckin’ circus, whatever circus it’s gonna be.”
So functions the mind of Andy Frasco. “I try not to make music so serious,” he muses. “Like, everyone’s really f*cking serious. I’m like, what’s so serious about music? I get it, you wanna be really good at your craft but, like, save that for the live record. You’re in front of people who want you to entertain them. Let’s f*cking entertain them!”
While Andy Frasco & The U.N. have only started making inroads on the festival circuit in the last few years, Andy has had that mentality since his adolescent years, when he was an aspiring music industry player in his native Los Angeles. “I started playing music when I was 17. [Before that], I used to manage bands and book bands … since I was 14. I was working at Drive-Thru Records and Capitol Records booking bands around the country because I didn’t know how to play an instrument but I loved the music industry.”
“Then, it was 2006, my senior year. I had an affair with a teacher and I started getting some press. So I had to deny everything and I got fired from Capitol. That was 2006—the music industry was on a decline, nobody was buying records because of Napster and LimeWire. So I’m like, ‘F*ck it, I’ll just learn piano and I’ll micro-market myself.’ It felt like I had a good personality. I don’t know how to play an instrument, but I know how to host a Battle of the Bands… What’s the difference in being a frontman, you know?”
Today, through endless touring, dogged perseverance, and plenty of debauchery along the way, Andy Frasco & The U.N. have become staples in the jam band festival scene. “I’ve been doing 250 shows a year for the last 13 years, just living in a van for ten and a half months straight every day. And I think the last five years, the jam world has accepted me.”
From a musical standpoint, Andy Frasco & The U.N.’s sound is a far cry from bands like Leftover Salmon, Turkuaz and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong—but there’s a reason you’ll see them on many of the same bills. The simple answer: Because they’re a f*ckin’ party. But in truth, Frasco’s kinship with the extended jam band world goes deeper—to a likeness of hustle.
“We’ve started making friends with all these jam bands, and I’m like, ‘Dude, these guys are awesome and they’re working just as hard!” Frasco explains. “No one else can relate to what we’re doing sleeping on floors and not making enough money when you go home and having three weeks off, like, ‘F*ck, I can’t drink for free because I’m not playing tonight, so I’m just going to drink Campbell’s soup and chug a bottle of NyQuil so I’m in bed at 7 pm.'”
“That’s what I love about this circus they call live music. It’s a party, but if you don’t love every side of it—from traveling eight hours a day to hanging out with the fans to partying with the fans and grinding and grinding for no money—and you’re hoping that you getting famous is going to fulfill that, then you’re in the wrong industry. You gotta love the travel, the hang. You gotta be an explorer. Because it’s more than just writing a song.”
Andy Frasco is sure that the secret to longevity lies in camaraderie. Citing a recent conversation with guitarist Steve Kimock, he explains, “He’s in all these different bands, and he’s like, ‘The real bands are the ones that are like a gang. That everyone loves each other but we’re gonna fight for each other.’ Those are the bands that stick through the 20 years, the 30 years. Because they all love each other and they have each other’s back. Getting to see all those guys that are in bands like that are gangs, you can tell why they’re famous and have 30 years under their belt—because they love each other.”
He also knows that this love needs to extend beyond the band itself and into the fan base. “Look at the longevity of a band that’s in the jam scene versus someone who got a single on the radio. Your Umphrey’s McGees, your Widespread Panics. These jam bands last for 20 years. Because they’re self-sufficient. They realize that throughout everything, throughout the weird acid records you make, the acoustic records, the big single, you know, the fans will always be there. So why not stop worrying about the other fans that you haven’t gotten yet, and just make your fans happy, build that community. It’s all about word of mouth. You know, this jam scene’s a bunch of yentas. They love talking about their favorite f*cking band. So make sure those fans think of you as their favorite band. And then you build it.”
“I mean, look at Pigeons [Playing Ping Pong],” he reflects. “That was all word of mouth. [It seemed like] they blew up out of nowhere, but if you did some research, they’ve been there for ten years. I bet this happened to The Revivalists when they got that big single. People are like, ‘Oh yeah, these guys came out of nowhere.’ No, they f*cking didn’t, they’ve been working their ass off for 13 years, living in a van. This is exactly what they deserve, you know?”
“Now that I’ve gotten to a point in my career of, like, not competing, I’m kind of with everyone,” he says. “I’m hanging out in the fish tank. Now you just want all these fish to grow big, you know? Having allies and seeing these guys work hard, it’s like, ‘Listen, we got you.’ You need help in some markets? We got you. Like Pigeons [Playing Ping Pong], for example—those guys are great about helping me out on the west coast. They knew I had a strong pull in the Bible Belt, and they’re like, ‘You know what, Frasco, we’ll help you out on the west coast and the east coast.’ You know, we’re friends. So now I’m taking them to Europe and stuff.”
That evolution in Andy’s mindset was a driving theme behind the band’s aptly named new album, Change of Pace. Frasco and company recruited a seasoned group of producers for the new album, from Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools to Galactic’s Ben Ellman. “I’m really proud of it. These songs are just a little more mature, the lyrics are … I’m really proud of it, I’m not just, like, writing songs for a groove or a funny line, like “Blame It On The Pussy”, you know? [laughs] I’m writing songs to write a f*cking… a full meaning? A full story. That’s what Dave Schools taught me, and that’s what these guys who are great taught me—like the Jerry Josephs, Todd Sniders. Lyrically, these guys just can prove a point in two verses and two choruses. Those guys are geniuses. So we really analyzed that stuff. The lyrics and vocals were something I really wanted to work on, so we just dived in.”
Andy speaks with particular reverence about Dave Schools—an artist who’s clearly had an effect on Frasco beyond being his producer. “Dave Schools taught us how to jam, man,” he says sincerely.
“Dave is one of my biggest mentors about just like, ‘Alright, you’re a party guy, I get it. You wanna stay a party guy? I know a lot of guys who are dead from staying party guys. … Or you wanna take this shit seriously?’ I’m like, ‘I wanna take it seriously,’ and he just kinda f*cking slapped me and put some holy water on my face and learned me how to jam on the one and said, ‘Alright, get out there.’ He just knows so much. [For decades] he’s been in one of the highest-grossing bands that never had a single. That’s pretty amazing. It’s awesome. I love seeing him just f*cking enjoying life, enjoying the fruits of his labor.”
Speaking about the new record and Schools’ guidance, Andy flashes a rare moment of vulnerability. “You know, I always say, ‘This is the record, man. This is the record.’ But, you know, I’m surprised myself that I made some of this. Granted, I had help with Dave and Ben and everyone … But I helped produce these songs too, and I pulled my weight this time and not just like, auto-tuned my f*cking vocals [laughs] and … I did the work this time and it made me a better musician, and now I bring that to my year of touring and, hopefully, people will think that I’m not just a one-trick pony. I can do more than that.”
Andy Frasco & The U.N. – “Change of Pace” [Official Video]
[Video: Andy Frasco]