Time and again, Wilmington’s support network of musicians come up in interviews with local artists. Competition is unheard of while camaraderie endures. At 27 years old, singer-songwriter and guitarist Chris Frisina has started taking himself seriously as a full-time musician in 2017. Frisina was a graphic designer when he first moved to Wilmington, and it was his house mate, soulful songstress Rebekah Todd, who first convinced him to quit his day job for music.
“Rebekah became one of my best friends and kind of introduced me to a lot of different people playing music,” Frisina details. “I’d sit in the living room and play her songs that I had [written], and she was like, ‘You need to fucking do this.’ She definitely helped me out. When I moved in with her, she was playing music full time, and she hooked me up with my first PA and booked me all these gigs.”
A self-described “underground talent,” Frisina is releasing his debut album, “Fences,” on Friday, Sept. 29, at a show at Bourgie Nights in downtown Wilmington. Onward, Soldiers’ Sean Thomas Gerard produced Frisina’s record, with local players making an appearance, including Bob Russell on pedal steel, Richard Welsch on dobro, as well as Tiffany Reece Forsythe (formerly of The Barnraisers), Stray Local and the Jewell brothers of No Dollar Shoes contributing vocals.
“They’re my absolute best friends,” Frisina says. “Everyone that’s on the record: They’re just all friends. . . . It was a pretty organic process, which was nice.”
Instrumentals and vocals help Frisina’s “Fences” fit well under the Americana umbrella, but it’s his poignant and piercing storytelling that are particularly catching. He wrote most of the songs in his early 20s, many based on growing up in Olean, New York. “It’s super small,” he describes, “right on the corner of Pennsylvania and south of Buffalo—so it’s super rural.”
Frisina was 22 when he wrote the title track. Though, it was never called “Fences” (or anything, for that matter), he was never planning on keeping the tune in any sort of rotation. It was Gerard who convinced him otherwise.
“He ended up sending me an MP3 of the track and labeled it ‘Fences’ last year,” Frisina details. “I just kept it,but then it did turn into something cool because the cover of my record is a picture of my grandma and my great uncle Ralph, standing in front of this fence at our family farm. The fences are still there and have been there for over 100 years. My great uncle built [them]; there’s something nice about that.”
Frisina and Gerard became quick friends and collaborators early on when Frisina moved to the port city. It only seemed natural to work together on their first album. Gerard’s experience as a singer-songwriter and producer shines through in many ways on “Fences.”
“Anyone who produces a record: You can hear their input,” Frisina affirms. “I gave Sean free range to do whatever he wanted. . . . I would say ‘Guardeau Road’ came out a lot better than what I expected. The production that Sean put on it with harmonies, he just kind of kept adding to it. It started out as an acoustic song and I think it turned out a lot bigger than what I thought it would be. Same thing with ‘Pieces’: the whole, ‘You don’t need him part’ started off as kind of a joke and turned into something that felt right.”
“Pieces” is a newer song Frisina wrote a couple of years ago. His lyrics let listeners hear of heartbreak, for which there’s an expected curtain of darkness and sadness to fall, yet it never feels heartbreaking, really. Frisina has managed to package and deliver the song in such a way it is soothing, even uplifting. Though, if it had been written a few months earlier, it could have been a different story.
“It could have been in an A-minor,” he quips. “I guess it’s all about the feeling when you’re writing the song. So you have this heartbreaking material, and anytime I start a song, I started with the feeling. I guess maybe, when I wrote that song, I was in a hopeful, comforting state of mind.”
While Frisina will be able to play “Fences” true to its recorded versions, with most of the aforementioned friends invited to play live—Gerard is even adding keys for the first time—he admits it will be a different story as he books more shows as a solo act. “I can’t take any of these guys on tour with me and I haven’t met the right people who are free to travel with me,” he says.
“I’ll probably end up playing by myself for a while. As far as the songs go, they all started out acoustic in the first place, and I think I can keep up the energy with solo performances.”
Frisina is currently in the process of booking shows across North Carolina and the southeast. He’s also already thinking of his next recording project, too.
“I almost have another record written because all the [‘Fences’] songs are so old,” he explains. “I’d like to next record to be a lot better than this one, but we put our hearts into this album and I just want to share it.”
In addition to Frisina and friends, Chapel Hill’s Blue Cactus will help celebrate the release of “Fences” at Bourgie Nights. Folks who purchase pre-sale tickets for $8 get a free CD at the show.