Layla Frankel doesn’t fit in a box, and she’s decided to stop trying.
When she moved to Nashville in 2017, fresh off a cross-country tour in support of her debut EP Tame The Fox, she tried. She sought out her proper musical standing in the neatly defined singer-songwriter scene and the cliques of wannabe country stars. But she was too bluesy for the country artists. Too poppy for folk. And she had more soul on stage than most Nashville audiences had seen before.
So this was it, she thought. This was the moment when another aspiring musician throws in the towel and starts working an office job.
But opportunity arose at just the right time when a producer heard her music and asked to collaborate on a new, genre-bending EP.
“I happened upon this project on the cusp of quitting music altogether,” Layla says. “I needed to have that moment of sheer panic and identity crisis to fully put both feet in.”
Layla’s path toward this moment has been meandering at times, but it’s been filled with music since the very beginning. Her father, a singer-songwriter in Chicago’s folk scene, put Layla on stage at age 4. Dinner conversations revolved around the discography of Elvis Costello and the lyrics of Tom Petty. “We’d watch TV with instruments in our hand,” she says. “That’s how we would connect with each other.”
It wasn’t just her home life that immersed her in music. Her involvement in the internationally acclaimed Chicago Children’s Chorus gave her a foundation in music theory that she still draws on today. The city itself gave her a soundtrack of hip-hop, R&B, and Latin beats. Even her favorite rock station played folk and pop. That accessibility to so many genres shaped her outlook on what music should be: unbound by labels, and free to experiment with form, sound and musicality.
Since then, Layla’s music has developed into a form all of its own, with a genre that might be best described as “Soulcana.” It integrates the vocal style of Bonnie Rait and the sophisticated pop sound of Sheryl Crow. It pays homage to the cryptic, poetic lyricism of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. Most notably, it plays with melodies and unexpected chord structures, learned from studying jazz, and showcases her stunning vocal power and agility.
Every song is written with intentional artistry, taking twists that surprise her listeners — and even surprise herself.
“Personally, when I heard Layla’s songs, I heard something that moved me. I could tell that she drew from a deeper well than many of the singer-songwriters that I’ve met here in Nashville,” says producer Jim Kimball.
Kimball, a Grammy award-winning guitarist who played for years with Reba McEntire, first listened to Layla’s song “TLC.” She wrote the folk anthem in response to the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. “I was convinced that we needed to go into the studio and re-cut this,” he says. “I knew who to put on it. I knew who the players should be. It was one of those times when you just know.”
Then he approached Layla about putting together an EP. This, she says, was the moment that she realized she couldn’t quit music: She still needed her voice to be heard.
The new album - anticipated for release in the fall of 2020 - is her answer to the fear and frustration she felt as a musician looking for her place in the world. Recorded at the iconic Starstruck Studios on Music Row, it showcases her versatility as an artist — from the activist-fueled folk song “TLC,” to retro-soul slow jam “Without Suffering,” to a ballad serenading her inner muse, “Josephine.”
The album “is making me excited to make music again,” she says. “This whole experience has been an invitation to take myself more seriously. I think that was the only thing missing.”