The Connecticut-born musician is a staple in the East Coast Americana music scene. Throughout his extensive musical career, Viele has proven himself to be a quadruple-threat as a singer, guitarist, songwriter, and performer, racking up accolades over the past seven years, including Album of the Year with the New England Music Awards, Male Performer of the Year, Songwriter of The Year (2X), and Live Act of The Year.
After years identifying as a regional secret, Viele has toured as a headliner and supported notable acts such as John Waite, Howie Day, Zach Myers of Shinedown, Lee DeWyze, and Blues Traveler, among others. After the world came to a stop amidst the 2020 pandemic, Viele realized that time itself was the world’s most precarious yet precious resource, and with this came the opportunity to push his art further.
Using the wisdom gleaned from years on the road following his debut album in 2015, Viele has approached each new song slowly, intentionally, and with an open mind, challenging himself to transcend the limits of genre and industry expectations. Viele’s graveled vocals revel with raw emotion on his latest feel-good track, “Hearts We Left Behind,” which chronicles fate and recounting the dark twisted road that culminates into being at the right place at the right time.
It is the first single off of his upcoming album, and was recorded in iconic Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
We got to chat with Viele to discuss the new single, his experience writing/recording in Muscle Shoals, what he has in store for 2023, and much more.
So how has 2023 treated you so far?
So far so good. Thirteen days into the year and my first new single – after two plus years of working in Muscle Shoals – dropped. Then five days later, I started a tour 1,800 miles from home. As an indie act, it’s hard to ask for more than that. All in all, I’m feeling very thankful and excited for how 2023 is starting and what may lie in front of me for the year.
I read what your new single, “Hearts We Left Behind”, is about, but was there a specific event or memory that triggered the writing of it? Any autobiographical influence?
There’s definitely a lot of autobiographical aspects to the song. I wanted to tell a specific story in the song, and while that specific story is not my exact personal story, there are a lot of elements from my life that fueled the song for sure. For example, I was sitting in a hotel room in western Pennsylvania, definitely “feeling all but debonair,” mid-tour, when I wrote the phrase “burning bridges over hearts we left behind.”
What led you to the famed Muscle Shoals area to work on your songwriting and music-making in the first place? What goals did you set for yourself?
After winning the New England Music Award for Songwriter of The Year for the first time in 2018, there were talks about me going to Nashville. But I was very uncertain. So I had lunch with a dear friend of mine named Christine Ohlman who sings lead for the Saturday Night Live Band in New York City. She’s also an amazing performer and writer with her band Rebel Montez, and is an incredible wealth of knowledge and support for me when it comes to music history.
I told her I was thinking about taking an opportunity that was given to me to go to Nashville. She told me that Nashville wasn’t the right place and that I belonged in Muscle Shoals. She said, “Look at all the records you love, look at your favorites, and see where they were made. I promise that you’ll see a lot of the music that inspires you is rooted in Muscle Shoals.” Sure enough, Muscle Shoals was stamped on the back of almost all of my favorites. My music was then introduced to a producer from Muscle Shoals, Jimmy Nutt. He brought in his good friend James LeBlanc, and next thing I knew, it’s five days before the pandemic started and I’m in Alabama writing songs.
Why did you decide to make “Hearts We Left Behind” the first single leading up to your upcoming album?
“Hearts We Left Behind” sends a message I think. It’s an introduction to where I’m going as an artist, but acknowledges where I’ve been. I have a lot of songs on this record that I cannot wait to share with everybody, but after deliberating for about two months, “Hearts We Left Behind” just felt like the right way to introduce everybody to this new batch of music.
Speaking of the upcoming album: are there any overarching themes or motifs throughout? What else can you tell us about it?
The theme of this record I think is probably “perspective” or “self-revelation” through stories. I did a lot of soul searching before and during the making of this record. I ended up recording 21 songs, chose the 13 that I felt created the collective piece of art I wanted to display as an album, and have been honestly chomping at the bit ever since to release this music.
The album has songs that tell stories that pull back from my days as a kid growing up in my family’s pub. It tells stories of heartbreak and redemption. It’s laced with discovery surrounding mental health, and sonically reaches a new level for me focusing on vocal harmonies and the intricacies of using multiple types of guitars on a single track. It’s also the first record I’ve ever released with the same band on the entire album, and the first record I’ve ever released without any horns. It’s drums, bass, vocals, a little organ and keys, and a ton of electric and acoustic guitars including baritones, 12 strings, etc.
Within this collaborative co-writing partnership in Muscle Shoals, how did you find your approach to songwriting change, if at all?
It changed completely! I was a disorganized writer that responded to random inspiration and was focused on the instrumentation prior to the lyric. I was always proud of my lyrical content, but was always kind of stuck in a box having to work a lyrical idea into a specific musical structure I had already written.
After I did my first co-write session with Jimmy and James, I learned the power of the song title, and simply kept a note in my cell phone where I would try to write down ten creative song titles or phrases a day. These titles and phrases became the foundation of the album and changed how I approached writing in general. I essentially learned to start with the title and work from there; which for me helps create a very powerful unified theme in a song.
All in all, between the co-written tunes and the ones I wrote on my own, I went into the studio with over 60 songs. We recorded 21. 13 will make the cut for this yet to be titled album. The other 8, I believe, may see the light of day at some point however, because there’s a lot of songs there I really like.
I see you’ve earned several accolades, including the New England Music Award for “Songwriter of The Year” in 2022. What does something like this mean to you, and how does it inspire you moving forward?
New England has a ton of really talented artists, and to be acknowledged for something like songwriting amongst that grouping of writers is assuredly a wonderful feeling. However, I see it as an opportunity more than anything. It’s an opportunity to use this acknowledgment to push the artistic community forward in my home state of Connecticut and help younger artists grow their songwriting acumen.
I’ve begun doing some local co-writes with some younger acts and have even begun writing songs for other artists. Some of the tunes I’m writing are specifically being pitched to television shows and films as well. In summation, I guess this award essentially allows me to find a larger audience for my songs as well as use the experience I’ve earned to help others create more music.
If you could share a stage, a drink, and/or a meal with any living influence of yours, who would it be and why?
Dave Matthews. No doubt! Before I had graduated college, I had seen the Dave Matthews Band play live 137 times. His concerts and his music were there for me during a really difficult part of my life, and I actually ended up learning how to play guitar in the parking lots of his concerts. Then I started writing songs, and now I’m touring the country singing them. So yeah, not only is his music highly influential to me and represents a very pivotal moment in my life, but he also seems like an awesome guy. I’m sure that experience would be a blast!
What does success as a songwriter and musician mean to you?
All in all, this question has gotten easier to answer over the last few years. On one hand, I’m thankful that anybody chooses to listen to my music at all. I listen to 365 records on vinyl every year cover to cover as both a meditative and creative exercise. One thing that process has taught me is that there is a ton of great music out there vying for people’s attention. Any listener that chooses to listen to my music at any moment is essentially choosing to press “Frank Viele” on Spotify instead of all of the other great music out there. That in itself is humbling. On the other hand, I align the word “success” with the word “mastery” so I’ll always be trying to write a “better” song. And being somewhat acknowledged by my peers along that never-ending journey is in its own way, success.
What more can you tell us about your plans for 2023 musically or otherwise?
In 2023, you’re going to hear a lot of new music from me. We’ll be releasing a bunch of singles off of this new album before the actual album drops, but the plan is to have the whole album released, along with an awesome limited edition vinyl pressing, before the end of the calendar year. That said, it’s a new industry and how a growing indie act like me releases music has changed drastically. So long story short, there will be a lot of tour dates, there will be a lot of new music, and I’ll be out there on stages making fans one at a time… the only way I know how.
Featured photo by Donato Biceglia