Shot in El Reno, OK last May, Joey Frendo debuts an acoustic rendition of his single, ‘Lordstown’, with For Folk’s Sake. It’s a hearty slice of bonafide blue collar Americana, wedged finely between the songwriting inclinations of a Jason Isbell or Arlo McKinley. An everyman himself, Frendo wears the suit well in his new solo endeavors—arguably, the Michigan-gone-Oklahoma transplant has finally found his artistic stride. Stripped back, ‘Lordstown’ bounces in a way dissimilar to the polished roots of its studio cut, and Frendo handles its hefty subject matter just as well. Given the opportunity to hear him wax poetic on auto strikes and evaporating unions with a chip on his shoulder, you can feel the artist’s investment in and knowing of the subject material—in other words, Frendo’s the real deal.
Alright, we’ll bite: What’s the background behind ‘Lordstown’? Its theming, its production… whatever you would like to share with us.
I wrote ‘Lordstown’ in the fall of 2019, while following the Lordstown Auto Strikes pretty closely. Around that time, NPR aired a segment on “GM Gypsies,” about people who were following these factory jobs all over the country. Basically, to my understanding, if a factory gets closed, you’re given the choice to relocate to a plant with an opening or find another job. A lot of folks didn’t (and still don’t) view the latter as much of an option at all, with these types of industrial jobs evaporating from the job market and the dying off of unions, etc. So they moved, often multiple times, to try to keep their lives afloat. This nomadic lifestyle, and it’s connections to touring, really resonated with me. It felt like a story that needed to be told, especially with its connection to the Midwest, and writing this one really set me down a path with forming the narrative ark of this EP.
It was also amongst the first songs in a batch I wrote with a solo project in mind. It came so early on in that process, in fact, that I originally wrote it on piano before re-working it on guitar (with the help of my co-producer on this EP Jefferson Rinck) after I started learning to play in early 2020. It really started to take shape as the underdog anthem I set out to write after that.
You take a new sonic approach with ‘Lordstown’—more contemporary Americana. Who/what were some of your influences when writing your latest tunes? And who of them would you like to open for the most?
I set out as a solo artist with two goals in mind: to make a living writing songs, and to be the kind of songwriter that my heroes would respect. For that reason, I think set of tunes is indebted to some of my first songwriting idols; namely Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and Brandi Carlile. They were the first artists to introduce me to the world of music that is “Americana” and made a large portion of the first records I felt like I discovered for myself. Not only that, but following the threads of their various influences really opened my world up musically in a way that I really treasure. It’s a well I’ll draw from forever.
Picture this: We’re a year past the release of ‘Lordstown’. As far as music-makin’ goes, where do you see yourself?
My only hope is that I’m somewhere farther down the road of making a living writing songs. I know it’s the thing I’m here to do, it’s the only job I’ve ever really loved and the craft I’m content to make my life’s work. I’m proud that “Lordstown” is the first step on that journey and excited for the EP to be out in full on 10/22.
Any closing thoughts?
I think it’s important to mention the killer players on this song. We recorded basic tracks in Michigan at my longtime collaborator/ pal Jackie Kalmink’s studio, with two of my very best friends holding down the rhythm section with me in John Nowak on drums and the aforementioned Jefferson Rinck on bass. On top of that, we had some killer players who were kind enough to fly in tracks remotely, including folks who have populated the road bands of such acts as Colter Wall, The War & Treaty, Pony Bradshaw, and Brother Osborne. It was a great experience and a ton of fun.
Words by: Jonathan Frahm