It seems like Morgan Frazier must have a secret, not just because she does so many different things so well, but because she makes it all look so easy, as if it’s just a matter of being who she is. Whatever her secret is, it probably isn’t one of those secrets that you’re not supposed to tell, because she speaks so readily about what she’s doing and why. “I’m a songwriter,” she says, “and I feel like my music is a kind of open book to who I am.” Still, it could be one of those secrets that you can’t just tell people because you have to show them, something that most people just don’t want to believe until they see it for themselves.
If you haven’t heard of her yet, Morgan Frazier is one of those talented veterans of Country Music that most people don’t know about, even though she’s been performing for more than fifteen years. She made her first album eleven years ago, and she has a catalog of carefully crafted original songs that are still largely unknown. None of that is really much of a secret, though, and there’s a good reason why so many people don’t know about her. She’s still only twenty years old, and although she’s been performing since she was five and recording since she was nine, her first national release, a beautiful self-titled EP on Curb Records, just came out this year.
There are five songs on the EP, four that she wrote and one, “Love Letters”, that she liked so much she just had to record it (“I listened to song after song, and that song just really jumped out at me, it tugs at my heartstrings …”), and although it might seem like a five song EP could only be a promise of more to come, this is much more than that. Somehow as you listen to those songs again and again, you start to hear who Morgan Frazier is already, and although it’s quite a discovery, it’s also a bit of a mystery. Even though you know right away that you’re listening to some great new music, after a while you get the feeling that you’re hearing even more than that.
You’re hearing a talented singer, that’s for sure; if they put vocal performances on the front of magazines, she’d have verses and choruses on the cover of Vogue. You’re hearing a gifted young writer, great players, and great production, but none of that’s much of a secret either. It does make you wonder though, the way that all of it gets even richer the more you listen, because you keep getting the feeling that there’s something more to who Morgan Frazier really is.
For one thing, her lyrics are layered with personal insights that could make her age something of a surprise, but because that thoughtfulness is balanced by such a brightness of enthusiasm, her audience includes a surprisingly broad range of ages. “I’m just a story writer,” she says, and it’s true that the songs on her EP are like moving pictures, as clear as the changing colors on a big, wide screen. “My songwriting is very important to me of course, but I really think who I am as a person is even more important, and I hope that shines through in my songs.”
She moved to Nashville from Breckenridge, Texas when she was just sixteen, writing songs by day and playing at one of the city’s legendary clubs, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, four nights a week. “If you play a day shift there, it’s a lot of tourists,” she says, “but I worked the ten to two slots, and they get pretty rowdy.” Anybody who ever played shows for the late night crowd knows how strong you have to be to keep going back for more of that, but as impressive as it is, especially for a sixteen year old from out of town, that’s not the only kind of strong that Morgan Frazier knows how to be.
For one thing, she has an apparently effortless confidence, an understated awareness that you see in all of her performances. To get any idea of where all of that comes from though, you have to look at more than just her high profile appearances. If you watch Morgan Frazier perform the same song, first in the full production of a major music video, and then go back, step by step, to performances with less production, you begin to see more than the promising new artist she so clearly is. By the time you get to where it’s just her and her song, you get a much better idea of who she really is. If she does have a secret, when you watch her perform her latest single, a powerful and painfully important track called “Hey Bully”, you begin to get an idea of what kind of secret it could be.
If you watch the official music video, recently premiered at act.mtv.com, you see the poise of an artist completely herself in the world of big production video, but then, if you watch her perform the very same song at the Grand Ole Opry, you get a different and more intriguing perspective. There you see a strong, engaging performer, someone who can stand up in front of one of the world’s most demanding audiences and make a great live performance look easy.
Everything hasn’t always been easy. She was bullied so relentlessly as a child that she had to leave her elementary school for home schooling, and her song “Hey Bully”, cowritten with Tiffany Goss and Sherrie Austin, is an inside look at an ordeal that far too many people are subjected to every day. “That’s what we wanted to capture with the song,” she says, describing how she, Goss and Austin, all of whom were victimized, came to write “Hey Bully”. “We wanted to capture the reality of it.” More insightful than confrontational, the song has become an anthem for anti-bullying initiatives around the country.
She’s certainly a strong person, but it’s from more than just overcoming adversity, and when she talks about her music, you get an idea of how she got so strong. She talks about the great writers and great guitar players she’s had the chance to learn from since she moved to Nashville, the same way that she learned from her family before that. If you look a little further, you can see how all of that learning makes her strong now. There’s an acoustic video of her performing “Hey Bully” where it’s just her and her guitar, and because her vocals are so strong and the song is so powerful, you might not even notice how well she plays. It’s like she just loves playing that guitar, or maybe something else about it, and you start to wonder if what she loves is a big part of what makes her so strong. “My Grandpa taught me to play guitar when I was probably about ten years old,” she says. “He gave me my first guitar and showed me a few chords, and I would play with him at the nursing home every Monday night, and I would just follow along with his fingers and try to figure out how to play.”
As important as all of that may be, it still wouldn’t make for much of a secret; the world is full of people who seem to be strong, and it’s certainly no secret that a lot of them just aren’t that nice. That’s not the kind of strong that Morgan Frazier is though, and there’s one last video of her performing “Hey Bully” that probably shows more of who she is than any of the others. It doesn’t really show anything new about how strong she is, but it definitely gives you an idea of how nice she is. It’s not a high production music video, and she’s not performing on a famous stage with great players. She’s sitting by herself in the middle of the gym at the Hayward Intermediate School, one of the many schools she’s visited as part of her partnership with the national anti-bullying organization Stand for the Silent.
Besides all of the things that any artist has to be strong enough to do well, all of the rehearsals, all of the interviews, all of the performances, Morgan Frazier finds a way to do even more. In addition to all of her other commitments, she finds the time to appear at schools and community groups around the country, often on detours carved into an already difficult tour schedule. At high schools and grade schools, at colleges and corporations, she not only takes time to talk to people about bullying, but to show them more than tell them how strong you can be without ever hurting anybody. It makes you wonder if maybe she knows a secret or something, and when you see her in the middle of the school gym, all by herself with just her acoustic, playing for bleachers full of young people who are singing along with her every word, you really get an idea of what kind of secret it might be.
Most people don’t think that they can be strong and still be nice, and they might not believe you even if you told them that they can, at least not unless they could see it for themselves. All they have to do is watch Morgan Frazier, though; they can watch the way that she can make a high profile, big production performance look so natural, or they can watch her bring the same kind of strength to a show in a school gym that nobody but those young people would ever have even heard of, unless their teacher recorded it.
That’s the secret that Morgan Frazier shares, in all of her music and in all of the time she spends with all of those young people, showing the bullies as much as the bullied that hurting people has absolutely nothing to do with being strong. It’s almost as if she’s trying to show them, and to tell anybody else who’s listening, no, that’s wrong, it’s exactly the opposite. The stronger that you are, the nicer you can be, and the nicer you can be, the stronger you become.