I’d Get to the Top of the Mountain if It Would Just Stop Fucking Growing
I was a washed up, bitter ex-musician who used to have a future
By Dia Frampton
It’s been five years since my last album came out. Five years. A lot can happen in a half a decade. Trust me.
I don’t even know where to begin, or what exactly I’m trying to say. But I do know that I want to at least say: I’m still here.
A year shy of thirty, I feel like I might as well be fifty when it comes to women in the music industry. If we’re not in our teens or early twenties, we’re pushed aside and put on the shelf.
I tried to reach “success” all my life, but now, I really don’t know exactly what “success” means.
My youngest sister is graduating from high school next year. Over the fourth of July holiday, I walked into her room and said the words that make every high schooler squirm uncomfortably in their chair: “Hey, can we talk?”
I didn’t know why I felt compelled to talk to her, but I did. And since my parents are divorced, and not a lot of these talks happen anymore with my younger siblings since there’s a split home situation, I feel sometimes it’s on my shoulders to shed a little bit of…I don’t know…wisdom?
“I didn’t know you liked to sing,” I opened with.
“Yeah,” she said.
“Ya know, I know all your friends are going to college next year and –“
“Yeah…most of them want to go to medical school.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah. I get it. But, I just want you to know that…if you want to sing…that I’ll help you and support you, okay? I mean, the music industry is kind of in a tough place right now. There’s not a lot of money there, but I’ve never regretted it. Even now, at almost 30, still trying to pay off my old car, and still living in a tiny apartment with a roommate, I don’t regret it. “I look at her for a moment, trying to see if I’m getting through to her. I’ve always been terrible at these kinds of talks.
“I’m just saying…if you need help, I can help you. If you want to do art, you have to do art. If you want to do music, you have to do music. If you don’t, it will hurt.”
She looks at me, waiting, so I go on.
“You know what my biggest fear in life has always been?” I ask her. “Being bored.”
She starts twirling her long hair in her fingers and all she says again is, “Yeah.”
“Being bored,” I say again. “I could have gone a different path, an easier path….maybe I’d own a house now, like so many of my friends in Utah. And maybe I wouldn’t owe people money. I’d own a car. I’d have a kid. And I wouldn’t worry about next month’s rent. And people wouldn’t come up to me while I’m in town and say, “Hey…are you still trying to do that music thing?” But maybe I’d also be bored as fuck. And that’s a scary thing to me.”
I grew up with a dream. A silly dream, but a big dream. We didn’t have Youtube when I was a kid. We didn’t have Spotify. If you wanted to perform, you couldn’t just open up your iPhone camera and put a tape up the same day…you actually had to perform.
When I was nine, my dad would take me to a senior citizens’ nursing home in St. George, Utah, and I would sing for a half hour during their lunch break. I remember it well. There was a room that looked like a big cafeteria with long tables, and they would all sit and look at me and clap and smile. That was the first time that I sang out in front of people and felt like I was connecting. I could see them reflecting on memories with each song.
I sang around town a lot…wherever they would have me. At the Utah rodeo, the county fair, the arts festival, the street festival, the Electric Theater.
I was in a band with my older sister, Meg, when I was fourteen. We wrote some songs, although if the truth be told, Meg was the writer first. She was the performer first. She’s the one who inspired me to do it all. And those were the best years of my life, playing on that stage with her and my best friends.
A lovely family owned a venue in St. George called The Electric theater, and they would let my sister and I, and our band, “Jade Harbor” open up for local acts. (I still have my first band t-shirt for my first band ever, and I’ll never sell it. Not for a million dollars). We opened up for so many musicians and that’s where we met our first manager, at a small local show in Utah.
I guess you can say the rest is history, right? We signed to an indie label, Doghouse Records, then went to Warner Bros. Records. Then got dropped, then I signed to Universal Records, then got dropped, and now I’m with Nettwerk. Four record labels before I’m thirty years old. I guess you can say I get around.
I was in a band for a long time called “Meg and Dia.” We put out 4 albums and 5 EP’s and toured for years and years. Some years I was on the road for 8 to 9 months, playing well over 200 shows a year. For the longest time, we didn’t have a bus. We slept in our van, in parks, in Walmart parking lots, and at strangers’ houses if they were kind enough to offer up their floor after a small show. We washed our hair in Starbucks bathrooms, and in the tiny, dirty back rooms of bars, our old sneakers sticking to the beer stained floor. Those were the best days of my life.
Then reality TV land happened. I felt like I was dropped onto a weird board game, dressed up, and pushed along with a roll of the dice. I didn’t know what The Voice was until I was knee-deep in it. I was on Season One, so I had the gift of walking in blind. I always tell people that if it had been season two, and I had seen the show, I never would have gone on. Not because it’s a terrible show — on the contrary, it was a lovely show and I made some amazing friends — but, reality TV was just never my way. Competition in music was weird to me. Being judged by every move I made was new to me. My manager told me to audition for this “show.” “I’m not sure what it is,” he said, “but you might as well. What do you have to lose?”
He was right. I was almost 22 years old, living in a dump in New York City with nothing but a mattress on the floor and a fold out lawn chair, and working at Crumb’s Bake Shop dishing out cupcakes and coffee to (sorry New York but) very impatient and often rude folks. Meg and Dia had just recorded a record, “Cocoon,” which cost us all our savings from tour and didn’t do very well on iTunes.
I flew to L.A. to audition for the show. At the time, there were, to my knowledge, 4 coaches, or something like that. No one had been confirmed. I didn’t know it was going to be this huge show. I didn’t know they were going to have mega superstars as coaches.
With luck and chance on my side, I got through the first round and was awestruck the entire time by the magnitude of it all. How did I get here?
During the interviews I would speak in great lengths about my band and our record out on iTunes, but when the editing folks got a hold of it, I was suddenly the “children’s book author from Utah,” and that was that. That was my story apparently. So, whatever, I just wanted to sing. But I was terrified. I had performed my whole life, but I had always performed with my sister. Now I was alone. On stage, in front of millions. Alone.
The aftermath of The Voice was good and bad. Good because I got picked up by Universal Records but bad because my band quickly fell apart. The record label wouldn’t take all of us since no one on the show knew anything about us, so I just tried to keep it under my name as a solo act, but with my band. But it turns out, that was easier said than done.
Our band slowly fell apart and my relationship with my sister turned distant and strained. It was never cruel, never cold, but more like…far away. My best friend and I had lost touch somehow, and I felt even more alone.
I turned to the bright lights of Hollywood to keep me company, but it turned out to be fickle and, as my favorite leading man Holden Caulfield would say, “phony.”
I made an album called RED. It was specially “crafted” by LA’s top writers and producers and was put out on Universal. I don’t mean to cut it down. I really don’t. My heart and soul went into that record, but it just so happens that my heart was half full and my soul was drained and missing something even though I didn’t know what it was.
The record did OK. It did especially well in Asia so I was over there a lot, much to my delight, since I adore South East Asia and I also adore traveling.
Then, a couple years later, I got dropped, and I moved on into ….this weird stretch of distant blue. A weird fog came over me. I stopped….caring. A year passed. Another year. Another year. “In the studio,” I’d Tweet. “Writing session today in Venice,” I’d Tweet. But who cares really? Did I?
I was a washed up, bitter ex-musician who used to have a future.
Now, a couple of years later, I’m just a (almost) 29 year old musician who writes songs during the day and works selling sausages and waiting tables at a food stall in Grand Central Market in Los Angeles. Almost every hour someone will come up to me and it is the same thing every time. It is either:
A) Weren’t you that one singer on The Voice? Oh, cool… We voted for you… Do you work here?… Um… yeah, I’ll get the fries instead of salad.
B) Hey! I used to listen to Meg and Dia all the time. My brother and I used to love you guys! We used to jam your one song, what was it…it was like…uh…
C) Hey. Are you….Dia? Dia Frampton? What are you doing working here?
I dreaded every time someone would come up to me. Not because I don’t like talking to people…trust me, every time someone says they listen to my music I feel nothing but gratitude. But here, behind the counter filling up the ketchup bottles, I just felt like a total failure.
I felt embarrassed. I felt useless.
I’d go to the studio for writing sessions and feel …like a second hand coat.
I had a big producer straight up say, “Oh, shit. You’re 29? I didn’t know you were THAT old…you look younger. You’re trying to put out a new album? That’s tough. Good luck.”
The thing is…he didn’t say that with malice. He said it in a matter-of-fact way, because in a lot of ways, with how the industry is, he’s right.
I went in recently for a studio session with a producer and new artist. She was only 16, just signed, and ready to go out and live her dream! The producer introduced me to her since he’d been already working with her for a long while. “This is Dia. She’s here to help you write lyrics. She used to be an artist too so she knows what it’s like.” The “used to be” made me cringe. It still does.
And you know what? I fucking miss my sister. There, I said it. We’re doing well, and she’s living out her own dreams and she’s supporting me in mine, but she’s far away and I miss her and I just feel so alone out here in Los Angeles. I do. I wish we could be stupid and 17 again and reckless, loading up our CD’s in an old card board box at the Warped Tour yelling, “CD’s for just five bucks! Just five bucks! Get us to the next city guys! Come on.” (A song on the new album called “Gold and Silver,” is about her and about that.)
So, let’s get to “Bruises” shall we? Yes, “Bruises” is the name of my new album, produced by the wonderful Daniel Heath. It is my new record and it is coming out early next year. Its theme is my theme in life.
But in the end, I’m just a small town girl from Utah who loved to sing. And that girl is somewhere inside me still. I can feel her trying to get out and it breaks my heart.
I don’t know what will happen with this record. The damn mountain I’ve been trying to climb keeps fucking moving. I can’t keep up anymore. I’m tired. I just want to tell stories. I just want to be someone’s soundtrack. Put me on when you’re alone. I know how it feels. Put me on when you’re in love. I know that feeling too. And put me on when some one breaks your heart, because I’ve been there. When you’re happy, I’ll feel it, too.
This album took five years to make and I swear I’m giving you every last thing I’ve got.
I was never one to go halfway. To save energy for the swim back. To have a back up plan.
On Monday nights I put on old Modest Mouse records and Emmylou Harris and Elliott Smith and sing my lungs out and drink wine and cry because their voices are so damn beautiful. On Tuesdays I freak out and start packing my bags, ready to leave Los Angeles and go home to Utah. On Wednesdays I laugh at how foolish I was on Tuesday. Come on Dia! You can do this, silly girl! You love this shit! You love life! You’re working at it…you’ll climb that mountain. On Thursdays I think to myself, where the fuck did the mountain go? On Fridays I write a song that I think is amazing. I’m a genius. On Saturdays I’m the worst songwriter on the entire planet and I quit. On Sundays I have hope.
But I can tell you one thing:
I’m never bored.
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