In May 2022, Carly Fratianne bicycled to Columbus from San Antonio, Texas. The initial trip up took about two weeks, with the musician pushed along by a tailwind that helped ease the journey, logging upwards of 100 to 150 miles a day and camping out along the way.
The trip back to Texas, however, proved a far more strenuous ordeal. On the way to Ohio, Fratianne hewed to the Natchez Trace Parkway, a historic route that has served as a vital east-west artery for thousands of years. But on the return, she opted to explore the Northeast Texas Trail – a bike path built upon rail lines formerly used by the Union Pacific and Chaparral railroads – believing it could be a more challenging but ultimately rewarding path.
“When I looked at it online, it was kind of what you would expect from the Olentangy Trail, and they had ripped up the train tracks and paved over it really nicely to create this beautiful, scenic route through these towns,” Fratienne said by phone in early September. “And then I got on it and I quickly realized that was only like 10 percent of the trail, and the other 90 percent they just ripped up the train tracks and then it hadn’t been touched since like the 1980s or whatever. And I found myself bushwhacking my way along this crazy, weird trail with all these sharp rocks that were ruining my tires, and I’d have to stop and pump them up every six or seven minutes. … It would take me three or four hours to try to go 15 miles, and it would pass through a bunch of private properties, and I’d have dogs chasing me and I’d be throwing rocks at them, and it was just horrible.”
Adding to the intensity of the situation, abandoned railroad bridges dotted the path, forcing Fratianne into multiple perilous crossings during which she had to navigate the wooden trusses – a number of which were missing or damaged – while wearing metal biking cleats and guiding a bike packed with more than 80 pounds of gear.
In the midst of one of these crossings, Fratianne found herself suspended more than 40 feet in the air, exposed to the elements on all sides and struggling to find the will to press onward.
“It was a really long bridge, and it took everything in me to not have a full-on panic attack while crossing because there were no handrails, nothing to hold onto, and these beams were seven or eight inches apart and they were kind of falling down,” Fratianne said. “And by the time I got to the end of it, it was like I had gotten to the end of myself three times over, and I just screamed really loud because I didn’t know what else to do. … And, I swear to God, from the bottom of my shoes, I heard this really earthen voice say, ‘Until you realize that it doesn’t matter what you want, you’ll continue to feel this way.’ And I just silenced my rage and started pushing my bike again. … When you get all the way down there, and you get to the end of a journey like that, there’s no way you’re going to be the same after.”
For years, Souther served as Fratianne’s outlet for these most primal emotional releases. “That was the impetus for the name Creature,” upon the release of the band’s 2021 swansong. “I tried to make it the most corporeal body of songs that I could put together. They're pretty raw. I didn't mince too many words.”
And it’s a feeling the singer and guitarist is set to tap back into when the band reforms to headline Natalie’s Grandview on Wednesday, Sept. 13, with Fratianne joined onstage by bassist Alex Randall and drummer Max Slater. The reunion was spurred in part by another Columbus wedding and an extended visit that left Fratianne time to exhume a couple of her musical guises. (She played earlier this month under her more pop-oriented solo guise, Lui.)
“I’ve been living in Austin [Texas] for about a year now, carving out a new space and digging into a new scene, but I was really missing riffing with my friends onstage. And since I was coming back here, I thought, you know, why not see if this thing still has legs?” Fratianne said of Souther, which she launched in 2015 shortly after returning home to Westerville following a stretch spent living in Los Angeles, , Is for Lovers, two years later.
Fratianne last played with Souther at Rockmill Brewery about three years ago, right when the initial wave of the pandemic was beginning to wane and some outdoor concerts were beginning to take place. At the time, Fratianne believed the band was playing its last concert, though looking back she now says it didn’t feel that way as events unfolded.
“It was pretty anticlimactic. We were outside and it wasn’t very loud, and it just didn’t feel like it was our last show and we would be saying goodbye forever,” she said. “It never felt like it was going to be the last time I was playing those songs onstage with some of those bandmates.”
Returning more recently to the songs, some of which she penned in her early 20s, Fratianne has been struck by how much the material continues to resonate, even as her path continues to take unexpected, sometimes soul-challenging detours.
“I wrote those songs at [age] 22, and coming back and listening to them, it’s crazy how much I still identify with them. And I think that’s because even if in your mind you feel like you’ve changed so much in 10 years, in your bones you’re kind of the same. And you have so many of the same hang-ups you used to have, even if you’ve maybe found better ways to manage them,” she said. “I’m over a year sober now, which is a giant thing unto itself. And it’s surreal thinking about how wild I was, and how heavy every single thing in my life felt then. I’ve definitely grown into some more levity with things now. … But the bones in those songs are still there. The writing was raw, but it wasn’t wrong, you know?”