Songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Dominique Fraissard is part of the new wave of folk music that includes Iron and Wine, Jon Butler, and Jack Johnson. “Simply one of the most amazing solo performers on offer,” notes Australian entertainment magazine The Drum Media.
Fraissard grew up in Cherryville, BC where a hitchhiker his mom had picked up who played guitar made a deep impression on Dominique at an early age. The family emigrated to Australia during his teens, where he learned to play guitar at age 17. An 18-month recuperation for a badly broken leg at age 19 gave him the time to develop his unique acoustic guitar style. His interest in poetry and the written word channeled naturally into songwriting and he began performing live in 1995.
“Everyone has joy and pain but not everyone can articulate it,” he says. “Music is a language that can bring us to the brink of our senses.”
After traveling in Europe and writing songs during the late 1990s Fraissard returned to Australia, where he played at the Woodford Folk Festival at an open stage ‘chalkboard venue’. That cemented his desire to become a professional musician and in 1998 he moved to Sydney to pursue his dream. His first album, made that year, was financed with bracelets he made and sold on the beach. As the economy boomed, music clubs went upscale and began removing open mic stages but there was a vibrant underground scene that still allowed young musicians to play.
“It was full of street people and musicians of all kinds so it was a really exciting scene. We were all making our first albums and getting onto radio.”
Other musicians who had seen him play at Woodford invited him to join the newly formed Urban Folk Collective. The cooperative networked with musicians, venues and festivals across Australia to build audiences for the new folk artists in their Club Acoustica series. Fraissard recalls the period as “a bit of a folk revival, a real heyday.” Out of that worldwide revival came artists like Jon Butler, The Waifs, and Jack Johnson. But it was artists like Billy Bragg, the Indigo Girls and especially Ani Difranco, stalwarts on the folk scene for decades, who were the strongest influences on Fraissard. Yet it’s clear his rhythmic style owes much more to rock music than the typically softer sounds of folk.
“I fight myself; I’m always trying to get a softer, jingly jangly thing but then I just want to attack the guitar with my claws. I have a hard time writing a ballad.”
The first big break came when he had an opportunity to play on the same bill as former Byrds member Roger McGuinn at a place in Sydney known as the Basement. It was considered the best local ‘small venue’ and has featured Harry Manx, Taj Mahal, and Ron Sexsmith. Fraissard’s second album, Catharsis, released in 2001, was pieced together with various musician friends while he was working 60-hour weeks. Then in 2003—another break, when he got a phone call from Jon Butler saying, “Hey, I heard your album and it really inspired me.” Fraissard was invited to open for Butler at a concert in Sydney.
In 2007 Fraissard recorded his third album Tabula Rasa with a full band, and after the official album launch in Sydney, he was able to return to Woodford as a headliner at last. Yet even with this exposure Fraissard found he still couldn’t book enough gigs for a complete Australian tour. Canada on the other hand seemed to welcome him and concert venues were much easier to book. With 50 personal copies of the new album hot off the press he decided it was time to come back for a visit.
A family crisis pitched him into the depths shortly thereafter, temporarily stalling his career. Fraissard moved back to Canada in April 2008 and enjoys the great Canadian outdoors, fishing and learning new wilderness skills. He has a keen sense of the environmental and social crises in the world and feels his time as a city dweller is over.
Fraissard recently released a live album, Cutting Teeth, and an EP of six new songs titled Humble in the Moment, destined to become instant classics in his already impressive body of work. In an era when singer-songwriters are a dime a dozen—and few of them seem to have any sense of song structure—his songs stand out. Each of them is drawn from a deep emotional and intellectual well, arising from a probing mind and a heart wide open to the world. And because Fraissard understands his craft, a crackling energy infuses even his slowest songs.
He has been touring the Western Canadian café circuit and got his first big break in Canada when he played the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues during summer 2009. He says both the café venues and house concerts are part of a burgeoning new music scene.
“We’re on the crest of a wave here that’s helping new artists build an audience. A musician has a ten-year gestation period before anything happens. There’s just no substitute for tenacity.”
A version of this article originally appeared in the Valley Voice regional newspaper (valleyvoice.ca).