California duo, Small Creatures, return to Detroit to launch new musical experience
“For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” — Carl Sagan, astronomer and astrophysicist.
At first blush, Andre Frappier and Andrea Cole wouldn’t seem like musical soul mates. He is 43 and she is 27. He came up with the Stones, James Brown and experimental jazz. She spent her growing years steeped in the gospel sound.
But the couple, native Detroiters who met in Los Angeles at a music gig around 2008, will surprise you, much like their sound and drive. Cole comes strong with the vocals as Frappier handles the guitar.
Their group, Small Creatures, performs Thursday night at the Elizabeth Theater at Park Bar in downtown Detroit. After a tune-up performance last Saturday in Southern California, the Detroit gig will be their first official show.
With many influences such as Stevie Wonder, jazz legends Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, the neo-soul performers have worked to create their own blend of music, writing more than 35 songs. A six-track album will be on sale at Thursday’s show.
And who are they? Big Sean, Kid Rock, Dwele know. For years, Frappier has backed those Detroit artists on tour and in-studio. He’s also worked with star-studded singers Kelly Clarkston, Chris Brown, P. Diddy, Ne-Yo, Ariana Grande and Mary J. Blige, among many others.
“Right now, it’s get the music to the people,” Frappier said, via Skype, sitting alongside his wife, Cole, in their Rancho Cucamonga, California, home. “Nobody has heard of us, absolutely. But this is our beginning. This is our start.”
Cole’s musical resume is impressive, too. She has sung back-up with such artists as El Debarge, Faith Evans, Dorinda Clark Cole, Kelly Price and Tank.
Frappier likens his wife’s voice to an amalgamation between Chante Moore, Sade and Corinne Bailey Rae — a soulful blend complementing the live instruments on their recordings.
“We both have worked so much on other people’s music and we know how to play that role,” Cole said. “With this music, the most important thing to us is that we get to be ourselves, and we get to make the music that we like to listen to. We know and trust — as consumers ourselves — that people will hear that and identity with that. This is our sound.”
Cole, whom Frappier admires for being well-read and a studied intellectual, came up with the name Small Creatures for a song when she stumbled upon the quote of the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan. She was moved by how the “universe can make us feel small but love is thread that unites us.”
So then Frappier took it a step farther and suggested Small Creatures as their group's name. Indeed, one of their songs is named “Small Creatures,” a heavily Davis and Shorter-influenced track. Others are “Blue Love,” a restructured remake of a song by Chaka Khan and Rufus, and “Honey,” a tune with a pop, dance feel makes a hard turn to a more jazzy sound.
Frappier, who grew up in Royal Oak and Ferndale, said his love for music goes back to age 2, recalling his mother told him years later that she wrote in a babybook for her son, “Andre wants a guitar.” He said his father turned him on early to Brown, the Stones and the Beatles. An appreciation for the jazz legends came soon thereafter.
He studied and learned from musicians at Wayne State University and soon began playing gigs in Detroit, at locations such as Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. He became music director for Dwele and others, but the money and work was in California, he would discover.
Cole, who grew up in Detroit and Farmington Hills and had moved to California as a late teen, was singing in a band with her mother and stepfather, when she met Frappier. The family needed a guitar player. He fit the bill. The couple talked for hours about music and in time, Frappier motivated her to really learn and grow as a performer — a mission begun by Cole’s biological father who was a gospel singer.
Last year, Cole and Frappier were married.
Now, in addtion to writing songs together, they finish each other’s thoughts and sentences. Their plan is to do more dates in California and then hit Europe this summer. They also hope to release an independent album this year.
The artist Dwele said he will be attending the couple’s show on Thursday.
“Frappe is one of my favorite guitarists ever,” Dwele said. “ He’s the only person that can teach me anything on the guitar because I play a right-handed guitar upside down the same way that he does.”
“He knows his music theory but he doesn’t let theory drive him. He’s more about the feel of the music and about getting into it.”
But first, there’s this trip back to Detroit.
“We just wanted to do a gig in Detroit and get our feet wet there,” Frappier said. “The crowds are really different in Detroit than they are in L.A. People really listen in Detroit. We had to come home for sure.”
Small Creatures Live
8:30 p.m. Thurs.
The Elizabeth Theater at the Park Bar
2040 Park , Detroit
Tickets: $20 at the door; $15 advance