Wila Frank makes music that’s searching, cinematic, and introspective with scalpel-like precision. Her songs can clear the air, putting to music emotions that are deeply felt but only rarely spoken. With her debut album Black Cloud, the 24-year-old Nashville-based songwriter immediately sets a mesmerizing mood that showcases her evocative lyricism as well as her tasteful ear as a multi-instrumentalist and producer. Though just eight tracks, the album is a resounding statement of intent, an introduction to a fully-formed voice and perspective that boasts a freewheeling ability to jump between genres and textures. This is an artist bravely coming into her own and making something thrilling and alive. “This album is about longing for a feeling of freedom, wanting to create my own world outside of the world I was living in,” she says.
Frank was raised on a farm in a rural bohemian community near the Oregon coast, where she formed a passion for classical and folk music. She learned violin at only four years old, followed by piano, mandolin, cello, and guitar. “I lost my dad when I was 12 in a tragic accident and that’s when I started writing songs,” she says. “I was processing a lot of grief without really understanding what was going on so a lot of my songs were pent-up emotions that didn't know how to express themselves elsewhere.” At 18, she moved to Nashville to record and tour with indie-folk duo Paper Wings and Civil Wars alum, Joy Williams. While folk music and mastering the violin were essential to Frank’s life, her own songwriting led her to entirely different feelings and moods. “Growing up, my identity was completely entwined with the violin and folk community,” says Frank. “But I didn’t want to feel confined by genre anymore. In 2020, I picked up the electric guitar because my dad used to have a punk band with his friends and I loved falling asleep as a kid listening to them practice in the barn.”
Drawn to the visceral freedom of rock music, Frank began writing new material and rearranging her old songs inspired by this new instrumental context. The title track’s melody comes from a song Frank wrote when she was 16, but opening herself up to explore other genres and moods propelled the song to new heights. Inspired by a nightmare she had where an ominous dark mass looms over an otherwise perfect day, she sings over tense guitars and lilting strings, “Oh, you’ll never see through my empty eyes / Just how broken I can be / I saw the black cloud rise.” Frank explains, “The song has this horror element to it: trying to describe emotions that are just so painful that you just want to look away.” While these feelings were painful, Frank found inspiration and strength diving into this part of herself.
“Fire” is full of menace and desire, showcasing Frank’s versatility and her new uninhibited approach to songwriting. “I'm a very visual writer,” she says. “I try to make things that are cinematic and make you feel something so strong you can see yourself in all of these different scenarios.” While Frank’s raw lyrics can recall Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker, she was inspired by artists like PJ Harvey and Anna Calvi just as much as the brooding soundscapes of Massive Attack and Radiohead. You can hear this alchemy in the arrangement of the nervy and voyeuristic “Tonight,” where she sings, “Are you lost? Are you a lost cause? / With that light in your pocket and that ember in your eye / Are you alone? Do you want to be alone?” Though Frank’s vision as a producer and multi-instrumentalist shaped the album, she enlisted her former roommate bassist Royal Masat (Billy Strings), drummer Wendy Killman (Jehnny Beth), and mixing engineer Sam Petts-Davies (Radiohead) to help fulfill it.
Black Cloud is a testament to an artist taking risks and being honest with herself. On album highlight “Oh, Fate,” a song about not living passively, Frank addresses this directly, singing, “Oh, Fate release me, I wanna run free / And I’d give you anything if you would let me be.” It’s her most inviting song yet. “There’s an element of escapism and processing my past but this album is really about expressing parts of myself that I don’t share in my everyday life,” she says. “It’s me speaking the things I can’t say in words.”