Singer-songwriter Frank Ortega hails from Phoenix, Ariz., a city that supplied him with a promising (and wholesome) all-American lifestyle. Early on, in fifth grade, he and his buddies decided to become the "three trumpeteers" and pick up the brass instrument. While his friends quit two weeks later, he continued to nurture his love of music and that soon lead him to teach himself guitar and piano, fueling his talents as a true musician.
Nashville Gab recently spoke with Ortega about his "awesome" upbringing, as well as his forthcoming album (set for this fall) and a documentary featuring some of the most prominent studio musicians in Music City (and much more).
Nashville Gab: Your new single is “Two Places at Once,” which was written by David Lee Murphy, Ira Dean and Kim Tribble. What drew you to that song?
Frank Ortega: Between the three of those guys, there’s something there. Ira’s the sleeper in that group. He used to be with Trick Pony, but gosh, he co-wrote ‘Feeling Like That’ for Gary Allan [and] ‘There’s One In Every Crowd’ for Montgomery Gentry. There’s a lot of talent in that song, as far as the writers go.
[Adding:] Well, Ira and I have been friends for years. We had a little pattern where he writes all the time. So, he calls me about midnight, one o’clock in the morning and goes ‘dude, listen to this.’ He’d [the play] demos. One night, my phone rang and same thing. I heard that song through the phone — and it was David singing it — and I said ‘that’s a catchy song. What are you going to do with it?’ He goes ‘I don’t know.’ Cut to two years later, I was looking for a single. I said ‘I’m going to get that song, and I’m gonna cut it.’ That song kind of relates to everyone. It surpasses every age barrier. I don’t care what your race is or anything. It’s a song about being apart of somebody when you want to be with them. Everybody can relate to that. So, that’s the primary thing that drew me to that song. It speaks to everyone.
NG: Is the new single the lead-in to a new album?
FO: Yes. I have an album coming out in October, called ‘Ortega.’ I want to be a little more progressive, and I want to put out six songs at a time. I want [it] to be a steady stream of music, instead of an album a year or [that] type of deal to help build my brand. I think that’s what progressive artists are doing. That’s where they should go, in my opinion.
NG: Who are your biggest influences for the record?
FO: My influences are really the writers. I’m impressed with a lot of artists, but I’m more impressed with the underbelly of this town, rather than what shine up and put out there. The writers are my primary inspiration. They move me. Phil O’Donnell is one of my favorite writers in this town. He’s Craig Morgan’s producer, and he’s written some big hits. He writes in a way that I love. So, I’m gonna have some Phil cuts on my record. Also, the musicians in this town [have also impressed me]. In September, I’m shooting a documentary. It’s going to take about nine months to shoot, and it’s gonna [feature] studio musicians. It’s gonna tell a story of studio musicians from the beginning in Nashville and bring it all the way current. It’ll give people an [understanding] of how music gets made. So, that’s how strong I feel about the underbelly of this town. People don’t understand that there are all these 10 to 2s, all these meetings, you can cut as many songs as you can. Tell them what you want. They’re so talented. They can do anything. People don’t realize how it works. I want to show the world how it works. I think that’s an important part of what I do as an artist. Those guys are really carrying such a heavy load. Everybody’s got a job to do.
NG: Who’s involved with the project?
FO: I’m really gonna do it guerilla-style. I’ve got a couple of guys in mind that really want to work with me. The way I want to shoot it where there’s not a lot of editing involved in regards to lighting [and such]. I just want to shoot it in very raw format. I think people will be more comfortable that way talking about other guys in town and do it where the cameras not visible.
NG: You were born in Tempe, Arizona and grew up in Phoenix. What was that like?
FO: It was awesome. I had a great upbringing…middle-class hispanic family. I’m a first generation Mexican-American. My mother came here to pick cotton when she was 13 years old and became a legal citizen. Both parents became legal citizens at a young age, and I just had a great American life. This country’s been good to me.
NG: How early did you show interest in music?
FO: I started in the fifth grade with the trumpet. Two of my buddies wanted to play the trumpet, and we were the three trumpeteers. [laughs] Two weeks later they quit. I went to go quit, and my daddy [didn’t let me]. He said ‘you have to finish out the year.’ After that, it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. It lead me into music, and I’ve had a love affair with music [ever since]. I learned to play guitar on my own; I learned to play the piano on my own. My dad’s probably a big influence on that around the house playing guitar, playing Johnny Cash songs. I didn’t pay attention when I was little. It’s funny how you come full circle.
NG: I hear that your favorite color is black. Is there a reason?
FO: I don’t know. Maybe it’s the Scorpio in me. [laughs] Black is a very dramatic color, and it’s intense. I think that sums me up. I’m an either on or off type of guy. There’s no in between. Black seems to fit me pretty well.
NG: And your favorite number is 13?
FO: Absolutely. I think if you look for the odd or the different, that’s where I live.
NG: What are some current artists who have impressed or influenced you?
FO: Current is such a relative term. I like to describe myself as vintage, yet current. There’s a lot of artists that fall into that category. I love Lee Ann Womack. She’s country. There’s a contemporary vibe to her, as well. There’s a lot of great songs out there. I’ve finally come full circle. I was one of those guys that said ‘this new stuff on the radio isn’t Country.’ But the fact of the matter of it is, it is. That’s just where Country music is today. I’m impressed with all these young bucks out there.
Read the full interview here.
Photo Credit: Villa One Records