Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Exclusive: Interview with A Fine Frenzy

My cell phone rings and I hear a very meek and humble voice on the other end. Fire haired and melodiously uplifting 23 year old songstress Alison Sudol, better known as the woman behind indie music sensation A Fine Frenzy, greets me in such a way that you can hear the smile in her tone. Taking a break from preparing for her Boston show tonight, we chat for a little bit about Shakespeare, inspiration, and music.

AN: So first things first. Your name is Alison Sudol, yet you record under the name A Fine Frenzy. Why is that and how did you come up with it?

AS: It’s because I wanted the music to have its’ own name and not have everything be so focused on me. That’s basically why once I’m finished recording and producing a song, it’s as much the listener’s as it is my own – they have as much ownership over it as I do, so it’s just a way of sharing it. The name itself comes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

AN: Oh really? That’s so cool, I didn’t know that!

AS: Yeah, it’s a really beautiful quote that Theseus says, “the poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven, and as imagination bodies forth, the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” It’s really an excellent quote.

AN: Yeah it really is. Your sound is clearly full of various influences, ranging from both classical and swing music to a whole slew of artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Elton John, Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Fiona Apple and Coldplay. Who would you say your biggest musical inspiration is and why?

AS: Ahh, I don’t know I mean I think it really depends on the day, because some days Sigur Ros is the center of my universe and other days it’s Aretha Franklin or The Beatles or some classical piece. I mean, it just depends on my mood and I never know, which is why I like so many different kinds of things because you can have a different music for every mood.

AN: Haha, yeah I totally agree with you on that. In the past year, not only have you released your debut album, but you’ve also toured with the likes of Rufus Wainwright and have been featured as a VH1 “You Oughta Know” artist. Your music has also appeared on television shows such as Private Practice, One Tree Hill, Brothers & Sisters, House, and The Hills, as well as on the soundtrack to the film Dan In Real Life. Now that you’ve embarked on your first headlining tour, how have you been handling all of this sudden success?

AS: Honestly things have been going incredibly well, but I think because I’m still working with basically the same people I have been the whole time, I just don’t really feel that different. I’m getting to see more of the world all the time and meet more people and it just feels fantastic, but it just feels like a nice, gentle natural growth. Maybe I ought to feel different but I don’t really feel like there’s that much more to handle, so I’m kind of just rolling with it.

AN: On your official website, you are described as growing up having “developed a strong love for the fantastic literary worlds of CS Lewis, EB White, Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens, while becoming a passionate author in her own right.” Do you consider yourself solely a songwriter, or do you dabble in other fields of writing as well?

AS: Well songwriting is my passion, it’s the thing that wakes me up in the morning and really drives me. On the other hand, I’m writing a book, a young adult book, and that’s really just for my own peace of mind, it’s relaxing to me. So maybe if I’m not inspired to write a song, I can work on that, it’s kind of holding itself really well, but I’m primarily a songwriter. I just love to tell stories and I find them and sometimes I feel like I discover them and have to write them.

AN: What is the meaning behind your album title “One Cell In The Sea”? Also, what was the main goal you sought out to achieve with the release of this record?

AS: The name comes from the second track on the album, “The Minnow And The Trout,” and the song is about being near people and how everybody is alike despite our small differences or situations and circumstances or whatever, because at the end of the day we’re all connected. I felt very connected when writing this album because I knew I couldn’t be the only one that felt the way that I did, or had gone through the things that I did - I mean it felt like I was but I knew that was not possible - so that’s pretty much where it came from. Also, I was just really lonely and isolated and one cell in the sea is pretty much the most isolated as you can get. The main goal of the music was really just to give something to people that would make them feel sad or be able to acknowledge sadness in their lives, or maybe see things they weren’t able to see or feel things they hadn’t been able to access through music, and that’s always been the basic goal for me.

AN: Your music is very intelligently and eloquently poetic and lyrical. In other words, you use a lot of vivid imagery to convey whatever it is you’re trying to get across in each song. If you were asked to describe the underlying meaning or message of your record as a whole, what would that be and what inspired it?

AS: I suppose it’s rediscovering the fairytale of life and applying a soundtrack to it, because I think there are so many wonderful, wild, and poetic things in the world that are very much like fairytales or things that are just greater than the ordinary day to day humdrums, and I think you can see that usually when you’re looking at it from a child’s point of view, so there’s all that under the surface of my record.

AN: I read that you taught yourself how to play the piano. How long did it take you to do this and what kept you from giving up?

AS: It took me a long time, I feel like I’m still learning so much and getting better and having a lot of limitations that I’m trying to get rid of, and always expand. The thing that kept me from giving up is song writing, I mean that’s the thing that taught me to be able to play to write better songs. So whenever I got frustrated I would just continue to write, and no matter how terrible I was I would just work on it. When I was writing I would have to play the same thing over and over again to kind of work things out, and that was practice but it didn’t feel like practice - it just kind of felt like working to solve a problem, so that’s why it was easier for me not to give up, because I had a purpose.

AN: When you were in the learning process, did you ever think that one day you would be a singer/songwriter whose practically entire album would consist of piano arrangements you yourself had composed?

AS: No, no, not at all. I mean it took a few lessons with a songwriter named Joleen Bell when I was about 19, and she showed me how to arrange songs, keep rhythm, and how chords work. I remember her saying “you can’t take lessons with me anymore, you have to finish this yourself.” I told her I’m not looking to play piano live, I’m not looking to play any pieces or anything like that, I’m not really looking to do anything except to be able to write songs. I was terrified of playing live but then it just happened that way because the way that I sing really depends on the way I write my piano parts and no one else can play them the way that I do, so I just had to do it, I had to get better.

AN: On your MySpace page, you wrote a blog talking about the current state of the Hollywood industry and how destructive it is for those who succumb to it. You cite the recent deaths of actors Heath Ledger and Brad Renfro as examples, as well as a plea to the media to be nicer to Britney Spears. Having already been thrown into the scene by making multiple appearances at New York’s fashion week as well as being featured on the David Letterman show, are you afraid that in the crazed tabloid obsessed world we live in, that your personal life will overshadow your music?

AS: No, actually not at all. It actually hasn’t even been involved in anything. In all the interviews and all the people that I’ve talked to, nobody really asks any questions about my personal life. It’s been pretty music focused and I like it that way and I think people like it that way too. There’s a lovely respect and kindness with the way that I’ve been treated and I hope to maintain that. I think you can choose to a degree how much that stuff affects you and how much you let your personal life come out. I’m not really that worried about it because it’s not who I am, I’m not like that.

AN: And finally for my last question: Every liberal arts college is full of aspiring artists and musicians. What is the best advice you can give us Muhlenberg students about pursuing our dreams?

AS: My best advice, actually the only advice I can really give because it’s such a personal thing, is be the best that you can be but don’t get so lost into technicalities that you forget emotion. Have a purpose; really have something to say because I find that a lot of music gets made just to make music. I think to make a deep difference, which you have an opportunity to do in music (pretty unlike like anything else really) is give something, give yourself because that’s the thing that differentiates you from anybody else if you’re on viewpoint. It’s the scariest thing to do, might not sound like it, but in reality it is the most threatening thing to do but it’s the best.

AN: Well that’s it for me. Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk!
AS: Yes, of course, anytime! My pleasure!
AN: Break a leg tonight!
AS: Haha, okay I will. Thank you, bye!
AN: Goodbye!

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