I recently had the opportunity to interview the lovely Alison Sudol, the talented signer/songwriter/pianist behind A Fine Frenzy. After we exchanged some greetings, we got down to the nitty gritty about her new album, touring, and future plans which you can read below. Enjoy!
Chewing Gum: Let’s talk about the new record first – Bomb in a Birdcage. In listening to your first album, One Cell in the Sea, and the new record – a lot has changed. Everything from the title to the cover to the music is very different – can you explain what you were hoping to accomplish with the new album?
Alison Sudol: Yeah, it’s super different. If anyone thought of themselves two years before and then added in traveling the world and having their lives changed and meeting so many new people, seeing so many musicians on the road, experiencing so much growth, moving away from home and being on the road – it’s not even a changing really, it’s just growing. And that’s how I feel about this album – all the things that came between the making of One Cell and the making of Bomb in a Birdcage just brought me to a different place -a really exciting place - and I knew what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be different and what I wanted to stay the same and that I wanted to have fun and I wanted the album to be lighter and more positive.
CG: Were there certain songs that led into the album and helped you establish what you wanted to do with the new record?
AS: Yeah, definitely “What I Wouldn’t Do.” Even though it wasn’t the first song chronologically, it was the first song that made me go, “Ok, I’m gonna make an album now, this is where we’re starting from.” And then I was heading towards making a pretty mellow folk record – very sweet, very spare, very folky – and then I wrote “Stood Up” and I thought, “What do I do with this?” But I also really wanted to be running around the stage and interacting with the audience. I’ve seen some great live shows and it’s so powerful to watch some of these singers and I thought, “I want to do that too,” and that shaped the arc of the album. It went from being really quiet to really loud and then we filled in the gaps in between.
CG: Do you have a favorite song from the album to perform?
AS: It changes every night because every audience is different and every time we play is different. Thankfully, otherwise playing the same songs every night would be torture, but every night it’s new and I get new things out of each tune. So it would be hard to say, one night it’s definitely a certain song and the next night that one was okay but I like THIS one better.
CG: How did you decide on the title for the album, Bomb in a Birdcage has a very different feeling than the more melancholy One Cell in the Sea.
AS: It’s a line from “What I Wouldn’t Do” – “With my heart ticking like a bomb in a birdcage I left before someone got hurt.” And that’s how I felt throughout making the whole album, this sort of weird fragile state that I was in just coming off of the road and not really knowing how to just “be” on a regular basis because I was all of a sudden home for a few months after I had been gone for so long and it was weird to interact. But at the same time, there was something uncompromising and explosive happening where I just felt like taking life by the horns and I’d never really felt like that before.
CG: How has touring been? You’ve been all over the world, which is obviously exciting. Do you like touring or is it just a necessity? What do you enjoy and what’s tough about it?
AS: I love touring; I’ve had some of the best moments of my life on tour. I’ve also had some of the worst. It’s like this incredible journey that you get to go on and you get to see amazing things. I mean, I can’t think of many people that get to go to as many cities as touring musicians get to go to. You don’t just go to the obvious tourist ones, you go everywhere and you see so many gems and meet so many interesting people. And to see a roomful of people so far away from home but so connected to each other and to you through music, it’s WOW, you know?
There’s also the flipside. I have a really strange diet where I don’t eat meat, so I eat fish and tofu, etc for health reasons and because I’m a big animal lover. And there are times when I’m in the middle of nowhere and I’m thinking “I’m just gonna eat a bun with some lettuce on it and some fries or something.” Or it’s lonely and I miss my family, my dog, my friends and if something upsetting happens on the road and I don’t want to talk to the band about it – that’s hard. And it’s tough being a girl amidst a bunch of guys all the time. But the cons don’t nearly outweigh the pros – you get to make music all over the world!
CG: Do you have a favorite spot that you’ve been to?
AS: There are a few places. There’s a pop festival in Baden-Baden, Germany and we played this enormous venue there and it was marvelous – one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. And there’s a venue called the Kaufleuten in Zurich that’s also just spectacular and the audiences out there are really amazing. And then there’s a venue we played outside of Chicago with Rufus Wainright that’s amazing. So those are some of the spots but there are so many; pretty much every city has a spot whether it’s the venue or some other little gem.
CG: You’ve loved music for a long time and it’s obviously a passion for you, but when did you decided to pursue it as a career?
AS: Well I had sort of decided when I was 15 that I wanted to be a singer, but I think I didn’t really full decide to be a musician until I was 19 and I had started to play piano which I hadn’t done before. I wrote “Almost Lover” and a couple other songs that were on One Cell and then I felt like I could do it – actually do the whole thing. And it still took me a few years to figure out how to achieve the kind of music I wanted to make and it was all a process, but I committed at 19.
CG: Was there a moment when you knew that you had figured out how to do what you want, to really make it?
AS: Well, through the whole first album I thought, “Whoa, what’s going on” and then making the second one was when I was like, “All of this happened and it’s great and now you can choose what you want to do with your career and where you want to take it because you can go in a lot of different ways.” It wasn’t like a ‘knock you over the head’ moment, it was kinda subtle.
CG: Do you have anything in the future that you’re hoping to do? Or are you just taking opportunities as they come and making the most of it?
AS: It’s making the most of opportunities. I wrote a book last year and I’m looking forward to editing and releasing that. The rest of it is an adventure – but I want to make as much music as I possibly can; I think that will drive everything. And also to put on the best show that we can and enjoy the process!