September 11, 2009

An Interview with Alison Sudol of A Fine Frenzy

Jet-lagged from having flown from Berlin to Los Angeles, Alison Sudol at first sounds a bit groggy on the line. Back home in time to mark the release this week of Bomb In A Birdcage—her sophomore album with A Fine Frenzy—she eases into the telephone conversation like settling into a comfortable chair. She’s been on the road with her band for the better part of two years, performing tracks from A Fine Frenzy’s critically acclaimed 2007 debut, One Cell In The Sea, as well as, more recently, some of her latest work.

“We’ve played a few shows so far with the new music,” she says. “It is so much fun.” Part of that fun is due to the precocious spirit and spunk of Bomb In A Birdcage, a creative shift in some respects yet one which Sudol is all too happy to explore. Speaking with Donald Gibson of Blogcritics Magazine, Alison Sudol discusses A Fine Frenzy's new album, how she bolstered her confidence as a songwriter, and her thoughts on another band who also released music this week.

Your first album had kind of a melancholy vibe to it and this new one—at least musically—is a lot livelier in some cases. Is that something you wanted the music to reflect this time around?

Definitely. I was in a very depressed head-space, really, from creating the first one. And I wanted different things for the album, but also for the live show. I really just wanted to let loose and have fun. Also, I was pretty worn-out when I came home from touring for a couple of years. And I was kind of using the music as a rope to pull me back into feeling positive about things again. As a result, there’s a lot of energy in there to help myself find it again.

Was it hard to write that kind of a song when you weren’t feeling particularly energetic?

No, it was actually great because it brought me to that place. At first I just would start writing and then I would end up feeling the way that the song dictated.

Like a self-fulfilling prophesy.


“Electric Twist” strikes me as something that’s going to go over real well live. Is that something you’re looking forward to, doing these songs out on the road?

Yeah I am...We’ve been opening our shows with “Electric Twist” and people who’ve seen us before or who’ve heard One Cell but aren’t familiar with this new album are kind of shocked at first.

The cover of Bomb In A Birdcage is striking in comparison to the first album, which had such bright, vivid imagery. This one is stark, black and white. Was that intentional and does it reflect anything about the music?

I’d say that the music is a lot more colorful this time, which is funny, because the first is much less. But the clean lines in the album cover are followed through on this album. There’s a lot more space on this album, musically. Stuff isn’t just layered like crazy like the first one was. Really, with this particular cover, it was just it. It was just the picture. There are a lot of different pictures from that particular photo shoot that we went through and that we toyed with, but this one really had the attitude. And it was in black and white. And my hair’s kind of messy [Laughs]. It was just it.

It has rawness to it, playfulness.

Yeah! It captured a real moment and that moment kind of sums up the album—not just the album, but how I feel now. It captures the spirit.

How has your songwriting developed or changed from the first album?

I’m definitely more confident as a songwriter and more willing to take risks. And to express the messier side—not only of myself, but just of life, stuff that I wasn’t really willing or able to connect with or delve into on One Cell. I feel like I’m much more ready to take on this time. It means not necessarily always [expressing] the prettiest sentiment—more of a raw feeling—and just being comfortable with going deeper…

With that kind of honesty?

Yeah. There’s a lot of freedom in that, too. It feels really good even though sometimes it’s a bit scary.

It can be cathartic, though.

Sometimes you just really need to open up…stuff that you would keep under wraps normally. It’s good to air that. Life is not always perfect and polished and well contained.

There’s a chaos that’s good to get out.

And chaos is kind of great. It’s real.

Your album just happens to come out in the same week as sixteen Beatles records.

I think it’s awesome. I don’t think we’re in the same category at all, [though], the Beatles and I.

But people who go to the stores to get their favorite Beatles albums can get yours as well.

Exactly. Something old but new, and something new.

Abbey Road and Bomb In A Birdcage.

Exactly! We can totally harmoniously exist, the Beatles and I. I think it’s a great sign. I love it!