A Fine Frenzy makes Aspen debut
December 27, 2010
ASPEN – The day last week that I spoke with Alison Sudol, the singer-songwriter who performs under the name A Fine Frenzy, happened to be Sudol’s birthday.
She was now 26, but she wasn’t about to say how ancient she felt. Far from it. “I don’t feel older. I don’t feel old,” she said from her home in Los Angeles.
A few minutes later, Sudol revealed what she called an embarrassing tidbit that she had been hiding: That morning, to celebrate her birthday, she had gone to see a puppet theater version of “The Nutcracker.” There were other adults in the crowd, but she was the only one not accompanied by a child. “I was the child and the grown-up,” she explained.
The music Sudol makes is mature and intelligent. Her lyrical language is sophisticated; the Fine Frenzy name comes from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” While her voice hits high, playful notes, she also shows an occasional growl and roar; she is not hanging onto adolescence.
But Sudol, who makes her Aspen debut Monday at the Wheeler Opera House, has kept the childhood qualities of innocence and imagination close to heart. Her last album, “Bomb in a Birdcage,” opens with the lines, “If we were children I would bake you a mud pie,” from the song “What I Wouldn’t Do.”
Sudol said she is generally big on birthday celebrations – what kid isn’t? – but this year she would probably be laying low, at most, going to dinner with friends. She was just two days removed from a fast, high-energy few weeks in the studio, recording her third album, and she was a bit exhausted.
Recommended Stories For You
Sudol – who made her debut in 2007, with “Once Cell in the Sea,” and followed last year with “Bomb in a Birdcage” – tends not to like the atmosphere of studios. “The problem I have with studios is they can be very cold, a lot of metal things. People make studios very flashy,” she said. “To me, it’s important to have everything feel real. And old. And full of stories. That’s how I try to have my whole life be. I drive a new car, because I don’t know how to fix cars. But if I did, I’d drive an old car.”
To warm up Hollywood’s Capitol Studios, where the recent recordings took place, Sudol did everything but wheel in a rusty 1956 Studebaker. The instruments were old – a pump organ, vintage pianos and keyboards. The set-up was old school, with the musicians playing in view of one another, playing at once. And everything was decked out in touches of Sudol’s imagination.
“We made a little village of the studio, covering it in twinkle lights. We made these little houses, booths that everybody stayed in, so everybody could see each other – except the drummer, who was up in his eagle’s nest,” Sudol, who will be backed tonight by a trio of guitar, drums and cello, said. “And pine cones. Lots of pine cones on everything. Because the record has a nature theme to it. We were going to get a tree for the studio, but there wasn’t any room.
“The minute you entered the studio, you were taken away. When you walked outside, it was a shock.”
The title of the record is a secret that Sudol won’t reveal (that kid thing, again). But she did let out that the album was something of a song cycle: “A journey,” she said. “It goes from a very industrial setting to mountains, rivers and the sea. It’s like a children’s book, in a way.”
Sudol was expansive, though (and not at all child-like), in describing the emotions involved in making the new album, which she thinks will be released this coming summer.
“I think it was a lot more relaxed,” Sudol, who has toured as an opening act for Rufus Wainwright and been picked as a VH1 “You Oughta Know” artist, said. “Making your first record, I had this enormous pressure to properly represent myself. The first record is your first impression on the world, and you want to make it right, and you don’t know what you’re doing.
“The second record, I was having a tough time emotionally. I was struggling with what was my place in the world, thinking I needed to be something more than I was.”
Going into her third album, Sudol felt at ease; she said she was “in love with the songs.”
“This time I wrote a record so much deeper than where I’d gone before. It’s full of love,” she continued. “The record is a story; each song is a chapter in the story. Being in that story, and in a great place emotionally, I’m feeling like it is all enough.”
Sudol was more into reading than music as a child. At 11, though, she went to see a friend perform in a school variety show. “There were all these kids singing, and I said, I want to do that,” she said. “I begged for voice lessons. I was so bad, but I didn’t care.”
Reading is still a big deal. Much has been made of the influence of literature on her music, but Sudol said the things she’s read rarely have a direct impact.
“The beauty of reading, of stories, is you have this unique opportunity to live another life without leaving your chair,” she said. “You can travel, have your eyes opened to so many time periods, have tragedy and heartbreak and beauty. When I can’t write, I read.”
Sudol has been trying her hand as a writer. The new album will include a short book. And she has a 400-page book written that, she admits, is in bad need of editing.
When it does get finished, the book will be found in the young adult section. Which seems about right.