Interview With: A Fine Frenzy

A Fine Frenzy is the musical moniker for the beautiful and wildly talented Alison Sudol, a Los Angeles resident by way of Seattle. Just off a European tour with Ben’s Brother, and before that a North American headlining tour, Sudol was gracious enough to sit down and chat with me the other night, while recuperating from the road.

Though known for her gorgeous piano melodies, Sudol, self taught on the piano at age 19, didn’t always have a passion for tickling the ivories. “I began playing music at age 11, but I didn’t pick up the piano until I was 19. It was kind of a rebellion against the piano, I think…Trying to teach yourself at age 19 when you’re already set and stubborn in your thinking is difficult,” but impressive nonetheless. When I mentioned how impressive it was that she was self taught, she simply stated, “It’s just one of those things you either pick up or you don’t,” as humble as could be.

Last summer, A Fine Frenzy saw the release of her debut album One Cell In The Sea on Virgin Records. The story goes that the CEO of the label went to Sudol’s house to hear her play and immediately snatched her up for the Virgin roster. Signing to a major label with no discography and no touring history can be overwhelming, but of the album Sudol said, “I was still working with the people I’d always been working with…and the label pretty much left me alone to write the album how I wanted.” Leaving One Cell in the Sea unadulterated was a fantastic move on Virgin’s part; One Cell in the Sea is a strikingly beautiful album thanks to Sudol’s intimate lyrics, impressive piano and vocal harmonies and her knack for songwriting.

The album’s latest single, “Come On, Come Out,” features a beautifully shot and excitingly fun music video in which Sudol and friends hit the road. After playing a show in Seattle and having an extra day to kill, “we drove an hour outside the city and just shot a fun road trip video. “Come On, Come Out” is about getting out and seeing the world, so we thought a road trip was perfect.” Surrounded by a natural backdrop, Sudol glows while playing a piano tucked back into the woods with her touring band mates.

Music isn’t Sudol’s only love. She not long ago teamed up with Buzznet, an interactive pop culture website, to create a book club in which fans could recommend books to each other. Always reading something herself, Sudol said, “it’s my passion to get people reading again. Buzznet’s great because it allows fans who have similar tastes to recommend books to each other, so you’re more likely to pick up a book you’ll like.” On the book club’s webpage, Sudol’s listed some of her favorite books to get fans started and Buzznet members can participate in a forum to discuss and recommend books themselves. (PopWreckoning‘s a member of the book club, check us out!)

In addition to starting the book club, Sudol’s been working on a book of her own, in the vein of the Chronicles of Narnia. “It’s a fantasy book for children. It’s got children as the main characters, but it’s also got a lot for adults in it, too,” Sudol says of her literary endeavor. While writing songs is her passion and her career, Sudol writes her novel “to relax. It’s calming for me, so I write a lot at night.” She’s written about half the book and her biggest challenge so far has been “I’ve kept it to myself. I think I need to let someone else read it and tell me if it’s any good!” If her literary writing is half the caliber of her musical writing abilities, Sudol will have Random House and Simon & Schuster fighting for publishing rights upon the novel’s completion.

The conversation inevitably turned back to music, as is wont with musicians, as we discussed what Sudol’s been listening to recently. “Since I’ve gotten back from tour, it’s been a lot of rock, indie rock stuff…Belle and Sebastian, Bright Eyes, Kings of Convenience, Camera Obscura, Foals…that kind of thing.” We get to talking about her cover of Death Cab For Cutie‘s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” a personal favorite for both us of, which leads to a discussion on Death Cab’s newest album Narrow Stairs, about how we’re both pretty obsessed with the new single “I Will Possess Your Heart” and how the album is a “grower,” in that it gets better with each listen.

On the subject of Ben Gibbard and crew, I asked Sudol if she knew if Gibbard had ever heard her rendition of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” “I don’t know if he’s ever heard it. [pause] I have a way to find out, but I’m too nervous to!” If you know the song and have heard Alison’s rendition, I’m sure you’ll agree that Ben would be absolutely moved at what she’s done with “one of the most beautiful songs ever written,” according to Sudol. I can’t say I disagree.

If you’ve yet to listen to the beauty that A Fine Frenzy’s produced, you need to stop whatever you’re doing right now and get to it. In a world that is often filled with ugliness, A Fine Frenzy is a shining beacon of hope.

A Fine Frenzy: website | myspace | journal | live review | book club | youtube

*Photo: Hillary Walsh

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