I had a chance to sit down and chat with Shawn Fogel, a PopWreck(oning) favorite, after I took photos at his show last Monday at the Mercury Lounge. He made a big announcement, but managed to initially catch my attention by playing a song which references my favorite book in the entire world, so I had to start there.
Dese’Rae Stage, PopWreck(oning): I really liked your Perks of Being a Wallflower song. You totally nerded out on me.
Shawn Fogel: That’s okay, I have no problem with being a nerd.
PW: I have to ask this because I feel like everyone who’s read that book and truly connected with it has had a “Charlie moment.” Did you?
SF: Oh, yeah! I mean, I don’t know that I would be able to necessarily speak super specifically about it, but I wrote that song probably seven years ago or something like that, when I was in my first year of college or finishing my first year or beginning my second year of college.
PW: Right after the book came out.
SF: Uh, yeah. 2001, maybe. Is that when it came out?
SF: I mean, I don’t know specifically what it was. That song’s about a lot of different things, but somehow they’re all connected. I don’t really know how to explain it, and I guess as it gets longer ago, I’m not going to remember.
PW: I had to ask—I had to. So anyway, back on topic. I know your influences are Stevie Wonder, your mom’s Beatles LPs. Who else? Do you have someone you’re listening to currently that’s changing the way you see things?
SF: Yeah. I mean, it’s funny ‘cause those two are just ones I came up with when we were writing the bio and I love the Beatles and I love Stevie Wonder and my music doesn’t sound anything like Stevie Wonder. I kind of pulled that one out because I thought it was super cool that he played multiple things on the tracks. He played the drums and he played the keyboard and he sang and stuff like that. I like a million bands. It’s really hard—I think that’s one of the hardest questions in the whole world ‘cause I could either give you a list of three hundred bands. It’s so hard to think of that top 5.
PW: That’s so where I was going to go with that.
SF: You know, I love, I don’t know. I love bands like Wilco and Clem Snide and that kind of alt country thing. I love power pop, like Apples in Stereo, Of Montreal (throughout all of their releases), Pavement. It’s so hard—things that you wouldn’t hear, like Palace and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and all of the Will Oldham incarnations and Neil Young and stuff like that.
PW: So, we have the big announcement: you’ll be going by “the Golden Bloom” from now on.
PW: [Confusion ensues as I’m not sure how top-secret of an announcement it was] I mean, is this…?
SF: Yeah. No, please, go ahead.
PW: Alright, cool, so it’s not on the DL.
SF: I slept on it. I ran through a series of tests. My drummer Michael helped me out on it. I think there was a twenty minute span where we e-mailed back and forth twenty different times, like, “What about this? What about this? What if we change it like this?” I mean, I trust him.
I don’t know if you know, as a music journalist, Michael Azerrad? He wrote the Nirvana biography, Come as You Are. You know about the movie that came out last year? [About a Son, 2006]
PW: Oh! Yeah, yeah, yeah.
SF: So, that whole movie—all the audio from that movie is made from the interview tapes that Michael did with Kurt [Cobain] in preparation for writing that book. He has like, literally, about 24 hours of interview tapes, over the phone and then in Seattle. I trust him, you know? I trust his insight and his opinions. He’s a great journalist.
PW: That’s crazy!
SF: So, it was a really long… It was—for a while, I was like, “I don’t want to play under my name. That’s just boring.” I feel like people pay attention to bands more than they pay attention to solo artists. Not as a rule, but just, you know.
SF: I don’t know. I just feel like, if you have the choice between a person and their guitar or a band, they drift toward the band. You know, I’ve played for years and forever solo and it’s still fun, but it got to a point where I was like, “I want to play with a band.” I play in a lot of different bands.
PW: I was going to ask you about that.
SF: You know, there was a very brief period of time at the end of college where I had friends who were playing my music as a band and that was great. That’s really what it’s about. I feel like a hypocrite sometimes because I’m like, “It’s all about musical collaboration,” but then I play all the instruments on my albums and nobody else plays on them.
PW: You’re branching out!
SF: Yeah, exactly.
PW: That’s awesome. So, you made the announcement. The album’s going to come out in…?
SF: I don’t know. I’m saying 2009 because, if it’s finished earlier, then it’s like, “Oh my goodness, it’s done earlier!” If it’s not, it’s not. I want it to be as good as it can be. I’m taking my time. You know, Pete [Katis] works with a lot of big bands and so I kind of—the plan is to sneak in there with him for a couple of days at a time whenever he has time. That’s what I did, so I have three songs.
PW: Is the one—do you have that one yet?
SF: The Perks one?
PW: Yeah. What’s it called?
SF: It doesn’t really have a name.
PW: I just want to hear it again.
SF: It is recorded, but it’s not mixed yet.
It’s recorded on an EP I made in college. There’s maybe a hundred of them out there because I just burned them and hand wrote on them and hand drew art work and took them to shows like that and then I was like, “Okay, that’s done.” I’ve been writing a lot of new stuff for this new record, but I wanted to try and go through some older things to see if I could try and re-work or revisit and that was the one where I thought, “This could be great. I think I could re-do this and it would be awesome and it would fit with the other stuff.” So it’s recorded. It’s not mixed. I’m sure that there will be a lot of other stuff to do, but I definitely plan on having it be on the album.
PW: Well, we’ve got, on PopWreck(oning), “The Fight at the End of the Tunnel,” which is amazing live.
SF: Yes, thank you.
PW: Is that the first time you’ve done it live?
SF: No. Probably the second or third. Maybe the fourth. I think I did it once or twice solo—that show Jessica reviewed, I did it solo then. I did band shows a couple of weeks ago in Connecticut. We played the Middle East in Boston with almost the same band. Jeff is my lead guitar player. I love him. He’s amazing. We went to college together. He actually played drums in my band when it was the band in college and I played drums in his band.
PW: It was his band? I read about that somewhere and I couldn’t remember the name of that band.
SF: Yeah. JP05. It’s really just him. He plays all the instruments on the record and he plays solo a lot, but for awhile we have a bass player who lives in Bar Harbor, Maine, and he never leaves, so we never really play with him except for when we go up to Bar Harbor and then we play as a trio. When we do the real rock thing, it’s just the drum and guitar duo. It’s great. I love it. It’s like Elliot Smith and Dinosaur Jr. or something.
PW: Sounds good.
SF: But he wasn’t able to do those shows and our keyboard player who was not at this show was, so it was this four piece with one guitar, keyboard, bass, and drums. The real band is a five piece, with two guitars, keyboard, bass, and drums.
PW: Okay, and the keyboardist is the one I’m Photoshopping into the photos, right?
SF: Yeah, if you can. He actually looks very similar to me, so maybe we’ll just put me over there.
PW: We’ll just duplicate you.
SF: Yeah. He’s got his own band and they’ve got an album coming out in a month or two, so it’s going to be interesting. You know, everyone I play with has other projects and I have other projects, so I play whenever I can and I want to do my stuff and I love doing all the other stuff I do. As long as I’m playing, I guess it doesn’t really matter. Josh, the bass player, he is the monitor/sound engineer for Guster, so he’s on the road eleven months out of the year. They’re on an extended hiatus right now and my usual bass player couldn’t play these gigs. I called him up. It’s a very rotating—there’s no real band, but they’re all…
PW: Well, it is collaborative, right? As long as you’re doing what you love. You clearly have people who want to help you with that. Alright, I know you’re listening to Mates of State. Give me other new albums that you’re listening to that you like.
SF: I’m bad at this! I don’t know how many current albums I have. I live in the past. I really do. My favorite TV shows are twelve years old and I don’t have many new albums.
PW: Which ones? What are you watching?
SF: Law and Order. Old Law and Order.
PW: Not SVU?
SF: No, no, no. The first couple of seasons, or Homicide: Life on the Streets. Good cop shows, not these new cop shows—good, gritty, early 90s cop shows. I don’t know! I don’t have any new albums, which is sad, but I’m getting there.
SF: I do like… Oh no, the new album I have heard is the new Tim Fite album. It’s great. He’s on ANTI Records. It’s very weird alt country, hip hop. He’s great. If you get a chance, go see him. Check it out.
PW: I will. The last question, the most important question, is hypothetical: if you were to put your own tour together and you were headlining, who would you want to be your supporting acts?
SF: Oh, shit.
PW: You can do this.
SF: I can. Honestly, the best shows I’ve had are with people I’ve met through playing together and from that first initial meeting and playing together, being like, “This feels good,” where I like the person as much as I like the music and think we should just play more shows together. There are a bunch of people like that, but nobody knows who they are.
PW: Brian Bonz?
SF: Brian was great! I’d love to play with Brian, although he might have to have me open for him! There’s a guy—he lived in Texas and then he lived in New York for a while and now he lives in Michigan. His name is Todd Deatherage. He’s a great guy. There’s a girl I met who lives in Ottawa. Her name’s Meredith Luce. We did a mini tour in the fall together last year, through Massachusetts and Vermont and stuff like that. In all honesty, I love playing with other bands I play in. I’ve done a lot of double duty shows and it’s so much fun. When I did a CD release show for the EP that came out last year [One Day in the Desert], I did that show with the Zambonis, which is another band I play in and we played back to back and it was awesome. I did a tour with Jeff and it was actually confusing. I don’t know if we’d do this again because we did my music and JP05—it was a Shawn Fogel/JP05 tour. He played drums for me for my set and I played drums for him for his set and I think people were just confused. They were like, “Well, is this the same band? Is this two different bands with the same two people switching instruments?” It was a ton of fun, but I don’t know if we’d do it like that again because I think it confused everyone. You know, nobody knows, they’re like, “I loved that band. Whose CD do I buy?” The music is different enough that it was just confusing.
PW: So, bands you’ve played with, and it all goes back to collaboration.
SF: Especially when you’re touring. It’s way more important for you to have fun with people you’re with. You know, just have a good time, that’s what touring’s about, and then if the shows are good, that’s great, and if the shows bomb, at least you’re with people you like and you’re having fun. So when the tour happens, I’ll let you know!
PW: Yeah, let me know, I want to be there. Awesome. We’re good. Thank you!
SF: Yeah, yeah! Thanks for coming out!