Interview with A Fine Frenzy
By: Chicago Music Magazine Editor In Chief Shawn Kellner
Edited by: Rebecca Knezevich
Shawn Kellner(CMM): Hi Alison, Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to talk to us today, Can you tell us a little bit about Half the Sky turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide?
Alison (AFF): Well, yeah, I’m a very privileged woman, I’ve never been in a situation where I was compromised in terms of my health or well-being – I’ve never experienced any sort of hazard to my safety, I’ve never felt like my environment was hostile to me. And yet so many women, on a daily basis, are faced with that as their reality, and people don’t really want to talk about it because it’s so upsetting, and it seems like there’s nothing that could be done. So Half the Sky is shining a light on this and helping women. I think as a woman, and just as a human being who has empathy for other people, I’m honored to be a part of it.
CMM: How did you get involved with the 30 Songs in 30 Days idea?
AFF: They sent me information, and of course I was touched and I wanted to help. It seemed like the least I could do, so I made a song for a day.
CMM: Can you tell us a little bit about your songwriting process? Is it individual songs you work on with the endgame of an album, or do you craft everything together?
AFF: Well, I think there are different kinds of songwriting – for example, if I had just finished a record and gotten that out of my system and then I start writing again, there’s a time when I’m just writing to write and get it out of my soul and then I start to be like, “Oh, these songs are starting to come together as a whole, there’s some sort of link here, some sort of narrative.” This record in particular was very different because it was all borne out of a concept, out of an idea that I had about a fable about a pine tree that decides to be uprooted so she can change her life. It’s a very different way of approaching a record, every song was written as a chapter in a story and I was very aware of what I was doing.
CMM: What artists have inspired you vocally?
AFF: Nick Drake, Eva Cassidy, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday,
CMM: What direction do you see your music going in the future? Do you see yourself doing more pop songs or more emotional ballads, or a little mixture of that?
AFF: I’m definitely more of an emotional ballad kind of a girl. I never really think about writing pop songs. If I write something that’s to-be-danced-to, then it’s for dancing, but it’s not necessarily with the object of writing a pop song. I guess it depends on my mood, if I want to dance, if I want to have fun and let go. And sometimes it’s more of a time to be quiet and pensive. That’s the great thing about writing music, is that it’s always leading you toward different places, I never really know where I’m going to end up.
CMM: Do you plan on incorporating more electronic elements into your music?
AFF: Well, Keefus and I – Keefus produced the records, he’s great – he and I have discussed the records a lot beforehand and really it was just using whatever instrumentation fit the song, and that created the right atmosphere, the right mood. So sometimes it’s all just totally organic textures, sometimes it’s sort of strange, otherworldly ones, sometimes it’s more synth-y. It’s just whatever can achieve the desired effect.
CMM: You’ve been through the Midwest a couple times – how is plyaing the Midwest and cities like Chicago different from playing the East coast or the West coast?
AFF: I think the differences are really subtle and it’s hard to – every city and also every city on a different night, with a different mix we use and a different crowd, you can play to the same city and the next night it’ll be completely different. I think people in the Midwest are just incredibly sweet and helpful – it’s just a particular Midwestern way.
CMM: In 2009 you recorded a live album at the House of Blues in Chicago, and you could record a live album pretty much anywhere in the world that you want because you go to all these places and you have the support of your label. Why choose the House of Blues Chicago, how did that come about?
AFF: Well, the venue’s amazing, that particular House of Blues is incredible. I don’t really remember, that was so long ago! I remember being really happy to be there. I can’t really remember the circumstances, I can barely remember last week at the moment.
CMM: Are you excited to be going on tour with Josh Radin?
AFF: Yes, it’s going to be fun. The venues are beautiful. He and I have talked a bit over e-mail and text message and he’s really, really nice.
CMM: So the new album Pines just came out October 9th and is available everywhere. Do you have a favorite song on it? I know you guys spend so much time working on this music and crafting it and perfecting it and I always wonder – do you have a favorite and if so, is it different than what you thought it would be while you were recording and writing the album?
AFF: No, I don’t have a favorite because every time I listen to one I just remember where I was at that moment and I’m proud of how it grew. It’s like trying to pick your favorite child and I try not to choose favorites. I think some of the songs really changed from their inception to where they ended up, and that’s pretty amazing to watch. So no, I don’t have a favorite – the record in general is my favorite.
CMM: Are you writing new music for the next record?
AFF: Well, I already started, yeah. Because writing is a constant process, you know? It’s just as much an emotional opening as it is something that I do for work.
CMM: Well thank you so much for taking time out today, Alison, we really appreciate it, and we’re looking forward to seeing you at the Vic when you come through with Josh, and we look forward to speaking with you again. Congratulations on the new album!
AFF: Thank you so much!