Alison Sudol, known professionally as A Fine Frenzy, and famous for her red hair -- now blonde -- returns to her roots in more ways than one on her latest album, PINES. In the past, the singer has accomplished radio success with Clear Channel-friendly pieces that, on her first album, told sweeping fairy tales, and on her second, fluctuated towards an indie-rock feel. On PINES, which has an accompanying book that's available in print or digital form, it's as if Sudol wrote without stewing over how her songs would fit into airplay, including lo-fi orchestral tunes that stretch to seven minutes while integrating her love of nature which flavored much of her debut album.
Gimme Noise spoke with the the Los Angeles singer about her best album yet and her live performances before her co-headlining show with Joshua Radin at Mill City Nights on Thursday evening.
As with any release for a national artist, an album release carries along with it a flurry of interviews and obligatory press-related business, and Sudol has been busy keeping up with it all. In between sniffles due to her battle with allergies, she says, "I've been busy, but I'm very excited. The album has been a while in the making, and it's such a project of love for me -- of growth. I'm really looking forward to seeing how it translates in terms of relating to the outside world now, cause I've been holed up making stuff."
The singer wrote PINES soon after the release of her sophomore album, Bomb in a Birdcage. Explaining the difference of her sound, she says, "I think it's an evolution. I've returned to the storytelling aspect that was present on my first album, One Cell in the Sea. A lot of my favorite songs on One Cell were nature-based, and I return to that as well, because that always gave me a feeling of well being and connection that I wanted to tap into again."
Alison wrote most of her album tucked away in her home with the windows locked tight, but the way she speaks of writing music is almost comparable to giving birth. "I've written songs on the bus, in the middle of nowhere, and I've even written songs in the middle of hotel lobbies. Sometimes the song just wants to come."
Finding her footing in the studio was difficult for Alison, she shares: "Being a studio musician and a live performer for me both bring challenges, and they also are where I find myself in different ways. I have pretty bad stage fright, but I have pretty bad studio fright too. There's always a certain amount of overcoming fear that is required for both. I think that leads to great and beautiful things, because when I'm bored, that's too easy. Apathy can be one of the worst things in the world. If you're not pushed, it's bad. Unfortunately, you have to be a little uncomfortable to achieve anything great, but I'd rather be uncomfortable and ecstatic and flying than be comfortable and stuck."
Getting over the fear of performance was done through repetition. "I just did it, and did it again. Every show is different. It has its highs and lows, yet there are so many magical moments. If something doesn't go as well as I think it could, I try to do it better the next night. I realize that I'm not very good at judging my performances. Some of my worst performances, in my mind, were in other people's, the best. I just know that I have to let it go and do my best and move forward."
Even with a few national tours under her belt, the singer admits to being painfully shy. "I was very shy as a child," she admits. When asked why she picked a performer as a career, she shares, "That's a question I've asked myself a lot. I think it's like love. You don't really choose the person you fall in love with. It's something in you that chooses, it's not an active choice. It's just what I'm supposed to do."
Sudol will be co-headlining with Joshua Radin for their national tour that began mid-October. While some artists were born to be on the road, Alison says that it wasn't always a happy place for her. "I've had mixed experiences in the past. It's been where touring has been an adventure and exciting and beautiful and fun, but I've also had experiences where it's not. I'm a little bit older now and a little more centered, so I think it will be a little easier. I used to get a lost feeling when I was younger and on the road -- going from city to city all of the time. I didn't have the strong foundation or support system besides my family, and this time around I feel more grounded, so I think it's going to be fun."
Bands often underestimate the toll it take on the body, and even the mind, being away from home. Being of the right mind many times gets the traveler through living in an intense and different world every night. Sudol says, "If you're not healthy in your mind, it really affects the health of your body. It affects your performance. It affects the amount of energy you're able to put into things."
Of her show in Minneapolis, the singer says that she always loves playing in Minneapolis. "The show is a bit of a ride; it's pretty emotional. It goes from really intimate moments to really fun moments. It's a ride with highs and lows. My only concern is how cold it's going to be when I get to Minneapolis."
A Fine Frenzy will perform at Mill City Nights with Joshua Radin on Thursday, October 25, 2012.