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Performance/Q&A: Alison Sudol of A Fine Frenzy

(Lenny Gilmore / RedEye )
November 28, 2012|By Matt Pais | RedEye Sound Board

In 2009, Alison Sudol (who records under the name A Fine Frenzy) released “Bomb in a Birdcage,” a catchy and charming electro-pop album whose songs earned placement in work like the Selena Gomez film “Monte Carlo” and Zac Efron romance “The Lucky One.”

Her gorgeous, quiet new album “Pines” is just a bit different. Well, a lot different.

“I thought everyone would think I was crazy and wrote a record about a tree,” Sudol says of “Pines,” which indeed is about a tree. “I was very aware of how nuts that sounded!”

While in Chicago to perform at the Vic Theatre, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter talked about being dangerous on a bike, listening to “Pines” in the forest and why she’d be a terrible judge on a TV singing competition.

Click here to watch video from this interview

You tweeted earlier that you wanted to rent an old bike from someone today. How come?
That’s a secret. [Laughs] [I want to] borrow a bike for a little project that I’m doing.

I’ll assume you can ride a bike and play piano simultaneously at your shows.
I can barely ride a bike period.  Yeah, I actually only learned like four years ago.

Was it challenging to learn as an adult?
Very. And humbling. And also I did it in Amsterdam. I just decided to rent a bike in Amsterdam and it’s pretty much the worst place [for that] … If you’re going to learn how to ride a bike as an adult, do it somewhere where there’s no people in the middle of the countryside. Don’t do it where people are born on bikes basically. I actually hit a whole group of people on bikes on my bike. [Laughs] It was awesome.

What did they say?
I was so horrified …  [I said], “I’ve never ridden a bike, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” They’re like, “It’s ok. Leave. Go away.”

What can people expect from your live show tonight?
It’s quite a different sort of show. The first half is very intimate and very quiet and quite dreamy almost. And then the second half is very wild and fun. The whole thing is a journey. It’s sort of a condensed version of the record, which is a story. So it’s like a little storytelling experience.

You have such a gorgeous voice. How often you give yourself chills?
Uh. No. [Laughs]

You’ve never heard yourself and said, “Wow, that was pretty good”?
Sometimes I’m like, “OK, that’s fine. I can listen to that.” I think this record is the proudest I’ve ever let myself be mainly because I know how far into unknown territory I went. I didn’t play it safe on this record, and I think I’m proudest of that. That I sang things that I wasn’t sure if I could. And so whenever I hear something like that, I’m like, “That’s cool. That was a learned skill.”

Do you know another major label artist that’s released an album about a tree? Has it happened before?
Uh, I don’t think it’s common. [Laughs] It’s not really common subject matter for an entire record. There’s been different kind of concept records. There was Harry Nilsson, (singing), “Me and my arrow.” There’s really not that many. You have to be kind of bananas or so obsessed with a story, and that’s what it was for me.

What’s the ideal listening environment for “Pines”? Have you listened to it in the forest yet?
I have. Actually right after I finished the record, it wasn’t mixed yet but I went up to the redwoods and started listening to it in different environments. And I was listening to it walking through the redwoods which was pretty magical, and also I drove from Mendocino through Napa down to my grandparents’ house and it was raining and there were  beautiful fields with farmhouses and vineyards and hills and forests and I was driving listening to the record. That was a pretty powerful way to listen.

So that’s what you’d recommend to people?
Yeah. It’s also great to listen to just when you’re at home in front of the fire. But it’s definitely that’s good to have quiet. There’s a lot of really still moments in it, and if you’re trying to run around you might be like, “Ahh, it’s too slow.”

Why did you think people would laugh when you said the album was somewhat of a fable?
I just didn’t know what to expect. I was so vulnerable with it. And cared so much that I think I just didn’t know how people would take it. I just didn’t want to get deterred. I think it was more just if someone happened to say something, because on the previous record there were three or four comments made that were very offhand that rattled around in my brain for such a long time. I’m really sensitive when I’m writing.

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