Piano gal: An angst-free Frenzy offers broken-hearted romance
Some female singer-songwriters try humor (Ingrid Michaelson), some try angst (Alanis Morissette), and some just try sex (Katy Perry). But only one swirls tales of fantasy and hopeless romance quite like Alison Sudol, who makes music that seems haunted by the spell of a love she's never truly known–- while performing under a moniker borrowed from Shakespeare.
"A Fine Frenzy," says Sudol of her stage name, "is just sort of this magical state. It's the flurry of ideas. It's a state of inspiration where you're both exploding with thought and yet you're very focused and clear-headed."
At the tender age of 25, Miss Sudol may still be finding her way in the world, but the world is finding her. She's played Letterman, the Lilith Fair, and penned a to-be-published children's book. She and her piano also starred in a recent episode of CSI:NY; and she hints, in a telephone interview from her West Coast home, that the future could include more appearances on-screen.
With a visual style marked by electric red hair and bee-stung lips, she presents a musical style that crystallized on "Almost Lover," a fond farewell that offers just enough sultriness to make the listener picture the heartbroken goodbye boy crawling back, after the credits roll, over nails and glass.
When it hit the airwaves three years ago "Almost Lover" quickly landed a fine endorsement from VH1. (It also captured the attention of UVA student turned semi-professional dancer Gina Consumano, who built an 18-person performance around it. "From the first notes," the choreographer recalls, "I was already dancing in my head.")
The same year that song began charting, A Fine Frenzy came to the Charlottesville Pavilion as the third-stringer for Rufus Wainwright. Now, she's fielding artistic questions about her since-released sophomore album, Bomb in a Birdcage, which is rowdier and more, well, bombastic, than her freshman effort, One Cell in the Sea, a 300,000-selling hit whose title sprang from a metaphorical plea for world harmony.
"One Cell was more of a peaceful record, while Bomb in a Birdcage was more of a fight," says Sudol. "In order to find yourself, you've got to rip open certain aspects of your life. And that ripping can be a lot more violent than a gentle search."
Yet the playfulness remains. Consider the opening lines of "What I Wouldn't Do":
If we were children, I would bake you a mud pie
Warm and brown beneath the sun
Never learned to climb a tree, but I would try
Just to show you what I'd done.
As the following interview reveals, Charlottesville concertgoers may not find a redhead on stage, but they will find someone eager to carry them up, up, and away.
The Hook: Where'd you get that red hair?
AFF: Well, I was really identified by red hair, which led me to change it back to my natural color, blonde. It's just hair.
The Hook: Do you feel upset that you didn't go to college?
AFF: When I go to a college campus and look around and see the experiences people are having, it does give me a little pang. College seems rad; college seems wonderful.
The Hook: Hah.
AFF: Why are you laughing?
The Hook: Because you've done other–- possibly more important–- things.
AFF: That doesn't mean that every now and then I don't wish that I had taken the normal route. I graduated from high school at 16–- young, young, young.
The Hook: You're not on tour, so why play Charlottesville?
AFF: I actually didn't want to play any shows for a little while because I am writing and sort of hibernating. The offer came in, and I looked at the Hall, and it just looks like such a wonderful place. And it is lovely to connect with people.
The Hook: Paul McCartney said the Beatles were all about love, but what motivates your music?
AFF: Music is about love and imagination and creating a world you can escape to–- a beautiful, full, extraordinary world that you can slip into when you put on your headphones or climb in bed and get carried away somewhere wonderful.
A Fine Frenzy performs on Tuesday, November 2 in UVA's Old Cabell Hall at 8pm. Tickets cost $12-$24.
Correction: The above story has been corrected to reflect the fact that there is A Fine Frenzy song called "Sleepwaking," not "Sleepwalking," as it was first incorrectly spelled above.