Sometimes I run across artists that I find extremely hard to describe or talk about due to the fact that they touch me in ways (or in places inside of me) where words don’t go. More than a solid, material form there’s this profound and moving mix of feelings that are intangible to even try to be reasonable or make sense. Fan Modine is one of this artists.
Fan Modine is Gordon Zacharias. An artist that in the past 15 years, released 3 albums and became a cult figure among indie music lovers.
While the influences throughout the albums changed, the line connecting them to create a solid progression of his work (and life) is the ability to write music with an elegancy rarely seen.
I didn’t know anything about him before this interview, even though the album ‘Homeland’ has been a huge part of my life for 6 years.
All I knew was that Fan Modine, the ‘band’ that released ‘Homeland’, one of the sweetest – and saddest - albums I have ever listened to, was Gordon Zacharias. And after reading the interview, I feel that each album seem to be a very personal interpretation of what was going in his life in the period their were made. And the beauty of all this, is the fact that this inspiration, successfully creates pieces that have this profound and universal sensibility with the ability to touch everyone that are exposed to his music.
It is clear the unsettling part of his creative being: with 3 albums out the only thing you can’t say, is that his musical moves are obvious. While ‘Slow Road to Tiny Empire’ (1997) sounds more experimental and lo-fi, ‘Homeland’ (2004) is a cinematic celebration of an elegant, melancholic, orchestral and heartfelt side of pop. And now there’s ‘Gratitude for the Shipper’, released a few days ago and showcasing a happier, bright, romantic and rockier side of Gordon.
You can download the two first singles of his latest album, 'Gratitude for the Shipper', here:
Enough said… better than my words, the best way to get an idea of what Fan Modine stands for, is reading his own words below… (also, check the beautiful biography on his facebook page (link below)).
01. Gordon, what does Fan Modine stands for (the meaning of the name and musically speaking).
It's a riddle.
02. If your music were a planet or landscape or anything visual, what it would look like?
A blog-o-sphere. Get it?
OK - maybe a remote island and the ocean surrounding it with a big cityscape in the distance?
Or, A bowl of soup. Really good soup that you take your time eating. But you still kinda need a bib.
03. Your first album Slow Road To Tiny Empire (1997) is very experimental and quite different from 'Homeland', the follow up released 7 years later. I'm really interested in creative process, what goes inside the mind's of people while creating a piece that in the end will turn into an album. Could you tell us what were your expectations with 'Slow Road...'and if there were clear references back then, while you were creating it?
I was smoking a lot of very good keef and not eating much. I was also working at a halfway house for people with mental problems. I lived above a Goodwill thrift store and bought new undergarments when needed instead of washing the used ones. It was cheaper to do so. I was surrounded by a lot of immensely talented people and wanted to be working, playing and making records like them. I wanted to move to NYC. I liked the people there. I wanted to play music there. I eventually washed several garbage bags full of underwear and socks and moved to Brooklyn with them and a mostly finished record in tow.
04. 'Homeland' came out in 2004, 7 years after 'Slow Road' and - I never get tired to say - if I was to make a list of the albums released during my lifetime (which I probably will do if I end up dying slowly) would definitely be in it. It's one of those albums you listen to and never get tired. The songs definitely survived the test of time. It's pure elegancy with its orchestral arrangements, heartfelt in its lyrics and still sounds fresh and not like anything else. Can you recall what was going through your mind during the period you were writing and recording the songs?
I was walking dogs in Tribeca and pretty fucking lonely. Also, the US of America didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. But, I had a wild hare. It was melodies and lyrics and they really helped me out. The ensuing recording process was so complex and manifold that I don't even know where to begin. Kind of dramatic looking back.
05. Now I'd like you to talk specifically about three of the most beautiful songs of 'Homeland': 'Pageantry', 'Back and Forth' and 'Waiting In the Wings'. All of this songs have the prettiest melodies, arrangements and lyrics.
I mean, 'Pageantry' has this beautiful imagery and the addictive chorus line 'When pageantry walks through the door, I keep repeating track number 4'...
'Back and Forth' holds one of the saddest moments of the album with the part where you, with your whispery voice, sing 'Now I can feel my heart again'.
And 'Waiting in the Wings' with the pretty violins and 'So here is this life, I want redemption, I'm simply bored of separation and convention. The ocean wants me..'
I still love those songs and can't wait to play them live again. I know that dreams create reality and those songs that you mention have done that for me.
06. And now, 7 years after 'Homeland', 'Gratitude for the Shipper' is about to be released. It follows the path of 'Homeland' but it sounds more grandious, happy and pop. The first song 'Julu Road' is available for download and I think it captures the spirit of the album. Compared to your previous works, any difference in terms of creation, recording...?
And does the 7 years hiatus between albums is a conscious thing or just a coincidence?
I have handed over the mixing knobs to someone else for the first time and worked with a "band" during the basics. But, I was also involved with the string and horn arrangements for the first time. We did some things in "real" studios, which was new. I am also taking on some more obtuse subject matters. Living in the south of the USA has given me a much different perspective and a different pool of talented folks to draw from. I think "rock" has won on this recording. To me the better moments come from the surprises. Guitar solos wouldn't usually be a part of a Fan Modine record. But I ended up really embracing them.
Seems like 7 years is a pretty common life cycle and since I haven't been trying to "earn a living" with music it has been the most natural time frame.
07. Your last album - 'Homeland' - was released 7 years ago. What have you been up to since then?
Being with my dream boat and starting a family. Keeping a roof over our head and doing this Fan Modine thing. Slowly.
08. What's the perfect place and time to hear Fan Modine?
Tea time. Party time. Bed time. While you are coding.
09. Any song(s) you'd like to cover?
Just did our first: The EMI Song (Smile For Me) by Alex Chilton and Terry Manning. I just recently performed it in NYC with a full orchestra plus members of the dB's and Yo La Tengo backing me. What a treat! We recorded and mixed it with Terry himself. Read up on him.
10. One of the best music videos you have ever seen is...
Tom Tom Club - 'Suboceana'
11. Anything else you feel like saying?
Épater la bourgeoisie!