A conversation with Shawn Fogel
Shawn Fogel, the man behind the music of Golden Bloom, was kind enough to recently allow us to pick his brain on music, politics and what makes a one-man band tick. Perhaps he was just in a good mood, or maybe he returned our calls because he was rated as one of the top ten albums of 2009 right here on The Red Alert. Either way, we pulled the curtain back on this mad wizard of the indie music world and here is what we found.
Where did you get your band name?
Golden Bloom is named after one of the finest thespians to ever grace the stage and screen, Jeff Goldblum. I would like nothing more than to score the soundtrack for his next motion picture (or episode of Law & Order). The ball is in your court, Mr. Goldblum; will you take us up on this offer?
If he doesn’t, who is someone else you would want to collaborate with?
Three people who come to mind right away are Ben Kweller, David Bazan and Michael Benjamin Lerner (Telekinesis). All three are multi-instrumentalists who, like myself, have recorded albums where they played all the instruments. They are great songwriters on top of that and it would be quite an honor to collaborate with any of them. In fact, if all three would like to form a super-group (ala Monsters of Folk) with me, I’d be up for that!
Who have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been working on a “best of the decade” piece for FensePost so I had to go back to some of my favorite albums over the last ten years. One album in particular that I’ve been listening to on repeat is Beulah’s Yoko. I think it’s a really stunning album. If I ever make an album that good, I think I’ll be ready to call it quits.
Where else do you draw your inspiration from?
I find inspiration everywhere. I consider myself very lucky to love music the way I do. That love of music gives me a strong drive to create it. The greatest and worst moments of my life all have songs that served as their soundtrack, and all I can hope for is that Golden Bloom will be the soundtrack for one of these moments in someone else’s life.
If you weren't doing music, what would you be doing?
I’d like to work for a media watchdog organization and debunk the lies that right wing media pundits put out there. The only problem is I don’t have the stomach or the anger management skills to watch FOX News all day.
Speaking of anger management skills, I've noticed that some of your darker lyrics seem to be coupled with sunnier music, why do you think that is?
I think that upbeat or “sunny” music is much more accessible than darker, sadder music. Unless you’ve just broken up with someone, you probably don’t want to sit and wallow in gloomy music. That wallowing usually only leads to further wallowing, but upbeat music can get you up and get you moving. Dark lyrics set to sunny music is the perfect combination for me. It allows me to take ideas that frustrate me and present them in a way that is hopeful.
So then, what does your song “Doomsday Devices” actually refer to?
Way to get to the heart of the song! A doomsday device, in this context, is a self-destructive tendency that surfaces when you’re alone. It could be smoking or drinking in excess, overeating, or lethargy, to name a few. Since it’s kind of a heavy topic for a song, I thought it needed an over the top music video with mariachis, a dancing monkey and a giant Nintendo controller. Wouldn’t you agree?
Certainly. What about the title song "Fan the Flames?"
I had a lot of people help me out with naming the album. In the end, the song “Fan the Flames” best encapsulated the sentiment of the record for me, the place where frustration and optimism meet. I tried to find a line from the lyrics to one of the songs but “Fan the Flames” ultimately summed things up the best. When you fan the flames, you take a fire that already exists and make it bigger, hotter and stronger. That’s what I’m hoping people will take away from the album and from Golden Bloom’s music in general. Whatever your passion is, pursue it as intensely as you can. Find your fire and make it burn as hot as it can.
How many instruments do you play?
I’d say about ten, but there are a few I don’t play very well. There’s a little bit of banjo and mandolin on the album but I wouldn’t recommend inviting me to be the banjo/mandolin player in your band! Guitar, bass, drums and keys are my strongest instruments, and the most fun for me to play. I can play clarinet and saxophone from my Jr. High and High School band/orchestra days but they both tend to collect dust for months at a time. I don’t play as much harmonica as I used to either. I just recently got a baritone ukulele and I plan on using it on the next batch of songs I record.
If you had to record your next album with the absence of one instrument, which would you axe?
Since I primarily play guitar when Golden Bloom performs live, it would be an interesting experiment to make a guitar-less album. I’m sure it would push me in new directions as far as writing and arranging go. Aimee Mann’s Smilers album is a great example of that.
How do your live performances differ from the recordings?
I think it’s pretty impressive when a band sounds just as good live as they do on their album. I do, however, appreciate hearing music in new ways as well. When it comes to Golden Bloom’s live performances, I like for every show to be a little bit different. One way I do this is by having a constantly changing collection of musicians play with me. We’ve played as a 3-piece, 4-piece and 5-piece band, and 6 people other than myself have played in the live band since we started out. I think this approach gives people more incentive to buy the album and see us live because they get a chance to hear the songs in different ways and get two very different experiences.
What are you planning on for a follow up?
I’ve just begun recording demos of new songs. I put so much time and energy into Fan the Flames that I want to get as much momentum out of it as possible. It was hard to even think about starting on new recordings for quite awhile, but now the Fan the Flames songs are starting to feel old to me, which means it’s time for new music!
What's one question you've never been asked in an interview, that you wish you had?
Who do I make out the check to? I’d like to hear that question more often.