19 May 2010

Sudden Death Over Time's Shaun Frandsen Answers 5

This past weekend I reviewed Sudden Death Over Time’s debut album, “SDOT” (link). In a nutshell, this the years biggest surprise to date: a stunning instrumental album that does not so much takes passive cues from its influences, but rather interacts in a musical dialogue with the past, while opening up the possibilities for the future. Of course, I was so mesmerized by the album, I had to reach out to Shaun Frandsen, the man behind the moniker. He quickly agreed to answer a few questions for the blog, covering everything from the influence his family had on him to vinyl. I would personally like to thank Shaun Frandsen for taking the time to answer 5.

(Sudden Death Over Time’s Shaun Frandsen)

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

I grew up listening to The Smiths, New Order, The Cure, and various post-punk/alternative rock bands (The Smiths debut album [“The Smiths,” 1984] is probably my favorite all-time record). Johnny Marr is my favorite guitarist. Doves are my favorite active band. I have an older brother who has always been helpful in guiding me towards good music. We trade music a lot now. I remember being curious about the weird LP sleeves on the floor in his bedroom. He was a college radio DJ at the time. My father, who raised me, had his input as well. He had a band called Johnny Clark and the Four Playboys. My formative years were spent going to band practices, sound checks, and live shows. I picked up some guitar playing from my dad. He was very trusting and always let me jam out on his amps. Non-music influences? I have always been fascinated by the dark and romantic aspects of life in film and literature. I’m attracted to seedy kinds of environments. My father would bring me to the horse track and let me run free at a very young age. I picked up on all sorts of things other children my age probably weren’t exposed to. I was the son of a “rock star” with an older brother who listened to strange music. These were my early influences. As I got older, I became highly competitive in Cross Country and Track. “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” had a lot of impact [short story by Alan Sillitoe, 1959, turned into a film directed by Tony Richardson, 1962].

2. Why Sudden Death Over Time?

It was my bother’s idea. I like things that evoke some kind of thoughtful reaction. Everyone I passed the name to really took to it, so it remained. It wasn’t intended to be dark or gloomy. Well, I guess it could be perceived as that. It could mean what Hell feels like, I suppose. Pain and torment over an eternity. Death is a thing we can all relate to at some point, and it is something that’s been more frequent in my world lately. Unintentionally, the abbreviated version, SDOT, also stands for the Seattle Department of Transportation. There are SDOT markings painted everywhere on the streets of Seattle. It’s a name that allows you to come up with your own meaning. Nothing is implied.

3. Previous, you were part of an industrial band, Glis. How was the transition from working in a band to solo? Industrial to shoegaze/post-punk?

Glis was something I started with my girlfriend at the time, and the band took on other members as it progressed. We were heavily into clubbing. We would go to Goth and Techno bars because they played the best music, from New Order to Nitzer Ebb to The Chemical Brothers. In the mid-90’s, electronic music had peaked and I was totally mesmerized by it. My musician friends were introducing me to drum machines, samplers, and various other electronics. I was especially impressed with a certain friend of mine who made all these great sounding electro tracks on his home computer. He gave me some software and I was off to the races. I found myself totally seduced by that whole scene for a while. I started touring with other bands, doing collaborations, but found myself getting off track from my own music. I was left frustrated. That scene had become heavily saturated with stagnant and uninspired music. I was on a record label that only wanted dance floor hits.

I was writing music with Jean Luc De Meyer of Front 242, some of which appeared in Glis. We had an idea that we would make this dark experimental, spoken-word project where Jean Luc would use excerpts from Charles Baudelaire’s “Flowers of Evil” for lyrics and I would make these epic sweeping soundscapes (kind of resembling The Knife’s “Silent Shout” album), but our record label wanted it to be focused on the club… something that could be remixed and played by DJs. With no label backing, the idea soon fizzled away. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I wanted nothing more than to be away from that kind of bureaucracy.

I couldn’t sit in my home studio and produce music I didn’t like anymore. I became reflective and gently eased my way back into playing guitar. It was so refreshing! The music coming out was equally refreshing! It was like this revival of all the music I previously loved. The DJ was dead. Audiences wanted to see the stroke of the brush, and not the finished painting. The decline of the corporate music industry created a new artistic renaissance. The bar had been raised. Bands would be judged on less superficial merits and rewarded for being hardworking, creative musicians. The underground was re-opened. Everything came back into order.

My father gave me one of his Les Paul guitars, and I had promised to record and play live with it. His health had been severely declining. I played the final Glis gig in Los Angeles by changing several of the synth-driven parts to guitar melodies. My dad was happy I had done something he thought was valid. Ha-ha! He didn’t quite understand electronic music being an old-school rocker. He passed away soon after from heart failure. It hit me hard in many ways, but with the support of my friends and family, I got it together. My wife was a huge help in getting me back on track.

SDOT songs began in 2009, but the majority of the tracks on the album were written last spring in a creative blur. Everything just all of a sudden came together. It sounds cheesy, but it really felt like a force beyond me was guiding me. I can barely remember writing “Honeymoon in Manchester.” I sat down in the morning with my coffee and by the late afternoon it was finished. I’m much more comfortable working in this realm of music. It’s familiar, honest, and more me. SDOT is my only focus now, moving forward. I am doing all of the music, artwork, and production on my own. No label. No expectations. No blueprint to follow. I am much more in control and happier now. So the transition you could say was a force of nature.

4. You made the executive decision to release eight songs on the albums, not the eleven you had recorded. Could you expand on your decision, and is there any chance we will get to hear the other three?

When I listened to the album as it is now, I thought it captured everything I wanted to express in that short 35 minutes. As an instrumental album, it was enough for a modest debut. I didn’t want to get overly flamboyant with it. The other tracks were omitted because they sort of went off focus from the overall sound. The original idea was to press the album to vinyl only. I liked the balance of four songs on side A and four songs on side B. It reminded me of early New Order LPs. The process is still intact and my goal is to have it out on vinyl by the end of the year. Digital distribution is made easy nowadays for independent artists. So I went that route first to get it out in circulation. I’m going to do a limited run of a hundred numbered vinyl copies, and no CDs. You hand a CD to a person these days and people look at you like: “What am I supposed to do with THIS?” Ha-ha! It’s a new market.

5. I love the feel of the album’s music. Out of curiosity, what key instruments and equipment did you use to record?

For me, the record has a spring/summer vibe to it. I sampled various ambient sounds from around the city to capture the mood. The majority of the songs were recorded in my home studio earlier this year. Using good guitars is very important. I have a Les Paul and a Gibson Custom ES 335 that sound beautiful. I use a low budget Epiphone electro-acoustic guitar that records very nice. For synth, I use the Access Virus TI Polar. For multi-tracking software and compositions I am a loyal Cubase SX user. I use analog and software FX. Native Instruments Battery for percussion. The album was mastered on all analog equipment. I spend a lot of time on the ambient backing tracks, doing a lot of multi-layering for atmosphere.

Keep up with Sudden Death Over Drive at their MySpace and Facebook.

Also, check out Shaun Frandsen’s father’s band, Johnny Clark and the Four Playboys. They had a couple of original hits, including a surfer-rock instrumental, “Jungle Stomp,” and a Buddy Holly influenced, Decca-era single named “I Need a Woman.” If you are curious, head over to Rhapsody.

Again, here is the track “Honeymoon In Manchester” (audio with still) from the SuddenDeathOverTime1 YouTube Channel.

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