Talks with Sarah Fimm

 

Sarah Fimm

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Near Infinite Possiblity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CEV:  What motivated you as a young child to teach yourself to play the piano?  Was music already an important component of your life at that point?

SF:  My mother played the piano and sang like a bird while I was still deep inside of her somewhere.  As I became a little older, it seemed to be the only thing that felt real.  I had trouble relating to people.  I still do.  I never had trouble relating to music though.

CEV:  Since a lot of your first album, Cocooned was written between the ages of 14 and 17 I’m thinking that teaching yourself piano worked out quite well. What were your inspirations during that time period in regards to the songs that you wrote back then? Were the songs personal songs about your life or were they observational songs about life around you?

SF:  Honestly, I think I was young.  I couldn’t tell you my inspirations because I was too busy getting in a lot of stupid trouble.  When I was just toward the end of what I would call high school, I was told if I took the responsibility of being an advisor of sorts that I would be allowed to have a key to a room where there was a piano.  There were drugs and danger everywhere. I remember high school being a very scary hurtful place. Everyone in that place had already been thrown out of somewhere else, so the piano helped me to find solace in what I then perceived as the deepest throws of hell.  

CEV:  After your initial failure to get into Berklee College of Music you started studying with a piano teacher. What was it that this teacher taught you that you had not picked up during your own self-taught training on the piano?

SF:  My first day with Franko Richmond.  I went to his house overlooking the train tracks on the Hudson.  I went to the door nervous and belligerent and he opened the door, smiling at me.   After some time he took me over to the keyboard.  I looked at him angrily (which is what teenagers do) and I said ‘what makes YOU think that I would want YOU as a teacher!’  I still choke and laugh at the thought.  He laughed out loud and leaned back.  He folded his arms, lifted his eyebrows kindly, without judgment and said ‘Ok’.  ‘I’m going to turn around.  I’d like you to take all that stuff you are feeling and just hit the piano with everything you’ve got young lady.  Use your hands and your feet too!’  After looking at him like he was insane, but liking it, I slammed my feet and hands down on his piano.  He softly leaned over and named every note I was hitting from the bottom to the top.  He even named the ones I was only pressing on a little.  He was the first person who really taught me how to listen.  He saved my life.  I had never read music or had the patience for training so Berklee had previously denied me entry.  However, after 3 months with Franko, I submitted a tape, and they finally said yes.

CEV:  Once Berklee accepted you what did you learn about music and about yourself in regards to what you wanted to do with your singing/songwriting?

SF:  I learned that I did not prosper in the academic environment.  I wanted to have a band, and I wanted to do my own thing.  I didn’t want to be in school.  I wasn’t interested in any structure designed by someone else.  I wanted to make music that sounded new.  I was inundated with terribly boring music.   I was an explorer.  I wanted to be a destroyer of all ideas.  It’s a pity they never had a class for that.

CEV:  Was it worth the time that you spent at the school in relationship to the reality of what your music is all about?

SF:  It’s all worth it, because it all happened.

CEV:  When you look at the artist’s music that was influential to your own musical foundations what is it that touches you about what you hear in their compositions and how does that translate into your music?

SF:  Music carries an ineffable transcendental quality.  After all these years I still honestly believe it cannot be quantified.

CEV:  What is the most difficult thing about writing your songs?  

SF:  I don’t know.  Not getting permanent marker all over my fingers?

CEV:  What is the most enjoyable thing about writing your songs?

SF:  Focus.  Task.  Doing.  Being in that moment.

CEV:  Did you always assume that you would eventually record your music and release albums for sale?

SF:  Yes.  It was all I ever wanted aside from being a roller skating waitress or an astronaut. It wasn’t so long ago in the grand scheme that I was singing Tina Turner into a hairbrush.

CEV:  How did you go about making sure that would happen for that first album Cocooning? Did you have a mentor in all of this that helped you along or did you go it alone trying to figure out the ropes of getting an album released?

SF:  The first album ‘Cocooned’ was an adventure.  I just had to figure it out.  There were very few resources in the beginning.  We had to create them.  I went to the library all the time.  I made plenty of mistakes and still do constantly.  I try to learn from them.  

I didn’t have mentors in this directly, but I had others around me with great wisdom. My greatest teachers were in psychology, history of art, science, Middle-Eastern politics and poetry.  Anaxagoras said, ‘there is a portion of everything in everything’.  We can take aspects of the one and apply it to the other. I like the idea of applying creativity to every aspect of life.  

CEV:  Are you comfortable with all the business aspects of having a music career? Is it difficult to balance the creative side and the business side so that neither one is shortchanged in time spent? How do you do it?

SF:  I wouldn’t say I am comfortable.  I am passionate about what I do, and if I bother to do something, I try to do it the best I possibly can.  It’s not all roses, but in my experience it’s better to spend time in the Chinese garden rather than the hot tar pit.

CEV:  You became aware of the power of the internet back when Cocooned did so well on MP3.com. Tell me how the internet figures into your releases since then and how has social networking through Facebook, Twitter etc. changed the game when  it comes to getting your music heard?

SF:  Well, I started all this using MP3.com ages ago.  I remember how amazing I thought it was. There was nothing like Facebook in existence to help you.  You had to figure out a way to get visibility and put your music out there before social networking was what it is now.  I spent years working at it. We received about 350,000 plays as I recall.  I worked on that from a little place in NYC that I lived in with my band around 2002. We played shows wherever we could.  It was a logistical nightmare.  

I spent a lot of time during this period studying the psychology of music.  I have always found the way music reaches people to be an extraordinary thing.  Music holds the innate ability to alter state of mind.  It changes the world.  That seems to me like a topic worth discussing, that people don’t mention frequently enough.

CEV:  Your latest album is called Near Infinite Possibility (NIP). Would that be a comment on the potential of your music career?

SF:  HAHAHAHA!  That did cross my mind after the fact. Funny.  However, it actually comes from a Hunter Thompson quote which is : “Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality. Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of ”the rat race” is not yet final.” -Hunter S. Thompson

CEV:  When did you start writing the material that ended up on NIP? Were you working with any sort of theme in mind for the finished album?

SF:  Actually David Baron and I created four albums in four years.  They were not released in the order they were created.  Some of Near Infinite Possibility was created first. The only theme involved was to make a good album. We just couldn’t stop.

CEV:  What would you say were some of your largest influences/inspirations during the writing of NIP and how did those influences manifest in the songs that appear on this album?

SF:  I tend to believe that people don’t always know what is influencing them.  The musicians and the talent that was imminently around me was I think the highest influence.  David Baron was a tremendous influence in incalculable ways.

CEV:  When you were in writing mode for NIP did you work with others as you polished the songs or was this a solitary process for you? Explain.

SF:  David and I worked together a lot.  We make a great musical team. There was a lot of adaptation.

CEV:  Were there any songs on the new album that hold a deeper meaning for you than the others? How so?

SF:  I wouldn’t say any song holds deeper meaning than another.

CEV:  When it came time to record NIP how is it that you and the band start to work out how it will all sound and who does what? How cooperative is the creative process when it comes to how the music on NIP will sound?

SF:  David and I did all the preproduction in his basement surrounded by keyboards and instruments.  We created the songs.  Then, we had the task of finding a band to play them and breathe them into life.  This is not an easy task.  Luckily, we found wonderful people. Josh, Paul, John, Sterling, Sara, Danny, Earl, Paul, Eli, and Connor-every one of them is unique and gifted.

We didn’t have any label support.  There is no way to just pay a band to hang out and write it with you, so this was the only way to get this done.  I hope though, one day, I will get to experience what it feels like to sit in a house for a few months and write with a band.  I hope to hell when I do, that it’s all the boys from A Perfect Circle sitting around a fire writing it with me.  I could die even happier than I’d be if I died right now.

CEV:  One of my favorite songs on the new album is Invisible Satellites. Tell me about the writing of the song and what message you wanted to get across with the lyrics.

SF:  When I am writing words, they mostly fall out like acorns.  I’m not sure if it’s premeditated. The best part of music is unspoken and left to interpretation.

CEV:  When you are working on an album like NIP through the whole writing/recording process how do you know when it is done and that no more tweaks will make it any better? Is this something that you just intuitively know or have you learned it through working on your other albums?

SF:  It’s a dangerous time toward the end of an album.  You are attached and you don’t ever want to stop.  David knows that even more than I do.  So, it is something you know, and also something that is practically decided for you as you run out of money.

CEV:  Do you have any favorite songs from the new album that you are particularly proud of?

SF:  They change.  Right now I’m with Everything Becomes Whole, Morning Time, and Disappear.

CEV:  How do you feel when a project like NIP comes to a close and the album is put out there for the world to listen to?

SF:  Stunned and Warm.

CEV:  Will you be doing any concerts for the rest of 2011 in support of NIP?

SF:  Yes I have 5 coming up this month and I will keep going hell or high water.  Live music as an independent artist is a serious challenge.

CEV:  Do you enjoy doing live shows? Why or why not?

SF:  I love it once it’s all there and all you have to do is play music.  That is only about .04% of the job though.   

CEV:  Do you go out and find reviews of your music on the internet? How do you feel about what is posted about your music either by reviewers or bloggers on the internet? Have you learned to be a little thick skinned about it all?

SF:  I don’t seek them out.  There isn’t enough time.  If it’s good and I come upon it, I thank them sincerely.  If it’s bad, that’s probably good too.  This is the way I see it.

CEV:  Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers about NIP or your music in general?

SF:  Stay in touch and thank you for being who you are.  

CEV: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us here at Cutting Edge Voices.