Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Interview: Orenda Fink

Art in Manila is a testament to the power of community.

The six-piece band consists of a group of friends, all of whom live in Omaha, Nebraska. A sort of casual fellowship defines the band’s label, Saddle Creek, which began in the center of the grassroots Omaha scene. Bands on the label such as Bright Eyes and the Faint have achieved international renown, but fame hasn’t diminished the image of Saddle Creek as a large family, an idea that Orenda Fink, leader of Art in Manila, doesn’t dispute. (She is also married to Todd Fink, lead singer of the Faint.)

“We all have one degree of separation from each other, because we live in a small town,” says Fink. “We all are peers and we like to work together and hang out together all together. I think it’s the small town size that makes that community spring up.”

Fink is a ten-year veteran of the music industry. Her early bands include Little Red Rocket and Azure Ray, collaborations with fellow Birmingham, Alabama transplant Maria Taylor. She later released a solo record, Invisible Ones, which became the foundation of her new project – a band that’s greatly indebted to personal connections.

“Most of everyone in Art in Manila were people that I toured with on my solo record,” says Fink. “I just had so much fun with them and clicked with them musically that I wanted to start a band with them. So I asked them if they wanted to do that and they did.”

Art in Manila’s lineup includes Adrianne Verhoeven, Dan McCarthy, Steven Bartolomei, Chris Senseney and Corey Broman and Ryan Fox.

After its spontaneous beginning, Art in Manila progressed quickly, finishing their first album, Set the Woods on Fire, within six months. Although Fink remains the primary songwriter and the band’s most prominent member, the input of her bandmates eased the creative process.

“It was just kind of an experiment – no pressure – just something we wanted to do,” says Fink. “It was good, it was like a new experience for us to be in studio, but it was a really laid back situation. I would come in with the shell of a song – just the guitar, vocals - and present it to everyone, and we would all just jam on it and discuss what direction we wanted to take it.”

Such scenes are distributed throughout the world, and aren’t limited to small towns like Omaha.

Xavier Aaronson, Office Manager at the MuseBox, a Manhattan-based music markerting company, has a similar experience. He attended McGill University in Montreal, and manages Heroes & Villains, a local band.

“The Montreal music scene is so accepting of good music in a non-competitive way that it was easy to book gigs and festivals, partner with other bands, and get the music heard by radio stations and press people alike,“ he says.

Another crucial tastemaker is the blogosphere, a fickle but often critical component of a band’s success.

“The increased leverage that blogs have in stimulating band buzz has helped little and middle-size bands reposition themselves in the limelight,” says Aaronson. “For example, if you look at the line-ups for this summer's music festivals, you'll notice that there are fewer big-name headliners booked and a healthier dose of middle-size bands making appearances.”

Art in Manila may be best known on the blogs for their cover of indie darling Les Savy Fav’s “The Sweat Descends.” Art in Manila’s ethereal vocals and acoustic instruments are a far cry from Les Savy Fav’s abrasive yelps, but as is often the case, the bands are closer than they appear. Fink says that she became familiar with Les Savy Fav after they opened for the Faint.

As a road warrior herself, Fink has a mixed opinion of the touring, which has become the lynchpin in a musician’s livelihood.

“I love being with my friends, but sometimes when you’re gone from your home for six months you have a psychological fissure where you don’t know where you belong anymore. I do enjoy performing, but it can be really taxing on a person,” she says.

Although she clearly loves her home, Fink was greatly influenced by a more exotic locale. She cites Haiti as a powerful influence for her solo album, which incorporated the island’s folk music. But its inhabitants were even more important to her.

“I love the country and the spirit that everyone has there because they’re stuck on this island with this extreme poverty that is caused by the corruption in the government,” she says.

It’s the same perseverance that has given Fink’s career such longevity – with some help from friends.


Thanks to Orenda and Lucas! And speaking of friends, Maria Taylor is playing at the Knitting Factory tonight. I'll be there, and I hope you will, too.

MP3: Art in Manila - The Sweat Descends
MP3: Les Savy Fav - The Sweat Descends (Live)
MP3: Azure Ray - We Are Mice
MP3: Little Red Rocket - Light Is Everywhere
MP3: Orenda Fink - Bloodline
MySpace: Art in Manila

1 comment:

Kyra said...

Wow, looks like you've already run out of bandwidth on those mp3s...any chance you could upload them elsewhere?

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