While many musicians attempt to avoid the sophomore jinx by filling their follow-up album with songs in the same vein as their debut, Alison Sudol, songwriter and vocalist for A Fine Frenzy, is not one to play it safe. On the group’s second album, “Bomb in a Birdcage,” Sudol branches out from the ethereal, softer sounds of her critically acclaimed debut by incorporating loud guitars and heavier beats into her piano- and lyric-driven tracks.

While this represents a venture into new territory for the artist, the risk appears to be paying off. A week after the album’s release, “Bomb in a Birdcage” is currently #1 on iTunes’ Top Pop Album chart and #3 on the Top Overall Album chart.

Alison Sudol

Sudol was kind enough to find time while preparing for her fall tour to answer a few questions for LA Music Blog’s readers.

Your new album, “Bomb in a Birdcage,” came out this past Tuesday. What is your day like on a new album release day?

Well, it was actually supposed to be quite crazy, but at the last moment, they rescheduled everything. This particular release date, I had a party at my house that night, so I was running around trying to get my house ready. I was supposed to have interviews, and it was pretty much chaos for the whole first part of the day. Then everybody just said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s fine,” and they took everything off my plate so I went to get a manicure.

So that was a little better than having to plan everything around interviews all day then.

It’s great to be wanted, but that particular day we had just gotten back from Germany. We had been there for two weeks and it had been a 24-hour travel day, so on Tuesday, I was still wrecked. Then the following day was the crazy press day.

What do you feel is the main difference people will notice between your first and second albums?

First I think there is just quite a different feeling to them. The first album is quite dreamy and sad, very melancholy. It’s all kind of a piece whereas this one [Bomb in a Birdcage] is much more dynamic and positive and light-hearted in some ways. But because of my character I think there is still quite a lot of the sad love songs. There is definitely a heading-toward-the-light feeling on this album and a consciousness space that I tied into it. We wanted to try to achieve this because a lot of the music I love has that same space to it.

You graduated high school when you were 16 and decided to take a few years off before going to college. During that time you really got pulled into your music. What was the main catalyst behind that?

I think it was just a shift for myself from being in high school and kind of just not really having a lot of people that listened to super cool music. The people that did, I just didn’t realize that they were listening to it. I didn’t have a lot of people influencing me, and when I got out of school, I just met so many more people that had different ideas about music. I then shifted my focus from just being a singer, which is what I was focusing on in school, to becoming a songwriter. I was being attracted to other songwriters and the quality of a song as opposed to just vocalist. That was a real change.

You have a lot of literary references in your music and are a writer on top of being a musician. How do you feel being a writer helps you as a songwriter or vice versa?

It’s all about the love of storytelling, really, and just trying to create a picture for the listener or reader. Literature has given me such a love of words and the way that different words can evoke a completely different picture. Even synonyms can have completely different connotations and there is so much you can do with them. There is so much power in a well-placed word or phrase. I think being a writer, being a prose writer, and being super into literature really does affect my songwriting, and I think writing songs that make you connected to the emotions of things in a really deep way helps me to be a better writer. You have to be a lot pickier when you are a songwriter though because you have to tell a story in three and a half minutes rather than having 300 pages, which is good; it keeps me from meandering too much. (laughs) It still happens.

What is your songwriting process like?

It’s hard to describe really. It’s such an intangible thing I guess is the best way to put it. I sit down at whatever instrument, be it a piano or guitar, and there is nothing there. I don’t sit down with an idea, but as soon as I start playing something, the music will tell the story, and I just kind of figure out how to turn that story into words.

When you were 19 you stopped playing live and started focusing more on songwriting. Did that help to develop the sound you now have?

Yes! Of course, I am glad I had the experience I did performing before I was 19. All that got me really familiar and comfortable in front of audiences, but I really needed to just stop and figure out who I was, what I wanted to say, why I was making music, and why I should even bother because there are so many other people out there already making music. I just wanted to make music, and I wanted to make music that meant something. I really just had to find that and it was such a valuable experience. I didn’t just want to keep playing and playing and not grow, which was what was happening at that time.

So you decided you should just focus more on figuring out who you were rather than saying, “Let me get out there and do this”?

Yeah, because you can play the same songs and you can get to become a good performer, but if the songs you are playing are not what you want to be then A) you get yourself identified with a certain type of music that might not be what you want to do and B) you just get comfortable and it’s harder to change. I didn’t want to be comfortable because I didn’t feel like what I was doing was right for me at all.

What do you consider to be your big break in music?

I don’t know. I mean it has been such a process and everything really contributed to the whole, but I couldn’t say it was one particular event that happened. Getting signed to Virgin Records is quite big and that opened all the doors, but I don’t really know. It’s just kind of been everything working together and building momentum. We always wanted to have things be a natural progression and a natural growth and never really wanted to hit off of just one thing and have it all come at once, so I am grateful that it has happened the way it has happened.

Who would you say have been some of your biggest musical influences and where do you see them showing up in your songwriting?

I think for this particular album it was Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. I think those two more than anything. The Talking Heads, Belle & Sebastian, Bright Eyes, and Ray LaMontagne were also quite a big part of it. Oh and Simon & Garfunkel as well. I see really just a way that they tell stories that I feel is so powerful that it comes across as simple, but it is never simple. The instrumentation is simple, but it isn’t at the same time. When you listen to those artists, you are stuck with the emotion and the communication and the story, and that’s really what I wanted to create this time around. I also wanted to have fun and be light, and I think that’s where stuff like the Talking Heads and so many other 80s bands that I would get lost trying to say them show their influence. That’s the sense of fun I wanted to create. It was a lot of different things going into it.

Is there a song that you currently love playing live more than the others?

No, not really. I really just enjoy the whole thing. The new music is all really fun to play, like really fun! So I couldn’t say.

What is your favorite song by another artist and why?

That’s a hard question. I don’t know. (laughs) I think “Everybody’s Talkin’” by Harry Nilsson. I’m not sure why I love it but I do and it’s really good. There is also a song called “Golden” by My Morning Jacket that’s really great.

For more info on A Fine Frenzy check out:

www.afinefrenzy.com

or

www.myspace.com/afinefrenzy