Orenda Fink Back with New Solo Record
By Kyle Eustice
Although she grew up in Alabama, singer-songwriter Orenda Fink is most definitely associated with the Omaha music scene. After all, she’s married to Todd Fink of The Faint and is also a signee of Saddle Creek Records, Omaha’s claim to music fame. As one half of the indie-pop duo Azure Ray, Fink has reveled in a career that began to blossom in 1997 when she was part of the group Little Red Rocket. Since then, she’s had her hands in numerous projects, ranging from Art in Manila (another Saddle Creek band) to Bright Eyes with indie rock’s poster child Conor Oberst. However, it’s with her solo work where she has really been able to explore the deepest facets of her soul. On her debut solo album 2005’s Invisible Ones, Orenda touched on traditional Haitian ritual and mysticism. She followed up with a close look at the Southern Gothic subconscious on 2009’s Ask the Night. Death has clearly been a topic close to her heart. On her latest effort, 2014’s Blue Dream, Fink dives into the subject once again, reflecting upon a year-long meditation on death that began with a dog named Wilson and the words of Laurie Anderson.
“Just look at yesterday, and what you were doing, and how important it was, and how nonexistent it is now! How dreamlike it is! Same thing with tomorrow. So where are we living? Tibetans have unbelievably fascinating answers to that. This is what I’m studying because my dog died.” -Laurie Anderson
During the year-long mediation, Fink wasn’t making music. She was focused on taking time for herself and healing old wounds. Eventually, she put the pen to paper and Blue Dream is the brilliant result. Fink took some time to explain the brief hiatus and talk about her songwriting process. Blue Dream drops August 19 via Saddle Creek Records.
Shout Weekly (Kyle Eustice): I’ve known your husband for about 20 years and I think it’s so great that you guys found each other. How do you balance your music career with family?
Orenda Fink: Thanks Kyle! It actually took us a little while to find the balance that works for us, but I think over the last ten years we’ve definitely settled into a great rhythm. Being intentional in our decisions and actions is key, as well as being supportive of each other. “Balance” really is the key word though. We can work really hard on our respective endeavors, but then we need to balance that with real quality time and connection with each other. It’s like our relationship comes first, but because of that it doesn’t always have to come first. It just does.
Take me to the beginning. You grew up in Alabama, correct? What or who got you into music?
I grew up in Alabama- mostly small towns, but I finished up high school in Birmingham at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. I was actually studying theater there but the commute to Birmingham everyday was several hours and I found myself pretty lonely when I would return home to the small town I was living in. So, to pass the time I began to teach myself guitar. That was when I started seeing music as a potential mode of expression.
Did the South have any influence on your musical style?
Yes, absolutely. I am fascinated by the dark romanticism of the South. The balance of light and dark, good and evil, history with a form, people living with ghosts of the past. It is probably expressed more lyrically than stylistically in my music though.
How did you meet Maria Taylor and what did you initially have in common?
I met Maria at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. She saw me playing around with a friend’s guitar and asked me if I wanted to start a band with her. I suppose it was a very fateful day for me because I remember it very well. Initially, what we had in common was a borderline obsession with singing harmonies with each other and laughing hysterically. We did a lot of laughing and singing in high school. We were pretty much inseparable after day one.
What are the differences between being out on your own and with Azure Ray?
I love collaborating with people and feeling like you are a part of something bigger than yourself and that is what I get with Azure Ray. Being on my own has felt more isolating in the past, but it doesn’t have that feel to me this time around. I have a great team behind me and such strong and supportive friends. I’m really excited to tour this record because of that.
I remember hearing one of your songs on the Devil Wears Prada soundtrack and thinking it was great. How does it feel to hear the music you create on such big projects like that?
It’s pretty fun to just be a part of anything like that. It’s the most exciting, though, when it’s part of a show or a movie that I am really excited about. When Azure Ray had a song in Six Feet Under, we were jumping up and down and hugging each other. That was one of the best shows ever.
What do you like about the Omaha music scene and Saddle Creek?
Omaha has one of the best music and arts scenes in the country right now. What I really love about it is how supportive and personal everyone is with each other. I know I can count on my friends here to celebrate successes, but also help me up when I’m down. I try to do the same for them. With all of that naturally comes a high level of collaboration, which I think is important for a thriving music and arts scene. Saddle Creek was such a huge part in laying the groundwork in Omaha for a scene like this to exist. I’m excited to see how all of it will progress in the future.
When you decide to collaborate with people, what goes into that decision process?
Like I said before, I love collaborating with people. I have so many collaborations that I want to do at some point, so time is somewhat of a factor that goes into the decision process. I have to make sure that I can devote the proper time to something that will make it worth starting. I think it helps to have a collective goal or vision in order to have a successful collaboration. Those goals or visions can start broad and then be narrowed down or be very specific from the beginning. Other than that, I think a lot of it is based on intuition. I’ve never done a half-assed collaboration. It’s either all in or nothing.
How do you prefer to write lyrics? Do you have a particular process?
I don’t have a particular process. Sometimes I write them in a poem form before music if something is on my mind. Other times, I will just sing whatever comes out- kind of in a stream of consciousness form- while I’m writing music. Then, I’ll examine the words to see if anything resonates that I can build off of- something my subconscious brought to light. It’s pretty much different every time.
Tell me about the new album, Blue Dream. How long did it take to write it and what are you hopes for it?
I don’t really know how long it took, but I started writing after a really rough year of almost no artistic output. I was going through intense Jungian dream analysis therapy during this time that helped me resolve a lot of issues and pain. After I began to emerge from this “lost year” I started writing songs again and those were what ended up being Blue Dream, which I think in essence is about life, death and dreams. My hopes are just that this record can even slightly convey my experiences and be of comfort to anyone else in the world. I feel like the universe gave me a great gift in healing through dreams and I hope that I can work to return that gift.