Though we have never met in person, Golden Bloom front-man Shawn Fogel and I have known each other for about half a decade. Back when he created music under his own name rather than the Golden Bloom moniker. Fogel’s music has always had a more contemporary pop sound than you’re standard indie artist, and I think it’s fared him well. No more is this apparent than on his new EP, No Day Like Today, which is a notable leap forward for the artist. I had the pleasure of chatting with Fogel last weekend to discuss the new release, his plans for the future, and the changes the band has witnessed over the years.
But first, here’s a song to sample while you dig into our chat. It’s “Flying Mountain”, the opener to No Day Like Today.
Fense: Knowing your back catalog, No Day Like Today goes in a bit of a new direction for you. It seems inspired. Can you talk a little about how the EP came about and what makes it stand out among its brethren?
Shawn: In a way, No Day Like Today feels like our first album, even if it is our third. The first two releases (Fan the Flames and March to the Drums) both feel like “my” albums because I wrote and recorded all of the songs as the sole band member. For as long as the members of the band and I have been playing together live, this is the first release that feels like “ours”, more than “mine” because we wrote, arranged, and recorded it together.
One of the reasons March to the Drums is an EP and not a full length is I was started to run out of steam writing and arranging on my own. I started to second guess all of my ideas, and rather than writing a song and then figuring out how to write it better, I would decide I didn’t like the song and abandon it all together. The fact that I ended up with enough songs that I liked to release an EP was a blessing! I had given up playing as a solo artist years ago when I first formed Golden Bloom as a band. I realized the next logical step would be bring the guys in the live band into the creative process at the ground level.
Josh Cohen (bass, keyboard), Jeff Patlingrao (guitar), and I went on a songwriting retreat in June of 2012. We rented a little cabin in the woods of Southwest Harbor, Maine and spent a week writing songs together for the first time. We challenged ourselves and each other to craft songs we all felt great about. Rather than starting a song and just letting it sit, we forced ourselves to finish the songs by scheduling an online streaming concert through a website called StageIt at the end of the week and promising our fans this would be an opportunity to hear brand new songs in their most infant stage.
It means a lot to me for you to say the new songs sound inspired! We really worked well to inspire the best in each other and I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that comes through in the music.
Fense: Looking at the cover art tells me it’s going to be a somewhat different animal. Can you tell me a little about the art?
Shawn: I like to think that our album art has evolved along with the music over the years. The artwork for Fan the Flames was created from scratch by a great Michigan-based artist named Shawn Knight. I really had no idea what I wanted the album to look like, and Shawn sent me several different variations before we landed on the final version of the album art. The March to the Drums artwork was a combination of photographs taken by Portland’s Alicia J. Rose and the illustration skills of Canadian artist Meredith Luce. I more or less had the concept for this worked out before asking Alicia if we could use her photos and asking Meredith to manipulate them.
When it came time to start on the artwork for No Day Like Today I had no idea where to begin. I started looking through the portfolios of artists and photographers I am friends with to scout for ideas. While looking through the photography of Megan E. LaBonte, a Northampton, MA artist/photographer who I’ve known for over a decade, I found the album cover. As soon as I saw the triple-exposure photo Megan took while traveling in Holland, I knew I wanted that to be our cover. It was layered, textured, and didn’t need to be changed a bit. I immediately contacted Megan about using the photo and began lobbying the rest of the band to agree with the idea.
Your reaction to the album art is exactly what I was hoping for from someone who is familiar with Golden Bloom’s previous work. I wanted the artwork to say “be prepared for this to sound a little different” to our fans, and at the same time to interesting and stimulating for someone who is discovering our music for the first time.
Fense: I’ve long seen you as having the ability to write a wonderfully catchy melody, but it seems like it has never been more present than on No Day Like Today. In terms of songwriting, how has your process evolved over the years? Sub question, what did you do differently on No Day Like Today in terms of your songwriting process?
Shawn: I went into Fan the Flames with a handful of songs I had that were ready to record. Over the course of making that album in four different studios with four different producers, I began to use the studio as a songwriting tool more and more. The songs on March to the Drums were almost entirely written in the studio. I came in with chord progressions and melodies in mind, but everything from the instrumentation, to the arrangements, to the lyrics, were born during the process of recording and mixing.
When I took the band up to Maine for our songwriting retreat I had a few “song seeds” that I brought with me (chord progressions and melodies). From that point everything about the songwriting process was different for me. The songs came together more comfortably and quickly than ever before. My band mates and I were able to take the joy we get playing live music together and use it to create new music.
Fense: In the past few years your focus has been on the EP. Your last LP was 2009’s Fan The Flames. Do you have plans in the near future for a full-length follow up?
Shawn: The plan as of now is to start working on a full length album this year, in the same collaboratively written/recorded fashion as this new EP. Part of me even wants to go the Maine songwriting retreat route again, though we might need two weeks instead of one if we’re going to crank out a full length.
Fense: What are your thoughts on EPs versus LPs? Is there something about them that has more appeal for you?
Shawn: I’m more partial to full length albums. The fact that the two most recent Golden Bloom releases have been EPs is purely necessity-based. Unfortunately I work pretty slowly on my own, which has been the Golden Bloom modus operandi until No Day Like Today. I thought it would be better to get some new music out there rather than waiting until I had a full length’s worth of material. On the other hand, I feel like more people digest music in single songs at a time rather than in any kind of collective format, so who really knows!
Fense: You’ve been making music as Golden Bloom for five years now. As an indie artist, how have you seen the music industry change and has it been for the better or worse?
Shawn: It’s hard to say really. I know that streaming music services like Spotify have changed the game for a lot of people, but I still like the idea of owning a physical copy of the music I really like, whether that be CD or vinyl. Every day there seems to be a new streaming service that allows people to instantly and easily connect with new music, and I think that’s great if it helps an artist cast a wider net.
Fense: Being that we just wrapped 2012, would you mind sharing with us your top album of the year and what made it achieve that coveted position?
Shawn: I’m almost embarrassed to say that I listened to a surprisingly small amount of new music in 2012. I listened to mostly comedy and interview based podcasts (Fresh Air, WTF, etc) this year. I intentionally listened to very little music over the summer while we were writing and recording just to avoid unintentionally “borrowing” a melody or lyric. If I had to pick a top album for 2012, it would actually be Tig Notaro’s “Live”, which is a stand-up comedy album. It is not the funniest stand up comedy set you’ll ever hear, but it is the most honest, real, raw, and emotionally charged. Tig manages to take the collective string of catastrophes she has recently faced and is facing (including the death of her mother and her diagnosis of breast cancer) and find the comedy in all of it. If you don’t laugh AND cry while listening to this album you might not have a soul.
Fense: Any plans to visit the west coast in the near future?
Shawn: We definitely plan on doing a west coast run before 2013 is over. There are so many great cities I love spending time in (Seattle, Portland, Eugene, San Francisco, dare I say even Los Angeles).