What was your introduction to music? Play any instruments while in school?
The two musical influences I remember most as a child are The Beatles and Sesame Street. I loved to put on records and had many of both The Beatles and Sesame Street. Although I didn’t really understand what it was about, I loved to sing along with John on “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”, and with Oscar the Grouch on “I Love Trash”.
I started playing piano in the third grade and the clarinet in the fourth grade. In the seventh grade I picked up the saxophone and once I started high school all I wanted to do was learn how to play guitar, bass guitar and drums (which I did).
What was the first record that really changed your way of thinking?
You’d never hear it in my music, but the album that changed my way of thinking was Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. When I found out that Stevie played every single instrument on songs like “Higher Ground” and “Living For The City” it blew my mind. How could one person create the same kind of sound that came from a band? Thus began my obsession with the one-man multi-tracked recording technique and I decided right then and there that I needed to do the same thing one day.
How did you enter (stumble?) into the indie rock scene?
When I was in high school I played in bands with embarrassing names like The Boojum Tree and Vitamin G. Then I went to Hampshire College in Amherst, MA and starting writing songs of my own with the hopes of playing out as a solo artist. I recorded a solo EP called Help Is On The Way, on which I played almost everything (with the exception of bass guitar on half the tracks), and then another EP called Big Happy Fun EP (on which I finally achieved playing every instrument). During my last year at Hampshire I recorded my full-length solo album Millions Of Miles Away (again playing every instrument on the recordings). I was fortunate enough to get a few opening slots for nationally touring artists like Ben Lee and Clem Snide at the Iron Horse in Northampton. That really helped give me some confidence playing in front of larger audiences and also helped me establish myself in the local scene.
I also formed a band called The Billy Ripken F*ck Face Card while at Hampshire, in which I was the drummer. We mostly played on campus but made an effort to gig out a bit. The year after I graduated from Hampshire we recorded our one and only full length album Hold Me Like You Did Before The Accident. There are maybe 100 lucky people out there who own a copy.
Prior to Golden Bloom what were you doing, musically speaking?
I continued to play solo under my own name for the first few years I lived in Northampton after college. In 2005 I was invited to be the bassist in The LeeVees, a band that was formed by Adam Gardner (Guster) and Dave Schneider (The Zambonis). We toured for 3 weeks in December ’05 opening for Barenaked Ladies. A year later Dave asked me to join his band The Zambonis as a 5th member to round things out on guitar, keys, vocals, etc. My friend Jeff Patlingrao from Hampshire also asked me to play drums in his project JP05 (now Orca Age).
That same year I began working on a new solo EP with Ryan Ball (whom I had recorded my first EP, Help Is On The Way, with). By the time it was finished and ready to be released in 2007 I was pretty burnt out on playing solo. It had been so fulfilling to play in bands like The LeeVees, The Zambonis and JP05 that I wanted to do the same with the music I had written. I put together a band simply for the purpose of playing the CD release show for the One Day in the Desert EP. The bands consisted of Michael and Dan from The LeeVees, Jeff from JP05 and Ryan (who had produced the EP). After that first show I knew I needed to take a break from playing solo shows and this band had to keep playing! We played semi-regularly in NYC in ’07 and ’08, and the more I played with a full band the less comfortable I felt being billed as Shawn Fogel. Over the summer of 2008 I decided to ditch my own name and begin playing under the name Golden Bloom.
How did FAN THE FLAMES come about? Do you see it as a song cycle or a collection of songs?
I spent about a year working on Fan the Flames. It started out with a song I wrote in my manager’s living room in Ferndale, MI (based on lyrics I pulled off the highway just a few days earlier). It was the first new song I’d written in a long while and it really helped to open the creative floodgates. Several more songs followed, written completely from scratch. Then I started taking some old song ideas that were floating around but never developed and fleshed them out into full songs. Finally, to round out the collection, I picked two older songs that’d I had already recorded and decided to rework them. The majority of the songs share a common thread, optimistic frustration and frustrated optimism. There are one or two songs on the record that are more about personal relationships but as a whole it’s much more of a big picture album than collections of songs I’d written previously.
Have you been surprised at the positive press that the record has gotten?
Absolutely! I’ve gotten little reviews and write-ups in the past, but nothing like the press that rolled in over the summer leading up to the release of Fan the Flames. It really means a lot to have trusted and respected media like SPIN, MAGNET, Under The Radar, The Big Takeover (and Dagger of course) pay attention and cover Golden Bloom. I put so much of myself into making the album, so much time, focus, money, and emotional energy. When it comes down to it, I’m making art, not a product so it’s much more validating for me to have people get excited and write nice things than it is for people to buy it. Maybe that’s why I’m not making money yet. It’s a good thing I have a manager!
How did the most recent tour go? Any pleasant or unusual surprises along the way?
I think the most exciting thing for me has been to go over well in a place that isn’t “home”, in that Golden Bloom has played to far more people in places like Boston and Northampton than in the NY/NJ area. Both towns have really accepted Golden Bloom as if we were a local band, and that’s a great feeling. In fact, there’s been a fair amount of press that says we’re a MA band, and far be it from me to correct them. I think people are way too focused on where bands are from. Does it really matter if they’re from Brooklyn, or Portland, or wherever? More often than not it leads people to make assumptions before they hear a single note. That’s silly.
Has the writing (or recording?) for the next record begun? Any added pressure to write these days?
I’m just getting around to working on new songs right now. I tend to write really slowly, coming up with little hooks and chord progressions here and there that I eventually try to build into something bigger. Lyrics usually take the longest. The easiest environment for me to write lyrics in is either on a train, bus or airplane, so I guess I need to do a little more traveling and a little less driving in the near future!
The pressure to write really only comes from within. Usually, it begins to bubble up when the songs I’ve been playing live start to feel “old”. I spent about a year working on Fan the Flames, so by the time the release date fell the songs had already lost their “newness”. At this point I’m motivated to write and record new demos just so that I can move away from playing the same old setlist in a different order.
Your 5 band dream bill (of current or deceased bands)?
Oh mercy! I’m terrible with lists. I’m sure I’ll want to change this by the time it gets published, but what the hell, let’s give it a shot. Normally I’d say a 5 band bill is just too many bands to experience in a row, so with your permission I’d ask that there is a decent intermission between each set in this imaginary show. In no particular order:
The Ramones (circa 1975)
Stevie Wonder (circa 1972)
Queen (circa 1974)
Elvis Costello & The Attractions (circa 1978)
Jimmy Cliff (circa 1972 / The Harder They Come)
Top 10 desert island discs?
Argh, that’s even harder than the 5 band dream bill! Again, I’ll probably want to change this when I wake up tomorrow, but here goes nothing. In no particular order:
Neutral Milk Hotel / In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Elvis Costello / This Year’s Model
Stevie Wonder / Innervisions
The Cars / The Cars
The Harder They Come (Original Movie Soundtrack)
The Beatles / Revolver
Pavement / Slanted & Enchanted
Frank Black / Teenager of the Year
Lemonheads / It’s a Shame About Ray
Talking Heads / More Songs About Buildings and Food