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Fan Modine: On Time, Friends, and Technology

16 April 2012

A brief apology, if you will. This interview, conducted last spring, took place around the time of the release of Gratitude for the Shipper, the third album by Gordon Zacharias and his long-running—yet slow producing—project, Fan Modine. But a computer crash and other perilous times resulted in a loss of the file that contained this interview, not found until a recent exam of a wayward digital voice recorder! It was, of course, good timing, found as Zacharias paid tribute to longtime friend Gail O’Hara and her ‘zine, Chickfactor, at her 20th year anniversary party—for not only was that magazine the way yours truly discovered Fan Modine, but the love and respect between the two, as discussed below, served to help him out. So even though the album may have been out a while, it is my great pleasure and honor to present this conversation with a man who quietly makes some extremely beautiful music. His discography may be small, and his output may take time, but those records are worthwhile.

BT: You’re just releasing your third album, and one of the interesting things about you, Gordon, is that there’s always been a six year gap between Fan Modine records. Is that reflective of a perfectionist nature?

GZ: It may be subconsciously intentional. I tend to like to live in a seven year cycle, and I have a lot of things going on outside of music, so I really keep busy in life. Yet it seems to be that whenever I have a big change going on in my life, I always look at things and wind up having a group of songs ready to go! It’s almost a natural cycle for me, and yet it does take me a little time to get my songs to the point where I’m happy with them. I don’t necessarily think I’m a perfectionist, though. I’ll put down a song on tape and it’s just me on guitar or piano, there’s about a one in a thousand chance it’s gonna sound good, where if I take time playing with people and in different environments, and getting things away from just me by myself, I find it doesn’t take as long for things to happen, but that may all be about to change because I’m jumping into another record as we speak! I may break from that three-records-in-fifteen-years cycle just yet! (Laughs)

BT: Is music your main thing, or do you consider it art of the entire Gordon Zacharias package?

GZ: (Laughs) Well, right now it’s my main thing; I am going to focus on it, my creative side more than my practical side. Obviously, it’s a little bit trickier these days in terms of finances and whatnot. I’ve tried honest work and there’s nothing honest about it. (Laughs) The straight thing seems to not be as rewarding. Taking risks and doing something that doesn’t necessarily provide for the day in/day out and isn’t a certainty—-to me that’s ultimately more rewarding. I know I’ve taken a big jump in terms of deciding to focus on my music right now. Sometimes I wake up scared, but I go to bed satisfied, so it’s worth it.

BT: Maybe it’s an unintentional theme, but all your records seem to deal with the theme of travel and moving. You had Slow Road to Tiny Empire, and then you had Homeland, not necessarily title-wise, cover-wise featured a car leaving a city, and now your new album, Gratitiude for the Shipper, features a ship. Is that a theme you’re deliberately setting out to explore?

GZ: I think I started to realize that I had a lean towards that theme and visualization going into this record. Prior to that, I wouldn’t call it intentional, but it just seems to work that way, and I’m sure that people who listen to the music have more of a grasp on it than I do. I don’t think about it but that’s how it comes out. I love travel, the sea, colorful buses and roads and movement, but yet I’m happy to be settled in North Carolina.

BT: Is songwriting a cathartic thing for you?

GZ: I think so. It may be more about issues and things I need to work out, they seem to come out in melodies and lyrics, so yeah, it is definitely a catharsis. Some songs are just fun to do; right now, the stuff I’m writing that I’m definitely working through, some ideas that are a little more serious, and a little more heavy, but there’s some that’s just fun. I think as I get older, with age, comes wisdom, and I’ve started to take myself less seriously and see music as more of an enjoyable experience. Sure, there’s going to be some catharsis, but I’ve learned to not be so heavy and just do something that will be fun. It’s still grounded in something that’s meaningful. I try to take a meta view with my work.

BT: Artists working by themselves, doing things all on their own, that can prove to be difficult for an indie-pop artist who wants to take the next step. With the changing times and the power of the digital age, has this helped Fan Modine to be something that isn’t going to take years to make a new record?

GZ: Absolutely. Even my views of labels have changed. I don’t want to say they’re unnecessary because if you can get a supportive team around you that’s great, but things like Bandcamp have become an incredible time saver, and plus, it looks good. It’s accessible, it’s easy to get music out, and it’s taken a ton of the grunt work out of the process. It used to be an extremely long process just to get a seven inch single out—in order to do it right, to get it heard, you could easily spend four to six months in preparation, and sometimes things would go wrong and you’d lose a lot of money before it was even in your hands, and only a select few would hear it—if they even heard it at all. Now, you can do it in a much faster time; it’s easy to forget that up until a few years ago one would record a song, and then there would be a ton of question marks about it. What do I do? Who is going to hear this? Can I afford it? How do I need to shop it? It was a difficult process; for some artists—especially ones like me, who would often work alone—it could be excruciating, to know you’d written a great song, but it’d be a year before someone heard it—If they heard it. You’d have to wait for a print cycle, and that could take months. Now, it can be the same day, if you want it. And though that might make for a glut of music, it is extremely liberating to know you can get it into the hands of people who love what you do. I’m lucky that I have some really faithful followers, because my release cycle requires austere devotion! (Laughs)

BT: Well, I heard about you through Chickfactor. You can’t find a bigger music fan than Gail O’Hara!

GZ: (Laughs) You really can’t! That’s cool that you know me from that. It’s amazing, though, because that’s where so many people know me from, or know me as “Gordon Fan Modine” because that’s how she would refer to people. That magazine was such a great one, and you’re right, she is, ultimately, a fan of music, and she’s been a supporter of me even when I wasn’t making music. “Okay, Gordon, where’s the new one?” she’d say to me over the years. “Let’s hear some new music!” She was joking, but I dunno…I felt I had to heed that command! (Laughs) I adore Chickfactor and I love Gail and have always felt grateful for her support. I know a lot of us who were close to that scene owe much to her. I’m sure that if it were possible, she’d serve as a motivational drill sergeant, to get all of us wayward indie-pop folk in gear, because her support and enthusiasm means something. People like that in this industry are rare, after all. But to have people like that? It makes all the stresses and strains and frustrations worthwhile.


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