When it comes to being unusual, The Elephant's Baby is the perfect enigmatic name for this wild and woolly disc by Clare Fader. It twists and turns around with eclectic abandon, dipping into influences which run from ragtime vaudeville to sultry cabaret. It's sexy and a little scary at the same time, with Ms. Fader playing the parts of angel and devil all at once. You never know quite where she stands, and this little bit of mystery keeps the album intriguing from beginning to end.
In the spirit of Squirrel Nut Zippers, she uses the sounds of the past to her advantage, adding an extra spark with an unbelievable mix of instrumentation and creative arrangements. It's truly a work of art, albeit one which is patched together in a motley fashion. Can Clare Fader give us some insight into the method behind her madness?
How does one get from the "wilds of Ireland" to the Carolinas?
My family marry foreigners and move around a lot. My mother married an American a few years back. I came to visit them in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and met my arranger, Damon Carmona. Since finishing the record I've stayed because of the musicians I've met.
What does the "Vaudeville tradition" mean to you?
It's all about the show. The spectacle of a live performance. Vaudeville artists took their craft seriously. They were entertainers with basic props and simple backdrops. They traveled around with their unique bag of tricks. I like the idea of having my own "bag of tricks" that I can take anywhere in the world and do what I do.
Any significance to the title "The Elephant's Baby"?
It was my Mom's idea. The CD took two and a half years to make; the gestation period for an elephant's baby. I chose the cover photo for the CD before I'd decided on the name. It seemed to work, as there is something Elephant Man-ish about the photo.
Tell me about your band/musicians on the album, how did you all come together?
It was chaos. I was very new to the world of recording, with an arranger who knew no boundaries. He'd say "we need a tuba player" and I'd have go find one. Some of the musicians I knew from playing in clubs around Montreal. Some are the best in their field in their field, and the only ones capable of playing Damon's complex arrangements. There was a clarinet player I begged to play by singing my songs into his answering machine for a week. I was working with a very meager budget so there was a lot of begging and pleading involved. We started the CD in Montreal and finished it in North Carolina. Roughly half musicians come from each place. The Vaudevillains, my current band, came together after I finished recording. They have very different training and backgrounds. We clicked because we enjoy playing odd and obscure music, dressing up and looking sharp!
Where do you find the inspiration for your songs?
A mixture of real life, and the life I'm too practical to live in real life.
There's a lot going on in your music, who does the arrangements?
That would be Damon Carmona. He's a very talented pianist, who works at The North Carolina School of the Arts here in Winston-Salem, NC. We still work together on songs occasionally.
There has been an ongoing movement in music to make "old" things "new" again. Do you think this is a simple reaction to bubblegum pop, or is there lasting power for artists like yourself, who embrace early musical styles?
I think the audience searching for quality, be it in their life or their music, is growing. Personally, I like to think that I'm embracing the craft of songwriting, something that the majority of older songwriters did. For some reason craft gets little attention in popular music today. Hopefully that will change.
You're starting a label called Raconteur Records---what kind of artists will be on the roster?
I've met and worked with a talented array of musicians in the past few years, so my first few artists will be some of these people. The first two are fellow singer/songwriters. Their music is more pop influenced than my own. I like to call it sad lover boy music. Mostly I'm looking for artists who are interested in finding their audience or niche....artists who can commit to the hard work involved in being a musician and aren't too concerned with being signed and all that jazz.
Who are your favorite artists--past and present?
I'm always at a loss when asked this question. Yma Sumac, Kurt Weill, Tony Bennett, Patsy Cline...
Any words of wisdom you'd like to add?
Visit your local library. It's full of wonderful and entirely free surprises that won't clutter up your house.