Interview with Josh Rouse and Fan Modine
Somewhere between the “I’d like you to meet my friend” icebreaker and Reading Rainbow’s tried and true “but don’t take my word for it” philosophy comes NoiseTrade’s newest feature, Artist on Artist.
The premise is simple: introduce you to one artist through a cover of one of their songs done by another artist. For our inaugural edition, folk troubadour Josh Rouse introduces us to the “catchy, lo-fi fantasy” of Fan Modine (aka Gordon Zacharias) with his late-night cover of “Cardamon Chai” from Fan Modine’s debut album Slow Road to Tiny Empire.
Like any good prologue, Josh’s cover merely serves as the connection point and then excuses himself for the remainder of Tuned In To The FM Dial, our exclusive 10-track sampler of Fan Modine’s imaginative reverie. Fan Modine’s new album Cause Célèbre will be released April 1 on Lost Colony Music.
I spoke with both Josh and Gordon to get their thoughts on each other, “Cardamon Chai,” and cover songs in general.
NoiseTrade: In the age-old vein of “the chicken or the egg”… Which did you come across first, Fan Modine or the song “Cardamon Chai”?
Josh Rouse: I saw the CD in my record label’s office and said, "this looks cool!" It looked like a handmade drawing of a Japanese hand fan with a little bowl of noodles drawn in the corner. Just with that and the album title Slow Road to Tiny Empire I had to hear it. So to answer your question, I heard the record first and was compelled by the music. Artwork is still important!
NT: Gordon, have you heard Josh’s cover of “Cardamon Chai”? What are your thoughts on it?
Gordon Zacharias: I had heard that Josh played it live, but I had no idea he made a studio recording. It sounds great! What kind of tea do they drink in Spain? I bet Josh and Stevie Wonder would be nice lunch partners.
NT: What was it about “Cardamon Chai” that made you want to cover it?
Josh: The directness of not being very direct. It was a good melody but it sounded like someone intentionally trying to make it difficult. I just liked the tune to be honest. It had a similar chord change to one of my songs. So one evening I had a hangover in a radio station in New York and they asked me to play 8 songs or something like that. I just started improvising on that tune and played it in a concert after that.
NT: What’s the response been like from fans when you’ve played it live?
Josh: I think I played it once or twice 15 years ago and the response was good, but of course no one recognized the song!
NT: What do you aim for when covering a song? How do you find your own contribution?
Josh: I'm not one of those people that try to put my own stamp on a cover. To be honest, I don't do covers that often. In this case, the version I did was just what came out in the studio that particular day. It's a bit more late night and moody than the original.
NT: As a songwriter, what do you feel when you hear a song of yours being covered?
Gordon: I see sheet music I recognize placed in rooms I've never walked into.
NT: Your songs encapsulate ambitious elements of indie rock, synth pop, orchestral folk and other non-traditional ingredients. Do you hear all the eclectic parts in your head as you’re writing the songs or do they come to life in the studio?
Gordon: I find the best stuff screams out to you in the studio as you are building the track. The elements that come as a surprise during the process generally blow away the original intention and make things way more fun and multidimensional. But, you also have to let go of preconceptions and plans, and not rehearse or think the life out of shit for this to be a possibility. Not every sideman, engineer, producer, label, etc. likes to play that way.
NT: You’ve had an impressive list of guest musicians appearing on your albums. How did those opportunities come about and does that make the recording process easier or more tedious for you?
Gordon: They come about pretty organically, through friendships and other collaborations I've been involved in. Musicians tend to enjoy playing with each other and the internet has certainly helped bring us closer together in this way.
NT: What can your fans expect from your new album Cause Célèbre?
Gordon: An album their totem John Hughes character would love.