The other week, my old friend Miran Kim asked me if I had any ideas for how her musician pal Fredo Viola could promote his new LP. Even though my response was that I’m not really connected to music writing anymore, she shared a link and insisted that I give it a listen. I kept putting if off and she kept asking what I thought. Eventually I caved in, and it turns out My New Head is cinematic, surreal, and smart. Or, as Neil Gaiman describes Viola’s music, “what pop music would sound like if it were made by unborn psychedelic ghosts.” The album features Miran’s artwork, too. She should have told me the latter in the first place because I’m curious about any project that involves her.
Martin: So how do you two know each other?
Fredo: I have known Miran for quite a long time—since I was living in Brooklyn, which I guess was around 2000. At the time, I was an editor/compositor working for a large beauty brand and feverishly cooking up my music after hours. I believe Miran was working for MTV.
Miran: He was one of the most knowledgeable people I knew. He knew cool music to listen to, and I always admire that! Fredo was a true gem in my life in NYC and he still remains precious in my life now.
Martin: You were pretty excited to share his music with me. Can you tell me what you appreciate about it?
Miran: It is very exciting to introduce Fredo because of his singing voice. It is like a beautiful line in a painting that expresses emotions without any words. His voice alone can create an experience that makes you feel like you are seeing everything for the first time. Fredo is a vivid storyteller, a musical artist whom I admire deeply.
Martin: Fredo, in your music I hear some Black Heart Procession, Elliott Smith, Nick Cave… But what are you into?
Fredo: I’ve got really eclectic taste but am drawn to anything that pushes outside of the norm. I love unusual harmonies and chord progressions, so have naturally been drawn to Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush. Kate Bush has been a pretty big influence on my own music, as her arrangements really showed me how surreal, cinematic, and adventurous music production could be. However, usually I’m listening to modern orchestral music, which I find to be the most meaty and adventurous. Shostakovich, Britten, Schnittke, and Stravinsky usually show up throughout the week.
Martin: How does the new record fit into your body of work?
Fredo: I feel like this album snapped the pieces together. My first album was really all about the discovery of being able to make music with my voice. The songs on that album, The Turn, were really the very first songs I’d ever written and I was very lucky to have them receive quite a big critical success in France. I love my second album, Revolutionary Son, but it wasn’t until My New Head that I found a proper maturity and connection between the music and the lyrics. I feel like I simplified, unfolded, and revealed more vulnerability with this album. This is also the first time I feel successful with the overall form of the album. It’s meant to be almost a physical experience, like walking into a landscape or a living sculpture. That’s an aim I’ve always had—as I had studied to be a film director—to make something truly immersive, and this is the closest I’ve come.
Martin: It feels to me like music that that is meant to be heard alone, in concentration, with headphones on, which is perfect for something released to a world in various stages of pandemic. Is that accurate?
Fredo: Totally accurate. That’s how I listen to music, as well, although I’m a believer in that also being a communal experience. I have a dear friend in my COVID bubble, and every few weeks or so over the last year we would get together to listen to an album together. You pick up so much more from that kind of listen. It’s like the difference between driving through a neighborhood quickly and having a walk: On your feet you make so many intimate discoveries; it’s not just a bunch of houses zooming by. That’s the way I would like people to listen to my music. But I also think it’s a creatively stimulating album, and I have had great responses from creative folk that enjoy making art to the music.
Martin: Can you tell me why you chose Miran’s art for your record’s packaging?
Fredo: Miran’s art is amazing and it made quite an impact on me from the first time I saw it. It’s at times quite dark, but never oppressively so, and there is always the contrast of innocence and light. I love the mystery of her subjects, the surreal nature of her imagery, and her sense of color is second to none. I wanted to work with her for my second album but our scheduling wasn’t aligned. I am absolutely thrilled with what Miran made for my My New Head. She’s truly an incredible artist.
Martin: Miran, how did you approach the cover portraiture? Is it different depicting a friend and a fellow artist rather than, say, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, or a Garbage Pail Kid?
Miran: When I was approached to make the album cover art, Fredo had a specific concept in mind and he also shared a small portion of the tune from his new album. From there, not knowing too much about the whole album, I approached the personage of Fredo with more mystery and openness than I normally would for other projects. Visual cues within the portrait painting both came from me and Fredo, and our artistic collaboration was a really enjoyable experience.
Martin: Fredo, does your music sound different live? What are crowds like at your shows?
Fredo: Honestly, I don’t perform much. I enjoy it while its happening and always give it my all, but the weeks leading up to a show fill me with so much anxiety, it’s kind of torturous! I’ve been secretly relieved that COVID has made performing impossible. Back when I released my first album, I did a bunch of shows throughout France and the audiences tended to be early 20s, 30s, and up. I loved the French audience, which was quite attentive and thoughtful, but also had fun. We’d make slightly more rock-arranged versions of the songs and, as the songs are all quite melodic with very warm harmonies, it usually worked well like that. My dream would be either to perform with seen amazing singers and a handful of acoustic instruments, or build a visual installation, as I also have a substantial body of my visual work which could be supported. I’m also always making what I call “live cluster videos,” which are live performances of all of my voices without correction, usually reflecting a space in a creative way. Those will always be happening.
Martin: For both of you, how has your art been affected by this year of COVID? What can we anticipate from you two looking forward?
Fredo: I’m keeping a sense of optimism while acknowledging the rather destructive impact COVID has had on everything. What was left of the music world mechanism has been somewhat pulverized. But perhaps it needed to be destroyed! The music “industry” has been rather dysfunctional, certainly from the perspective of the musician, for some time. Our job now is to keep creative and watch for new growth. Art is universal and it will just take an open mind and imagination to find the new windows and doors through which we will find beautiful creative spaces.
Miran: I discovered the magical life in nature. I was fortunate to have access to a beautiful flower garden during COVID and closely examined the flowers and vegetation. There is a restorative life source in nature that is my new personal fascination and inspiration to my artwork. I am working on a very fun project right now and can’t wait to share it with you soon.
Martin: Anything else you want to add?
Miran: Thank you, Martin, for taking the time to hang out with us. It is always a huge honor for me to talk with you!
Fredo: Thank you so much for this opportunity, Martin!
Find Fredo’s music at mynewhead.com.