Miran Kim and Fredo Viola’s New Head

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.

Follow Miran’s art feed on Instagram at @momo.hibou and check out her art blog at momohibou.blogspot.com.

Save Music in Chinatown 6 photo dump with Dengue Fever, Birdstriking, Chui Wan, and Deadly Cradle Death at the Grand Star

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I’m fiinally clearing out the SD card after last Sunday’s Save Music in Chinatown 6 benefit matinee at the Grand Star, so here are some of the better photos. Unfortunately, I’m going to stick you with some words as well

The bill was unbelievable; we had two bands from China, Birdstriking and Chui Wan (above), as well as Deadly Cradle Death (a noisy side project featuring members of each band) and headliners Dengue Fever. Our new location was unbelievable, too. It was a second story spot in the heart of Chinatown with just good enough sound, a small stage, low ceiling, and bar for those who choose to drink. Right outside we were able to take photos by the Bruce Lee statue!

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Deadly Cradle Death features Liu Xinyu from Chui Wan and Hefan from Birdstriking. The duo’s music super heavy and dark and has a little bit of hip hop tucked in there. At the tail end of a month-long tour of the U.S., having their friends in Birdstriking join for a few shows must have been a kick in the ass for Chui Wan, and this set was a real bonus for us.

Also note the poster showing a rough, black and white version of the show flyer featuring cool art by Miran Kim. How cool was my friend in France to let us use her painting to help kids in Chinatown?

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In case you haven’t been paying attention, this was our sixth show. The bands have ranged from arty to punk to psychedelic with the latest lineup, but the killer bake sale has been a constant.

The shows have also become a real community, with familiar faces of friends, family, and music lovers of all kinds. Above is filmmaker Dave Travis, who runs Cafe NELA, and artist Vicki Berndt. They are among the many very cool people who attend all the shows and donate awesome stuff to our raffle, and I should have taken a dozen more photos of pals who support the cause like that. They’re the best. smic6d-chuiwanback

Sometimes it takes seeing a band two nights in a row to really get them, and I’m really glad I went out to see Chui Wan at NELA the night before. Chui Wan has a complex music vibe with a rhythm section that has a real angular post punk edge like Public Image Limited or Gang of Four. They’re really dark and heavy but also fun and the live show is mind-blowing.

The band played songs off its just-released, self-titled LP that you should track down. If you missed the tour, look for it (and other rad music from Chinese bands) at faroutdistantsounds.com.

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Birdstriking were another ripping live band. I had been intrigued by the fact that the touring unit would feature two members of one of my favorite Beijing bands, Carsick Cars, but now I like Birdstriking even more! They have similar Velvet Underground riffs and Pavement melodies but angrier, political punk rock vocals. Awesome! Birdstriking is touring the U.S. all month and into July, so you should grab a chance to see them if you can before they had back to Beijing.

Tucked between the band and the Oriental windows in the photo below is Nate Pottker. He’s an audio producer, visual artist, musician himself, and good friend, and he has been a big part of Save Music in Chinatown since the very beginning. He does whatever he can to help, and at the Grand Star he helped to tame the room’s bare-bones sound.

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Did I mention that the Grand Star is a really cool location? It is not only one building over from Madame Wong’s and the Hong Kong Cafe, but the vibe of the upstairs room with a low ceiling and loud noise recalls the punk days of old, too. I couldn’t resist taking a photo in front of the old Hong Kong Cafe with Lisa from Frontier Records and Tony from Adolescents.

That’s DJ Loud Panda (Ricky Maymi from the Brain Jonestown Massacre) in the cowboy hat. He loves Chinese music to death and is responsible for getting so many up-and-coming, out-of-their-minds underground bands from Beijing to the U.S. We couldn’t have had Birdstriking, Chui Wan, or Deadly Cradle Death play our Chinatown show without his help.

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After Birdstriking played, Liu from Chui Wan approached me with a Dengue Fever cassette and asked me to introduce him to the band. It turns out he’s a huge fan of theirs, so I dragged him around the club and got all of the members to sign it. Yet as the Dengue Fever began their set, the Chinese bands were packing up their gear and rushing off to San Francisco. What a bummer, but Liu seemed stoked just to be there.

We’ve had some badass lineups at Save Music in Chinatown shows featuring legendary bands that played the Hong Kong Cafe in the ’70s and ’80s. Having underground musicians from China in Chinatown is totally cool for a completely different reason, but still perfectly fits the idea of underdogs coming together through a subculture and building a community.

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I still can’t believe Dengue Fever played our little show. I mean, they play much bigger venues and seem to be on NPR every other week, but seeing the six-member band cram onto to our modest stage and playing without monitors was rad. It was like seeing them play a house party or basement show with a lot of feedback, sweat, and family vibe. Amazing.

Although the band had donated as signed record to raffle off at one of our previous shows, I never dared to ask if they would actually play for us. But my friend Josh, who manages Dengue Fever, brought up the idea and how could I say no? And then it actually happened.

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Before the set started, bassist Senon talked a little bit about the importance of music education and how playing music benefits people of all ages, and then added that I wrote the first piece and took the first photos of Dengue Fever when they started. How cool is it to have been friends since then, witness the band not only remain intact but evolve so far, and then see them play our show?

I also love how the Castelar kids who attend our shows not only benefit from the dough raised that goes toward music eduction, but also get to see awesome bands like Dengue Fever, Birdstriking, Chui Wan, and Deadly Cradle Death carry their own gear up the stairs, set up their stuff, and play in small rooms. They see that music isn’t just played at the Hollywood Bowl or something that pop stars do. Hopefully, they’ll be inspired by the DIY aspects too. And see that the lamest of parents can put together a cool show!

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Thanks to everyone who attended, played, donated raffle goodies, contributed to the bake sale, spread the word, and helped make the show happen in any way. Thanks to Tony Quon of the Grand Star for giving us a new home as well Human Resources for giving us a great start. We couldn’t do it without everyone’s help.

All money that came in went straight to the cause, with the venues, bands, bake sakes, raffle goods, and everything else being donated to the Friends and Alumni of Castelar Elementary School, and through this year’s shows, we have been able to pay more than $10,000 of Castelar’s annual bill of $50,000 for music education. On top of that, and just as important in my opinion, we are raising awareness, getting people together, and building a scene. It would be rad if you joined us when we start again next school year.

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Did I mention that the shows are totally fun, too? Or that you can bring your family if they can handle it? Kids under 12 are free. Follow this blog or join the Facebook group page for information on upcoming shows…