maandag 29 april 2013

Interview with Edward Herda for WoNo Magazine's blog

Interview by Wout de Natris

© WoNo Magazine 2013

The wondrous folly of Vaughn Frogg came into my life only just over a month ago. From the very first listening the record intrigued me. There are several stories in this album that made me listen closer than usual. The nuances in the music, the layers put in there did the rest. Well, you've read it, right? And if not you can amend this here. It also made me want to know more. As Edward replied in person to thank us for our review, the contact was made and an interview agreed upon. There indeed was a story or two. Let me not keep you up.

As some readers may not be familiar with you, how would you like to introduce yourself?
Hey there. Nice meeting y’all. Thanks for taking the time to learn more about me and my music — I hope you’re digging the jams so far. If you’re completely new to me, I’m a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist who hails from the sunny shores of Southern California. And right now I’m in Southern Florida.

Your album is called “The wondrous folly of Vaughn Frogg”. Who is Vaughn Frogg and what is his wondrous folly?
Haha. Well, my nickname is The Frog. So, I’d say that Vaughn Frogg is kind of me, kind of me in an altered state and kind of me when I didn’t really know who I was. As for the wondrous folly… I began writing music to cope with a breakup that changed my life. I wrote to make sense of the loss but I discovered much more than a vehicle coping with a breakup. That period of my life became a full-on transformation. I guess the folly was falling in love with this beautiful tornado of a person and wondrous in that it led to heartache, which in turn led to discovery.

Your bio states that you left all behind to go and follow your heart. Listening to the music it seems like it was the right decision?
Well, I’m still living with that decision. Sometimes it feels right. Sometimes it’s confusing. Sometimes it’s scary. It was a decision, and I can make other decisions that may negate that. But what I left behind was much more than a career — during this process I abandoned my old self and started creating the person I wanted to be. Overall, I’m more happy now than I have ever been, so I feel like right now I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Looking back, was it necessary to leave all behind to make ‘Vaughn Frogg’?
Yeah, I believe it was. I needed to remove myself from the life I had been living for so long — I won’t go into too much detail about that. It was pretty involved. But in short, it was filled with a lot of darkness (years of it) and hopelessness. After the lady known as BT left me I decided I wanted to change; I wanted to be a better person. That led to change, more change and finally isolation. I never planned on writing a record when it began. The music started coming out and I started writing it down and playing it out. At open mics people would ask if I had a CD or when I was playing a full show. I had neither planned. It’s funny, when I left my full-time job, I knew that I just needed to leave — I had become addicted to change. In most jobs, you leave when you already have another job lined up. I didn’t. A girl named Vanessa asked where I was going (referring to a new job) and I responded with “I’m going to the desert to write music.” I didn’t think of that nor had I planned it — that’s just what came out. A couple days later my car was packed with a bunch of instruments and recording gear and I just headed east to a small place called Pioneertown. The name seems pretty fitting now.

What did you find in “the cabin in the desert”?
That was a wonderful period of isolation. The desert gave me the chance to let go of a lot of built-up frustration I had; it helped answer questions that had kept me awake for months; it gave me the courage I needed to begin living the life I wanted to live.

Were you involved before in music?
Yes and no. I have been playing instruments for many years (maybe 15 or so). I just always learned covers and played them with friends. And I had never sung before, so that was all new to me. I had been writing for years, however: First as a playwright in college, then a comedian, then an “ad man” and now a lyricist. Writing has always come pretty naturally for me. And I was always a bit of a music junkie, obsessed with writers who weaved wonderful, lyrical stories.

Listening to ‘The wondrous folly’ I hear a lot of influences. Who influenced you while making the album?
I’d say the biggest influence with this album was the place I was emotionally. I didn’t think about what I was writing. I didn’t edit much of the original material as much as I let it come out naturally. I think I started editing myself in the recording process. I wanted to write music that I would listen to — the music I liked. I didn’t want it to sound like any of my heroes, but I knew what I liked and didn’t like. I’m sure you can probably pick out some musical influences like Dylan, Cash or Cohen, who are some of my favorites. But I’m all over the place with music. I mostly listen to songwriter music though — I enjoy songs with stories. The Grateful Dead, Townes van Zandt, Steve Earle and Bob Dylan are probably some of my tops. During the period that I wrote and recorded I think I was listening to a lot of Mason Jennings, Josh Ritter, Townes van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen and Conor Oberst. But then again, I’m always listening to those guys.

What can you tell us on Leah Kouba who sings with you on the beautiful song ‘If’?
Leah and I met years ago. We played music together one night sitting on the bay at a friend’s in Newport — this was maybe 4 years ago, I had just moved back California from NYC I think. When I was recording she randomly emailed me asking what I was up to. I had written these songs with a female voice in mind but hadn’t found the right partner. We met up again and started practicing and it felt right to work together. She’s awesome. I hope to help her write some songs — I love her voice and she’s just a great person.

The lyrics of ‘Toy guitar’ take a wondrous turn from, apparently not totally, happy memories to violence. What inspired you here?
I think it was the day, the mood, and this old toy guitar I have. I woke up, crawled out of bed with this melody in my head that was playing against the rain, some seagulls and the waves outside my house. I picked up this old guitar, which was in some weird tuning I was goofing with the night prior, and just started playing it. The lyrics started coming out pretty much as they are on the recording. That guitar, that sound, that day just reminded me of my past — little moments from my past that are somehow related but have their own stories. It’s weird how the smallest things can trigger deep memories.

Is there symbolism in the fact that you sing twice that you can’t remember a name?
There is. For me, it’s about memories. Sometimes you can remember every last detail from a distant moment, but can’t recall something as simple as the name of a person who had such a strong affect on your life. You remember everything about them, even their breath or the dandruff in their hair, but you can’t remember their name. I have a lot of memories like that.

‘War at peace’ is a brooding song on good and bad, live or die and heaven or hell. It is also a song of grave doubts. How should we read the song as a call for compassion or an indictment?
A few people have asked me about this song. I’m glad you’ve really listened to the lyrics. For me, this song has so much meaning. The album itself is a full story. Some songs reference others songs; even Toy Guitar is referenced in the song that follows. This song’s meaning (again, for me as I hope listeners create their own stories) is about struggling with a life you were born into. It’s also song number 8, which is a significant number to the story, and falls between a song about reflection and a song about redemption. As for compassion or indictment, I’d say it’s a little bit of both. The rant in the middle is from Agamemnon, and was chosen to answer that question. The Greek writers were smart buggers when it came to that.

There is a clear cut between songs on the album. Some seem more personal songs. Others more observant or could be seen as a commentary. What triggers you in writing lyrics?
So far, writing has really been a stream-of-conscious process. I write what I feel and experience, or at least the songs start there, and begin to take shape as the story becomes more fleshed out. I knew what was coming out when I was writing this, so I tried to just let the stories come out from a place of honesty and vulnerability. Lately I’ve been writing a lot of reflective songs, about my time living in NYC, travelling, my battles with spirituality and of course, love and acceptance.

In most songs less is more seems the principal you work from. Is this the format that you express yourself best in?
I like to think so. I feel the best stories are the ones that require less. But sometimes it’s more difficult to edit. It could be the former playwright or the ad man, but in both of these professions you are taught to choose your words carefully because you have limited time to get your point across. Even the improper use of grammar in my writing has meaning. The song “If” is a great example. It was originally pretty big sound. Max (my producer/engineer) and I were listening to it and it didn’t seem right, so we started turning off all these tracks we had recorded until we found this simple picking I had done (actually on that toy guitar). We both looked at each other and knew that was the vibe it needed.

In my review I wrote that you need very little effects to make a song special. How did you decide when to add, when to leave out instruments and notes?
I write everything on an acoustic guitar. I don’t have the luxury of a backing band at this point in my musical career (unless I play locally), so I wanted the songs to be able to stand on their own without needing anything but a guitar. In the recording process, however, I really wanted the songs to be set in a space. So, when Max and I were laying down tracks, we would always start with just an acoustic guitar and tempo, then we’d figure out the sounds that were required to help move the story along. There’s a question I always ask myself: “the story or the song?” And I always come back to “the story.” And I only like to work/play with friends. So, if there was a sound that we wanted, we either had to create it ourselves or call a friend. Only the accordion and dobro weren’t played by either Max or me.

What can we expect from you in the near future?
I write a lot. This album had around 25-some-odd songs written for it. The songs that were chosen weren’t necessarily “the best” songs but the songs that helped tell the story. Now I have those spare songs and more that I’ve written since then. I’m eager to get back into the studio soon and hope to have another album out by the end of the year. I think this next batch of songs will tell a different story. I just finished one last night that’s about my insomnia; another is about a homeless man I’ve been working with to help get off the street; another song is about our persistent search for meaning. There will be some love songs, for sure, but I hope to open up the conversation a bit more. But who knows. I’m planning on laying down the demos this week and seeing what Max and I will have to play with. In the immediate future I’ll be playing out more, booking a small tour and recording some live videos (with a new song or two) with my friends in LA.

Edward ends with a special message:
Thanks for listening to my music and reaching out. It means the world to me that people are enjoying my creative output. I only hope I can put it out faster in the future.

You can listen to and order The wondrous folly of Vaughn Frogg here.

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