Interview: Warren Thomas Fenzi / “Live At The Atrium” Release
A few months back local musician Warren Thomas Fenzi recorded a live album in The Atrium in Northeast Minneapolis (a refurbished artist loft that used to be the Pillsbury Dough Factory). He released each song over the course of a number of weeks and you can listen to/view each accompanying video here.
We caught up with Fenzi awhile back (pre-COVID) to find out a little bit more about his project (resulting interview is below).
Reviler: Can you tell me about the process for recording these songs?
Warren Thomas Fenzi: The process of recording these songs was relatively straight forward. Some of these songs have already been released, while others are brand-new. I had written a few of them with the intent of having them be quite “produced” but after the idea for this project was sparked, it seemed like this might be a better home for them. I brought the songs to the group and we worked out arrangements that fit the all-acoustic setting we were trying to create. Initially, We had found the room we recorded in (The Atrium) because Chavo, the trumpet player, lives in the building. Colin Loynachan, Chavo and I took time to do a good amount of pre-production and planning, so we could capture the natural sound of the room, as best we could. Colin engineered the whole project, and he absolutely killed it! Our goal was to try and represent the human nature of the room and performance. We want it to feel like you are actually there, in the room with us.
Reviler: there a particular reason you chose to record live as opposed to multitrack? Have you been converted to the Steve Albini methodology (or some other)?
WTF: Yes and no! This project is 100% in-line with Steve Albini’s methodology but I’m by no means a purest when it comes to ONLY recording that way. The experience of recording like this (all live, with no overdubs), has been life changing for me and really affirming though. The idea from the very start was to do something totally different, that I hadn’t tried yet as a band leader… which was to cut a record with EVERYTHING live. Even vocals. No overdubs, whatsoever. Honestly, this scared me quite a bit since I’m such a perfectionist, but Colin certainly subscribes to the mentality and belief that what really makes good music, is all of those little quirks and “mistakes”. I would argue that that’s a big reason why we connect with music in the first place. Because of the human aspect. The imperfections. This whole process has actually felt like quite the awakening for me and has strengthened my faith in our abilities and trusting that the intent is really where it’s at. It was almost a big meditation for me because the basis was to really capture a moment-in-time, which called for complete and utter focus on the present-moment. What you see is what you get. In a world where we can easily candy-coat anything, that’s a bit scary. But it’s also where the magic happens!
Reviler: When writing the songs did you know in advance how you would be recording them? Did that change your creative approach at all?
WTF: I actually wrote all of these songs before the idea for this project was even conceived. It was really fun to take these songs and make them work in an acoustic setting, because that’s not where any of them originated. For instance, “Peelin’ Away” was written as an in-your-face, all electric (guitars, synths, keys, effects etc) type of song. But once the idea for this project started, I thought that song would work perfectly with just an acoustic guitar, vocals and a cello quartet. So that’s what we did. I brought the song(s) to Colin, he wrote and arranged the string parts, I called up Delphia Cello Quartet, we rehearsed once, and just went for it.
Reviler: Is this album something fans can essentially expect to be recreated from start to finish at future shows?
WTF: My plan is to recreate the entire album, in that room, for a live audience. I’m planning to do it in late April, early May and I’m going to be selling a limited amount of tickets. But honestly, that will probably be the only time we recreate this. It feels more like a novelty project than a full-blown stylistic direction that I’m trying to go in. I seriously love all kinds of music, so you’ll find that I really just like to change it up and do projects like this that keep it interesting for all of us, the artists and listeners included.
Reviler: After doing this do you ever plan to go back to recording any other way? Or are you sold on the live method?
WTF: I’m open to every which way you can imagine when it comes to creating music and art. I absolutely LOVE electronic music and I am beside myself for classical music, folk, acoustic, rock, Indie, singer/songwriters…you name it. My belief is that if it sounds good, it is good. As an artist, my goal is to take all of those beautiful things that I love about different types of music and bring them together to create something new. I don’t like to exclude any styles or techniques because at the end of the day, if that sound or that vibe is getting the message across, and people are connecting with it… then hell yeah, do that!
Reviler: What comes next?
WTF: Colin and I just started recording my next full-length at his studio in Plymouth. Like I was just saying, this next project is a combination of the past techniques I’ve used to record. We’ve been tracking the songs live (Bass, drums, guitar, congas etc) in the studio, as a group, but I plan to really take the time and have fun with sculpting textures to overlay the takes that we did live. That could mean more string quartets or recording an old, out-of-tune piano because it sounds so janky, it’s awesome. Or just tweaking knobs on the Moag to create some beautiful, synthesized textures. I’m open to anything! I’m finding that as I progress as an artist and the more I step out of my comfort-zone, I’m really just adding tools to my belt. It really comes down to creating something unique, for me, as well as something I would really love listening to. A lot of the time, that means doing something weird or trying something that doesn’t really seem like it’s going to work. That’s not just exclusive to the studio but also in the writing process. I think that’s also where all of the fun lies: in the not knowing if it’s going to work or not.