How to describe perfection?
Is what comes out an imperfect description of a perfect thing or a perfect description of an imperfect thing?
You might as well try to describe how your own tongue tastes, or what the inside of your eyelids looks like.
Alison Sudol – the singer-songwriter whom most people recognize from her role as the sorceress Queenie Goldstein in the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – finds herself on the cusp of a great unbecoming. It’s been 8 years since her last record. She’s a whole, new person now. Her latest release is the Moonlite EP, on her own Hearth label – and it is a release, in more ways than it is a record you can hear and smell and regret that you used as a coaster.
Alison Sudol sung one of her answers over the course of this interview. I won’t divulge which one.
L.A. WEEKLY: Do you think your speaking voice affects people differently than your singing voice?
ALISON SUDOL: I think so, yeah. Singing has an impact on the human body. I don’t love my speaking voice, frequently – but I think that we need music, and when a person sings, those kind of vibrations go through your body, it’s amplified in the room. It goes through everyone else’s body, too.
You have this intensely even, perfectly modulated speaking voice. It’s like that thing where you’ll be by the ocean and the weather conditions are just right – so right that you can almost hold the air in your hand. You can almost take a scoop of air and eat it. That. That’s your speaking voice.
You know, it’s interesting – I know we’re not talking about movies, but from a musician’s standpoint, the moment I found Queenie was through finding her voice. In the script, she said the word “ain’t,” and I was like, “How on earth am I going to say “ain’t”? I can’t say “ain’t” in my speaking voice. And then I just started speaking in her way – and she’s so gentle and so feminine. Once I found her voice, every other aspect of her came to life.
And yet you know your voice can wield a certain stridency, because in the sequel – that scene in which you, suffering the throes of great existential anguish because of tension, pressure and pain – you scream, “Walk with me!” at someone whom you need with you in that instant, but who thinks you’re crazy. You don’t access that quality of voice that often – but you can.
Yes, it’s in there. I’m collecting back pieces of myself that I’d cut off. I can hear it in my voice. The potent, hard side of myself…I’m trying to find a way to incorporate that without it making me feel sick. I just started playing the bass. There’s something about this instrument that I’ve always loved and admired. It’s just…I feel so rad when I have it! It’s just the most amazing feeling! It just makes me feel brave and I don’t give a shit when I have the bass.
As well you should not!
Yeah! (laughs) It’s amazing! It is so…it is such a gift to have that. And hitting things! Percussion is so good for me! I have repressed things for so many years, and to be able to play things loud and kick the shit out of a cymbal is my therapy. These things are ceremonial, in a way. They are. At this point, I realize that I need to do this. I hope that I – and we as a band – can create an environment that is sonically beautiful, and there are moments during a show that are crazy, and a bit wild.
Tell me about one of those crazy, wild moments.
“I C U” (Nb. one of the songs from the Moonlite EP) is a bit mental! It involves my playing a cymbal. I’m playing that cymbal like my life depends on it. And it is how I feel: I have to. I have to play that cymbal that way. I have to hit it. On Saturday when we played it, there was something about it – in the past, when I jump up and down onstage, it’s quite energetic. I almost fall over. I usually try to make sure that I don’t do that – but I just lost my mind when I was playing, and I went crazy! I didn’t know that I had that in me to break loose like that. It was really cathartic.
Did you break anything? Any bones? Any glasses?
Nope! Nothing was broken – except the invisible glass ceiling, internally!
What was the last obstacle that you overcame, musically speaking?
Getting on stage?
How do you conquer your fear of going on this tour, then?
I do it. I just do it. I’m so scared, but I’m just doing it. I’m not going to not be scared – but if I wait to not be scared, then I’m never going to do it. I think I just realized that. I’m not going to get over this fear by continuing to cater to it, so I’m just going to do it. (laughs) Fear seems like it’s this physical thing – some monster – but it’s just energy. I…am…so…bored by the monster. There’s something that does feel really empowering. Ack! All right! Okay! I’m scared! I don’t care!
Does eight years between records bring you closer to the music – or do you feel further away from the person you were eight years ago?
I’m far enough away that I can have compassion for her – which is saying a lot. I was just saying today, actually, that I just recognize that I was so locked-up, locked inside myself, and lost. Trying, and didn’t know how to ask for help. A very, very different place than I am now. I hear it in the music, and it’s painful. It’s part of the journey.
Alison Sudol appears at 7 p.m. on Friday, August 2 at The Moroccan Lounge.