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Interview: Randi Fay discusses her upcoming album, Intuition

After reviewing “Lone Wolf,” the recent single from multigenre singer/songwriter Randi Fay, I sought to gain more insight by interviewing Fay herself. In collaboration with producer Aaron Zinsmeister, she has crafted her latest symphonic electronica album, titled Intuition. The 11-track album had just wrapped its Indiegogo campaign last month, and is slated for release on February 20th, 2020.

Fay was open to discuss her formative career in veterinary medicine and branching off into music, as well as explain the process of the structuring for the upcoming album’s tracks.

When you started in veterinary medicine, how did you get involved in that initially?

I was in college at the time, and it’s like all kids do – they go to college for different things. I originally studied to be a nurse, and in my first semester, I managed to rescue a little injured kitty that was caught in a railroad track. For the month of December, I was actually nursing this kitty while taking my nursing finals. At that point, I kind of had a career shift after realizing how much I loved working with animals. That summer, I spent time working with a vet, learning as thoroughly and as quickly as I could so I wouldn’t lose time in preparing myself. I’ve always loved animals as a girl; who doesn’t (laughs)? But I guess that particular circumstance helped me establish my calling, and it was awesome!

From your anecdote with that kitty, it seemed like you needed to make that change as soon as possible.

Yeah, it was super spontaneous. I think the first semester of college is a pretty lonely time for people. You’re so excited to finish high school, but you’re going through a huge change, and then realize, “Oh my God, I’m on my own!” When I went to college, that was back in 1979. We didn’t have texting, you know? We’d have to call our families Sunday nights after five o’clock since it was five cents a minute (laughs). Or, we’d write letters. I was in Connecticut at the time and my family was in Wisconsin.

But what I had with this kitty was such a different and cool bond. She was just the sweetest thing! So, I brought the kitty on the airplane back home, and didn’t tell my parents; it was just kind of like, “Hey, look what I’ve got (laughs)!” Yeah, I guess it was just one of those circumstances.

Going forward to 2001, that was when you were forced to leave veterinary medicine. What happened during that path?

It was a story of resistance and acceptance. I had broken my hand, and when you’re in a field like that, you can get insurance to cover a hand fracture. I was like, “Oh, that’s ridiculous, it’ll never happen,” but it did. It was a really odd fracture, and it healed incorrectly. That took up to six weeks, then they had to have it rebroken. A scaffolding had to be put in to have it frame up correctly. So then, I had no hand for another three months. Now, we’re in the four and a half to five-month period, and then I developed really severe carpal tunnel, so I had to have that surgery. I basically had no working right hand for about a year, and over time, I’d developed some nerve damage. I still struggle with this, by the way. It’s really frustrating, because I seem to have lost the peripheral ability to sense what my hand is doing when I’m not looking at it. If I worked at it by playing piano or something, I could probably restore it. It still kind of hurts, but not as much as it did 18 years ago.

It was a rough year, but regardless, I was still trying to keep up with work, because it was hard to accept that I was done. I started doing some veterinary surgery, in a volunteer situation, for some stray kitties, and one of them woke up really fast. This is common with strays – you don’t anesthetize them that much, because they don’t have homes to go back to. You obviously do the best you can with alleviating their pain, but the point is that one of them woke up so quickly even though they still needed more work done on them, and they ended up biting my hand (laughs)!

Wow, talk about bad juju!

Yeah, and normally, I’d never had an issue with that! Then, when I was out skiing, I broke my right thumb, and then, I had fallen down the stairs and dislocated my right shoulder. All that time, I kept trying to go back, even though I’d sustained five or so right arm injuries over five years. In the meantime, I spent time with nonprofits doing other things, like administrative and executive work. I felt good about it, but it involved nothing creative, and I wasn’t really digging it.

By that point, I was also looking at local universities, and I was in my mid-40s at the time, so I was all ready to be done (laughs). But just randomly, some individual started asking me to do some music things, and by 2010, it just kind of grew into this professional career. I wasn’t actively pursuing this, and had no concept at all that it was going to be a career. It’s amazing that I’m even doing it, and it’s really cool!

I was listening to the stuff that you were doing during that 2010 period, and you had kind of a jazz vibe with a little classic rock n’ roll. Growing up, what was your musical environment like?

Well, I was born in the 60s, and I have older sisters, and so, growing up, the music that was playing at home was a lot of British Invasion rock, which has a very special place in my heart. It was the music I knew every word to (laughs)! But at the same time, I was a little kid, so I also knew all the words to Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and all these Disney movies coming out at the time, and also the Partridge Family. It was kind of an odd mix. I was going from rock of the 60s to the electronic age of synthesizers and disco in the 70s. I was in high school when disco came out, and I felt way too cool for it (laughs), and I was never a fan of that bubblegum pop that was also out at the time. I was like, “Nope, no way!” It was a really, really broad range. I loved Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and Seals and Crofts – progressive folk, if you’d call it that, and I think that all came out as I started to record.

In a way, you went through the natural shift of genres, all types of rock, and then the more machine-based synthpop styles, which kind of went over some people’s heads at the time.

Yeah! And as an aside to your comment on synthpop, the music that I’m doing now is synth-based. It all comes from Aaron’s keyboard. He’s a freakin’ brilliant musician with his orchestrations and chord progressions. When you mention my gravitation toward electronic and machine-based music, it’s so funny to be on that side of the discussion. I mean, electric guitars, and certain types of distortion, could also be considered electronic. Some people would tell us, “Oh, we’re making ‘real’ music and you’re not,” and I’d be like, “No you’re not! Rub two Mastodon sticks together and maybe you’ll call that music.” If you want to see who’s making ‘real’ music, if that’s how you want to define it, there are some guys who play guitars made from cigar boxes (laughs). But Aaron is still creating melodies; he’s just implementing more modern technology. The song “Supernatural,” that we did last year, is rooted in that. If you hadn’t had a chance to listen to it, check it out, because it’s really interesting. I’d say that 95 percent of it was written with bass. There’s hand percussion on a bass, string bass, acoustic bass, upright bass, electric bass, and then a little bit of synthetic stuff going on. But the whole purpose of that was to say, “We can make natural music; we can make supernatural music if we wanted to (laughs)!”

At what point did you start collaborating with other musicians?

My fifth CD [Chrysalis] was my first with Aaron; the first three were with an initial producer, and I have very good relationships with each of them. I can say that my first two albums – which had folk cover songs – were really just projects of heart and love. They really didn’t have anything to do with what I was doing as a performer, but they were still well-received – very simple and beautiful. And then we did a straightforward jazz combo, which was sort of more towards what I was doing. Then, for my forth CD, I was working with a band at the time, so we went with a producer who is really well-known for working with bands, and knows how to capture that live, airy sound. That was my first foray into original music. I had no idea what I was doing; I was just writing whatever came out of my heart, but I had a great band who supported what I did and were much more knowledgeable than I was.

After that, I started to take courses through Berklee College of Music on songwriting, and the idea of creating demos came up. I wrote all these songs, and I actually didn’t want to be the artist anymore. I wanted somebody else to sing them, but I was too poor to hire a demo singer, so I ended up singing again (laughs)! Then, I was pointed toward Aaron, since songwriting is one of the things that he does. The other producers I’d worked with were more focused on artist development. They did do songwriting for specific types of artists, but not just anyone who was like, “I just wanna do these weird songs.”

One of the main reasons I was pointed to Aaron was because of the song “Love Is,” which is actually a reggae tune. So, once I’d written that one, the only person at that time who was working with a reggae group was Aaron. I knew the bass player in that group, and he’d told me, “You have to check out Aaron because he’s really good, and can do a bunch of other things too.” It was good because before that point, I was planning to quit.

I’d grown tired and frustrated, like, “Why am I even doing this?” But it worked out really well. For our first year collaborating, we’d basically worked out the songs I’d written, but then the next year, we started to cowrite, and that was the end of 2017. So, we’ve basically been working on [Intuition] for two years. We’ve put out 25 songs now, including these eleven, because we did Evergreen, which was four songs, Chrysalis, which was 10 songs, and now this album.

How did the first single, “Lone Wolf,” come about?

“Lone Wolf” was actually the first song we’d written for this project. During the time we were releasing Chrysalis, I was like, “Let’s do a concept album!” I guess it’s because I’m older, but I just wanted to try something like this. I know that it’s really uncommon, but I also know that the industry is changing in terms of what people are looking for. I liked continuing in the symphonic electronic direction since it’s emotional and passionate. Originally, one of the reasons why I wanted to be done with singing was because I don’t have a pop vocal style, and thought that it had no place in contemporary music, so I was pissed about that (laughs). But we sort of created this musical environment where my voice does manage to fit in. When you hear this new album, you’ll notice that the emotional soundscape is unlimited with the electronic libraries we have. There’s one song with an Indian feel, and in fact, our first recorded song for the album, “Jezebel,” has a really dramatic, theatrical organ. I have a lot of musical theater in my background, and I had to take a lot of lessons with contemporary vocal coaches to pull the opera out of it.

As for how “Lone Wolf” came about, I had actually written it back when I was getting my songwriting degree at Berklee. I wrote rudiments of it, as well as rudiments of three or four more songs, and it was somehow all fitting together, so that became the core of what we were doing. With “Lone Wolf,” I wanted to write a love song. I read the review that you wrote about the song, and a lot of others tended to just list what I’d say about it, but I really appreciated your thoughts on it. Lyrically, there was one line in particular that I got from the feeling of when you’re cuddling with someone and have this intense chemistry, which is “You whisper secrets with your eyes.” I was like, “Oh my God, that’s such a cool line,” and I notice that as you’re writing, your thought process kind of takes on a life of its own. All of a sudden, I’m like, “Do I really know what you’re thinking? Is this too good to be true? Am I creating this on my own design?” Then, when I got to the second verse, I changed the first line. Originally, it was “I savor all your history,” but I changed the last word to ‘mystery,’ because I’m like, “I don’t know you yet. Our chemistry seems really high, but somehow, we’re still holding back.” That change ended up giving the song a whole new sense of character, which I loved. It just turned into this really complex thing with a hint of conflict, like, “I feel that we may understand each other, but we also need to trust each other, and just go for it.”

And I’ve been there too! What I had gleaned from the song was a showcase of the phases of one of those thrilling relationships – the initial infatuation, the semblance of security, and the pulling away – all in a seemingly endless cycle.

Yeah! I love what you wrote in there, and I was really pleased that we were able to get that sensitivity into the video. I felt the story was very well told, and I was really happy with that.

When I looked at the visuals of the video, there was that rose-colored perspective of longing, coupled with the dreamlike contrast of the forest.

Yeah, and we were so lucky with the lighting that day. It was really hard to get a date. We were scheduled for September 11th, and we had rain dates after that. We were supposed to film on a Wednesday, but Jocelyne Berumen, the director, who also works at a TV station here, called me up Sunday night, saying that it was going to rain from this coming Wednesday for two weeks straight. We had to collect the whole film crew, and call the locations to see if they can move filming forward one day. One day doesn’t seem like a lot, but there were still many changes we had to make. We filmed the scenes with the hydrangeas and the horse farm first, and outside, it was this pearly gray with a gentle breeze. In the woods scenes, we had that gorgeous lighting, and then we did the cliff scene with the sunset, which was unbelievable. I’m glad that you felt the blessing in the contrasts.

Where does “Lone Wolf” fit in relation to its placement in Intuition?

It’s actually right smack in the middle. It’s interesting because with my music, every experience I write about isn’t necessarily my own, but then for this album, the story that started to emerge really was my story, in terms of the emotional experiences. Maybe not so much the physical aspect, but it’s like being an actor. You may portray someone who killed their mother, but you didn’t actually kill your own mother (laughs).

So, when we started making the album, I knew we wanted a lot of the components of this to say that in our world, we are separated from each other, more distant, and are embroiled in things like electronics, which inadvertently create that distance. It’s hurtful, too, because we don’t have that intimate connection. As an aside, I recently saw an ad with a beautiful woman on it that said, “Fearlessly Independent,” and I thought to myself, “Yeah, that’s good, but what about ‘Fearlessly Intimate’?” In fact, one of the themes that I started this album on was “It’s easier for us to give our bodies away than it is to give our hearts away.” I went through the general experience when it was not about giving your body away, but nowadays, the shift in attitude has become so much more common. Then, what it matriculated into was “Why is that? – it stems from insecurity and fear,” and then “Where does this insecurity and fear come from, and what is the outcome of that?” “Lone Wolf” is smack in the middle of all those songs because it addresses that relationship development. And then, learning to trust yourself, so you could learn to trust one another, is another compatible theme that’s going on.

I could give you a brief synopsis of how we structured the album, if you want.

Of course!

So, the first track on the album is “Firefly,” which features just the female main character; there’s no love interest yet. This song is about how there are so many distractions in the world and she doesn’t fit in. She’s trying to keep up with these societal expectations, and, in a sense, leave the store with a bag full of hope. Originally, that song was supposed to be called “Authentic Reality,” because it conveys that feeling of “What is ‘real’ anymore?” She’s frustrated, but still trying to play the game of fitting in.

The next song is “Jezebel,” and this is the one with the organ. It’s dark and rich with a wall of sound. It’s all about temptation, and this is when she meets the guy. She’s like, “Okay, we’re just gonna do it! I’ve held out long enough, I’m hot for you, and I don’t care.” It’s just a really cool song.

After that is “Mystified,” and that’s when she wakes up next to the guy. She feels conflicted at that point, like, “I don’t have time for this, but I kinda like you. What is this all about? Why would you come into my life, and why would you want me? I just don’t get it.” So, one of her main thoughts is “I’m afraid of asking why. I really don’t want to know why this is happening.” It’s a really pretty song.

“Uncaged” is next. It’s another wild song, and that’s when she’s going, “As a little girl, I did everything I was supposed to – to keep my hands to myself, to be seen and not heard, and just smile and keep my mouth shut. Now, I’m enraged, and I’m breaking free from this.” There’s a really beautiful bridge in that song.

The next song is “Serenity.” It’s just a beautiful song about being at peace, like, “Okay, I just exploded all over the place, and now I need to relax for a while.”

And then we go to the title track, which is “Intuition,” and in this track, there’s still conflict. She’s like, “Okay, I’ve broken free and I’m just gonna go with my intuition, but oh my God, this is so scary and hard to figure out. I don’t wanna love you, or I’ll lose control, but I don’t wanna let you go.” She was going completely with her body back in the second track, and now she’s going with her heart, like, “What do I do?” The key to that is “Release your inhibition/Give into intuition.”

Then we get to “Lone Wolf.” By this point, she’s like, “We’re gonna do this; we’re gonna love each other. But, wait a minute, you’re not ready!” And I’m so glad you felt that feeling, since you’ve been there. It shows that both guys and girls can experience that at any place in their lives.

After that comes this really dramatic song called “Melancholia,” and it’s all about depression. I’ve had depression, and I don’t think I’m alone. I think it’s just about that experience. It’s about knowing that it’s a pendulum with some days that are good and some that are bad, but this whole experience that she went for, she kind of blew off (laughs).

And then comes “East of Pain,” and that has a sitar melody. It’s all about the relationship – “We’re hot, we’re fiery, and we obviously have the passion, but we can’t be afraid of the pain.” It’s essentially about being together, and finding a place far from that emotional pain. It’s a really intense song, too.

Then, we drop into this beautiful song called “River of Time.” I actually wrote that song when I was away on a trip with my kids, then they went home, and I was by myself, and being a mom, and I just started crying (laughs). I was like, “I was just breathing the same air as you five minutes ago, and now I already miss you.” That’s actually how the song begins. It’s like, “I want you back. Time just keeps going. How can we stop it?” It’s kind of this realization that love is so much more than just chemistry and commitment. It’s a very healthy feeling.

And then we go into the final song, which is called “Rise in Love,” and that’s a song that is desperately happy, like, “I got this! We are together, and we are gonna rise above this.” “Rise with me/Rise above/Together we’ll rise in love” – that’s actually from a recent rewrite at three to five in the morning (laughs). It’s almost fully written, and then we just need to record it.

I appreciate your explanations for all the tracks! As far as the creative process goes, how do both of you take part in it?

Basically, I’ve been the main creative vision behind the project, but when the ideas are being initiated, even though they’re 70 to 80 percent mine, they’re also 20 to 30 percent his, depending on the feedback we give each other. Sometimes it’s spontaneous. For instance, we decided to write “Jezebel” just last summer, since we were like, “Wait, we need a song to tie these themes together!” Interestingly, that song was also the hardest to write, since neither of us approaches relationships in that way, so we really had to get comfortable digging deep into that setting. But usually, I would write about four or five lines and maybe a chorus, and then send it to him. If he liked the direction the song was going, he’d get back to me and then we’d flesh it out together. Once I get the lyrics 80 to 90 percent there, he’ll write music to them and bring in his feelings and perspective, and that’s what’s really cool. On “Lone Wolf,” for example, when it gets to the chorus, he says, “That’s the guy running,” since the nature of it goes from intimate to epic, and we’re able to bring both sides into it.

It’s a really nice blend. We support each other, and he’s really good at giving me feedback on my lyrics since he’s a more experienced songwriter than I am. I could write metaphors all day, and have a conversation where you’d never necessarily know what I’m talking about, but he’s worked with me really hard in terms of making my lines more direct. I’d also worked with a songwriting coach in Nashville who helps me a lot to get over putting this veil around my lyrics. That’s the purpose of metaphors. I mean, they’re beautiful, but…

Some metaphors may be difficult to interpret, right?

Right, so I have to pull out half of my metaphors (laughs). But what it comes down to is I write lyrics, get input from the songwriting coach, then bring them to Aaron, and we decide on what lyrics go good with whichever arrangement. When all is good, then we get together, I sing, and we record.

Putting all your experiences into perspective, what have you learned?

I think that all my life, I’ve always loved to collaborate in some form, and I just have so much respect for what other people can bring into the music. I think now, I’m better at differentiating constructive from non-constructive feedback. Whether we’re working on songs or videos, that’s what it’s all about. Sometimes, I may have what seems like the greatest ideas, but I have to make sure they’re cohesive, and to clarify what they represent. I also have to speak up if an idea is out of line with my vision. I guess it’s all about maintaining a sense of steward leadership, or maybe being a benevolent dictator (laughs). Ultimately, I learned that if I don’t feel chemistry with the people I’m working with, and if they’re not equally putting their hearts into the same project, I shouldn’t work with them. But I’m so glad that right now, I’m doing great with the people on my team, and I love them all.

Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?

I hope that you take the time to listen to Intuition, and listen to it in order. It’s probably going to be an hour, because the shortest song is about three minutes, while most of the songs are around five. Listen to it while you’re working out; there’s a lot of power behind it. Just enjoy it – open your mind, and feel the experience that we’ve put together for you.

Randi Fay Socials:

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About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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