Rachel's - An Interview w/ Christian Frederickson
Christian Frederickson, Louisville, Kentucky
[Holly] How did you first get into playing music?
[Christian] Well, I grew up in Washington state, and my school had the wild idea that all kids should have some exposure to music. So when I was in the fourth grade, we had a trimester of orchestra, a trimester of band, and a trimester of chorus, and the first one I had was orchestra. We were pretty much forced to do it. So anyway, the teacher was passing out instruments for orchestra, and she was about 2/3 of the way around the room and carrying all these stringed instruments, and my best friend and I were sitting together and all the other kids were choosing to play violin and cello, and my friend said, "Hey, no one's choosing the violas. Why don't we play the viola?" so that's how I started playing the viola, and I haven't really ever stopped since.
[Holly] How old were you then?
[Holly] So did you get a formal training in class, or was it really spartan?
[Christian] Sort of. I started taking private lessons the next year. At school, we just played "Row, row, row your boat" and stuff like that in class, as a big, screeching group. It was probably pretty horrific.
[Holly] So have you always played classically-based music, or were you ever in a rock band or anything like that?
[Christian] Well, Rachel's—let's see. I have played a little bit elsewhere. I played in a salsa country and western band in New York when I was going to school; I just sat in on sessions. I wasn't really a creative factor in the band—I was more of a hired gun. I've never played guitar or sang or anything like that—I've always played viola.
[Holly] You've played a couple of other instruments on Rachel's albums too, though, haven't you?
[Christian] Yeah, I've played a little bit on the keyboard, and I played the accordion on the last album (Selenography)—I mean, I sort of played it. The song in question ("The Mysterious Disappearance of Louis LePrince") was needing an accordion part, and this accordion just kind of materialized in our house. A friend of ours was storing some stuff, and one of the things he stored was his grandmother's turn-of-the-century accordion. So I taught myself to play enough of it that I could play the necessary bits for the song. I think the accordion is a fabulous instrument. I think the sound is amazing. However, I find it a very cumbersome instrument to play and have never done so outside the confines of our own house, but I do really like it.
[Holly] Do you stand up when you play it or do you have to sit down? My accordion weighs over 30 pounds.
[Christian] I stand. Mine is really heavy, too, but I found it was possible to kind of let the bellows' side down, I'd kind of tilt that way and let it go, let gravity do a bit of the work for me. Oh, and I never bothered with those buttons on the right-hand side. I couldn't figure those out, and some of them were stuck, so I just left them alone.
[Holly] How did Rachel's get started?
[Christian] Rachel's got started just as a project for fun. Jason Noble, the guitarist, and I were both in schools in Baltimore, and we got to be friends, and one day, he said that he had an idea for a song that he'd like to do with a string section. He brought it up like it was an idea that probably wouldn't work, but I had this idea that it probably would be cool, and I told him that it'd be no problem, that I could just get some of my friends from the conservatory to play on it, and so we wrote the song, and recorded it one afternoon, and traded a piece of art for the recording session, and that's how it all got started. It was definitely not a long-term idea at that point. It was just something done for the fun of working together and having something on tape.
[Holly] How did you end up getting signed to Quarterstick?
[Christian] Well, that's the next step in this story. Jason left Baltimore, and moved to Louisville and started playing in a band called Rodan. They were seen by the guy who runs Touch&Go and Quarterstick—Corey Rusk,--he saw them play a show here in Louisville and called them up and asked them if they wanted to put out a record. And so they did, and—this is obviously the condensed version—and so they put out a record called Rusty, and somewhere in there, Jason gave Corey a tape of the project that he and I had done as Rachel's, and Corey wanted to put it out, much to our surprise, because we never had any intentions like that. We'd just done it for the hell of it.
[Holly] I know you don't tour hardly ever, but is it difficult to find bands to perform with since you don't stylistically match anything else on the Quarterstick label?
[Christian] Well, we've never really had that problem. One of our first tours was with June of 44, and we played a bunch of shows with Rex, and then a year and a half ago, we toured with PJ Harvey. So we very rarely tour with bands that are anything like us. Generally, we just kind of figure that we'll be the alternative for the evening.
[Holly] Do you think it'd be more lucrative for you to be signed to a classical label or not?
[Christian] No. They're too... too... too something. I don't know. They just don't seem to be savvy about modern life, a lot of the time. I'm somewhat political about this. I am, at heart, a classical musician, but I think that there's a lot of things that classical music is doing wrong. Plus, classical music superstars don't sell a lot of records anyway, so no, I think we're better off where we are, where we can do what we like. We have creative freedom on Touch & Go that I don't think we'd necessarily get from a classical label.
[Holly] What's the story behind the band's name?
[Christian] It was partially named after Jason's car, the one he own at the time the band started, this Toyota Corolla station wagon with a hobbyhorse stuck on the roof—I'm not kidding—and partially after the character in Blade Runner played by Sean Young. Rachel Grimes joining the band was sort of post-inception, and the unusual coincidence is just that.
[Holly] How did the Music for Egon Schiele album come about?
[Christian] The music was already written prior to the actual album. Rachel Grimes is the sole writer for all the material, and she had been hired to accompany a dance and theatre production in Chicago about the life of Egon Schiele. So she wrote all this material, and it was put on shortly after our first record came out, and the people from Touch & Go went to see the performance and loved the music, and so they wanted to put that out, too. So we recorded it, and it kind of took on a life of its own, beyond the original production—because nothing really happened with that after the original four or five performances. After the show run, we recorded the album and put it out.
[Holly] What made you decide to perform as a three-piece this time instead of, say, a ten-piece?
[Christian] Well, it's partially a matter that we never toured with this material—the -Music for Egon Schiele kind of got lost in the shuffle of all the other things we were doing. We had two records come out in the same year—Music for Egon Schiele and The Sea and the Bells, and that was also right about the time that we were sort of planning to be a touring band. We started out as a songwriting project, and recording project, and then figured out how to play live. So we just never got around to touring the Egon material by itself. Generally, we're kind of in search of venues that are interesting and different—like the one that we're playing in Minneapolis.
[Holly] Yeah, I've never even heard of the Women's Club before.
[Christian] From what I understand—and I haven't seen it, it's just been described to me a couple of times—it's a 650-seat auditorium with a pretty good-sized stage with a piano on it. It's much more of a classical venue than a lot of the places we've played. And I think we're kind of moving more and more in that direction, the touring with a full band, but it's easier to do it on a smaller scale, as a trio, because when you take ten people on tour, you have to pay ten people for each show, and one bad night can really make the tour a bummer for everybody, whereas with a trio, if people don't come out because they don't know who you are, it's not the end of the world. Also, all of us always have a lot of things going on. This is different than what we've done before, and we're always trying to find new things to do, or to find ways to do new things.
[Holly] Do you have any other projects besides Rachel's that you're working on?
[Christian] Me personally? Well, I have a collection of four-track tapes and computer files that are kind of either Rachel's songs-to-be or something else. I also teach viola at the university here in Louisville, so I play a fair amount of classical music, but nothing like—I don't play in any other bands.
[Holly] Do you like teaching?
[Christian] Yes. It's occasionally frustrating, but always challenging. Always challenging, but occasionally frustrating, but yeah, it's the best feeling in the world when you get through to a kid, when you see the light go on and the kid suddenly gets excited about music, and that's very exciting for me. It's exciting for all of us when I stop dithering around and finally say or do something that the kids understand. It's then that teaching is completely worth it. It's weird. It's like there's this weird thing with schools and education where there's this fine line between enthusiasm and duty, where people are taking your class because they have to fulfill a credit requirement, and that attitude is sometimes hard to break through. The other best thing about teaching is that you learn a tremendous amount yourself, like, when you start telling someone else how to make themselves sound better, half the time I've found it's stuff that if I do it, too, it makes me better. So that's a good aspect of it, too.
[Holly] Most of your music seems kind of borderline dark and sad—do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist?
[Christian] I think that I'm an optimist. I think that right now, we're the luckiest humans in history. To be alive now, and especially living where we live, in the U.S., we have more options and more chances to do different things and know different things and see all kinds of different things in our lives than any other people in history, and I think there's just a tremendous amount of freedom in that. All the stuff, all the other stuff, intrudes on that all the time, presidential elections and wars and all the terrible things that are happening in the world, but when it comes down to it, we're lucky to be alive. At least, I feel lucky to be alive now, and that's the bottom line.