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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sunfold's Kenny Florence Goes From Theory to Practice

I had a chance to speak with Raleigh band Sunfold's front man, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Kenny Florence. Sunfold is a side project of indie buzz band Annuals,
with all the same musicians, the Annuals configuration led by Adam Baker, while Florence takes the lead with Sunfold.

As Kenny was digesting his IHOP eggs benedict and hash browns, we discussed the band's tour, the beginnings of their label, the musical process, and more.

David: How is the Sunfold tour going?

Kenny: We just played our second show, and we're pleased, not expecting as much turnout as with Annuals, around 20-30 people, a nice change. Adam gets to play drums.

D: What about Annuals drummer Nick (Donzel Radford)?

K: Nick is not part of the Sunfold touring band, though he plays the more intricate fills in the studio. With Sunfold we only have one drummer, not two as in Annuals.

D: Where are you now?

K: We're in Clifton, NJ. We have two shows in NY, one show tomorrow, and one opening for Steve Burns from "Blues Clues".

D: Steve Burns from "Blues Clues"!?! Is Sunfold live a lot different from Annuals?

K: Lots different, more guitar heavy, not as layered, a little bit easier. With Annuals, if we don't get an hour soundcheck I'm really worried. I'm not used to being a front man anymore, and out of practice being a lead singer. I forgot how much breath it takes to make it through a show! It's also really fun with Adam on drums. I grew up with Adam always being the drummer, so I'm very used to his style and the chemistry is really good.

D: How did your label Terpsikhore start?

K: In 2002, maybe a bit earlier, we met JK Horne, CEO of Terpsikhore, at a show in Garner (Mike knew him in high school too), and he expressed interest in doing something to help our band. He was interested in starting a label and he wanted us to be the band to help him do that. We had a studio in Garner, did our first Sedona (Sunfold was previously named Sedona) recordings there, and from there things just sort of evolved. He helped us with a Protools setup and he's been a large part of everything from the get go. He was going to put out Annuals, but then we started getting offers from other labels and we thought if we signed with another label it would also help Terpsikhore. In the past 2-3 years we have started to become a real record label. We have a studio in JK's house now (I live there too), and a lot of the new Annuals record was recorded there.

We recently signed What Laura Says from Arizona. We were just lucky enough to meet them in Arizona and they were unsigned, so we said: "We've got to sign you!" Their album comes out August 19th.

D What are your musical influences?

K: Our influences are very broad, really anything--Beatles (one of the best ever), Yes, ELO, classical music, great composers like Debussy, Ravelle, country too: Brad Paisley, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash. In rock, I grew up with Smashing Pumpkins, so Billy Corgan is a huge influence whether I like them now or not. I listen to a lot of jazz.. guitarist Alan Holdsworth. Sometimes his tones are kind of cheesy, but nobody else can play like him.. world music: Indian, African, you name it.

D: How do you approach writing?

K: Several different methods, some natural and some forced. With the newer songs, I'm trying to write everything "head first", before even touching the instrument. It helps me understand music better, really into the way the classical composers would write their compositions. If you have a good idea of the piece, the more deliberate it becomes. A lot of musicians [mess] around until they find something that works. I usually approach things melodically first, because it's hard to think of harmony in your head. Then I also sit around with guitar or piano and improvise. Then there are times when you just receive a musical idea in a flash of intuition. That usually happens when falling asleep, when drifting into subconcious realms.

Last night dreamed I was in restaurant and it I heard a new song by Coldplay, a song I made up in my head, but Chris Martin was singing it. Then it disappeared. Sometimes you're able to hold onto that idea.

I have never been able to get into the swing of writing with other people. It's very much a personal, intuitive process, rather than a collective thing where we say "Let's write a song". That's just not natural. I burn CD's for everybody and say "You come up with your parts" and then we go into the studio to record.

D: I noticed you are also the Terpsikhore engineer. Where did you learn that stuff?

K: More just out of necessity to record our own music. Adam and Mike took a class in high school (they went to Enloe). I was always just watching. At first I learned everything I know from Adam, and more recently working with Ian Schreier at Osceola, Jacquire King (Modest Mouse, Tom Waits, Clinic), and just learning from experience.

By no means am I a great producer, but I know what sounds good, and I just try to replicate what I hear on good recordings, and do my best to make things sound good.

D: What's your basic guitar rig?

K: Guitar: I really like Telecasters, G&L brand as opposed to Fender, through a Fender Super Reverb amp, and that's basically it. I like a simple setup--clean tone is really important, then pedals for overdrive, mostly Boss pedals (because they don't break when you throw them on a plane), and for studio work, a lot of other
boutique brands also.

D: Tell us about the music theory book you're working on.

K: When not on the road we don't make enough money to sustain our existence (with Annuals or Sunfold). When I'm home I teach guitar at Tone Zone Music in Cary, and I'm writing the book along side my good friend and boss, Derek Butler. We're writing a music theory textbook. A lot of theory books are super contemporary, and a lot are just classical theory and not really practical for musicians who are not
in conservatory. So we're writing a contemporary book, from the basics of music to contemporary jazz theory. It's a really important aspect that's often overlooked. Some say it takes the mystery out of it, but understanding the patterns and how they work--everything you can come up with is part of some musical pattern. If you have more than one association for one thing the more you can understand it. Like language, once you have a name for something the more you understand it. Theory can help you write music in your head.

D: When is it coming out?

K: In the fall or early 2009. It's pretty much done, all the examples written out, with just a few more explanations left to go. Derek is doing the examples and I'm doing all the explanations. We are planning for three books in the series.

D: Thanks for that great interview Kenny! Sunfold is playing Local 506 Tuesday, July 29th. Doors open at 8PM, with Terpsikhore artist Lonnie Walker opening.

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