Though the recording business has endured hefty blows thanks to technology, it’s still hard to question major-label clout when it comes to developing artists. In the case of A Fine Frenzy (moniker of 22-year-old singer-songwriter Alison Sudol), the decision to sign with Virgin made sense to everyone involved.
“She’s just an absolute poet in her lyrics and an incredible songwriter that it was larger than life and could maintain a very cool essence while being on a major label and having exposure to a larger audience,” said Vancouver-based Watchdog Management’s Darren Gilmore, likening Sudol to a young Joni Mitchell.
And exposure she’s gotten. Recently the red-haired, piano-playing songstress was featured on the season premiere of “CSI: New York,” but it wasn’t just her tunes that hit the airwaves. Sudol, laughing, told Pollstar she’s always been terrified of acting but couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
“I’ve never really acted or pursued acting but [the role] was playing a musician and I got to play actually two songs in the show,” she said. “The script was just so thrilling and exciting and I couldn’t really pass it up.”
Opportunity knocked less than a week before the show was set to shoot, when another artist booked for the role was forced to pull out because of a scheduling conflict.
Gilmore had contacts at EMI who had contacts with a CSI producer, who asked Gilmore if he knew of a suitable artist. And Sudol’s agent, Keith Sarkisian from William Morris Agency, happens to be good friends with CSI creator Anthony Zuiker.
“So we just put all their relationships and two and two together, and three and four together, and brought her in,” Gilmore said. “She read for it, they loved her and two days later we were shooting.”
Gilmore, whose company is a division of Macklam/Feldman Management, said the show’s September 26th airing created a good buzz.
“We definitely saw a nice bump in record sales after the show aired,” he said, adding that iTunes sales shot up 40 percent. He said the estimated audience per episode is about 20 million people. Sudol’s music has also been featured on “House” and “One Tree Hill.”
But despite her anxiety toward acting, Sudol says playing in front of big crowds has no such effect.
“It’s definitely fun to play big, big venues,” she said. “When I sing and hear my voice smack across every single wall when we’re sound checking, it’s just really exciting. And when it fills up it’s just such a great energy that happens when you have one, two, three, five thousand people on the same page. It’s pretty extraordinary.”
And she’s getting plenty of chances to shine on the VH1 You Oughta Know tour, featuring Brandi Carlile as the headliner. The tour wraps November 2nd at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, which is Sudol’s birthplace and Carlile’s home market.
Sudol, who has spent the vast majority of her life in Los Angeles, says she loves touring and the sightseeing that comes with it.
“It’s really a great way to see the country and I feel like I’ve fallen in love with America since I’ve gotten to be a part of that,” she said. “It’s pretty incredible how many places there are, with people, with lives, with movie theatres! Because, especially when you’re living in L.A., it’s really easy to forget that there’s a world out there because it’s just so all-consuming.”
The classically trained singer and self-taught pianist has honed her chops for this tour on previous outings opening for Rufus Wainwright and during a mini-tour with Pete Yorn and Britain’s Aqualung.
Sarkisian said the plan is for Sudol to do some promo in Europe in the fall and headline in the U.S. after the New Year, but they don’t want to rush anything.
“Whatever we decide to do, it’s going to be about taking steps, because this is not a project for this year or next year. This is a project for 20 years,” Sarkisian told Pollstar. “We just need to make sure we don’t over-extend ourselves or put her in a situation where it’s not successful. I’d rather sell out rooms along the way and leave people wanting to get in and sell tickets out the next time.”
Sudol seems to be on the same page.
“I just want to keep growing. The artists I admire are artists who, with every album they put out, grow. You feel it,” she said. “They’re growing as people, growing as writers. Music fuels them the way that it fuels me.”
And she thinks she’s found a good foundation to build upon with Virgin Records. Label CEO Jason Flom was so excited about her that he came to her Burbank, Calif., home to hear the tunes for himself.
Gilmore, who was introduced to Sudol by an A&R rep from another label, got the music to Flom before she was signed.
“I was terrified of the major label thing before I met Jason. I had certain friends in the industry. Friends at … a few different labels. But I was still really wary of doing it because I’ve heard so many horror stories,” Sudol said.
“I feel like I won the lottery when Jason walked into the room with his A&R team because they have been such a huge part of my musical growth. And just the fact that they responded to the music the way that it was and weren’t trying to change anything led to me writing half of the album because I was so inspired.”