Interview – Fanshaw’s Olivia Fetherstonaugh
– by Shawn Conner
After a stint in the many-voiced Vancouver band The Choir Practice, Olivia Fetherstonhaugh has embarked upon a solo career under the name fanshaw.
On Feb. 9, Mint Records will release Dark Eyes, the debut fanshaw release; the fanshaw band plays a CD release show at the Railway Club Feb 4. A couple weeks later, Fetherstonhaugh plays a couple of solo shows in New York, including Cake Shop Feb. 15 in Manhattan and the Zebulon Cafe in Brooklyn Feb. 18.
The Snipe reached Fetherstonhaugh, a care-worker for adults with disabilities, at the home of a client.
Shawn Conner: How do you like the work?
Olivia Fetherstonhaugh: I love it. I just work with one person right now. I see her three times a week. We’re close, we’re friends. We go out a lot. It’s diverse work. You go out for dinner, and I just did a karate class with her today.
SC: Does the job give you as much time as you need to work on your music?
OF: I only work three days a week, but I also have a boyfriend, so I never really get too much done. But I’m going away for all of May to write. Just because I find being around my friends is kind of distracting.
SC: I notice you’ve got some shows coming up in New York. Is it CMJ or something?
OF: No, it’s nothing like that. My boyfriend works at UBC so he has that week off. His aunt lives out there so we decided to go. He ended up booking me two shows. He just contacted the Cake Shop through email. I thought it would be a lot harder to play in New York.
SC: He should’ve tried for Carnegie Hall.
OF: I think that would be kind of a bust. Nobody would show up. They’d be like, “This is expensive, who is this?”
SC: Are you going to tour between the New York shows and going off to write in May?
OF: I am trying to just play a few dates from Portland down to Seattle and I applied to play at Anacortes at The Department of Safety, but I kind of just started planning that a couple of days ago.
SC: What kind of places did you play when you were in The Choir Practice?
OF: We mostly just played around Vancouver. We seemed to play at the Railway Club a lot. Our biggest show was opening for Jarvis Cocker at the Commodore. Everything else was local shows. We played at Hoko’s, I think. Hoko’s, that was my favourite place in the city to play. They had awesome karaoke.
SC: Damn Vancouver. [A sushi restaurant in Vancouver’s downtown East Side, Hoko’s stopped hosting live music when city inspectors “determined that the late-night crowd hadn’t ordered food and found a beer on-stage during a karaoke performance” according to a story in a local weekly.]
OF: I know, everything’s shutting down. I just saw Hoko’s wife on the street, she was chasing after her dog.
SC: What happened with Choir Practice? Wasn’t there some weird politics going on with the band?
OF: I think they played at the Mint showcase at the Olio Festival. But the Choir Practice hadn’t played in quite awhile and I guess they expected it would regroup. All of us [who had been in the band], we stay in touch. I think a bunch of people who’d been in the Choir Practice went to the show to see who it was and it was Coco [Culbertson, founding member] and Kurt Dahl and a couple of other people. My understanding was they didn’t play any Choir Practice songs. So it wasn’t really the Choir Practice.
SC: Was there any bad blood because of that?
OF: I left before… the band was kind of ending anyway. She [Coco] moved to Saskatchewan, but the band was still going. It was right before the record came out and we wanted to keep playing. She joined us in Texas then moved back to Vancouver but people were starting to leave by then. But Coco wrote 80 per cent of the songs on the record, and Larissa [Loyva, aka Kellarissa] wrote the rest. I wouldn’t say it’s the Choir Practice if it’s mostly instrumental and totally different members.
SC: The bio says you’re a perfectionist, that you’ll work on a song for a year… how accurate is that?
OF: I think I’m just not very prolific, I’m really really slow, I collect hooks kind of and I’m not really sure how to put them together. I collect bits until I feel like something grabs me, and until then I’ll put a hook on the back burner, until it finds its soul mate or whatever [laughs]. Especially the songs I wrote when I was learning to write, they were readjusted constantly over two years just because I was not a good guitar player when I started writing. I’m not a good guitar player now but I’m better. So I would change how I would play things.
SC: How did you learn to write songs. In Choir Practice?
OF: No, before that. I had a guitar and I tried to read tabs. I’m not dyslexic but I think I lack spatial intelligence. Reading tabs was really hard and I never got it. I’d learn one or two chords and I’d be like, “This is taking forever!” and I would quit. I found it easier to write than follow tabs.
SC: One song I wanted to ask about is “Rebecca”. What can you tell me about that one?
OF: It’s based on the novel by Daphne DuMaurier.
SC: Are you much of a reader?
OF: I read more now that I’m not in school. I don’t read tons of books, but I chose to write about Rebecca, and Dark Eyes is based on things I was reading too. I ran out of personal things to write about. When I first started writing I was confused about men all the time, like just feeling nervous and paranoid around men, sort of like Rebecca. Then I became a much more stable person. My biggest inspiration is Kate Bush. She made me realize I didn’t have to write about my personal life.
SC: Your Myspace page also lists Ella Fitzgerald and Cole Porter as influences. You must have Ella’s The Cole Porter Songbook record.
tOF: That was pretty much all I listened to from the age of 8 to 18. I wasn’t a music nerd growing up. I just listened to that one tape for 10 years. I would try to listen to other things but just couldn’t.
SC: And why the lower case “f” in fanshaw?
OF: I just think it looks better. I don’t like the capital F. That sounds like a flaky answer but I think if you’re going to have a name you want it to look attractive printed out. I just found another review that was a really bad review and she hated that I used the lowercase “f”. I wanted to explain to her I wasn’t trying to be quirky, I just think it looks nicer. I’m not sure who it was, I don’t read music blogs so I don’t know how established it is. I hope it’s not. [laughs]