On a very hot Saturday evening in late July, I met up with the recording artist professionally known as Isadar, a/k/a Fabian Thibodeaux, Isadar being his middle name, at La Bar Bat in New York City to talk about his new album recently completed and scheduled for release early 1997. It was rather odd that we ended up meeting at such a morbid theme bar (vampires and bats, no less) on busy, trendy West 57th Street to discuss the suggestively morbid titled (but actually misleading) collection of songs called, "Dream of the Dead."
Isadar, 28, born and raised in a very small rural town called Church Point in south Louisiana, moved to New York City a little over three years ago to pursue his recording ambitions, strikes me as someone who's mind is ticking so fast that he can't seem to articulate everything he's really thinking. As a result, he gives up trying and leaves you thinking that he is very shy, quiet, and reserved. So when speaking to him, to get to his thoughts and feelings, you've really got to poke and probe it out of him. But after spending only a few minutes with him it was easy to see the drive and determination that made this album, a 10 year labor of love, possible. Even though the album is finished, you can still sense the after shocks of the tolling process in the way he sits in front of me twitching nervously like he's late for an important date. We settle in, order drinks, then dinner and I start probing. . .
What is the album "Dream of the Dead" about and how did you come up with the title?
The album was conceptualized as a film: every song leading into the other either through the lyrical content or the visual suggested content. I created storyboards for the entire album with the intent of doing a "Video Album" as an additional consumer format, but due to the high costs (about $100,000 per song to get the elaborate concepts on 35mm film) I couldn't even consider thinking about making the videos not to mention my lack of avenues to exploit the finished product. Even for major labels, videos are strictly promotional tools. Only one or two are made to coincide with the Singles because of the astronomical high costs involved. So at times, because of the visual foundation of my music, I felt like a frustrated filmmaker which is why I put in many sound effects, to make the story real.
The title was actually taken from a children's book which I remember reading around the time I was in third grade. The problem now is that the book seems to be nonexistent. I can't find a copy anywhere! No listing, no record. Maybe I made it all up! I honestly don't remember the story, so obviously the album is in no way based on the book and I should probably point out that the album is sort of like: "A science fiction film. . .within a dream that has good and bad moments. The bad moments leaning towards the content of cult horror flicks."
You mentioned that it's very visual, is this a foundation for all of your music or just this particular project?
Yes, everything. Actually, during the down time from making this album, I was hired to create a soundtrack for a Ralph Lauren "Safari" television commercial. The art directors from the advertising agency gave me copies of the unedited film footage and after viewing the images my inspiration followed the African landscape, the models, and the music just flowed. I'm uncertain as to if it has ever been aired or if it ever will, but it was a very creatively satisfying experience.
Your first album, "Near the Edge of Light," made and released in 1990, is very different from this album. It is a collection of piano solos similar to artists such as George Winston and Liz Story, who popularized "Windham Hill" as a new age record label in the late 80s. Does this new album serve to show your progression as an artist? If so, do you expect to do an album like "Near the Edge of Light" again?
Actually, "Dream of the Dead" was written and recorded before "Near the Edge of Light" existed! It took 10 difficult years to finish because I was doing all of the financing. It is impossible to get traditional financing for artistic projects, so I assumed all of the financial burden myself. Other factors were the complexity of the process in mixing, as well as the lack of adequately equipped recording studios, for my needs, in Louisiana to properly complete the mixing. Making a number of mixes and remixes of the material before I was satisfied also took some time and a lot of money. I also moved to New York and went through personal transitional experiences which held priority. As far as another piano album, I certainly have material, but there are so many other things I want to do before I come back to that. Personally, I feel that the piano album, "Near the Edge of Light" is my last project, since it was the last album "created."
Back to the theme of the album: "Death" and "Dreams" do these have a strong pull on you?
Definitely. Dreams have always fascinated me. While I was in this personal transition I mentioned between releases, I sort of accidentally or rather synchronistically discovered Carl G. Jung. I really connected with his philosophy concerning spirituality, consciousness, the soul, and dreams. Then, something just clicked. Since all of the material on the record had already been written and recorded before this discovery, it was very interesting and almost necessary for me to go back and analyze it from this new viewpoint. The insight was crucial during the completion process. The title cut, "Dream of the Dead" is based on a very lengthy actual personal dream. However, the dream was so long, say 10 minutes, that the song itself only touches the last 15 seconds of it. That's how intense the dream was. And it's quite obvious that this song is about the struggle between the animus and the anima (the masculine and the feminine parts of the psyche.) And what's even more interesting to me is that my first album "Near the Edge of Light" makes a direct reference to "light" which symbolically represents "consciousness." And in retrospect, that's exactly where I was...near the edge...of making this huge earth shattering discovery!
Death has also had an impact on this album, not in the writing process, but in my personal life. During the making, I lost two friends to suicide. Ironically, one of them, the photographer who helped carry out my visions for the cover artwork, a photograph of me in a pre civil war, historical, landmark graveyard located in Washington, La. Although he was sick, living with AIDS, it was still a blow to me and affected me very much when it came time to start the layout for the packaging of the album. In addition, I lost a few friends to AIDS as well as my grandmother last October, she was 93. She was the closest person to me ever that has died and although I feel her physical loss, I can feel her presence with me and I attribute it to the fact that she herself was an incredible visual artist and she knew what I was doing and knew how difficult it was for me having to relocate to New York City away from my family and friends. Something about her was magical. My earliest memory of her was associated with Christmas. When I was a child her home was like a winter wonderland, covered with lights and decorations. It was full of spirit and quite beautiful and I always had that magical connection with her.
Can you give me an insight into what it was like making this record?
The songs were written starting in January of 1986 through 1989 and recording, including demos, took place all during that time as well as into early 1990 while living in Louisiana. The album includes performances by a few musicians from the Acadiana area which certainly added to the character of the music. With the exception of the song, "Wake Up," all of the cuts were initially recorded at a small electronic lab in the music department of the University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, La. It was practically a closet. In fact, it was a closet converted into a studio which led into the lounge for music major students! Since it was only an electronic lab, I had no way of applying vocals or any acoustic instruments, so the outcome was just an idea of music. An instrumental soundtrack in which I later added the melody and lyrics. When I decided that I was in fact going to put together an album based on some of these ideas, I took the song demos which fell into the album concept, to a professional studio. I began adding to the arrangements, instead of recreating them, essentially turning the "demos" into the "masters." In doing this, I was able to capture the spontaneity of the original recordings. The "energy" was very important to me and I wanted to preserve it, which is why none of it was computer sequenced utilizing MIDI. I wasn't into that then, it was all new to me, so I recorded it the old fashioned way straight to tape.
The song, "Wake Up," was an exception because it was recorded as a "master" at a much earlier date. This was the first song I ever wrote and also the first time I had ever stepped into a professional recording studio environment. But, since I had a few drafts that were created at home, I never saw this track as a demo. Out of all the songs on the album this was the one that I did the most experimenting with. At my absolute favorite moment in the song, I actually flipped the tape over and recorded instrumentation and vocals backwards. This experiment segment of the song appears in the 12" remix version and for the album I decided to include the segment as a hidden bonus track.
How do you perceive the album now that it's complete?
Well, I see it as being very unique. It's like nothing I've ever heard before and which is why I'd categorize it as "Alternative." But that category seems to be overused by the music industry lately. Mostly as a marketing tool for the "college age" markets to make the artists seem more interesting, different, or special. I mean, leading industry sources consider 'Hootie and the Blowfish,' and 'Alanis Morissette' as Alternative. Hello!?! In my opinion they are Rock/Pop. When I think of Alternative, I'm thinking of artists like: Philip Glass, Bjork, Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Nina Hagen, Thomas Dolby, etc. Usually, an artist that isn't mainstream and something that American commercial radio would never consider playing. However, I'm relying on getting heavy local radio airplay of some cuts from this album since radio is my only real way of getting exposure and documenting my progress at this stage. Some of the songs, I believe are "pop radio ready" even though they may have a strong alternative edge (which basically means they're just different) and would make excellent Singles.
I also see this album as an "end." Because no matter what I do in the future it will never be like this.
Why do you say that?
Because I no longer work or create the way I did when I made it. The technology I used and had available to me was different. Also, the process the fact that it took me so long making it, all that time, was also a contribution to the sound. It allowed me to create something "timeless" because I was forced to keep going back and readjusting the sound and the mixes to the current trends. As a result, I was left with a collage of different time frames and energy. The demos I'm now making are different. They are very different from those I made just a year ago! My next project will most likely be done at home, quicker and cheaper. Technology has advanced so much and that will also allow for a more intimate relaxed feeling in not only the process, but the actual material being written.
I understand that you don't play live. Why is that?
Since I'm performing 95-100 percent of what you're hearing it would be essential for me to hire a band, rehearse, teach them all the parts, manage, book gigs, etc. Instead of trying to recreate what I've already done, I could be creating more new music. That's where I get my energy. I've always viewed myself more as a "recording artist" and not as a "live act" or as a "performer." Most people don't realize there is a very big difference and they just don't get it.
Technically, in the business aspect, one should exploit the other. Meaning, the live show should make you want to buy the records, and the record should be nothing more than a "snapshot" of the band or artist. The record should make the listener want to see the artist "live," period. But I've never bought into that gimmick. And, I've never had the strong desire to perform my music live. Yes, I did do a few solo piano concerts to promote my first album. But, I've always felt that live performing is too ego driven.
The beauty in the art of recording is the ability to filter or process the ego, so as to have (or simulate) a balance, and create something that's not really there. Like magic or alchemy. I suppose that if the chance for me to present my music live arises, I would approach the opportunity as grand scale visual performance art. That's the only way I'd feel comfortable presenting the songs and that would take major support and money, not to mention the lack of venues capable of handling this type of show. I mean, I don't think I could pull off my music in a bar or in a nightclub! It just wouldn't fly.
I also feel that the trend in the entertainment business is heading more and more to electronic reproduction: music videos, movie video rentals, the Internet, web sites, on-line interactive TV, etc. People are less and less wanting to leave their home for entertainment or anything else for that matter. It's true, we are becoming more and more isolated in that respect.
I think this is a big issue that major record companies have overlooked and have not taken into consideration or have spent a lot of energy in creative marketing and promotion within these realms. They want to stick to what's worked in the past and be "safe." As a result, independent labels are taking the chances and are gaining in the overall market share. The major labels tend to pick and support acts which have a "strong following" at their gigs and/or that have a "strong stage presence" when none of this is going to matter on the Internet or in music videos, or on CD+, CD enhanced, and CDextra formats. I mean I can't remember the last time I saw or even considered going to a live show. But, I do remember hearing something on the radio or seeing some video and saying, "I've got to get that CD!" People want convenience.
What's always baffled me when record label personnel in A&R positions talk about the importance of live gigging to further my music career, is the absence of such a stupid formula in the motion picture industry. I mean, who wants to see a movie "live?" Not me! That's not the point of a motion picture experience. And, "live" isn't the point of what I do either. The artform can't be expressed that way.
What out there influences you to create your music?
In general, dreams and visual imagery inspire and influence me. But sometimes it's just what's in the air. It could be how I'm feeling at that moment. A full moon, a moon void, etc.
As far as musically, with this album I was aiming for a European/British sound. I know that sounds odd coming from a south Louisiana Cajun boy, but this is really what my soul was determined to get out of me.
This album was designed to be multilayered and made to be played loud. There is an incredible amount of detail going on through the arrangements in these songs. At first listen, the album seems flat, one dimensional, and unpolished. But the more you listen to it, the more it takes a life of it's own and these layers just keep opening and opening. It sort of gets under your skin. It's not designed to be in the background. It demands your total attention when listening or it will end up irritating you.
I listen to so much music especially in my current situation in which I have access to quite a bit! I love dance music: "Techno," "House," "Jungle," and the newest to join the family, "Drum & Bass" but it's got to have a melody and lyrics. I will probably work in that genre next, before I get too old. . .(laughs)
What do you mean by your "current situation?"
In addition to pursing my recording, I'm also employed by a major record company. I have to eat and pay my rent as well as have money to invest into my own music. This is my way of satisfying my needs as well as exposing myself to lots of different musical acts and the business in general. I just let all of it sink in and see what works and what doesn't. And the odds of it working are not that great! You're better off playing the lottery!
What is your job capacity, and do you feel it's a plus or a distraction being an artist and getting an inside view of the business by being employed by a major label?
I work in Business Affairs and see the "business/legal" side in what I do and that is a plus and a distraction, especially when I see the huge amounts of money involved and I think, "I could be doing this, or I could be getting that advance!" But in reality, these people have worked very hard to get to that level, or their "people" have worked very hard to get them to that level, it's a group effort. One person can not do it alone and there is a price to pay for everything. As a plus, I have learned so much involved in "record deals" and have seen some horrifying incidents. This knowledge will be invaluable to me when I find myself in a contract situation. I choose to think of my experience now as my education, necessary for me to cope and function at the next level. And, as an employee I get benefits and I get better compensation than most new artists just starting out, who are considered "contract labor!" But my goal is to create balance between the business and the art, which is in reality nonexistent, so in the end for me, it's really only about the music! And, if I'm able to make a living just doing music. . .it will be a dream and a blessing. . .and a lot of luck!
You said what has influenced "Dream of the Dead" and you've given me the setting, which is the film like quality, but you haven't disclosed what it really means, or what it's about?
The original idea was, "the concept of: dreaming about someone you love that has died and remembering how much they touched you the good as well as the bad." However, I can't answer that question quickly, now that it's completed and sum it all up, because it's not that simple and on some levels, it's very personal. For instance, it also toys with the idea of parallel existences that include the extremes: asleep/awake, dead/alive, and unconscious/conscious. The analogies are really all the same on a spiritual level when you stop and think about it. It's also about the probability of crossing the barrier between each of these extremes.
Introspection, can also be an option to sum up the theme: seeing how far you've evolved by revisiting through a dream the unhealthy or undesirable parts of your personality that have died inside yourself, and at the end of the dream waking up, relieved, seeing how much you've grown. . .sort of like when you dream you're still a child and then you wake up saying, "Thank God it was only a dream. . .I'm not there, I'm here! What a relief!"
But in the end, it's about what it means to the listener. The key to art is the receiver's own projection! And, my job as the artist is to create an attractive screen for you to project onto your own story.