Fan Modine, the recording project of singer-songwriter/composer/multi-instrumentalist Gordon Zacharias, is kind of a North Carolina-based endeavor. Zacharias moved to the Carrboro area from New York City in 2001. And, when the 2011 album Gratitude for the Shipper was faced with languishing in obscurity, a group of Triangle luminaries — including R.E.M. manager Jefferson Holt and Chris Stamey of power-pop outfit The dB’s — came to the rescue.
That, and although the first time this writer saw Fan Modine perform it was in Austin, Texas, the lineup included Nick Campbell and James DeDakis of former Asheville band, Wages. “I definitely feel a part of the North Carolina music scene internally,” says Zacharias. “But on the club level, it’s still easier for me to book a good show in New York or London than it is to book something satisfying or workable where I live.”
Yet there is one on the horizon: Fan Modine plays The Mothlight on Saturday, April 5, with Brazilian psych-pop outfit Boogarins and local folk-rockers Warm the Bell.
Still, something about the project kind of defies space and time even as its songs are born of those constructs. “A lot of Fan Modine’s themes draw from locations either experienced or fantasized,” says Zacharias. “New York as ‘The City’ or China as ‘The Middle Kingdom.’ Summaries of the eternal places [though] less so an anecdotal travelogue and hopefully more of a recurring expression of the ineffable.”
If that sounds fantastic (perhaps overly so), take a listen to “Épater la Bourgeoisie,” the buoyantly poppy lead track to Fan Modine’s just-out Cause Célèbre. That song, pre-released in October, is at once strident and shrinking, advancing and retreating. Zacharias crafts bustling arrangements and the sort of layered instrumentation that reveals as much as it conceals. The record, a thoughtful collection of chamber-pop, is immediately accessible, yet slow to share its secrets. Zacharias is just as coy: When asked about the themes of Cause Célèbre, he says, “Social divides as allegory. Running away from Oz. Embracing Oz. Pulling the curtain on ‘The Man.’”
With the new album, Zacharias also has pulled the curtain on his own creative process. Where past records took about six years to complete, Cause Célèbre was finished in a relatively quick two years. “I definitely wanted to break the cycle and cross the finish line a bit faster this time,” the musician says. Band members like Tony Stiglitz, Alex Maiolo and Joah Tunnell (all in the current lineup, though Joe Caparo will sit in while Tunnell is on tour with fellow North Carolinians Lost in the Trees) along with family, friends and fans pitched in. “I knew I needed to get this done once it was going,” says Zacharias. “We had some surprises along the way, but these things ultimately served the finished recording.
Still, he doesn’t feel pressured to produce according to any schedule. Instead, Zacharias embraces the attitude that “music is a huge part of my life, but if I didn’t spend a great deal of time living it, there’d be no album to make.” Part of that living includes some as-yet unreleased collaborations, and there’s already a next Fan Modine record in the works.
And, through a friend, Zacharias discovered Boogarins, who “I just fell head-over-heels for,” he says. “The band and I became pen pals and pretty quickly … I helped put the album together and we collaborated on one of the tracks, an instrumental.” He also introduced them to the Fat Possum label, which released said album.
In a way, it’s funny that Zacharias’ story is all about connections and teamwork, since he set out to be a solo artist. Going it alone has allowed the sort of sonic exploration he’s known for but, he says, “One of the things I like about the new record is that it sounds like a band. And for now, it is.”
who: Fan Modine with Boogarins and Warm the Bell
where: The Mothlight, themothlight.com
when: Saturday, April 5, at 9:30 p.m. $6.