Interview with David Wu, Producer of the Fringemunks Project

Q: What is the earliest age that you remember having a passion for music?
A: Age 3. People may be surprised that I have memories from that far back, but I do. I remember banging my hands on the piano, trying to communicate to people (namely my parents) that I wanted to learn how to play the instrument.

Q: What instruments do you play?

A: Piano/keyboards, primarily. The bulk of my extra-curricular efforts throughout my school years involved trying to become as good of a pianist as I could be, with much classical training. All the instruments on my recordings revolve around a piano or keyboard track. I'm not a drummer, but I am a very good drum programmer on MIDI-based recordings. I own an electrical guitar, but I am still a novice at that instrument - yet, I do on occasion feature myself using my Fat Strat on some recordings. But nothing I do compares to what I can do using a piano.

Q: What are some of your favorite musical bands/artists, and why?

A: My favorite rock bands are The Beatles and R.E.M. I grew up listening to The Beatles, and by 5th grade in 1989, I knew every one of their songs by heart. All of their albums are brilliant, and I enjoy their evolution as a band - they never repeated themselves, and they (as much as they could) kept things fresh throughout most of the phases of their time as a band.

In the early 90s, I didn't care much for R.E.M. - but it was during my college years that I bought Automatic for the People, saw them in concert and became a fan - since then, both Michael Stipe's lyrics and the musical arrangements/production of the songs have become a major portion of the soundtrack of my life. They also evolved through the years, and I enjoy how they make a conscious attempt not to pander to the industry or to pop culture - they pave their own path. They are the ultimate do-it-yourself band. I had the honor of meeting R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck a few times as well; he lives here in Seattle.

That's not to say I'm only into rock music - I'm also into Motown, R&B, country, New Jack Swing from the late 80s and early 90s, classical, jazz, and hip-hop.

Q: What about Fringe captivated your interest?
A: Fringe was the first current show that I followed on a regular basis in a long time. I remember watching some promos for the show in the Summer of 2008, checking out a few Fringe-related podcasts, and I figured that it'd be a series that I would actually watch. By the third episode of Season 1, I was hooked. I enjoyed the way the stories were told, and how detailed they were - and also how any fan could continue to study each episode and develop theories throughout the weeks and months.

Q: Where did the idea of speeding up your voice originate?

A: I can't say I was a huge fan of Alvin & the Chipmunks, although I did listen to a fair share of their music growing up. My family has a few Chipmunks Christmas vinyls, and even a cassette tape of The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles' Hits. In the 80s, with some small boomboxes that I had lying around the house, I used to experiment with the speed of cassette tapes - the faster they were played, the higher the pitch - and the slower they were played, the lower the pitch, etc. I also liked slowing down the records to half-speed to hear the vocals as they were actually recorded.

When I bought my studio setup in the 2000s, I had to somehow communicate my music to those who were going to be singing the songs, and to do that I had to sing the songs. Yet, I don't like my singing voice, so I figured that a good way to "disguise" my voice was to slow down the instrumental, sing on top of that in a slower speed and lower key, and speed everything back up.

When I wrote the lyrics to my first two Fringe parody songs, I knew I wanted to 1) record them, and 2) not use my actual singing voice. Thus, the Fringemunks were born.

Q: Are there any usual musical goals that you set out to reach during the Fringemunks writing and recording process? If so, what are they?

A: Great question. My goal is simply to recap each episode in a succinct and memorable way. I think the secret to the project's "longevity" (if one can call it that in just under two years of existence) is that I consciously try to make each song different from the last, both aesthetically and lyrically. If I try to keep on being "better" than the last song each time, I would ultimately fail.

Q: Did goals change between Season 1 and Season 2? If so, how?

A: The goal remained the same, but I did have less time in Season 2 to work on the songs, just due to my overall personal life. (In fact, as of this interview, I'm still 4 songs short of completing the Season 2 recaps.) I think if one compares Season 1 and 2 for the 'munks, one can hear that I took more risks musically in the latter season, and I think my studio mixing improved. The Fringemunks project is a bit of a great workshop for me, musically, as I'm able to experiment while knowing that there is an audience for the songs.

Q: Is there anything different that you would like to do, any new steps that you would like to take, for Season 3?
A: I'm still determining that right now. All I know is that I'm leaning towards continuing the project as far as I can. I think that much of my style from this point forward depends on the storylines that will be told for Season 3 - if there's a lot of switching back and forth between parallel universes, it may be a challenge to recap any episode from just one character's POV - and I may have to adapt to a different lyrical style because of that. (95% of the songs are sung from one character's POV, at least up until now.) Musically, I intend to keep on evolving - and I think the "unknown" is both scary and exciting.

Q: Would you like to discuss your recently released album, Orbiter? What about the upcoming Fringemunks' Greatest Hits compilation? How will you go about choosing music for it? Will there be anything new on it?
A: Orbiter consists of 10 new songs I wrote and performed for piano, and it showcases my more serious and reflective approach towards music. Each song means something to me, and the album as a whole tells a story - but whatever that story is, is mine. The basic premise is that I am telling the story of an entity that has been in motion for a while, much like a space shuttle orbiter in motion - whether or not that entity realizes it. And throughout that motion, things happen to that entity, and the entity reacts. And now, perhaps the orbiter is ready to land and move on to other phases in its life cycle. It's very abstract, but I wrote the songs from emotions within, hoping to evoke emotions without.

Anyone listening to it can interpret the album or any of the songs in their own way - in fact, I want them to. I hope the listener will just read the titles of the songs, feel the songs, and reflect.

The upcoming best-of collection for the 'munks will be a decent way for me to combine the cream of the crop of the 45-or-so songs in existence, and have it available for existing fans, and also use it as an introductory tool to potential fans. I may have one or two new songs for the collection, but I haven't decided. The ones I choose will be the songs that I feel are the best productions. I do know that I won't be presenting the songs in a chronological order - I intend to make the songs flow like an album.

Q: Would you care to elaborate on the Bloody Rare collection? Is there anything in store for that in the future?

A: Bloody Rare acts like The Who's Odds & Sods or The Beatles' audio Anthology - it's a place for me to place songs that aren't episodic recaps of Fringe, and also outtakes from those episodic recaps. I needed a convenient way for me to present such songs on the website and on iTunes (for me and for all) - otherwise, they'd just be floating around. I chose the title because "Rare" indicates rarities, and "Bloody" indicates snapshots of songs that had yet to be completed. I like the album cover a lot - it's meant to be a splash of blood that looks like the shape of a Fringemunk. I think as long as I have outtakes I'd like to share, or a non-Fringe-related song, I'll just add it to the Bloody Rare collection.

Interestingly, the biggest Fringemunk "hit" so far is "The iPad Song," which was originally recorded specifically for this album.

Q: Are there any other musical projects besides the Fringemunks on which you are working? If so, would you like to offer any information about it/them?

A: I don't have too many projects planned or lined-up at the moment, but I do know that I want to continue evolving. For instance, you probably won't hear me do another Orbiter
-type album any time soon. I may do an electronic album of sorts. Not sure I want to do any more parody projects, because I don't want to be known as "the dude who creates cool parodies." All I know is that whatever I get into next, I want it to be daring, different, memorable and original.

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