When singer-songwriter Orenda Fink sings, it’s easy to get lost in the emotion she is so vibrantly feeling. In a way, it transports you to that same place she must have been when constructing the song. As an Omaha-transplant, Alabama native, former half of Azure Ray, and current wife of The Faint’s Todd Fink, her immersion in the craft is undeniable. She lives and breathes music one note at a time. Her latest solo effort, Blue Dream, is more evidence of her evolution as an artist. For this one, she reached deep inside to pull out some of her most personal lyrics to date. The album revolves around the death of her beloved dog of 16 years, Wilson, and her exploration of her subconscious as she searches for answers to her questions about death itself. Prior to writing Blue Dream, Fink endured what she called her “lost year,” a trying time when she was suffering from an intense depression stemming from Wilson’s death. During this period, she sought out a psychotherapist who suggested keeping a dream journal. In this journal, she explored her dreams every day for a year. It was essential to walk through the grief she felt after Wilson’s death, something that was very challenging for her.
“It was hard on me even before he died,” Fink explains. “I had him for 16 years and I loved him a lot. As he started getting older, I started having this anxiety. I realize this now that I always had this low running anxiety that he was going to die. I didn’t want him to die. I remember saying stuff like, ‘I don’t want him to die’ or ‘I’m not going to let him die. If he dies, I will die.’ It would really worry Todd [laughs].
“There was even a point when we lived in Los Angeles when we took him to the vet and he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure,” she continues. “He lived four years after he was diagnosed. I was crying and crying and crying. They said dogs can live for years with it. I asked the vet if there was a support group where you could go for pet loss. And she goes, ‘Yes, but it’s usually after the dog dies [laughs].’ I told Todd and he was dying laughing so that became a running joke. In hindsight, I didn’t want to lose him, but there was something bigger about the fear and death in general; a fear of not being able to control death.”
When Wilson finally did pass away, she had an awakening she wasn’t quite prepared for. She was left with a lot of questions that she didn’t have any answers to and this sent her spiraling into her “lost year.” As Fink continued this exploration into her subconscious and sorting through fears she had been holding on to for so long with her therapist, she was eventually able to start writing again.
“In the beginning, Wilson was alive and always happy and then he’d be in some kind of mortal danger,” she recalls. “At the end of the dream, I’d be kissing him and hugging him then I’d wake up and be sad again. Then it turned into dreams about me having to put him to sleep, which is what I had to do in real life. In those dreams, I kept repeating having to make the decision over and over again in weird manifestations. I think that’s when the grief healing started taking place.”
Once the Wilson dreams faded, however, dreams addressing the nature of life and death started to happen; a type of mortal consciousness. These were incredibly intense for Fink and one day, she asked her therapist how to make them stop.
“At the height of them, I was probably having six or seven extremely emotional, vivid dreams a night,” she says. “They were profound dreams. Suddenly, they got too intense and I had to ask them to stop. I had been thinking about death for a solid year. When I asked for them to stop, I went to bed that night and in my dream, I was in a pair of adult footie pajamas with pigtails riding a motor scooter that had a popcorn machine on it [laughs]. I woke up laughing so I thought, ‘something is getting my messages.’ Like you want a light dream? Here’s a light dream [laughs].”
That was the day she knew her therapy for Wilson was over. The work she needed to do to get past the pain she was experiencing was done. She was writing songs again. In fact, she would stay inside her home and just write, and write and write. The result is Blue Dream, a nearly 40-minute manifesto of that arduous year set to ethereal sounding pop. With her husband’s encouragement and Saddle Creek Records’ support, Blue Dream came to life in a way Fink is extremely happy with. From lead single “Ace of Cups” to the very heartfelt ode to Wilson, “Poor Little Bear,” Fink lays it all out there in such a brutally sincere way it’s impossible not to hang on to every word she utters. While it’s a clear departure from her last folk-inspired solo effort, 2009’s Ask the Night, it’s the next chapter in Fink’s musical evolution and something she clearly had to do for closure on a difficult period in her life. The album came together at ARC Studios in Omaha with the help of producers Ben Brodin and Todd Fink (of course), and drummer Bill Rieflin (Ministry, Swans, R.E.M., King Crimson). Her relationship with her husband is clearly a source of inspiration and when asked if they collaborate, there was no hesitation in her voice.
“That’s all we do [laughs],” she says. “I think our brains both are going and always thinking of some kind of scheme or project or something to do. It’s really great. I trust his taste a lot so he’s great to bounce things off of. I run everything by him first now just to hear what he thinks.”
Although Fink is from Alabama, she says Omaha is as much her home as Birmingham, Athens or even Los Angeles, where she still has many friends. The team at Saddle Creek Records has always been a close-knit family and she is grateful to be a part of it. For Fink, a chapter has been closed and she can now continue down a path of acceptance as she shares her pain, love, joy, and everything in between with the rest of us in the most beautifully honest way.
Orenda Fink, November 1, at Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St., 9 p.m. Tickets are $8/ADV and $10/DOS. Visit www.theslowdown.com for more information.