Recording and performing under the moniker The Sun Kite, Lynchburg musician Michael Frommack has released his first full-length record, entitled No Fire.
Full of soft vocal harmonies and tender strumming, No Fire is one of the most peaceful and satisfying records you’ll find. Though the record is lyrically focused on the aching tension between the way things are and the way things should be, it is remarkably calming. Michael’s careful choice of musical elements gives the listener a taste of the very peace his lyrics invoke.
We got the opportunity to ask Michael a few questions about No Fire and his other musical endeavors. Read our conversation below.
Ethan Weitz: What first inspired you to write music?
Michael Frommack: At first I really hated having to practice music. I actually dropped piano lessons as soon as I could when I was younger, and it wasn’t until I saw some piano covers of Coldplay songs on YouTube that I started getting interested in becoming better at playing the piano. My family had this really dinky keyboard, and I would plug headphones in and play it for hours since my piano playing was so atrocious that it bothered my family.
Eventually I started getting better at the piano and decided to start taking lessons again from a woman named Carolyn Parks who taught piano nearby. To me, she is basically the Mary Poppins and Ms. Frizzle of music. I attribute a large amount of my creative musical impetus to her—she spurred it on and helped develop it, and I will be forever grateful for that.
I also started learning and experimenting with other instruments, playing my dad’s guitar, ukulele, mandolin, and other various instruments. Along with that experimentation, I started playing around with some original ideas of my own, and was blessed to have incredibly musically talented friends to bounce ideas off of and grow with.
As for the lyrical and writing aspect: my mom has always been gifted poetically, both in daily conversation which is always a hilarious occurrence, but also as an art form. Her influence definitely helped to develop that same love in me.
Ethan: What sorts of things inspire you now—people, places, events, ideas?
Michael: There are many things that inspire me. I love so much that it’s hard to condense the list of inspirations into a small list. However, to sum up just a few: E. E. Cummings’ poetry, Hayao Miyazaki’s films, N.D. Wilson and C.S. Lewis’s writing are all major inspirations. I’ve also been reading a book on phenomenological philosophy by Gaston Bachelard called The Poetics of Space that is intricate and absolutely wonderful. Numerous locations in Maine are also responsible for much inspiration. Moss, old things, wise people, and numerous others’ art are all a part of that inspiration as well.
Ethan: You just released an album, No Fire, which you call a “plea for peace.” Can you expound on that idea a bit, and walk us through how this record came about?
Michael: I wrote the songs on No Fire sporadically—some are several years old while others were written far more recently. I tend to write songs very slowly over the course of a long period of time, and so it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint what prompted each song. Regardless, on a broad level the common thread running throughout all of No Fire is a focused concept exploring the idea of peace—its Source, its presence and especially its absence. No Fire mourns the various losses of peace in our world today, celebrates its presence where it can be seen, and entreats those who listen to seek it. Many of the songs on the album draw their inspiration heavily from various authors and poets, especially E. E. Cummings and Basil Bunting. The song “No Fire” is in itself a kind of summary of all that the album represents—an intensely felt desire for the cessation of all that is wrong, evil, and awful in the world.
Ethan: Which songs from No Fire are you most excited about, and why?
Michael: While a bit morbid, “Eos” means a lot to me since I wrote it with the emotional image of what my sister’s eventual funeral would be like. On a specific level, it’s an expression of all that that hypothetical and imaginary emotional headspace entails, but on a general level it also functions as a way of voicing the feelings and loss when one loses anyone that is close to them. In a roundabout way, it also serves as a heartfelt expression to my family of how much they mean to me.
I’m also excited about “Houses Wind,” because it’s one of the first songs I’ve written that heavily utilizes a very unique and odd guitar tuning in order to be played, and it was wonderfully fun to make!
No Fire mourns the various losses of peace in our world today, celebrates its presence where it can be seen, and entreats those who listen to seek it.
Ethan: How was your experience with writing and recording this album, compared to your first three EPs?
Michael: This album was much more cohesive and fun to make, since I had more time and preparation when creating it, and I also got to utilize many more instruments and techniques that were not available to me when creating my first three EPs. Electric guitar, accordion, and drums have a much more full presence on the album—and while that definitely added a new dynamic of work to the creation process, it was also wonderfully fun to do. There is a certain freedom to writing, playing, and creating every aspect of an album alone, but it is definitely an exhausting creative process. I’m incredibly thankful for Maarten Hofmeijer’s help, who I recorded with during the process. He brought so much experience to the table and it was incredibly useful to have another set of ears listening to, tweaking, and giving feedback on all of the songs.
Ethan: One of your earlier songs that I keep going back to is “Heritage.” What is the story behind that song?
Michael: “Heritage” was written while I was in Israel, a geographical hotspot for copious amounts of both tension and beauty visible in the human nature. I remember contemplating the biblical history of Israel as a people group as well as a nation, and just being overwhelmed by the sheer weight of interaction and history that Israel holds. Israel became a kind of invisible metaphor throughout “Heritage,” ultimately prompting a broader look at human nature and the ways in which mankind interacts with each other.
As for the actual literal writing process, I remember sitting on a balcony in my hotel above the Mediterranean in Israel, and used GarageBand on my dinky iPad to play the initial piano part and record some of the initial lyrics that eventually became “Heritage.”
Ethan: What is the hardest part of songwriting, for you?
Michael: I think I have this odd mental block that prevents me from fully devoting myself to writing and creating more songs until everything that I’ve ever worked on up until that point is perfected, honed, and released. This silly block slows down the creative process for me by quite a bit, as you can probably imagine. I think the perfectionist in me wants to hold off on the beginning of more creative products until the existing ones have been improved to their fullest extent. However, this often means that when those creative products are finally “finished” (to me, nothing is ever finished—it only reaches a point at which I can no longer reasonably postpone finally setting it free) I have an immense rush and burst of creativity and inspiration for new material. The release of No Fire was no different.
Songs also often take on a life of their own, and the emotional state and meaning they capture I often feel deeply but find difficult to fully articulate and express. So sometimes songs take an eternity to write as I revise and revise in an attempt to do justice to that specific concept. Hopefully as I grow as a musician I can condense this creative process into fewer steps, and more reliably create and release on a less chaotic schedule. We’ll see.
To me, nothing is ever finished—it only reaches a point at which I can no longer reasonably postpone finally setting it free.
Ethan: What’s the most rewarding part of songwriting?
Michael: For me personally, the most rewarding part of creating music is hearing how God has used it to impact others. It can be humbling sometimes, but there have been moments where others have been profoundly moved by a lyric in a song, interpreting a deeper and more personal meaning from it that I never thought of—not something I intentionally wrote into the song, nor something I can take any credit for creating. I attribute that effect to God using a creative product that is ultimately His to affect others in His own way, and I’m just overjoyed to get to be a cog in that grander process. I believe that people are the most valuable and interesting things in this world, and it is one of the most intensely rewarding experiences to see something I’ve been allowed to make bless and please other human beings in that way.
Ethan: What does the future look like for The Sun Kite?
Michael: I honestly can’t say what the future holds. More music will definitely be coming once again, hopefully with a shorter interval than the one that exists between Morning, Noon, & Night and No Fire. No Fire has received an overwhelmingly positive response—magnitudes more than I could have ever expected or asked for—and I’m thrilled to see where it goes!
Featured photo courtesy of Michael Frommack.