As Rhino Records prepares to reissue Fan Modine’s debut album, Slow Road to Tiny Empire, we checked in with a number of musicians, label heads and others about meeting songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gordon Zacharias, how Fan Modine’s sound has shifted across decades and what the album means in 2020. Written and recorded between 1995 and ’97 and originally released on Phovsho (vinyl) in 1997 and Slow River/Rykodisc (CD) in 1998, Slow Road is a critically acclaimed cult fave that is available now on digital services, with a deluxe vinyl version coming in the future. The album, which is a travelogue tracing his transition from Boston to New York, shows glimmers of greatness: a distinct voice in a crowded indie-rock landscape that included shoegaze, jangly pop, orchestral rock and space rock. Now a quarter century on, we listen to the folks who knew Fan Modine well, played on the records and helped Zacharias perfect his orchestral bedroom pop sound.
Compiled by Gail O’Hara
Musicians who played on Slow Road to Tiny Empire: Gordon Zacharias, who also produced; Joan Wasser; Clarke Martty; Dylan Fitzgerald; Kevin March ; Sean O’Brien
Tell us about the ideas that went into making the album.
Gordon Zacharias, Fan Modine: It is a travelog of my move from Boston to New York City. I developed an allegory around that and things going on in my love life, which later became a screenplay and second album. I wrote the songs primarily in Boston but completed it in New York. I jumped into the Sleepyhead van back to NYC one night at the Middle East after a show in ’95 and planted some roots in Carroll Gardens. I returned for my things a little later in ’96.
What were you like back then?
Gordon: In high school I played in a band and was very influenced by the New Romantic thing and the Boston goth scene of the late ’80s. And then I had my heart devastated by an older girl who worked at a major label that I had my first real love affair with. She promised to take our band to the big time. And then had an affair with the guitar player. This coincided with me transferring from public school to an extremely progressive institution without a set curriculum. I began to read Hesse, and the Vedas and became interested in Eastern religion and ascetic living, and ultimately renounced making music as a career. ¶ I met a spiritual teacher and traveled with them for several years, hitchhiking and practicing yoga around North America. I became disillusioned with my progress and returned to Boston, got a job at Tower Records and auditioned for bands. I lived with art students, joined a techno band and encouraged them to let me sing. I befriended a security guard at the Museum School and he let me in to the building, where I attended studio classes and was taken under the wing of a few students and teachers. This propelled my interest and learning in digital audio and synthesis. ¶ Later I moved into an illegal loft downtown, where I lived with Joan Wasser and later Josh Hager. I began playing out in a band called Astroboy, which was inspired by Big Star and Spacemen 3 (in fact, people used to call us Spacemen 4). Then I decided to go solo and built a studio in my room with a Tascam 388 reel to reel and an E-Mu Darwin hard disk recorder. I took some Astroboy sessions I had recorded and erased everything but the drums and then overdubbed new parts over the slowed-down tracks. This became the basis of the first Fan Modine recordings. I didn’t start playing out as Fan Modine until I moved to New York.
What bands were you listening to back then? You often got compared to Folk Implosion or the Magnetic Fields, but I also think of Elephant 6 and the Lilys when I hear Slow Road.
Gordon: Having been introduced to Mary Timony by my roommate Joan, Mary and I became fast friends and I became a huge fan of Helium. The Dirt of Luck was released while we were first getting to know each other. I was also exposed to her boyfriend Ash’s band Polvo for the first time, but Helium was more my speed. I really didn’t gravitate toward indie rock except for maybe the Pastels. But all of a sudden my friends all seemed to be in these touring indie-rock bands so I got into it—especially the live shows. I had been listening to more psychedelic bands of the era, like Mercury Rev, Spacemen 3/Spiritualized, and deeply falling in love with Bowie and T. Rex, and some later Britpop bands like Primal Scream, Blur, and then dreamier stuff—MBV, Heavenly, Lush, Catherine Wheel. But given that I worked at Tower, nothing really escaped me. I remember hearing all of the latest grunge bands releases and being ok with them too. Lou Barlow used to come into Tower quite a lot, and he would scour the indie bins and I was pretty intrigued by him. I liked a few of his songs. But it’s true, a friend of mine at the time produced that Folk Implosion record for the Kids movie and it really resonated. And I always like Lou’s voice. He must have listened to as much of Martin Gore as I did. ¶ I became aware of Lilys in the same loft that I recorded the record in because the album cover was designed by a roommate. I heard him playing the cassette of mixes and freaked—asked if I could borrow it. Listening to that album almost maybe me stop recording, as I could never imagine making anything as good, or understand how he did it. I played that cassette for Jeff Buckley around that same time. He was visiting my roommate whom he was dating and shared my astonishment. He was also very encouraging about my own work. ¶ I somehow didn’t become familiar with Magnetic Fields until I moved to NYC, where the people I knew from Ladybug Transistor and later the Essex Green were infatuated with them. Soon after I was also in love with them and eventually met Claudia and Stephin and shared some performances, including Stephin’s debut of 69 Love Songs at a Chickfactor thing at Under Acme. I was barred from speaking to Stephin for a year because I had made a pass at him at Dick’s Bar one night. Claudia would call me their biggest fan. ¶ I’m associated with Elephant 6 in that I co-wrote and played on the first Essex Green EP. Members of that band also played in the live Fan Modine band.
Tell us about the recording process of Slow Road.
Gordon: I built a studio in my room with a Tascam 388 reel-to-reel and an E-Mu Darwin hard disk recorder. I took some Astroboy sessions I had recently recorded and erased everything but the drums and then overdubbed new parts over the slowed-down tracks. This became the basis of the first Fan Modine recordings. I would improvise over the drum tracks and build themes with keyboards and synths. Once I heard the makings of a song, I would transfer mixes over to the hard disk recorder and edit the tracks into a song structure. Finally, I would add vocals, percussion and string overdubs. ¶ This was all fueled by ephedrine and weed, and some very late nights. The loft I was living in was very active, with a lot of touring musicians coming through—just so much influence. My roommates were also getting 6-figure record deals, and people like Ric Ocasek and Jeff Buckley were stopping by.
When did you first meet Gordon? In what capacity do you know him?
Mary Timony (Ex Hex, Helium): I met Gordon in 1995 in Boston, and we kind of immediately hit it off. I felt like we came from the same kinda music/art planet. He lived in a giant artist loft in a former factory in downtown Boston. We hung out a lot that summer. I remember sneaking into an empty loft in the same building he lived in, crawling around on gigantic platforms, talking about Brian Eno, joking around, and just getting lost in a good way, the way I usually feel when I’ve found a fellow music time traveler.
Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields): The Magnetic Fields probably played shows with Fan Modine multiple times, but I don’t recall the famous Dick’s Bar incident.
George Howard (founder of Slow River Records, former president of Rykodisc, cofounder of TuneCore, Professor of Business Management, Berklee and Brown): Gordon was friends with my closest friend and bandmate, Keith Grady, while we were in college. He was also friends with my friend and ex-bandmate, Joan Wasser (Joan as Policewoman). I distinctly remember Gordon being impossibly cool…he frequently rocked a white belt.
Kendall Jane Meade (Mascott, Juicy): I met Gordon in the late ’90s, through mutual friends, when I was living in Brooklyn. We hit it off right away, maybe because we both have midwestern roots. We also both had albums on Slow River Records, which was run by my college buddy, George Howard. (George had released two albums for my very first band, Juicy.)
Josh Hager (DEVO, formerly Elevator Drops, the Rentals after that; producer and engineer): I first met Gordon at a studio called New Alliance in Boston. That was around 1993/94. He was introduced by a friend. I was living at the studio and then became roommates with Gordon in Boston’s South End.
Joan Wasser (Joan As Police Woman, Dambuilders, Fan Modine): Did I meet Gordon through Josh Hager? Probably. This was 25+ years ago. Gordon, Josh and I ended up living together in a massive loft in the South End of Boston before it was a place anyone wanted to be. We all had bedrooms you could roller-skate in, and that’s not even including the common area! The closest life to us there were a homeless shelter and an Asian supermarket, and even that was a distance. This meant we got to be as wild and as loud as we wanted at any time of the day and night. Otherwise, totally free.
Jeremy Chatelain (ex Jets To Brazil / Handsome / Helmet / Cub Country / Insight): I met Gordon in 2003 when I moved to Chapel Hill, NC, from Brooklyn, NY. My girlfriend (now wife) and I were invited to Melissa and Gordon’s house for a party. We didn’t know more than two people in our new hometown, so we wanted to go meet the locals. The following week we were invited back for a BBQ with a few friends and I was asked to play bass in Fan Modine. It took me by surprise as I didn’t really know any of his bandmates, and I was looking to form a band of my own. Gordon struck me as a spacey, kind of far-out, artist. I loved his vibe. Plus, he’s funny as hell. I ended up playing bass in Fan Modine for a few years while I lived in Chapel Hill.
Ash Bowie (Polvo, Helium): I met Gordon around 1995 after I’d moved to Boston. He was part of a slightly younger art-school/rocker crowd that I didn’t really hang with, but I occasionally ran into him at parties. All I really remember is that he once implied that I didn’t like poetry because I wasn’t a big fan of his buddy’s band. He eventually relocated to Chapel Hill, and then I moved back around 2002, and we became good friends after that.
Chuck Johnson (solo artist; also plays in Saariselka): I met him when I lived in North Carolina, around 2003; soon after he moved there. We’re friends and for a brief time we were bandmates.
Missy Thangs (producer/engineer at Fidelitorium, Birds of Avalon, ex-Fan Modine): I met Gordon through Alex Maiolo. We played a handful of shows all over: SXSW, chickfactor zine’s 20th-anniversary shows, among others. This was in support of Gratitude for the Shipper. I was also a part of the Julu Road film shoot in Chinatown in NYC. Bubble tea, steamed buns and kombucha baby. It was a special time in my life. Gordon has always been very kind to me and I’ve always appreciated his apparent ability to stay true to himself. I admire him tremendously.
Clarke Martty: Gordon and I had the same day gig, working at a video duplication firm on Newbury Street in Boston. I filled in on drums for the last utterance of Astroboy, for a few shows. At the time, we were hanging a lot at this group flat that overlooked the Boston common, a lot of mutual friends were living there and we convinced Mel Lederman to play bass with us and formed the Fan Modine. We rehearsed in Mel’s basement rehearsal space in the same building, and fastly gained a repertoire of about eight songs. My favorite of that bunch was a group effort called “Horus”—I don’t know if it ever got developed into something later on. When Gordon moved into his flat in the SoWa district of Boston, we rehearsed and recorded in that space for a while. The most memorable time was one weekend recording session where we recorded my drums in the (4th floor) stairway, putting mics on the different floor landings between the 3rd and 5th floors. Listening back later, it was a massive drum sound, but a bit undefined once overdubs happened. We did a few shows live; the most memorable was at the Gardner Art Museum, when we played the big room there for an outstanding crowd, opening for Syrup USA. Big fun! Then I left for a hired-drum tour, and was away from Boston for about two months. By the time I returned, Gordon was basically working alone.
Murray Nash (cofounder Phovsho Records; executive producer; CFO): I was working in Soho in 1995 and every Friday night I would drop into Rocks in Your Head, a small but iconic record store. I had a habit of asking the folks behind the counter what music they would recommend and buy it in good faith. If I liked it, I would go back to the same person and take further recommendations. That’s how I met Gordon: He was someone who would pull out all these albums and I would just buy them all, no questions asked. After about 4 weeks of this, he challenged me as to who I was and whether I was a talent scout for a record label. Truth was I had just moved to NYC, was a bit of a record collector with an interest in music that seemed to overlap with Gordon’s, and not much else, other than work, was in my life. The next week I turned up with a six-pack: we sat behind the counter and drank beer, played music and chatted, while he manned the cash register. ¶ One week Gordon turned up with a tape of “his music” and upon listening to that I realized I was in the company of somebody with an exceptional voice, a sensitivity and complexity of insight I hadn’t fully appreciated, and a unique way of expressing it. All this led to the establishment of Phovsho Records, the release of Slow Road to Tiny Empire and a life-shaping friendship. We both insisted this would be a vinyl-only project—which was pretty much commercial suicide in the mid-’90s.
When/how did you become aware of Fan Modine?
George Howard: I’d guess it came through either Keith or Joan [Wasser]. But who knows. In hindsight, it was a pretty cool little scene in the early ’90s in Boston. My label, Slow River, was signing artists who I thought were making interesting music around town (Willard Grant Conspiracy, Tom Leach, Juicy, Future Bible Heroes with Stephin Merritt) and around the country (Sparklehorse, Josh Rouse, Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, who had moved from Boston/NH to SF, etc.) It was still sort of a small community; and in addition to putting records out, I was playing in my band around town/the country too. Pretty inevitable that we’d run into each other.
Matt McMichaels (Surrender Human; The Mayflies USA, Chris Stamey’s Big Star Third project): I first really met Gordon in the summer of 2010, when my pals Lee Waters and Michael Holland suggested I might be a good fit to play guitar with the band he was putting together in advance of the release of Gratitude for the Shipper. But Gordon and I quickly realized that we had in fact met before, back when he was living in New York and my Chapel Hill–based band the Mayflies USA was playing up there every six weeks or so. My brother-in-law at the time was Rob Sacher, owner of Luna Lounge, so the Mayflies would stay at my sister and Rob’s apartment on First and A and play at Mercury Lounge, Luna, Brownie’s and a bunch of Brooklyn dives. It was the best of times. We also probably drank together at Henry’s in Chapel Hill back in the indie rock heyday, but we couldn’t credibly recall.
Jeremy Chatelain: I knew nothing about the band before being asked to join. But we shared some musical tastes and I loved his songs, like, a lot. I feel extremely lucky to have played on Gratitude for the Shipper and I think it’s one of the best pieces of music I’ve ever been involved with.
Ash Bowie: Fan Modine played with Helium in Philadelphia, and I was playing in Helium. I can’t remember who the headliner was (maybe Sonic Youth), but we played in a large theater, and they were great. I don’t think I had seen them play previously, but they played a jaw-dropping version of “Cardamon [sic] Chai” that reminded me of My Bloody Valentine.
Did you work together on music?
Joan Wasser: Gordon and I made a lot of music together. As far as I know, I was “in” Fan Modine. I did several shows with Gordon and various musicians in Boston and NYC. We made music in the loft all the time. I remember recording magnificent drums in the echoey stairwell of that building.
Josh Hager: Yes, Gordon and I have worked on some collaborations that are unreleased. Though if I remember correctly, I do say a word or two on his first record. I also worked with him on the beginning stages of Homeland in my studio and played on a few tracks. I also played on a track that we did at the record plant in L.A. Can’t remember the name.
Jeremy Chatelain: Yes. I played shows with Fan Modine over the course of a few years. We went on a short tour with Andrew Bird. And, I played bass on Gratitude for the Shipper. We recorded the bass and drum tracks live in his living room in an old house right off the main drag in Carrboro. He fed Lee Waters (the drummer) and I sushi and beers while we recorded, he was a warm and gracious host. It was a great musical vibe. He was fun to work with. A quirky, melodic pianist and fantastic lyricist. He’s the only musician that I know who can pull off singing about sandwiches and make it sound emotive.
Kendall Meade: I was touring a lot during the time I met him, playing keyboards for Helium. In between tours I would record songs I was writing for my solo project, Mascott, wherever I could. Gordon invited me to record one of my songs at his place on 3rd Street in Brooklyn. We did it in one afternoon, a raw and natural recording. There’s a lot of street noise on the track—I thought that was so cool and unique. The song is called “Baby, Go Away”.
Ash Bowie: Yes, we actually worked out some Fan Modine arrangements as a piano/guitar duo and recorded them using his friend’s Nalga tape deck. I don’t know what happened to those recordings. Later, Gordon put together a new version of FM with me on bass, later switching to guitar as other friends joined. We had a few shows and played on the Gratitude for the Shipper LP.
Chuck Johnson: He asked me to play guitar in the touring band version of Fan Modine. We toured with Andrew Bird in support of Homeland. I also played guitar on Gratitude for the Shipper.
Murray Nash: Not on Slow Road. It was pretty much completed by the time I got involved. There was mixing and mastering and that was all. I would describe my contribution to the final product as perhaps influencing the production at the margins. I was more the financial enabler of the project. I have a deep interest in music and spend a good part of my life (still) unearthing and listening to music. But I learned through this enterprise—and those that followed with Gordon and others—that what I listen for, and what I hear is very different to what a musician does. Maybe my comments and feedback were useful in some sense, but mostly my role was as the enabler—with few if any strings attached—to let Gordon do what he wanted to do. At one level I just wrote some checks. Actually I became more than that, and Gordon seemed to trust my advice and comments and would involve me in pretty much every decision.
Matt McMichaels: I played in a revolving-door era of Fan Modine from about June 2010 to April-ish 2011. I jumped at the chance to play with Lee and Michael, since they are both amazing players and good friends, and I had heard that this Gordon guy wrote great songs. The genius keyboard player Charles Cleaver was also involved, though he was replaced by the awesome Paul Finn (Kingsbury Manx) when Charles moved to Brooklyn. At some point Lee also had to bow out, but he was replaced on drums by Michael’s twin brother Mark. That was fun, since those two have a weird, psychedelic fraternal chemistry that I had admired since their days in the criminally underrated Jennyanykind. Eventually Alex Maiolo came on board to add a third guitar (and a vast array of swirly guitar effects) to the mix, since my abiding love for the Replacements means I have an aversion to pedals. I remember Seamus Kenney conducting a handful of string and horn players while we crowded together on some small stage, but that may be apocryphal. I was mostly tasked with singing harmony vocals and trying/failing to replicate the strange and beautiful guitar parts that Polvo’s Ash Bowie had played on the Gratitude record.
Is there a particular Fan Modine song/album/era that resonated with you?
Kendall Meade: I will always love “Cardamon Chai” and “Homeland” and “Pageantry.” Some of my favorite songs of all time.
Josh Hager: Slow Road is the album that resonates the most. It brings me back to a carefree particularly magic time in my early twenties when Gordon and I lived in a giant loft in Boston.
Stephin Merritt: My apartment was too small to have a turntable, so I have never heard Slow Road till today. I like it, it’s like hearing an extrapolation of what Ariel Pink would have been doing several years earlier. And the slowed-down drums sound like the record I’m making now.
Joan Wasser: Listening to this music again is really bringing me back. This was a very special time for us all. If I’m not mistaken, the first verse of “Tinseltown” mentions the Dambuilder’s song “Shrine.” It was clear that Gordon was making something very special. Slow Road was made mostly in Gordon’s bedroom. As I’m listening, I realize I played (violin) on the first two songs… and probably more… yes, more: “Marigold,” “Cardamon Chai.” “Cardamon Chai” is effortlessly romantic. “Rhubarb Pie” has got so much swag. “Trash in Romance,” oh man. I love every track. These are the sounds of us growing up and learning to make music.
Ash Bowie: I’m most familiar with Gratitude for the Shipper because I played and recorded those songs, and it’s arguably Gordon’s strongest batch of songs. My personal favorite album is definitely Slow Road because it’s the most intimate and homemade-sounding, which complements Gordon’s creative vibe better than a conventional production approach. I do like Homeland a lot, as well.
Jeremy Chatelain: I really like Homeland and Gratitude. Those were the songs I performed and recorded. I particularly like “Wormwood Scrubs.” It’s very British in its concept and the music is jaunty and fun.
Chuck Johnson: Big fan of Slow Road to Tiny Empire and Homeland! Those songs are truly classics and have a timeless quality.
Matt McMichaels: “Pageantry” and “Waiting in the Wings” from Homeland are great. They are a distillation of the un-self-conscious orchestral bedroom pop that Gordon does better than anyone on his best days.
Rhino is about to reissue Slow Road to Tiny Empire; how do you see it and Fan Modine’s legacy at this point in time, 23 years later.
Mary Timony: When he made [Slow Road], I listened to it constantly, and was super-inspired by it. Listening 23 years later, it sounds just as inspiring to me: It’s timeless.
Jeremy Chatelain: Oh geez! I feel like I went into the Fan Modine universe quickly and exited quickly as well. Gordon deserves any accolades he receives. He’s a great songwriter. I can’t believe those records are that old.
Stephin Merritt: Every record should sit around for 23 years before you hear it.
Kendall Meade: What Gordon achieved with that record is mind-boggling for someone in his twenties. Such vision and talent.
George Howard: It is impossible to deny—listening to his music now a million years later—how enduring and brilliant it is.
Missy Thangs: I love Slow Road to Tiny Empire. It was through playing with the band that I found Slow Road, it’s a brilliant record. Its aesthetic deeply resonates with me, the textures, moodiness, arrangements. Gordon is a creative genius.
Josh Hager: Gordon’s genius as a singer and songwriter has been tragically overlooked. I’ve always admired him and his abilities. He was a very big influence on me. Hopefully he will take his place in history as one of the greats!
Kurt Heasley (Lilys): I loved the copy of Slow Road Gordon gave me. Listened to it a lot in Connecticut while recording The 3 Way actually.
Joan Wasser: I hear it as fresh as it was then. Gordon was way ahead of his time, in my opinion.
Chuck Johnson: It still sounds fresh today, the way that any carefully crafted pop. I consider it part of the canon of lush, orchestrated pop.
Murray Nash: I find that at some point with an artist you move from songs and albums to seeing the body of work as a more a biography of that artist’s life—good times, tough times, smart choices, silly choices, present in my life and not. And as someone who really got to know Gordon and will always see him as being among their closest friends and most important people they met through life, then I can’t help but see his body of work in those terms. No favorites, just parts of a larger whole. That said, the pieces I was most directly involved in were the early albums from Slow Road through to a couple of subsequent releases. So I have an intimate awareness of that period. After that, I moved back to New Zealand and Gordon had already relocated to NC. The later albums feel more like letters from a friend, than direct observations or co-creations in any sense. I have a special place in my heart for the “Pageantry” single: the lines that were to become “Pageantry walks through the door” were originally, “Patti Smith walks through the door”—she used to frequent Rocks in Your Head, too. She walked in one day when Gordon was behind the counter composing that song. There was also a recording made of a radio show (WFMU?) Fan Modine performed in the mid/late 90s which was just Gordon and one other. Acoustic instruments and live. I always had a soft spot for “unplugged” Fan Modine and that recording just spoke to me. I don’t think it was ever released. I can’t find my copy.
Gordon Zacharias: I think Slow Road is my best work. I made a lot of very deliberate albums after that, and they are mostly missing the spark that this one has.
What made you want to put out Slow Road?
George Howard: I could not stop listening to the demo tape. Just over and over and over again. “Cardamon [sic] Chai was on it and rough versions of a couple of the other songs that eventually made it to to Slow Road. I thought then—and think now—that they are beautiful, perfect, fractured songs. In hindsight, I’m clearly not the best judge of what a pop song is. In my world, Gordon and Josh Rouse and Stephin Merritt and Charlie Chesterman are all superstars with Top 40 hits.
Do you remember any details about the process?
George Howard: It was sort of nuts, but aren’t the creation of most sui generis records? I remember getting to the office—by this time, Rykodisc had entered into a deal with my label (Slow River) so I was trying desperately to take advantage of this bigger machine that I now had access to for the benefit of my artists. There would be like 15-minute voicemails from Gordon where he’d talk, in various accents, about how “haaaaaard” he was working, and would play snippets of songs, and sort of ramble. In my infinite (lack of) wisdom, I would then play these messages to my Rykodisc overlords thinking they would be as charmed as I. I’m not sure that was the right move. ¶ There were also many “conversations”—I mostly listened and shook my head into the phone silently—where Gordon would give me the back story of the Tiny Empire and Pho and all sorts of things that I figured I just wasn’t smart enough to understand. It was like Pynchon calling or something.
Murray Nash: To release Slow Road we needed a name for the record label. We went out to a Vietnamese restaurant to discuss. The label name was inspired by the Pho menu item. The observant Phovsho historian will note that Slow Road was released as Phovsho 003. This was actually the first release on the label, not the third. We reserved places 001 and 002 for two earlier albums Gordon told me he had recorded. (We never did release those albums. Releasing those at some point would be interesting.) We had 500 vinyl copies pressed. We still have boxes of the original vinyl. In vinyl form, Slow Road never did hit sales even close to 500 units. Slow sales of Slow Road taught me a lesson in the importance of distribution. It wasn’t enough to have a great record that everyone who heard it loved it. It gets pretty frustrating to win awards like “Best albums of the year, you will never hear” (I think Slow Road won that award in Magnet). It’s particularly unfair to the artist. It was one reason I was really happy to hear the album was being picked up “by a real label” and that it would be released on CD—the dominant format of the time.
What other bands/musicians spring to mind when you listen to Fan Modine? Where do you see them fitting in?
Joan Wasser: This kind of question is always hard for me because almost anyone who makes music pulls from an enormous variety of influences. I remember us listening to that first Cardinal record of Eric Matthews and Richard Davies. I hear some similarities there, but Gordon was going for a much looser, textured and dirtier sound, which I personally adore. There’s some Elliott Smith and some traditional Indian music. In other words, like anything truly great, it doesn’t really fit anywhere.
Josh Hager: The Elevator Drops. Since that was the band I was in at the time and Gordon did a short stint as our keyboardist. Indie rock was king in the ’90s. But I always thought Gordon’s music had a depth and timeless quality to it that other bands didn’t at the time.
Stephin Merritt: I think Radio Dept would enjoy it.
Kendall Meade: Ladybug Transistor, the Dambuilders, Helium. This era of orchestral, melodic and indie art rock coming out of the East Coast.
George Howard: Neutral Milk, Teenage Fanclub, T. Rex, Slade, The National (at their best)
Jeremy Chatelain: Nothing in particular comes to mind. I know that Gordon and I were both serious Anglophiles at the time. Fan Modine fits between singer/songwriter music and great pop music. Gordon draws influence from fantastic places. He’s very hip. But Fan Modine has a pretty unique sound in the pop/rock universe. I remember that he would give me a little grief sometimes for being so “rock.” He said to me once that, while I was busy listening to Led Zeppelin, he was probably listening to Japan.
Murray Nash: Scott Walker. David Sylvian. The Magnetic Fields. Bobby Callender. Prince.
Matt McMichaels: The Smiths, the Magnetic Fields, and Belle and Sebastian come to mind. Gordon can credibly use the word “’twas” in a song, and that is punk as fuck.
Tell us any other stories about Gordon and Fan Modine.
Kendall Meade: Once Gordon joined me for a Mascott tour of the Midwest. It was just the two of us, and I don’t think he was happy with how sparse we sounded as a duo. He proposed that we ask whoever we were opening for to basically jam with us during our set. It was a totally Gordon move that I was happy to go along with because I trusted him and looked up to him musically. Each night was a different experience depending on who played with us. It was wild and weird and exciting. I remember laughing a lot on that tour, getting a flat tire and having to get the cops to help us change it, staying with my mom in Detroit, meeting Doug Gillard for the first time in Cleveland. I miss Gordon a lot, he’s so fun to hang out with.
Josh Hager: At the time in 1994 I was literally living on a shelf in a tape closet in a recording studio. Right after he and I met, he offered me a room in his south end loft. He literally saved me from that roach and rat-infested place! We immediately set out to cause some Dadaist mischief. We wound up performing and starting a club out of a drag bar called Jacques. It was a brilliant time. We were both very broke but it didn’t matter. It was all about the music. I have so many stories it’s hard to recount in such a short space. He moved to NY and we kept in touch. I would come and visit or stay with him for periods. He was always better at connecting with new people and making friends than I was. Within a short time, he had a network of people who would support his music, etc. We worked together less during this period though I think I did sit in with him for a show or two.
Chuck Johnson: He has a remarkable skill at long, late night drives. He also has some sick dance moves.
Stephin Merritt: If only I remembered this Dick’s Bar fracas, I’d be happy to tell it from my perspective. Maybe under hypnosis?
Missy Thangs: I even loved the fat suit.
Murray Nash: One Saturday night in NYC, Gordon and I went to the birthday dinner for a sound engineer we were working with. That night would change our lives forever. The dinner was at an Ethiopian restaurant in Queens. I met my future wife Birgit at that dinner; Gordon and I headed downtown and later that same night Gordon met his future wife.
Matt McMichaels: Gordon has supreme self-confidence and a vision of what he wants out of his music, combined with an endearing vulnerability that makes you want to help him tilt at his windmills. Lee Waters called him “Gorgeous Gordon.” He once insisted on donning a ridiculous fat suit when we played in a Comic Book shop parking lot on a 100-degree day in Chapel Hill. He got all of us, a bunch of grizzled indie rockers with day jobs and kids and obligations, to agree to drive to a warehouse in Burlington, North Carolina, on a weeknight for a video shoot complete with green screens and a crew and catering and no apparent budget—because that was his vision. I only played with him briefly, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, like probably everyone who has been pulled into the Fan Modine orbit. Gordon is a unique creature who writes songs from a strange and beautiful alternate universe, and I am glad I know him.
Ash Bowie: I never knew Gordon as a goth. I’m pretty sure he was wearing a fur coat and large plastic sunglasses when I’d see him around. More of a ’70s Elton John glam look.
Joan Wasser: Gordon was one of my best friends in Boston and when we moved to NYC. At that time, I had not begun writing songs yet. I was making tons of music, but not singing or writing my own material. Watching Gordon create such unique, gorgeous creations was like being around magic. He was magical.
Gordon Zacharias: I have made several albums over the years, and have managed a Brazilian rock band (Boogarins) since 2013, building a label and publishing company in 2017 . I am married to a wonderful woman and we are raising our two children in North Carolina.