Leafing through a dusty pile of papers recently, Alison Sudol came across the first short story she ever wrote, called “The Canterbury Inn.” She’d almost forgotten the yarn about an English writer staying at a little hotel, where weird things start happening around him — yet he can’t see anything. When he finally goes to bed, he’s visited by ghosts who are telling him tales.
“Pretty advanced, isn’t it?” she winks, “I mean, for an 8-year-old!”
Sudol, who brings her band A Fine Frenzy to San Francisco Thursday, always thought of herself as “just a little nerd.” She was, in fact, a precocious bookworm, a Southern California child who became immersed in C.S. Lewis, E.B. White and Charles Dickens.
She says, “I was a very quiet kid who didn’t feel normal being outgoing and running around, so all the beauty that was in my life, I found in books. Books that made me think and transported me into a different world.”
She dove into her grade school’s creative writing program, and had moved on to George Orwell and Ayn Rand by the time she graduated her gifted-students high school, at 16.
Now 22, Sudol sketches vignettes like “The Minnow and the Trout,” a carefully-plotted allegory of “an unlikely relationship where two very different people help each other out.”
But “Minnow” is a song on her debut CD, “One Cell in the Sea,” coming out in July on Virgin Records. The album marries her literary bent with her other longtime loves, Philip-Glass-intricate piano playing and smoky crooning — bugs she first caught in a high school play.
“And from the moment I sang, that was it, there was no turning back,” says the ex-recluse, who has blossomed into a fashion plate currently getting some splashy magazine photo spreads. “I mean, I knew that one day I’d do something writing-oriented as soon as I started writing. But when I started singing, I was determined to make those two work together, so I just worked at it until I started making stuff that sounded like music.”
A songwriter friend taught Sudol basic keyboard chords. Her dramatic-arts-coach mom encouraged her daughter’s experimentation, but didn’t push her into acting.
Borrowing a moniker from her favorite Shakespearean sonnet (“If you’re gonna steal from somebody, why not Shakespeare?” was her logic), A Fine Frenzy began as a one-girl band, but grew to include other musicians for touring/recording purposes.
Poetically, she likens songwriting to “this glorious world that finally opens its gates — it’s the most beautiful thing, I think, to start out with a blank piece of paper and end up with a song.”
A Fine Frenzy
Where: RX Gallery, 231 Eddy St. (at Mason Street), San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Contact: (415) 756-8825 or www.rxgallery.com