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Orenda Fink Coming To Cafe Stritch; New Album Explores Death, Healing Power Of Dreams

In Music
One half of dream-pop duo Azure Ray, Orenda Fink went through dream therapy to help her overcome the death of her dog. Then she wrote an album inspired by the experience.

One half of dream-pop duo Azure Ray, Orenda Fink went through dream therapy to help her overcome the death of her dog. Then she wrote an album inspired by the experience.

There are two important facts to understand about Blue Dream, the latest solo album from Orenda Fink, half of Alabama dream-pop duo Azure Ray. First, the songs were inspired by the devastating experience of her dog passing away. Secondly, although it might seem contradictory, it’s probably the most joyful, hopeful album she’s ever written.

“I had this existential crisis,” Fink says. “It hit me harder than I had expected. I was lost in a state of despair of not knowing what death is, what it means for me, for my dog, my husband, my family—everybody. It made me realize that I had no framework for death. I’ve heard all this stuff from different religions, but I’ve never believed one set of things.”

Fink suffered from serious grief when her dog died. So much, in fact, that she saw a therapist to help her through the ordeal. During that period, the singer and songwriter experienced vivid, emotional dreams, and explored her feelings of loss through the psychoanalytic process of dream therapy. It wasn’t until a year and a half later, after she had worked through much of the pain, that she was able to start writing music about the experience. When she finally returned to music, the songs she wrote ultimately became Blue Dream.

Fink is no stranger to spiritualism, and she’s spent plenty of time contemplating death. She says that her mother is a “Southern witch,” and she has explored spiritual themes in previous work, such as her debut solo effort, Invisible Ones, which was inspired by traditional Haitian music and mysticism. But Blue Dream isn’t simply a cerebral exploration of the mystical; it is a grueling and trying emotional journey of self-discovery.

“The whole thing was so intense,” Fink says. “I feel like I found myself during the process. I realized that I’ve kind of been on autopilot for the last 10 years—or maybe I was running away from something psychically and this process really forced me to face my demons.”

Blue Dream is perhaps the most straightforward record Fink has ever released. In the mid-2000s, as part of Azure Ray, she released a handful of records that melded gothic Southern folk music and dreamy indie-rock. As a solo artist, she’s explored more textures, instruments and forms of expression. On Invisible Ones, she’s backed by a Haitian choir on several songs, but on Blue Dream, she plays simple, mid-tempo folk-rock songs—dreamy and lush in texture, but stripped to their bare essence and sung with a hushed and optimistic confidence. It’s only with repeat listens that the depth of spirituality and the complexity of theme become apparent.

It wasn’t a coincidence that she kept the word “dream” in the album’s title. Not only were dreams a key to helping her overcome her grief, they also became a tool of spiritual communication, which she feels helped her develop her own kind of belief system about death. Her recently departed dog dominated those dreams. And while he never spoke, Fink believes he was a guide, helping to heal her and lead her toward healing.

“Dreams are so powerful for tapping into,” Fink says—“not only in my personal experiences, but in the experiences of the entire world from the beginning of time—and I feel like there’s a deep well of wisdom there. That to me is almost like immortality. It’s a version of God. It’s just the tip of the iceberg—just having the tip of the iceberg was enough to blow my mind.”

Death remains an enigma to Fink (there’s even a song on the record called “You Are a Mystery”). But she says she feels comfortable in her beliefs now and in accepting that mystery—including the idea that there is a collective unconsciousness that exists that we are all a part of, and that connects us all.

The record reflects the joy Fink has found in reaching an understanding and peaceful acceptance of her dog’s passing, and having a more optimistic outlook on death. By contrast, there is actually one song on the record written before she’d worked through her grief. It’s called “Poor Little Bear.” It’s the song that is the most directly about her dog—and it’s a sad, tear-jerker. It has a totally different feeling than the rest of the album.

“I was happy—I was almost euphoric,” Fink says. “I felt like I had a line into a different understanding. When he died, it really shook me that I didn’t have anything. I walked into the situation with a complete blank slate. There is hope in the music because once I started writing, I still felt the pain, but I had a more hopeful outlook.”

Orenda Fink plays at Café Stritch on Friday, Sept. 26, at 8pm. Free. More info.

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