Alison Sudol Wants to Talk to You About Anxiety
The singer and actress left music six years ago, appeared in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” then shut herself off from the outside world. What happened?
Earlier this year, the singer and actress Alison Sudol — formerly known by her moniker A Fine Frenzy — posted a letter she wrote on her personal web site. In the letter, she explained why, on the music front, she’d been silent for the past six years — why she’d stepped away from that line of work and artistic expression. Sudol let out thoughts and emotions she’d kept within herself for a long time. She told her fans and anyone else who happened upon the letter, straight up — in 2018, she was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety.
“I’m learning to communicate honestly and knock it off with the hiding,” Sudol’s note read. “If I had not asked for help… well, I don’t know where I would be right now, but I’m glad I’m not there.”
Months later, Sudol is sitting in Mr. C Seaport's hotel bar in downtown Manhattan, wearing a silver dress and talking in honest detail about her journey: taking a hiatus from music in 2012, moving to London to film “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” in which she plays the character Queenie, completely removing herself from the public eye, then reemerging with a newfound voice. In person, she’s got an airy, light tone of speech and is soft spoken — until she starts laughing. Then she unveils a booming crescendo of sound, opening her mouth wide and closing her eyes while she cracks up. In a way, it is a manifestation of the fresh outlook she’s cultivating about her own life. Savor the good moments, don’t let the pain and shame consume you; open up, let people in, but remain protected by those you trust, those who are closest to you. She uses this word a lot throughout the course of the interview — protection. It seems important to her.
“I had such a hard time as a musician with this stuff,” she says of her depression and anxiety, which she couldn't identify until her diagnosis. “I had so much fear about going back to singing because the last time that I toured, I was dealing with all of this. I hid it from everyone. I cried privately. I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t want to go back into music and pretend I took a hiatus because I wanted to start acting. I took a hiatus because I couldn’t bear it.”
During that period, she says she made “tons” of music, but didn’t release any of it. She describes herself at the time as “a singer that wouldn’t sing.” But now, she’s ready to let it all loose, with the release of an EP in early November, then a new album. She’s already put out a single, called “Moon,” with an accompanying music video that she directed. Plus Sudol is reprising her role as Queenie in the new movie "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2," out Nov. 16.
“These EPs represented what I wanted to say and what I wanted to create. But I have made so much that I kept squashing down. It was the epitome of being choked, choking my expression.
“Now that I’ve starting singing again, it’s like, whoa,” she adds, taking a deep breath. With her writing partner, producer and engineer Ali Chant, she took the album she’d finished and stowed away two years prior and completely dismantled it.
There are many pieces to the trigger puzzle, which brings on Sudol’s anxiety, but one major part was her experience with the #MeToo movement. Sudol says she was sexually and emotionally abused by two different men who worked with her early in her career as a musician. This year, she watched woman after woman come forward with their horrific stories of abuse by Hollywood figures like Harvey Weinstein, and everything she’d worked to put in the past boiled right up to the surface.
“I had this story organized in my mind of how I could live with it,” she explains. “I had to restructure this entire portion of my life that I’d built upon.”
So Sudol made a decision to do something that, six years ago, she might not have — she went on Instagram live and told her story.
It ended up being one of the first times she’d reached out directly to her fans in years. “When I did that, I was still in the throes of depression and anxiety,” she says. “And then I just completely shut back up again. I couldn’t handle that amount of exposure.”
Then, the letter came. Sudol says she wrote it and posted it on her official site in hopes of reaching someone going through what she struggled with back then.
“I figured with the kind of music I make, maybe it would help them relate to me and give them a better understanding of the music,” she says. “What if you’re a kid and you don’t have any support and you feel the way I do? If maybe even one person read that and realized they weren’t alone…I mean, if I had read what I wrote when I was younger, maybe I would have spoken up or asked for help more easily.
“And now, I’m in such a healthier place, and I’m learning how to protect myself better and have boundaries. [I’m learning to] not let the shame hangover that comes after you are vulnerable keep you from being vulnerable in the future.”
At this point, a member of the hotel wait staff who’s working behind the bar and listening to snippets of Sudol’s commentary quietly says, “Excuse me.
“I think that we all, after 25 [years old], got that.”
Sudol looks up, and she leans forward.
“Do you have anxiety?”
“You have no idea,” the waiter replies. “Do you see I wear a tie every day? Some days I feel that it’s choking me, to the point that I can’t even breathe, so I have to go outside and take some deep breaths.”
“It’s a really tough world,” Sudol says. “You have to move your body. Take a walk around the block. Or shake.”
She gets off of her bar stool, and, in black platform high heels, jumps up and down to demonstrate. She shakes her hands, wiggles her arms, and nods her head back and forth, her blonde bob moving around wildly.
“If I’m in a social situation where I’m triggered, I go into the bathroom and move and shake and breathe,” she says. “Knowing that you have it, as opposed to just thinking you’re a broken person or you don’t ‘work,’ I think that’s really life-changing.
“I go to the bathroom a lot,” she adds, laughing hard.