The Paranoid Style - Rolling Disclosure (July 15, 2016)
The Paranoid Style is a special committee convened in 2012 in order to address our country's many pressing problems. The name references Dick Hofstadter's infamous essay on American politics, originally inspired by the rise of Barry Goldwater but certainly no less cogent in the era of Donald Trump. Former D.C. lobbyists and sometime rock critics Elizabeth Nelson and Timothy Bracy (formerly of The Mendoza Line) are the primary members, joined by a cabal of like-minded musicians and conspiracy theorists. Several self-released cassettes and digital EP's set the stage for the band's debut full-length, Rolling Disclosure, described by Spin as "doomsday anthems primed for a sock hop: Elvis Costello & the Attractions dance party, not Rage Against The Machine bullhorn."
Last month, my band The Paranoid Style put out its first full-length long-playing record, Rolling Disclosure, on the Bar/None label. It's been a thrill ride from the gate and Glenn and Mark and Elainey have been absolutely wonderful to work with. They've never doubted my vision, my deep dependence on mood-altering substances notwithstanding. But this came as no surprise to me since Bar/None has always been my label, going on some 25 years now.
|Elizabeth with her copy of TMBG's "She Was A Hotel Detective"|
My relationship to Bar/None began when I was 14 years old. My parents had made the decision to send me to a performing arts summer camp with all of the other misunderstood geniuses on Long Island. A boy at camp, one of my few friends, we'll call him "Robert Camp"* often wore a They Might Be Giants t-shirt.** One day, I asked him what TMBG record I should get and he told me I should buy Lincoln.
I have a vague (or very specific, depending on the time of day) memory of buying two cassettes at once, Lincoln and They Might Be Giants*** with my dubiously acquired disposable income. I walked home and played Lincoln on my father's hi-fi, which I emphatically was not even allowed to look at, much less fuck with. Where were my parents that day, you ask? What does it matter, it was the 80s. It was a simpler time, when we trusted our doctors and being a latchkey kid was endured with the quiet stoicism that would soon bring us grunge.
In any event, from the opening of Lincoln's first track, "Ana Ng," I was not only hooked, but after just three minutes I realized I had just heard my favorite song of all time****. And the hits just kept coming from there. "Cowtown." "Lie Still Little Bottle." "Purple Toupee." And this was just the first half of side A! I tore into the self-titled record immediately after I finished listening to Lincoln and soon heard the magnificent sentiment, "No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful. Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful." Worlds opened that day, sitting in my chair at the dining room table. Never before had I heard such radical and subversive things said, set to such a catchy melody.
|A poster from 1994. Note special guest "Brian Dwan"|
One of the life-transforming things about They Might Be Giants is that they enticed me to start to pull on all of the threads they dropped in their songs. "The Day" sparked my interest in Phil Ochs and Marvin Gaye. "I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die" brought me to the Who. A line in "Twisting"***** introduced me to the dB's and the Young Fresh Fellows.****** I wanted to hear the releases from the Ordinares and Brian Dewan, occasional collaborators who got credits on their liner notes. I saw NRBQ open for TMBG at a concert in Central Park and was blown away. I called Dial-A-Song almost daily*******. I wrote the Johns a fan letter (and got back some fantastic swag in return). And I sent a letter to the P.O. Box for Bar/None records because I wanted to get my hands on every possible TMBG whatever I could.
Everything was pretty much mail order back then, which was fine with me, I didn't like talking to anyone (I still don't) and I liked getting packages (I still do). I definitely ordered some stuff from Bar/None of the They Might Be Giants variety, but I also decided to branch out and buy their Time For A Change sampler, as well as some of their other releases from little known acts like Yo La Tengo (who I believe still remain obscure, but whatever). For the first time I realized that a label could be a vital cultural outpost, and the likelihood was that I was probably going to dig most things coming out of the Bar/None label. So even after TMBG left for the majors, I still wanted to hang with Bar/None.
|This is an autographed photo Elizabeth received from John L and John F from TMBG after she sent a fan letter to them. There were guitar picks and stickers in the package as well.|
When I started writing pop songs, They Might Be Giants had tremendous influence over my craft. Growing up, I was a little bit of a piano prodigy, but rock and roll (at least as it was presented to me through the popular culture at that time, and mostly by my metal head older brother) seemed to largely be the province of dudes playing guitars and wearing leather pants. The only real piano playing rock and roller I knew about was Billy Joel, and I'll leave it at that. So when I saw that John Linell's primary instrument was an accordion, and I heard the band using keyboards on their songs, I realized that there was plenty of space in the cultural conversation for keyboard-based instruments in rock. I also wanted to be in a band like TMBG, that wasn't afraid to say things that were maybe a little upsetting, but that didn't sacrifice the tempo and the hooks, and most importantly the jokes, in order to do so. I also learned the importance of keeping things elegant – I still haven't figured out how Flansburgh and Linell manage to accomplish so much over the course of a two-minute track, but I always work towards that goal. I listen to TMBG at least once a week just to remind myself what great songs sound like. They Might Be Giants are my heroes and I probably owe them some kind of royalty payment for everything I've stolen from them.********
So when we had a finished record this year and we were deciding what label we wanted to work with, I kind of always knew we should put it out on Bar/None. Being as next-level a music nerd as I am, I think a lot about the glorious runs of labels like Verve, Sire and Stax. Being on Bar/None on their 30th anniversary meant being a part of a tradition that includes Freedy Johnston, the Epic Soundtracks, the dB's, Yo La Tengo, and my favorite band of all time.
*No, not because I abide the Larry David school of nomenclature, that's literally the dude's name.
**The one with the cartoon Johns that said "BROOKYLYN'S AMBASSADORS OF LOVE" on the back.
***Both released on the Bar/None label.
****I have argued elsewhere that "Ana Ng" is objectively TMBG's best song, which it is. My friend Chuck Cleaver from the band Wussy and I have an ongoing argument about this – he maintains that their best song is "They'll Need A Crane," which is also on Lincoln. This is obviously a very stupid thing to argue about, because "They'll Need A Crane" is most assuredly a masterpiece, but it's not objectively the best song. If you see Chuck, please tell him he is incorrect.
*****From Flood, which was not released on the Bar/None label, but still a wonderful record.
******This is not to brag, but I have actually had the fortunate luck to work with Will Rigby from the dB's on our previous EP (not released on the Bar/None label) and with Scott McCaughey from the Young Fresh Fellows on our latest record (Rolling Disclosure, out now on the Bar/None label).
*******Free if you call from work!
********Please contact Glenn Morrow at Bar/None records for any and all delinquent remuneration.