A Conversation with Hugh Laurie
Mike Ragogna: We have Hugh Laurie on the line right now, don't we?
Hugh Laurie: You certainly do. Greetings listeners.
MR: How are you, sir?
HL: I am very well, thank you. How are you?
MR: I'm doing well. Hugh, you have a new album, Let Them Talk, which is New Orleans blues based. How did you come up with the idea?
HL: Well, that's always been my first love. I was really responding to an incredible opportunity. A man from a record company came to me and said, "Do you want to do a record and what would you like to do?" My first reaction was, of course, to say, "No, you're out of your mind. That way lies disaster," but as I was about to say that I realized that there would quickly come a time in my life when I would not be able to do such a thing, this opportunity wouldn't come my way twice necessarily. I didn't want to be the guy who looks back and says, "I could have done that." I wanted to be able to say, "I did do it, and however it turned out, at least I did do it." In life, I think we don't regret the things we do, only the things we don't do. So, that was my feeling, and I said, "Yes." I jumped at it.
MR: Beautifully said. Now, the artists that you cover on this album are amazing--Leadbelly, Jelly Roll Morton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, so many more. How did you choose the songs?
HL: That, in a way, was the most enjoyable part. In collaboration with Joe Henry, my guide counselor--well, he's my producer is what he is--he's my Obi Wan. We spent months and months trading lists of hundreds of songs that we both loved, and that was really the best part of it. We were able to say, "You've never heard this...? You've got to hear this..." It was such a wonderful thing to share in someone else's musical taste, and then share a combination of tastes. Gradually, we whittled those hundreds down to dozens, and from there we went in with about twenty and recorded almost all of them. A couple of them didn't make it, but we're keeping them in our hip pocket for next time.
MR: Very nice. And you're aiming at a next time, aren't you.
HL: Well, if someone will give me the nod, absolutely, I'll jump at it. Of course, that's for the great record buying public to decide, or the record downloading public, however it works out. Yeah, I would absolutely love to do it again. It was the biggest thrill of my life, and this has always meant a lot to me, this music. It was an amazing experience.
MR: Hugh, I want to talk about some of the guests on Let Them Talk. You've got Dr. John on "After You've Gone," for instance. Is he a pal, so you just picked up the phone and got him on the project?
HL: Um, he is not a pal...I wish he were a pal. We have a sort of connection. I've seen Dr. John many times, but I went to see him in London once, and I actually got to go backstage thanks to my very good friend, Jools Holland, who was playing with him at the time. It turned out that we actually had something in common. We'd both worked for the Walt Disney Corporation, we both worked on 101 Dalmatians. I was in the movie, and he did the "Cruella de Vil" song, and an absolutely brilliant version it was too. So, that was at least enough to get a conversation going. He's a piano player I've worshiped since I was a kid. The first time I heard him I felt that this man just makes me melt with the way he touches a piano. But he doesn't play on this, which was a tough thing to do. I'm not even sure if he's ever done that on a record before--simply to act as a vocalist without playing. So, he stood behind me...I'd have loved to have had him in front of me, so I could see what he was thinking. The whole thing was so quick, like thirty or forty minutes maybe, and it was an amazing experience for me.
MR: You have a couple more guests including one of the most soulful singers ever, Irma Thomas. I'm so happy you got her.
HL: That was just an incredible thing. The Soul Queen of New Orleans, and just an amazing, wonderful, beautiful, regal presence. She was a complete delight. She'd known the producer, Joe Henry. She'd worked on a couple of things with him, so that, I suppose, was our first introduction, through Joe Henry. I just absolutely loved her. She was so generous, so patient with me, and just a complete delight to be with.
MR: She sings on "John Henry" with you, but she also sings on "Baby, Please Make A Change," which also features Sir Tom Jones.
HL: Sir Tom Jones, exactly. We didn't actually refer to him as Sir Tom--perhaps we should have done. He was very easy going, and the man is a complete gentleman. He came and sort of blasted the paint off the walls. The power of the man is absolutely undimmed. In fact, if anything, he's probably in better voice than he's ever been at any time in his life, and boy, that's saying something. Again, he was such a generous, gentle presence, and such a lovely man to spend time with.
MR: Yeah, I got to interview him for his Gospel album. He's an amazing man, and there's a really good mind in there too.
HL: Yeah, absolutely. I just feel so blessed.
MR: Before we leave the topic of you sharing talents with people, you also have Allen Toussaint, who did the horn arrangements. What a cool regional package this is.
HL: Extraordinary. Absolutely extraordinary. I couldn't believe it. One of the reasons that I wound up in collaboration with Joe Henry was that I actually met him while he was making a record with Allen and Elvis Costello called, The River In Reverse, which I love. It's one of my favorite albums of the last decade, and I was lucky enough to be in the control room while they were recording, and then I met Allen. He and Joe go back quite a long way. They have a really good relationship, and Joe sent him a couple of tracks and said, "Are you interested?" I said, "This is crazy. Not in a million years is he going to say yes to this." But to my amazement, he did. He has a unique flavor and his arrangements are like nobody else's. He finds such unusual colors and shapes of things. I worship the guy, I worship him.
MR: Yeah, he comes from pure feel, doesn't he?
MR: I mentioned earlier some of the artists that you're covering on this album like Leadbelly and Jelly Roll Morton, but there are also Robert Johnson, Louis Armstrong...are any of these artists particularly dearer to you than others?
HL: Well, I think they all are dear to my heart, but for very different reasons. They all come from different times in my life, different experiences, and different phases of my life. It would be so hard for me to pick one above all others because that's why they're there, because I love them all. I could listen to Jelly Roll Morton at any time of the day or night. There was an extraordinary feel for the song and the piano, and I just love everything he does.
MR: Fats Waller is another artist you cover, and I'm afraid that Fats Waller is among a group of musicians that is fading from the public's consciousness, unless you're well studied in his genre of jazz. This might be because the brain can only hold so much information, and, obviously, there's so much American Idol to be watching.
HL: (laughs) That's so true. We have many pressures on our time.
MR: I guess my question is, did you feel while you were making this album that you were doing a bit of preservation?
HL: Well, I don't sort of feel a responsibility to be a museum curator or archivist. The most important thing to me is that these songs are alive, and as alive as if they were written an hour ago. I don't have a particular sense of them belonging only in cabinets somewhere. To me, they're completely fresh, completely new, and completely alive. I don't really think of them as historical pieces. Now, that may be because we're all in the thrall of the internet now, where we have all of human history laid out sort of horizontally rather than vertically. We can pick from '31 or '81 without even moving down a shelf. We have no sense of time, and in some ways, that's peculiar, and it's hard to imagine, in some ways, how culture is ever going to advance now because of that. There is a corresponding sense of freedom, though, that one is able to move through time and experience ideas, songs, sounds, and personalities from a hundred years that were just not available to us only a decade ago, really. This is all so new and so peculiar.
MR: True. How did you got into music.
HL: I was driven to music at the point of a sharp stick by my mother. A lot of parents have this idea that their children should learn an instrument, and I absolutely hated it when I was young. I hated classical music, and I hated piano lessons. I still can't read music--I don't say that with any pride, I just can't. So, I left it alone for a long time, and then I suppose I must have heard someone like Otis Spann playing with Muddy Waters. I just thought, "Oh my God, I'd give anything to do that." I just loved hearing it, but even more I wanted to be able to make that sound, and dive into that sound.
MR: And as far as singing?
HL: Singing is pretty new to me. I just closed my eyes and imagined that I was in my own bath. That's something that was very new to me, and takes a lot of nerve. I mean, American Idol--I've got a lot of admiration for those guys, I really do.
MR: That brings us to do you have any advice for new artists?
HL: The only advice that I can give for this absurd entertainment business is completely useless, and that is to be lucky. I can't think of any other way of doing it. Be lucky and be patient because you think that your life is being decided hour by hour, but in actual fact, things look very different a year later, they look very different a month later, and sometimes, they even look very different a week later. If you're just patient and you hang in and plug away, things happen. I was lucky enough to have it happen to me, but I think patience is one of the most important qualities you can have in this business.
MR: Beautiful. While we're talking about New Orleans, I don't mean to put you on the spot, but what was your reaction to the disaster when it happened?
HL: Well, my reaction, I suspect, was no different than anyone else who looked with horror at these pictures and read with horror these stories of terrible suffering, and particularly the suffering that appeared to be avoidable. That was probably the most painful part, to see avoidable suffering. I don't think I had a reaction that was any different from anybody else's. I can't claim to have known the city better than anyone else, but I certainly did love it. I have always loved that city, long before I went there even. To me, it was Jerusalem. It was, in my mind, as sort of this golden city, and that quality it still has. I suppose the nation, if not the world, as much as we could, felt their suffering and prayed for their survival. But if anyone is going to survive, I think they will, and they certainly have. It is a city of amazing spirit, vitality, courage, and it has all those good things that a city needs to thrive. It's just brimming with those qualities.
MR: Yeah. You know, there's a song by Randy Newman, "Louisiana 1927," that already was so touching, but after the disaster, it became even more heart wrenching. The whole deal was just terrible. Remember when they were moving everyone into the stadium for safety how Barbara Bush remarked something like, "Oh, they're living in better conditions than they lived in before."
HL: Yes, yes that was unfortunate. That was unfortunate to put it mildly.
MR: Anyway, I would imagine you'll be touring at some point, or at least playing some gigs. Do you think you're going to kick it off in New Orleans?
HL: Well, we actually did play a gig with Irma, Tom, and Alan, but I would absolutely love to go back. I've just done a small number of dates in Europe because the record came out in Europe a few months ago and we played about a dozen dates over there. I just had the time of my life. Not only did I love it, I think we got better. By the end of it, I felt, "God, this is a pretty damn good show. I think I would enjoy watching this." I hope the band felt the same way. We had a wonderful group of musicians and we had an absolute blast. It was a wonderful time, and a time that I would do anything to recreate over here.
MR: Nice. And of course, with Let Them Talk II you'll be doing Chicago blues, right?
HL: That's possible. I mean, Muddy Waters was one of the biggest figures in my life. Absolutely, electric Chicago blues would be fine with me.
MR: That would be great. I guess my final question would be, how does House feel about New Orleans blues?
HL: I think he would be a fan. He's a man of eclectic tastes, and I think there's something about the spirit of that city. It kept striking me that it's a city that has looked death in the face on several occasions, and has found a way of getting by with humor, irony, and good feeling. I sometimes feel that in Los Angeles, everyone is absolutely terrified of death, but New Orleans just seems to have a more robust attitude, and I think House would enjoy that.
MR: Beautiful. This has been fabulous, and I really do appreciate your time. Congratulations on your album, Let Them Talk, it really was a terrific surprise.
HL: Well, thank you. I really appreciate that.
MR: Any time, and do come back for Let Them Talk II.
HL: Alright, I'd love to.
1. Saint James Infirmary
2. You Don t Know My Mind
3. Six Cold Feet
4. Buddy Bolden's Blues
5. Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho
6. After You ve Gone
7. Swanee River
8. The Whale Has Swallowed Me
9. John Henry
10. Police Dog Blues
12. Winin Boy Blues
13. They re Red Hot
14. Baby, Please Make A Change
15. Let Them Talk
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
A Conversation with Dar Williams
Mike Ragogna: Dar, you're touring with Joan Osborne. How did that come together?
Dar Williams: To be honest, there's an ongoing list of people that are brought up at the round table when we're discussing artists to tour with. Usually, it's someone of the opposite sex, like when I toured with Joshua Radin in 2009--I came up through a lot of coffee houses and live performances, and he came up through a lot of popularity through songs that he had in TV shows like Scrubs and Grey's Anatomy. He was coming from LA and I was out of New York, he's male and I'm female, so it really was us bringing two different worlds together. Joan and I have a lot more in common, but I was actually kind of relieved by that. The audiences are in for a lot of adventure when you can make a show work and Joan and I just have so much common ground--she's from Brooklyn, and I'm from the Brooklyn of Northern New York, about an hour away from New York City. (laughs) We cover a lot of the same territory. We've already spoken a couple of times about how we're going to proceed and if we want to play together, which I think we do. I don't know about her, but for me it was an instant green light when they mentioned her name amongst others.
MR: How will the performances be set up on the tour?
DW: It's evenly split--I'm going to be closing some shows and she'll be closing some shows. We're gonna work the arch of the evening a little differently every night. The plan is to find points of intersection, either in our styles or in the actual performance.
MR: And you will, as you mentioned, be playing some songs together, is that right?
DW: That's the plan. We're both busy gals. (laughs) But I think we're going to get it together and play a few things together.
MR: Was there a plan when booking the tour's locations?
DW: No, but I was still very relieved when I saw the layout. The places that were chosen were great. There are a few places where she has a great following, but there are also places where I play all the time that I consider my stomping grounds. They put the two together very well. There are also some places that I've seen her posters during one of my shows and realized that I was coming through on the heels of one of her tours. So, we share a lot of common ground. Generally, I think this was probably one of the easier shows for our booking agents to put together because there was very little doubt regarding the places we'd be playing.
MR: This is one of your shorter tours, only lasting about two weeks. But generally, when you're on tour, do you find that there are a lot of surprises, like special performances or radio and television interviews?
DW: Stuff pops up for sure, and most of the time, everyone gives me a lot of cushioning about whatever it is. They make it sound really enticing in the hopes that I'll be excited about it. (laughs) And I say yes to all of those kinds of things when they show up. It's always this feeling of my people throwing stuff out there and seeing what comes up while we're on the road. It all kind of works like a boomerang, so you're bound to do some rerouting and changing of plans. There's a lot of electricity about being on the road and having surprises like that pop up.
MR: Right. Now, you've always been internet savvy as an artist, and in today's music industry, that's such an important element of becoming successful. Are there newer technologies that you have come to use and rely on recently? Are you doing any live simulcasts or podcasts of your shows?
DW: That's a really good question, Mike, and I think my team should sign you up for the job. (laughs) A friend of mine was talking to me about his career recently, and I was giving him tons of advice on the things that he should do. But I was talking to a manager recently and he has a pretty high profile artist who was giving him a hard time about the fact that he wasn't doing certain email blasts and podcasts. I thought it was really interesting that we can talk ourselves into a best case scenario virtual presence and I am both open to that, and don't fault the people who don't have time to get and keep the viral publicity going. At the end of the day, someone writes a song, people listen to it, they tell other people about it, and that's how a song becomes popular. The internet has been pushing stuff forward, but in the end, it's all the same river. It's about people listening to music, and hearing about it through the grapevine, and blasting music in a dorm hall or at summer camp. I recently did a show at a summer camp for a bunch of little girls that were so excited after the show that they were telling me they couldn't wait to tell their friends about my music. (laughs) So, at the end of the day, it's still about people calling each other on the phone and telling them about the great song they just heard, which is what music should be--to the beat of the heart. I don't know what's going to happen with all of that on this tour. I guess Joan and I will have one of those discussions soon to pressure our management into getting that together, because those kinds of things are always fun to get together, especially when you're playing with an artist that you've never played with before. At the same time, I'm just holding on to an old school hope that we can create some magic onstage together because some of the best moments I've had onstage in my career have been with other artists.
MR: Do you still play concerts in smaller venues?
DW: Yes, from time to time. Sometimes people ask me to do certain venues, and I tell them to come up with a great fundraiser to support a cause in your community that I can kind of dig in to and I'll play the show. I like to show up for good things getting better, you know? I'll also sometimes play a house concert for a radio station or something and it's as fun as can be. So, I still enjoy playing some of the smaller venues. In fact, sometimes I like playing those shows a little better than others as opposed to when I was first starting and I was a little more self-conscious about my music, because you always have the people who mean well asking why you aren't doing music that sounds more like "so-and-so." But now I can say that this is who I am and I have a little bit more of a known identity. It's more fun than ever for me to just be who I am in a really small space.
MR: Recently, the US Government opened up grants for a number of new low powered radio stations to get Governmental funding. I know that you are an advocate for many green initiatives, solar power--how we power up KRUU--and sustainable living, so are you aware of the strides being made in those areas?
DW: I have not been seeing too many things popping up recently. It's kind of like solar energy in that the availability is there before the application, you know? I came across a small radio station out of Poughkeepsie, New York, that I had never encountered before and I thought to myself, "I think that this is a beneficiary of whatever grants and green initiatives that are being implemented by the Government," because these steps that are being taken are a big win for more eco-friendly power and living. However, I don't see too many people taking advantage of it yet.
MR: True. I feel as though people aren't taking advantage of these opportunities because their thought is that they could always just use the internet for "radio," you know?
DW: I think you're right, and I think it's very exciting that we have so many of those kinds of transmissions going on. But it's like getting younger people to run for office; we have to help them realize that it's not that scary--the doors are wide open. (laughs) You can do this, you know? It's not that hard for you to get this permit and fill out this paperwork, and get mics and start interviewing people. Yes YOU, 21 year-old who complains about how there isn't anything to listen to on the radio! This is your opportunity!
MR: (laughs) Yeah, that's right, and you can hear such an eclectic variety of things on community stations. That's the beauty of a smaller low-powered station.
DW: Absolutely. I have a song called, "Are You Out There?" which was inspired by listening to WBAI, which is a radical left wing radio station out of New York City. They were talking about all of these different ways of looking at things--they were questioning the Government, etc. But that open format, and the diversity of shows and genres allows that 16-year-old insomniac who doesn't quite know what their place is yet to hear some really awesome jazz or Celtic music for the first time. It shows them that there's an incredible range of music and that one of them could be what they're doing for the entire rest of their lives. I've met several young musicians who are from, maybe like, New Jersey and they're Alt Country artists because of some Alt Country show that they heard on the radio, you know? So, the worlds that stations like these can open up are amazing. We may gain the next slide guitar virtuoso from someone making that door ajar through their small diverse radio station. I even remember hearing science fiction and poetry on various radio stations and that opened up the world for me. You want to open up as many doors for people as possible so they can understand that there are so many opportunities out there as opposed to feeling like there are only 40 songs in the world at the time.
MR: It's really a time when radio has to re-evaluate itself, you know? Everything can't be like Clear Channel.
DW: No, and the big stations do have their place. There was a time when I would go into a Starbucks and see a promotion that suggested new artists to customers--artists like me. Now, it's turned into a more monolithic pattern featuring already established artists like Sheryl Crow or Nora Jones. Beyond that, there are the radio stations that are doing the very same thing. The focus has turned to big stage shows with high energy, great production value, and choregreophy, making everything LARGE, LARGE LARGE. That really has it's own place in the "Pop-mosphere," and I don't have anything against that, it just makes it all the more important for the more intimate songs of artists to be heard elsewhere because the big stuff isn't really taking chances these days. You don't hear a big station taking risks in their material, they just play the big, splashy, blockiest thing, and they connect with other big venues and these cross pollinations happen at that very large level. All of that makes it even more important for those coffee house and tip jar gigs to be heard. Artists also need to rise culturally, and not merely in the vein of creating the biggest, splashiest entertainment.
MR: Nicely put, Dar. Hey, have you and Joan started practicing together for the tour yet?
DW: Well, we've both been working on finishing albums, so thus far, it's mostly been writing back and forth about when we can get together and loading our iPods with each other's music to try to figure out where our comfort zone is. She's got some songs that I've already told her I want to sing on. (laughs) Through this entire process I've been hoping she doesn't think I'm presumptuous for wanting to do that. (laughs) But until recently, we haven't really had time to sit down together with our guitars.
MR: Nice. Can you tell us some of the cities that you'll be visiting?
DW: We start in Eugene, and it ends in Bloomington, Indiana. We're going down the West Coast, coming up through the Southwest, and going through the Midwest. We'll also be playing at the Turner Ballroom in Milwaukee, which I am really looking forward to, and at Park West in Chicago. So, we have some really great venues lined up.
MR: Awesome. Dar, thank you so much for visiting with us and I hope you'll come back and join us again soon.
DW: Thank you so much, Mike. It was my pleasure.
Transcribed by Evan Martin
A CAL ECKER INTERMISSION
Cal Ecker, a rising Nashville-based singer-songwriter, threw a curveball for the last track of his upcoming self-titled EP dropping on September 20. His cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" gives the song a 21st century twist through its unconventional approach and is presented here as a HuffPost exclusive. Check it.
Also, here is Ecker's sexy video for his debut single:
A Conversation with The Axis of Awesome. All of Them. Yay.
Mike Ragogna: Hi guys. I'm scared. Okay, who've I got?
Jordan Raskopoulos: This is Jordan here, from the Axis Of Awesome.
Lee Naimo: This is Lee, also here, also from the Axis Of Awesome.
Benny Davis: And I'm Benny. I'm also in the Axis Of Awesome.
MR: Now, your song "4 Chords" is a phenomenon, having been viewed by almost thirty million people in various YouTube incarnations. This is your greatest hit, but come on, isn't it really something like forty or fifty other artist's greatest hits strung together?
LN: It is, and if we took every four-chord song we know of, it would
probably be about half an hour to forty-five minutes long.
BD: We've got about two hundred songs and growing. There are lots of bands that have maybe three or four. There are a lot of artists who fly under the radar when they have big hits, but they still have four chord songs.
JR: Also, when we're performing in different countries, we'll tailor the set list. So, there are a lot of Australian hits we wouldn't do when we're performing it in the States or in Europe, for example, and vice-versa. There are lots of songs.
LN: Speaking of tailoring the songs, "Taylor," the song, is in "4 Chords."
BD: By Jack Johnson.
MR: By the way, in the time we've been talking, you're probably up to thirty-one million YouTube views.
BD: Yeah, I should make it clear that the way YouTube works is that it could be just a hundred people who have just watched it millions of times.
MR: (laughs) Yes. I imagine you guys have seen the "amateur" versions of "Four Chords" that have proliferated?
BD: Oh, they keep getting sent to us all the time, and we love them.
LN: "Hey, me and my friends did your song for an audition at our college, and we got a part in the musical."
BD: "We did this for a competition and we won, and we didn't credit you."
JR: We are, at the moment, performing at the Edinburgh Festival, and there is this brother/sister duo busking on the corner of the street, and they're singing the "4 Chords" song. Their dad is standing nearby with a whip, making sure they perform it properly.
MR: So, will there ever be cover versions of those cover versions of your cover versions?
JR: I think so. I mean, if Hollywood keeps remaking movies, I'm sure
people will keep covering the same things.
BD: It's kind of like when you hold a mirror up to another mirror--that's kind of what you get with the "4 Chords" song--it just keeps replicating itself ad infinitum.
MR: Okay. It's that time. Exactly how did "4 Chords" come about, he asked sheepishly?
JR: Lee and I actually came up with the idea.
LN: That's Lee and Jordan. It had nothing to do with the other guy.
JR: Benny had nothing to do with it. We were actually sharing a small
bath, and as the water level rose we noticed that suddenly an apple was
falling on our heads...
BD: ...you're thinking of your theory of relativity. I wrote it. I wrote the whole song. This is Benny talking now--I wrote it. I just picked up on it from listening to pop music and eventually playing cover gigs at bars. People kept asking me to play songs that I'd get bored with because they sounded all the same. So, I decided that if I strung them all together to prove they're all the same, then people would believe me and I wouldn't have to play them anymore. Now, I play it every night, and I sing these songs over and over again, so it really backfired.
MR: Yeah, I was going to ask if it was as simple as you listening to the radio and feeling that every song was the same.
ALL: Pretty much.
BD: I listen to the radio these days to do research on who's written a
MR: Do you customize your medleys based on new hits?
JR: We kind of listen to whatever the newest hits are on the radio. Then, when we visit different countries, we'll alter the songs.
LN: The other day, we did a show with David Hasselhoff, and Benny inserted one of his songs into the "4 Chords" mix.
BD: Which, I should be clear about, it wasn't actually a four chord
song--it only had one chord in it.
LN: We cheated, but it was good cheating.
BD: No one recognized it, though, so it was kind of worthless.
LN: Probably not a great story to tell.
BD: Yeah, we should have ended this story a lot sooner than we have.
MR: So, because there are hits in Australia that we don't know here, and
vice-versa, you constantly have to be adjusting the song lineup.
JR: Even "Don't Stop Believing," which is what we start the song with,
didn't really hit Australia at all. It wasn't until Glee became popular.
BD: Actually, I think Family Guy.
JR: Family Guy as well.
LN: It's interesting that it's only really well known through other pop culture mediums.
JR: Yeah, Journey themselves were never that big in Australia. But yeah,
we do tailor the songs to the different countries we visit.
MR: Of course, that begs the question, did "Don't Stop Believing" really need to be re-recorded?
LN: Yes, by as many people as possible.
BD: We're going to do a cover of it soon, just for fun.
MR: Now, you've got another song on your Animal Vehicle album that deconstructs the musical stereotype, "How To Write A Love Song." It's totally original, not a cover. Then again, isn't it sort of a cover? What's going on here?
JR: Well, it's kind of a genre parody. So, rather than parodying a specific song, we wanted to parody a style of songs, which is '90s boy band music. When we made the music video with "Funny Or Die," we tried to parody as many Boyz II Men hits as possible.
BD: The one we missed out on was "A Walk On The Beach," but otherwise, I think we did pretty well.
MR: Explain the writing hackneyed ballads thing?
JR: I remember driving home and listening to love song dedications. All those songs have the key change at the same point, the same style of voice, and the same style of everything else. Much like the "4 Chords" song, we just wanted to make sure that everybody knew that things are similar to other things.
LN: So many songs use the line, "Make up or break up" or "Put your hands in the air like you just don't care."
MR: You're popular in your native Australia and in the U.K. where you're
spending the month at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, but you're also hugely popular in Sweden, where English is not the primary language. Do they get it over there?
JR: They speak better English than we do because they actually study it
in school. We've done two tours there so far, and it's just a really beautiful country with wonderful people.
BD: That's really the best thing about the internet--we were able to build an international following without having to leave home.
LN: Well, that's the second best thing about the internet. I think we all know what the best part of the internet is.
MR: (laughs) Uh-oh...
JR: The main language of pop music is English, and when we do music
deconstruction stuff, that's going to hit home in most countries.
LN: Before you go on stage for your first gig ever in Sweden you do think, "Are they going to get this? Do they know what we're talking about?"
JR: The hardest thing was, we have a song about KFC and they don't have KFC in Sweden.
BD: Which is Sweden's loss, if you ask me.
LN: I concur.
MR: Have you ever eaten at a KFC?
BD: Once, here in America, and we love America and Americans.
MR: So, you've toured the US--actually, you were in my town, Fairfield, Iowa, and you're headed back next month. How are the audiences here compared to Australia and Britain.
JR: We don't really have a culture of glee clubs, pep rallies or anything like that. We're quite surly audiences who sit there like, "We're not going to laugh for no reason,' whereas you guys laugh for no reason.
BD: It's not discerning at all, and it is such a pleasure to be in front of crowds that will give you adulation for the tiny things you do.
LN: Even playing places that are quite religious areas, and doing some of our less God-friendly songs, they still just get right into it.
JR: It seriously is wonderful. America has got a very diverse culture, and everywhere from New Jersey to Texas and Oklahoma we've just been met with wonderful crowds.
LN: Colorado too...and we played in Oregon.
BD: George Washington...the place, not the guy.
LN: We were in George Washington?
BD: Isn't that great? We played in George Washington.
MR: Where were your drunkest audiences?
BD: It depends on the time of day, really.
JR: We did a couple of music festivals, and I don't know if they were drunk, per se, but they were definitely out of their faculties.
LN: The other day, we went on at three in the morning in Edinburgh, and you get some pretty drunk people when you're performing at that time.
JR: And drunk Scottish people are really fun.
MR: Oh my. So, do people come up to you with song ideas?
BD: We do get emails from time to time, from people with parody ideas, or we get new suggestions for "4 Chords" songs that we might not have heard.
JR: Some of those people send us things saying, "I've written a song, and I've written a "4 Chords" song so that you can put it in your song and make me popular." We have to explain to them that that's not the way it works.
MR: Is it tempting, though, to do a "discover a new artist" song with a bunch of those strung together?
JR: One day, if we're feeling charitable.
MR: Since "4 Chords" became so huge, are you concerned that some of your other material may be overshadowed by it?
JR: When we're performing live, "4 Chords" has kind of been the thing that has been bringing people to the shows. We do an hour or an hour and a half of performance, and five minutes of that is the "4 Chords" song at the end. Everyone enjoys the rest of the show as well, so if it's opening doors for people to hear our music, then it can't be that bad.
LN: A couple of years ago, we kind of thought, "Is this going to be the thing that we're known for and nothing else?" But like Jordan said, if it brings people along, then it's a great thing.
BD: The same thing works online. People will discover us via the "4 Chords" song, but then it leads people to look at related links on YouTube, and they see all our other clips, and that's usually how we build our fan base.
LN: And then they buy all of our songs...
BD: ...available on iTunes. We've got T-shirts and other paraphernalia there.
LN: You can buy a date with Benny. He'll come to your house and clean your fridge for you.
MR: If you could pick one other song on the project to be as popular as "4 Chords," what would it be?
LN: We probably can't say the name of it on radio. We have a song called,
"Can You Hear The F**ing Music That's Coming Out Of My Car?"
JR: It's kind of deconstructing a certain type of music that people play loudly on their car stereos as they drive around town. That's probably the one that we want to catch on, and also the one that we want people to play loudly in their cars because we've recognized a problem and we want to make it worse.
MR: Were your onstage personalities fully formed when you started, or did your personas grow over time?
JR: They definitely grew over time. They were definitely very raw characters when we started off. We got some directors on board for our earlier shows, and they really defined the way the characters all worked. I think now we're at a point where we're comfortable with who each of us are, but early on, we were all just kind of making jokes and acting like silly idiots.
LN: If one of us thinks of a line, we kind of know who that should by said by. So, a lot of the lines that we say on stage might not have been written by us--normally mine, because I'm the dumb one, and I say, "Here's a dumb line, say that."
MR: Can you describe the individual characters?
JR: Yeah, Jordan's character is the best--he's like the best at all things in the world--and everybody loves him and gives him free pizza whenever he wants pizza.
BD: Benny, I guess, you'd describe as the straight man, and I'm also the favorite. They like me the most because I'm really talented and that's what I do.
LN: And I'm Lee.
MR: (laughs) Is making it in America your ultimate goal?
JR: We want to make it on the moon. America is just a stepping-stone to
BD: It's going to be a lot more difficult now that NASA has stopped the shuttle program. But if anyone is going to get it started again, it's going to be the Axis Of Awesome.
LN: Yeah, we want to cover David Bowie's "Life On Mars."
MR: Literally. If you had a TV series, how would it be formatted?
LN: Well, we'd prefer not to talk about that, but have you seen Two And A Half Men? If you like that, it will be exactly like that. If you hate that, it will be nothing like that. If you're indifferent to it, next question.
MR: Do you draw inspiration from things like Spinal Tap?
LN: Our ideas just come from the things we see around us all the time--every day kind of stuff.
JR: I think we were inspired to go into musical comedy because a lot of other acts. I think, stylistically, we try to create our own music and create our own style.
BD: Whereas a group like Spinal Tap is sort of a legitimate heavy metal band, and that's kind of what makes them ridiculous because they're not very heavy or metal. I think we're quite knowingly a comedy band, and I think that's what differentiates us.
LN: On the TV show they're trying to be a serious band, even though you know they're a comedy band. We're a little bit more self-aware than that.
LN: But yeah, I'm a big fan of Christopher Guest's work, and Spinal Tap is
one of my favorite movies.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
JR: In the music industry or the comedy industry, you just have to back
yourself up. Early on in your career, people are going to tell you that
you're rubbage, and you have to believe that you're not, even if you are.
LN: So, you might say, "Don't Stop Believing."
JR: Yeah, that's the advice.
BD: Also, maybe cut your ear off. I know that's worked in the past--I'm not sure if that would work these day, but give it a try, it hasn't been done in quite a while.
LN: Stage time in comedy is really important. You have to get stage time, and sometimes when you first start out, that can be really difficult because everyone wants to get on stage. But get yourself a lot of stage time, and just get comfortable standing in front of an audience. Then, that will really help.
JR: Also, sacrifices to dark gods work really well.
BD: Yeah, practicing in the dark arts in general is going to help out.
JR: I mean, if your neighbors have pets and you have an altar, then just go for it.
MR: And as you mentioned earlier, it all does come back to "Don't Stop
MR: Alrighty, you guys, this has been a lot of fun. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
ALL: Our pleasure.
The Glorious Epic Of Three Men Who Are Awesome
How To Write A Love Song
Can You Hear The F**king Music Coming Out Of My Car?
When Life Is Good
The Language Of Love
Harry Potter And The Drunk Teenage Animals Escaping From Zoos
Song For The Elderly
El Pajaro Avion
09/16 Madison, NJ Drew University
09/23 Los Angeles, CA Hollywood Improv
09/27 Fayetteville, AR George's Majestic Lounge
09/29 Cedar Rapids, IA Penguin's Comedy Club
09/30/11 to 10/01 Cedar Falls, IA Jokers Comedy
10/06/11 to 10/08 Fairview Heights, IL Comedy Etc.
10/14/11 to 10/15 Austin, TX Cap City Comedy Club
10/21 Milwaukee, Turner Hall Ballroom
10/22 New Hope, MN New Hope Cinema Grill
10/27 Pittsburgh, PA Carnegie Mellon University
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008