Moving Target: Harry Shearer on His New Album, The Simpsons, Spinal Tap, Nixon, New Orleans…
Did you have specific people in mind when you were writing these songs? For instance Jane Lynch on “Like a Charity?”
No, I didn’t. When I first recorded them I had to sing them no matter what they were, and some of them were out of my range grotesquely. The idea was basically to try something different, since I know a lot of people in music, to call on people I knew, and try to, as I said to somebody else recently, to try to break the four-figure sales barrier.
Jane, we’d worked together in a couple of Chris Guest movies and she had sung at Judith [Owen, his wife] and my Christmas show in L.A. last year, so that was when I was reminded of just what a great singer she is.
Dr. John appears on the album. What sort of guidance did you offer him when it came time to sing “Autumn in New Orleans?”
You know, with Dr. John you don’t guide him, you just say, “Have a seat; can I get you anything?” He’s a modern master, and he’s deservedly legendary. I spent half my time in that session marveling at him and the other half marveling at Nicholas Payton. It was an amazing session to be part of.
Touch My Junk” with Skunk Baxter on it, can you talk about that?
Skunk has played on a bunch of my stuff over the years, ever since he first came in and played with Spinal Tap. “Touch My Junk” was motivated by the ongoing controversy over TSA junk touching which started with someone memorably saying, “Don’t touch my junk,” and I thought, “Well, there’s got to be a countervailing attitude to that,” someone who just yearns to have the TSA give them a good going-over and so I wrote it from the standpoint of that character.
Another one that jumps out is “Celebrity Booze Endorser.” How did that song come about?
I’d been listening to, driving around, I’d been listening to Welcome Interstate Managers or Utopia Parkway, one of the Fountains of Wayne records, earlier in the day. Then I saw a story in I think Variety about Madonna signing a deal to flack for a brand of vodka and the headline is what really stuck with me: it said “Madonna Joins Ranks of Celebrity Booze Endorsers.” And I’d just never seen that phrase before, and I just loved the notion that that was a career choice [Laughs] So having the Fountains album in my head, it sort of told me I want to write this as a third person song, not a first person song, and with a certain kind of attitude to it. When it came time to do the record, I called Adam Schlesinger and said “You guys inspired me, so you gotta play on it.”
How did they take that?
They were great. The one thing was, Chris [Collingwood], I think, said, “But you gotta sing it.” I originally thought they would play it and sing it too, but they, Chris said, “No, no, you sing it,” so I said, “OK, but you sing background.” It was great because we, C.J. [Vanston] the producer on that track, and I came into the studio and said, “Do this the way you do one of your songs. Do your process; don’t worry about us, we’ll just kibbutz.” So we really did watch, and they contributed a lot of ideas musical and lyrical that really helped the song, so it was a great process to be part of, mainly as a spectator until the time came to sing my part [Laughs]. But, you know, anytime you can basically sit in the studio and watch a band that you really love create a track, it’s great fun.
“Macondo” features Rob Brydon singing from the perspective of another character, a BP exec.
In the middle of the Gulf Oil Spill Tony Hayward memorably said, “I want my life back,” you know, the ultimate insensitivity. It’s one of three love songs on the album to inanimate objects. Tony sings this melancholy farewell to an oil well that he loves not wisely and not well. Also, Sarah Palin [Owen] sings this yearning love song to the Bridge From Nowhere, and then Alice Russell and Tommy Malone sing a love song to the Iraq War. I don’t write normal love songs, obviously.
“Deaf Boys” finds you portraying a character.
“Deaf Boys” is the most out there on the satirical edge song of this collection, or maybe that I’ve ever done. It came up because of one week, an American priest from Milwaukee was revealed to have abused a couple of hundred deaf boys. The same week stories came in about an Italian priest and a British priest who abused deaf boys. And I thought this, as Newsweek would describe it, is a burgeoning trend…but of a highly sinister sort, so I determined to write a song about it.
The first question I asked myself was would this be written in the voice of a character or in the voice of an observer. It’s creepier to do it from the voice of the character himself, the abuser, the priest. The next question was how does he sound? And I thought, “A singing priest—hmm… Bing Crosby! ‘Goin’ My Way!’” Then when I tried thinking of instrumental treatments for it, and I thought: Gregorian chant because it’s much more claustrophobic that way. I’ve done it live a couple of times. The first time I did for an audience at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans and I don’t really think on a Sunday afternoon that’s quite what they were expecting.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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