The Star Crumbles: Beyond the Music

As you likely know, I’m in a band called the Star Crumbles, which consists of me and my friend Brian Lambert. As you also likely know, we have an album coming out on October 7. It was supposed to come out today, but for various reasons, some of which may or may not be alluded to in the following documentary, it had to be delayed just a little bit. The album, by the way, is called The Ghost of Dancing Slow. You can hear snippets of it in the background of said documentary.

Said documentary.

Personally, I want to thank everyone who helped out with this project. It all started when Brian came up to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell. It was a hot day, and the line to see the ol’ Bell was long, so I just showed it to him through a window in the building where they keep it. Then I showed him Independence Hall, which is conveniently located across the street from the Liberty Bell.

Amateur historian that I am, I mentioned to Brian that it was pretty perspicacious of them — whoever “they” were — to name the building Independence Hall. I mean, they could have named it anything. Carpenters’ Hall, for example. But, no. Someone, somewhere just knew that something big, something signaling independence would take place in that building, so…

Of course, Brian wasn’t having any of it, so he said something like, “What if we told the story of the Star Crumbles?”

And I said, “Like in a documentary?”

And he said, “That would be cool.”

And I said, “Like these guys should have done.”

I jerked a dismissive thumb over my shoulder to indicate Independence Hall. Why they hadn’t thought to have a camera crew on hand while they made history is beyond me. The looks on all the faces at that tragi-comic moment when the Liberty Bell cracked the first time they rang it would have been priceless! And then when they fixed it and it cracked a second time? Talk about a metaphor!

But that’s neither here nor there. What’s both here and there is me (here) and all of the amazing people who helped with this documentary (there). Also worth noting: If you’re one of them, my “here” is your “there” and vice-versa. Point being that I have a lot of people to thank!

The first person you see in the documentary is Miceal O’Donnell. Miceal (it’s pronunced ME-hall, by the way) and I were roommates in college. We were actually in a band together for a short time. The band was called Animal Boy after the Ramones album. We used to talk about making movies, and that’s what Miceal went on to do. Which explains why his scenes are shot so expertly–and how he slips so naturally into the character of a guy who has better things to do than to talk about the Star Crumbles. Plus his use of props is funny, especially the potato chips he’s eating. It really adds dimension to his character. If you get a chance, check out Miceal’s YouTube channel, especially his explication of the difference between a roof and a ceiling: https://www.youtube.com/c/cagesafe

Next you see Greg Dorchak. I love the way he says “The Star… Crumbles?” as if dredging up a long-lost memory or trying to recall an important detail from an alternate timeline where things played out differently. Getting Greg involved with the project was pure luck. His broth Frank (more on him later) recommended that I reach out to him. Turns out that Greg, like Miceal, knows what he’s doing when it comes to making a film. He’s both starred in and made a few, including Kopy Kings. He’s also the author of a book called How to Pull a Movie Out of Your Ass: Realistic expectations for the first time filmmaker with no budget to speak of. More to the point, the guy’s just hilarious. Listen, for example, to his exquisite timing when he mentions the “considerably smaller vault” where the Star Crumblles’ master tapes are allegedly stored!

The only person from the film that I’ve known longer than Miceal O’Donnell is Timothy Simmons, whom I’ve always known as “Tim” and only recently learned that he prefers “Timothy.” We’ve been friends since high school, probably 1988 or 1989, and in all that time, he never once said, “Hey, you know something? I kind of prefer Timothy.” Which says a lot about the guy. What also says a lot about the guy is that he came to my house under the pretense of playing some music together, but then I roped him into riffing on his memories of the Star Crumbles. And it was a reasonable pretense, as Tim and I have recorded a couple of albums together as Simmons and Schuster. His solo material is also pretty amazing, so check it out here: https://songwhip.com/timothysimmons

I’ve also known the aforementioned FP Dorchak for a quite a while. We became friends back when I was doing a lot more writing (and a lot less music), and I was reviewing books on my Small Press Reviews blog. I used to review a lot of books on that blog, and 99% of the time, my experience was that writers would hound me to review their books and then pretend that I didn’t exist after I’d given them what they wanted. But not Frank. He was one of the very few people who kept in touch and would drop me a line just to see how things were going. (There are some others, of course, and if you’re one of them and reading this, I know you know who you are, so thanks!) Anyway, Frank’s fiction always has a bit of a supernatural twist to it, so I knew he’d be up for the Star Crumbles project. I love that line, “Let’s see… It was the eighties… Cheap hotels…” Check out his books here: https://www.fpdorchak.com/books/

Then there’s Mike Mosley. I love that he adds some bitterness to the proceedings, and the idea that he used to be in the band (and that it was called Mosley Crumbles) is priceless. Then again, he’s really a great songwriter, so his claim that if not for him, there would be no Star Crumbles isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem. Brian and I actually recorded a song of his called “Cool Down” and are including it on The Ghost of Dancing Slow. He’s recorded under a couple of names, including Junior Mozley and Jr. Moz Collective, and he’s also worked with Brian on a few tracks like “Three Hours” and “World War Me.” All good stuff!

Jeffrey Brower gives the documentary a fun narrative thread, describing his journey from being a young criminal on the lam to becoming part of the Star Crumbles management team after stumbling upon the band at what he took to be an abandoned gas station (but which turned out to be a secret biker bar). Again, I’m amazed at the imagination of his storytelling–the characters, the incidents, the weird twists, the unexpected appearance of Robbie Krieger of the Doors! Brian and I are friends with Jeffrey on Twitter, where he posts about life as a retiree with twin daughters who are tearing it up as burgeoning rock musicians. Brian actually dropped in at Jeffrey’s birthday party this summer and met some of Jeffrey’s cool guests like Tommy Stinson of the Replacements.

Stinson, Brower, and Lambert. Now there’s a band I’d pay to see!

Another cool person I know from my college days — and actually a little before that; we were both counselors at the same day camp! — is Eileen O’Donnell. As you might have guessed, especially if you clicked on some of the links above, Eileen and Miceal are married, and Eileen is a filmmaker as well. There’s a wistfulness in the way Eileen delivers her lines, as if she’s really remember the heyday of the Star Crumbles, and I was especially impressed with the way she interpolated the history of the Violent Femmes onto the Star Crumbles. It’s the kind of behind-the-music history that only hardcore rock and roll fans know. But what really takes the cake for me is Eileen’s performance of “This Side of the Grave” about halfway through film. That’s actually a song I wrote and performed when I was making ersatz Violent Femmes music back in the 90s! Also worth noting: Eileen is an excellent sculptor. Check out her work here: https://www.instagram.com/eileenodonnell_sculptor/

I also have to say that we were incredibly fortunate to get Jeff Archuleta on board with the project. I’ve been reading Jeff’s Eclectic Music Lover blog for years now, and as the name of the blog might suggest, I’ve come to rely on it to learn about a wide range of music. The cool thing about Jeff’s blog is that he talks about music from independent artists in the same breath as music from “big” names, and it’s common for his weekly Top 30 lists to include music from bands at both ends of the spectrum — and everything in between! As far as the documentary goes, I love that we have a real music writer commenting on our music; it lends a bit of credence to our story. “Truth,” of course, is another story! Jeff’s wild tale of his one encounter with the Star Crumbles is golden!

Just as Jeff’s clips give the documentary some credence, Mikey J‘s clips give the documentary a noirish feel. Mikey J is one of a handful of indie musicians I got to know when I was helping out with the Lights and Lines Album Writing Competition, and his song “Little Dragon Girl” won him an award for best single. When we chatted back in July, he told me that the song was dedicated to his wife, Ella, and that they live in Shanghai, which (at least in part) explains how he managed to see the Star Crumbles at Harley’s bar!

One of the first bands I found when I started looking for indie music on Twitter was The La La Lettes. Their albums reminded me of a mix of Frank Zappa, the Residents, Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes and the Beach Boys’ Party album. Little did I realize when I first heard them that The La La Lettes were, for the most part, the work of one man, Chris Triggs, of Colwyn Bay, Wales. I love the way Chris weaves the details of his own life story into the story of the Star Crumbles — and when it all builds toward a crushing anticlimax, the look on his face is perfect. As with everyone involved in the project, Chris’s comic timing is impeccable, and I love the way he delivers the line about our “John Taylor haircuts.”

It came as no surprise to me when Øyvind Berge of Todd and Karen was the first person to respond to my request for footage. He’s seriously on top of things when it comes to music — not just in terms of promoting his own, but also in terms of sharing information with the wider indie music #Tweetcore community and curating great Spotify Playlists, like Beatleesque Brill Pop. The clips he gave me were perfect — equal parts Monty Python and This Is Spinal Tap. The line about the Morris Dancers really made me laugh, and I didn’t even know what Morris Dancers were at the time! But then I did some digging and found some footage to add to the documentary just in case anyone else was curious. Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to the forthcoming Todd and Karen EP, Approximately Here for a Bit.

When I reached out to the artist formerly (and currently) known as Ziggy about being in the documentary, she had two stipulations: she would not say a word, and Laini Colman had to appear in any scenes that featured her. Which turned out to be perfect, because Ziggy is a dog, and Laini was next on my list of people to contact, as I’ve been a big fan of her music for years. We first chatted in 2017 when she released her debut album, and then again earlier this year to discuss the release of her latest album, Racka Shacka. Back when I was still on Facebook, Laini’s page — Laini’s Beach Shack — was one of the few places I could go to get a real sense of musical community, and it was all Laini’s doing. So I really love that Laini’s fondest memories of the Star Crumbles are of their tour with her band The Beach Shackers!

Finally, I was excited to have Traci Law involved with the documentary as well! If she looks familiar, maybe you’ve seen her in the web series Morbid Curiosity and Compelling Women or you caught a glimpse of her in Silver Linings Playbook. She’s one of those actresses who’s shown up everywhere, and she’s recently been branching out into voice acting. Of course, it’s her work on Morbid Curiosity and interest in the paranormal more broadly that made me think Traci would be perfect for Beyond the Music, and when I asked her to suggest that Brian and I might be vampires, she was on it! An amazing photographer, Traci is also the author of the book Enchanted Britain.

I really feel fortunate to have so many friends who were willing to help me and Brian out with this project! It means the world to me that people I’ve known from so many parts of my life pitched in. Not only that, but I’m seriously amazed at everyone’s talent, and I love how everyone’s tales of meeting or seeing or performing with the Star Crumbles complement each other perfectly. I could go on and on about how much you all mean to me, but I’m heading out for my COVID booster, so let me leave it at this:

Thank you.

Oryctolagus Cuniculus: An Interview with Beth of Won’t Say Rabbit

Won’t Say Rabbit is a garage pop-punk from deep in the heart of New Jersey. Listening to the pair of tracks they currently have up on BandCamp and all the major streaming services, I’m picking up hints of ultra-cool 70s new-wave like The Runaways and Blondie mixed with a distinct 80s vibe. Over the years, the band has consisted of Brian and Tom on guitar and bass (and keyboards) respectively, and Beth on vocals. Drummers have included Frank, John, Billy, and Juan. I was curious to find out more about them, so I dropped Beth a line to see if she’d be up for an interview…

Earlier this year, you posted an image of the front and back cover of Won’t Say Rabbit’s CD from 1991. How long has Won’t Say Rabbit been together? Are you still playing?

Won’t Say Rabbit got together in 1989. We never disbanded, but we haven’t played any live gigs since 1997–yikes! We have all done musical projects individually, including writing new songs, playing and singing for fun, but we are just beginning to get back into our music more seriously in order to rehearse and record new material. Our goal is to release another album and play some reunion shows in time for our 35th anniversary in 2024.

Cool! Can you talk a little bit about the history of the band?

Tom learned to play keyboards as a child. In college, Tom became interested in punk rock music and gravitated towards bass guitar. Brian was about fourteen years old when they met while working at a restaurant called The Fireplace. At that time, Brian had just started teaching himself to play guitar. While Brian was learning guitar, Tom played bass in a band called Fragrant Moth.

When the band broke up Tom and Brian decided to form a band.

I always wanted to sing, it was my childhood dream. I sang in bands all through junior high and highschool. After college I put together a band called Vox Angelica that played gigs all over New Jersey. We released a vinyl 45 that got a bit of college radio airplay. However, by 1987 nothing was happening for us and Vox Angelica disbanded.

In June of 1989 Tom and Brian ran an ad in a New Jersey music paper called the East Coast Rocker. They were looking for a female singer and I answered the ad. They had all the music tracks recorded, so after rehearsing with them for a while, we went into the recording studio to add my vocals to the songs.

We released our eponymous CD in 1991, and once again, I was in a band that received a little bit of college radio airplay, but otherwise, crickets… We did play some gigs that Brian taped and I am currently putting videos from the shows up on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mm-iojo8aX4pGk8PnAQ2g

I’m also curious about the band’s name.

When we started we had a different name related to “Oryctolagus cuniculus.”* However, from the time the Internet started gaining popularity, up to the point where bands were using Myspace, we kept receiving less than happy messages from bands with the same name. We vowed never to say that word again or use it in a band name. We thought about it for 25 years and finally came up with “Won’t Say Rabbit!”

That’s awesome! What part of New Jersey are you from? What was the scene like when Won’t Say Rabbit was getting off the ground? Who were some of the other bands on the scene at the time?

The three of us are from Northern New Jersey. The year 1989 was all about Hair Metal Bands. Poison, White Lion, Guns n’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, etc. were played in heavy rotation on the radio and MTV. I like all those bands, and just as with any trend, New Jersey was overflowing with musicians that wanted to look and sound like them.

How did being from that particular place in that particular time influence your taste in music and the sound of Won’t Say Rabbit?

The good part about living in North Jersey was the proximity to New York City. In 1989 we were able to drive into the city and see bands we loved like Stiff Little Fingers and The Ramones. The hippest New Jersey scene was in Hoboken where there was a well known club called Maxwell’s. We saw great shows there like Marshall Crenshaw, Wreckless Eric, and The Hoodoo Gurus.

For each of us, our musical tastes evolved much earlier. Tom loves punk and is influenced by X, The Damned, and The Buzzcocks. Brian is a fan of classic rock and says his influences are Cheap Trick, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. I grew up singing along with the radio. I love The Beatles and the fantastic girl groups from the 1960’s like the Ronettes, Crystals, and Shangri-Las.

Currently, your songs “Getcha” and the instrumental “Laryngitis” are available on Bandcamp and other streaming services. The track list for the CD includes eight other songs. Any chance those will become available as well?

Yes, we will be releasing all our songs eventually. For anyone who may be interested, you can follow us here: https://twitter.com/beth60910 , https://wontsayrabbit.bandcamp.com and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mm-iojo8aX4pGk8PnAQ2g

As someone who’s been playing music since the 90s myself, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry and how people make and discover new music. Do you have any thoughts on that topic?

Let’s see, I’m older than you, but I bet you remember cassettes and vinyl. It was so much fun going to record stores and blowing your allowance on the albums or 45’s you really wanted to get. In fact, I was photographed in a record store, at an autograph signing session for Meatloaf when his album “Bat Out of Hell” was released. That picture appeared in the “East Coast Rocker.” (I lost the picture long ago, but sometimes I look on EBay to see if anyone has back issues for sale.)

That’s wild!

Regarding making and discovering new music, you can do it all at home now. When Won’t Say Rabbit recorded our music in 1990, we had to go into a recording studio. The music was recorded on reel to reel tapes and then mixed onto a D.A.T., which was sent off to Discmakers to be made into CD’s. Now you can use software to record a masterpiece from your bedroom and release it on the Internet to your fans.

For discovering new music, Twitter is AMAZING. That’s how I learned about your great music, The Star Crumbles, Matt Derda, plus the other terrific #Tweetcore musicmakers. There are so many people on Twitter who love to recommend different bands and songs to listen to. I’m really enjoying all that energy, creativity, and love of music.

Needless to say, I agree! Why do you think so much music of the 80s and 90s continues to have such staying power?

I think every generation has a certain level of nostalgia for what their parents listened to. Just like punk rock from the 1970’s harkened back to the music and fashions of the 1950’s and 60’s, young people today listen to music rooted in 1980’s new wave (or dark wave for the Joy Division/New Order fans out there,) and 1990’s post-punk, indie, and grunge.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

It was an honor! Thank you for inviting Won’t Say Rabbit to be interviewed. I loved your thought provoking questions. I enjoy following https://twitter.com/marc_schuster #Tweetcore on Twitter and look forward to hearing your new music when it is released. In the meantime, I hope everyone watches The Star Crumbles documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B7mzXeCLOs . I know I certainly learned a lot about the band!**

*The Genus and species of rabbit!

**I swear I did not put Beth up to including these links… She’s just cool that way!

Plucking Melodies from the Ether: An Interview with J Peck

According to his bio, J Peck started writing songs at age ten when someone told him that he couldn’t. Though he describes his early efforts as “trash,” he’s progressed over the years, taking home a “One to Watch” award in the Lights and Lines Album Writing Contest for his EP Come What May, a collection of songs that deals, among other things, with the universal phenomenon of growing older.

You mention in your bio that you started writing music when someone told you that you couldn’t. Can you say more about that?

My  best friend wanted to be in a band probably because his uncle was in one and it was the 80’s. He was telling me all about it when the girl next to us in class said “You can’t JUST write music. You have to have talent.” Well, that offhand comment derailed my life. I can’t abide someone telling me what I can or can’t do. Though too be honest, the music I “wrote” at that point was just melodies that were partially ripped off of other songs I’d heard.

Do you find that being told “no” is a good motivator for you?

This has been an ongoing joke between Paul Bosco and I over the years. It’s not like spite is my only motivation, but it’s a strong one. Luckily, I suffer frequent bouts of crippling self-doubt so that keeps me from getting to uppity.

Would you describe yourself as a contrarian?

Yep, that’s probably accurate.

How has your songwriting progressed over the years?

I think my view of songwriting has changed. I used to feel like I was waiting on a bolt of lightning moment where the perfect melody and lyrics would come to me. Now, it is more a question of chipping away at a song.

Warning! Weird symbolism ahead: I used to visualize writing a song as catching a piece at a time from an ether of melodies, rhythms, and lyrics that were always floating through my mind. This led to songs that would have strange changes in feel from the beginning to end. It also led to songs that were unfinished for years since I need another bolt of lightning moment. I still pluck a melody from that ether, but now I stop at that point. I then treat it more as a sculptor would. The melody, like a stone, has a shape already. I simply need to chip away at it to reveal the true song hidden within.

Interesting! I know that the Lights and Lines Album Writing Contest took place in May, so I’m wondering if the title of your EP – Come What May – is a play on words.

Haha, yeah. I guess that was a little on the nose. I knew from the start that I wanted to incorporate May in the album in some way. It all came together in the last three days of the month when I started writing the last track “Waiting on the Rain.” While I was writing lyrics, I wrote the line “I know that come what may.” So, technically the title comes from the very end of the last song on the album. The album starts with the lyrics “It’s Starting” and ends with the title of the album. I like the symmetry.

I like that! How would you describe the experience of recording an EP in a month? What kinds of challenges did you face? Were there any setbacks? How did you overcome them?

Writing and recording an EP in 30 days was not easy. At the start, I had grand ideas for an 8 song album that went through the lifecycle of a revolution. But halfway through May, I only had 1 song written. I woke up on the 14th ready to give up since it was impossible. I talked myself out of it but I was very close. I even posted about it on the Album Writing Club’s forum:

May 14 2022

I’ll be honest. I want to give up.😔 

I was laying in bed this morning defeated, a little hungover, and thinking “there is no way I will finish this album.” I laid in bed for another 30 minutes thinking these thoughts (very productive). Then something I’ve told my children time and time again came to mind.

“Most people never even show up.”

Challenges I faced? Let’s just say Murphy’s Law was in effect.

  1. Since I don’t have a studio and just record in my living room, I had to record around my family’s schedule. Everyone had to be silent for hours while I recorded.
  2. In the last couple days of the month, I was forced to set up my car as a mobile recording studio. I parked in a Target parking lot, set up my mic and laptop in the car and recorded vocals from until 1 am on 2 different nights.
  3. I also ran into issues with my guitar not staying tuned, so I was forced to tune my guitar between every take.
  4. On the last day while finishing mixes, I could not find the vocal takes for “Waiting on the Rain”. I thought that I’d forgot to save the track while recording in my car, but found the mix a couple days later saved in a file name “car 5-31.”

You won the “One to Watch” award in July. I imagine the temptation to release the EP immediately must have been great. Why did you wait?

Two reasons:

1. I was hoping to win the record contract. If I had, I wouldn’t have needed to mix and master the album myself. I hate mixing and mastering. But when I didn’t win, I was stuck with a lot of work that I put off. So, the album was delayed.

2. I wanted to make sure that the release date was at least a month in the future so that I’d have time to properly promote the album before its release.

What have you been doing in the meantime?

Mixing and mastering the album. Creating album art and an album booklet with lyrics, photos, stories, etc. for anyone that buys the album on Bandcamp. I’ve tried not to work on too much new music though, I’ve written a song or two.

Do you ever get a chance to play live?

I miss playing live. Due to Covid, I haven’t played a show in years. I have some medical issues that I need to be careful about and as of right now I have no plans for playing in public. I am hopeful that an opportunity will arise for some outdoor shows that I can feel comfortable with this year.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I have about 6 songs that I’ve recorded for Blowup Radio’s Songwriter Challenge (Challenge: They provide a writing prompt and give 2 weeks to finish a song). Plan is to clean up those recordings and release another EP in 6 months or so. Tentative title is “2 Weeks at a Time”, though I hope to come up with something better. Bosco and I also have a handful of songs that we have written that we may get a chance to release in 2023.

Nice! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!