Tranzor Z

Tranzor Z was a cartoon I used to watch after school when I was in grade school. The premise was that a teenage pilot would land a hovercraft inside the head of a giant robot and then control the robot from inside the hovercraft. The robot’s name was Tranzor Z, and he defended the world from invading monsters.

I originally started writing this song when I was working on a project with my friend Brandon Heffley. The original lyrics were a bout a pizza deliveryman who likens his job to fighting off monsters from the outer reaches of the galaxy. It was kind of funny, but I thought something was missing.

So I started thinking about the kind of kid who might like a show like Tranzor Z, and I figured it would be someone who, like me, got picked on a bit in school. For a while, I only had the first and last verses and the “I want to be Tranzor Z” chorus. So there was a kid getting picked on in a schoolyard, then he got tired of it and turned on his tormenters. But, again, something was missing.

I knew I wanted a song with three verses and guitar solo in the middle, so I recorded all of the music and then set it aside. (The backing track for “Tranzor Z” was actually the first piece of music I recorded for the EP.) It was only after recording pretty much the whole rest of the EP that I realized what was missing: a moment of transformation. So I wrote a verse about the kid and his friend watching TV and getting inspired by the show.

One of my favorite lines in the song is the one where “Television bathes us in a cathode ray of hope.” In my mind, I picture a kid sitting in front of the TV, getting bathed in cathode rays (kind of like the Hulk and his gamma rays), and transforming into the hero he wants to be before returning to the playground to vanquish his enemies.

Since this was the first track I recorded, it was also the first one where I started experimenting with horn sounds. In part, it was because the original series had a synthetic horn sound in the theme song, though I was also inspired by the sound of Belle and Sebastian. Once I found a sound that I liked, I wanted to use it on everything, which is how three of the four tracks on the EP ended up with so much brass.

The song is also loosely connected to “Yuck My Yum” on a few levels. For one thing, it’s the kind of show I would have been watching while the kids in my neighborhood played roller hockey. For another, it was one of Damian Smith’s favorite shows for a short while. He used to walk around his driveway and backyard with his legs sticking out from the bottom of a large box, pretending it was his hovercraft.

That is, of course, when he wasn’t busy breaking all of my toys.

Throw Some Shade

I got the idea for the song when I was thinking about people who accidentally end up in internet memes and what their lives are like, or just people who get caught on camera doing something dumb when they’re young and it follows them around for the rest of their lives.

The verses are about living in the wake of that kind of event — wanting to move on but not being able to because social media is everywhere. And I imagined a guy knowing that his girl friend had that kind of past and wanting to tell her that it’s okay, and that it’s also okay if she takes her frustration and anxiety out on him sometimes because he gets where she’s coming from. Of course, it isn’t a great relationship, and they both know it, but for now, they’re a comfort to each other even if they know the relationship isn’t going anywhere.

The line about sliding the bottle over because the oats are in the back of the closet came to me one morning when I was making breakfast. I literally slid a bottle of olive oil over to get to the canister of Quaker Oats in the back of my cabinet. Hmm, I thought. That’s a pretty specific detail. Maybe I should put it in a song

I was also pretty happy with the phrase “morning heart attack,” even though I don’t quite know what it means. I think I was going for the idea that the person who is looking for the oats is always on the verge of a panic attack. And it just occurred to me that “oats” are sometimes associated with the exuberance of youth — as in “sowing wild oats.” But the oats in this song are locked up in a closet, just like the life that the character isn’t living due to her anxiety.

I wish I could say I did that on purpose!

Yuck My Yum

I heard the phrase “Don’t yuck my yum” on a radio show a few years ago, and it really captured how I feel about a lot of things. I’ve always liked quirky offbeat stuff: Doctor Who, anime cartoons like Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets, and Tranzor Z, and a wide range of music in various styles that aren’t exactly popular: Frank Zappa, Belle and Sebastian, Herb Alpert, and Elvis Costello, to name just a few.

When I started working on music for my latest collection of songs, I had that phrase in my head, and I was thinking it would be fun to record a song called “Yuck My Yum” in a style that might sound a little passé to contemporary ears but that some people would nonetheless enjoy. I’ve always loved the sound of trumpets in songs, especially tracks like Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass’s rendition of “A Taste of Honey,” which I can also admit has the vibe of a 70s game show.

But that’s the whole point of the song–and of the EP as a whole. It’s okay to like something weird. And it’s also okay to not like it, as long as you don’t make someone else feel bad for liking it.

Of course, there’s also the line about Damian Smith breaking all of my toys. Damian is actually an extremely gifted plein air artist, but when I knew him, we were very young, and he did have a tendency to break my toys once in a while. Not out of malice or anything. He just got a little carried away sometimes. I suppose I could have said “Damian Smith broke some of my toys,” but it wouldn’t have had the same effect. Also worth noting, Damian was, as I recall, a big Tranzor Z fan.

Oh, and I’m pretty proud of the fact that I rhymed Miyazaki with roller hockey. There really was a contingent of kids who played roller hockey in my neighborhood when I was growing up, and I never joined in the fun. Technically, I wasn’t watching the films of Hayao Miyazaki at the time, but had I known about them, I probably would have.