The Ministry of Plausible Rumours: Summer Again

Vince and Marc circa 1995.

You might guess, based on the above photo, that my cousin Vince and I spent a lot of time playing music together in our youth. In reality, though, we really never saw much of each other for various reasons, the biggest being that he was what seemed at the time to be impossibly older than I was. Seven or eight years older? I’m not even sure. To this day, I have no idea how old Vince is, or any of my cousins for that matter. But when I was a child, the age difference was enough to make me think of Vince and his siblings (Steve and Lorraine, if you’re trying keep track) as a different and exotic species altogether: Familius nonfamiliar, perhaps.

In any case, you can imagine my surprise when Vince reached out to me back in January of 2020 to ask if I was interested in working on a couple of songs together. We hadn’t spoken in, I’m guessing, over a decade, due largely to the fact that Vince had been working overseas in exotic locales I could only dream of. The last time we spoke at any length, he told me his favorite book was Moby Dick. Beyond that, I only knew that he was living in London with his wife and a handful of kids who were now grown. I think.

So, sure, why not make some music together?

Vince sent me a track that he was calling “Oysters” at the time: an arpeggiated chord progression on acoustic guitar accompanied by a violin and electric guitar. I sliced it up, moved a few parts around, wrote some lyrics, and the result was our first song, “By and By.” Next came a jazzy track he called “Soho in the Rain.” This time around, the title gave me a little more to work with, so the it remained the same. The finished product is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Just as things were getting interesting musically, the world went into lockdown in the wake of the burgeoning pandemic. We were both fortunate enough to have jobs that allowed us to work from home, and our work kept each of us pretty busy. Even so, we managed to find time to send files to each other. Sometimes we’d go weeks or even months without so much as a word to each other, and then one of us would get an idea, and the sound files would start flying back and forth across the Atlantic.

At some point, Vince asked if I had any ideas for a name, and I told him that I’d always wanted to start a band called the Bureau of Plausible Rumours. He countered that with the idea that in the UK, there were ministries for everything, so how about the Ministry of Plausible Rumours? I liked the sound of it, so it stuck.

Cover art by Kevin F. Quinn.

The music on the album reflects our eclectic tastes. “Soho in the Rain” ended up having a distinct pop feel with its blend of jazzy guitar riffs (from Vince) and a quirky, bubbling synth bass in the verses (me). For “Anthem,” we wanted to play around with the name of our band at, at the same time, offer a tongue-in-cheek critique of the ill-informed memes that pass for “news” in our social-media-saturated world. The guest appearance from the erstwhile liar-in-chief of the United States at 1:58 made it into the song when Brandon Heffley, who mixed the album, slotted it in as a joke and we decided to keep it.

Given the situation the world was (and continues to be) in, a few of our songs ended up being about wanting to go out in the world and be with other people. One case in point is “Person in a Place,” a song about wishing to be among other people: “God I want to be a human being more than ever now. / I want to feel the sunshine on my face. / I want to see my friends. I’d even settle for my enemies. / I want to be a person in a place.”

The album’s closer, “Summer Again,” plays with a similar conceit, arguably looking forward to better days and insisting that it doesn’t do anyone any good to wallow in self-pity: “Enough with the tears, enough with the shame, enough with the tragic account of your life and enough with the blame. You say that you’re waiting for summer. I say summer’s waiting for you.”

I could easily go on and on about the rest of the tracks on the album — telling you things like “Tom Baker” was inspired by my love for Doctor Who, and that “Accidental Honesty” was originally titled “Opening Old Wounds,” but I’ll just let the music speak for itself.

I would, however, be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I love the art that my friend Kevin F. Quinn did for the cover. I’ve known Kevin since high school, and he’s an amazing artist! Definitely check out his work and give him a follow in Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kevinquinnart/

Introvert's Delight

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.

Polly the Glot

A while back, I mentioned that when I was in grade school, I always looked forward to reading Doctor Who Magazine. One of the coolest things about that magazine was the comic strip version of the Doctor’s adventures. As much as I loved the TV show, it had fallen on somewhat hard times by the mid-80’s in terms of production value and writing. But since the comic strip wasn’t beholden to budgetary considerations, it could go anywhere and do anything. So the Doctor got a shape-shifting alien named Frobisher (who usually took the form of a talking penguin) as a companion and his adventures took him to increasingly phantasmagorical settings.

Screen Shot 2018-06-22 at 10.03.52 AMOne of my favorite stories from this series was “Once Upon a Time Lord,” which included a pair of frames captioned “Frobisher eats a worm” and “Frobisher wishes he hadn’t.” But it was another story titled “Polly the Glot,” in which the Doctor and Frobisher team up with their friend Ivan Asimoff to free a giant space-faring creature named Polly. The track I recorded, also titled “Polly the Glot,” is an instrumental that’s meant to sound like a giant squid or jellyfish floating through space. I particularly like the electric piano break in the middle.