J’Ecoute La Radio/Song 71

It’s been a busy few weeks music-wise. I recorded and released an album with my friend Tim Simmons, then the album I’ve been working on with my cousin for the better part of two years years also came out. Somewhere in the middle of it all, the LaLaLettes reached out to me from Wales, UK, to see if I’d be interested in playing on a couple of tracks. I’d been a fan of their since hearing their album ONKY earlier this year, so I leapt at the opportunity!

What I like about the LaLaLettes is that their music sounds alive. Playing one of their songs is like walking into a party that’s already in full swing. I hear hints of a lot of my favorite musical acts on their tracks as well. My first impression of ONKY was that it sounded like a cross between any classic Frank Zappa album and The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan and the Band, with maybe a slightly more experimental flare.

Granted, I’m not the most objective of observers when it comes to their latest pair of tracks, but I’m picking up shades of the Beach Boys on their (our!) new offering. In fact, when I asked what kind of sound they were looking for on “J’ecoute La Radio,” their response was simply “Mid to late 60s Beach Boys.” Even before I added anything, that’s exactly what their track sounded like to me — a cross between Beach Boys’ Party (1965) and Smiley Smile (1967).

For some reason, the song earned an “E” for “explicit lyrics” on Spotify. My French is a little rusty, so I’m not sure why, but one of the lines struck me like it might roughly translate to “I will molest an elephant tomorrow morning for breakfast.” But, again, my French isn’t what it used to be — and it used to be pretty bad — so take my translation for what it’s worth.

“Song 71” (aka “You Didn’t Want My Love”) takes a quieter turn. It’s a short, sweet, sad song about being spurned that leans in a Dylanesque direction, once again reminiscent of The Basement Tapes. What makes the two songs perfect complements to each other is their looseness and intimate sound. If “J’ecoute La Radio” is like walking into a party that’s already in full swing, “Song 71” is like sticking around to help the host clean up.

In any case, I’m playing drums and bass on “Song 71,” and I’m playing organ and singing on “J’ecoute La Radio.” Despite its French lyrics, I have to admit that I sound a little more like Edith Bunker than Edith Piaf on that one. But I’m mostly in key, and I also imagine that sounding like a diva is far from the point on a record like this. The real point is to have fun, which is exactly what I did — and I hope you have fun, too, when you listen to it!

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/

Debut Album from Simmons and Schuster

My friend Tim Simmons and I recorded an album recently. It’s a collection of instrumental tracks that run the gamut from intense to relaxing. One reviewer described it by saying, “This album could be compared to Dante’s Divine Comedy. A journey between hell, purgatory, and then heaven.” It’s an incredibly flattering and apt description.

One of the more relaxing tracks is called “Tadpoles.”

There’s also one called “Ralph Waldo Steps In.”

If you’re interested, you can listen to the full album on a wide range of streaming services, which are listed on this page: https://simmonsandschuster.hearnow.com/simmons-and-schuster

There’s also some information on how we recorded the album here: https://www.hungryhourmusic.com/simmons-and-schuster