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/

What to Say to Your Musician Friends

Last week, I put out a new song called “Before the Boys,” and since then, I’ve been extremely flattered by the comments that friends of mine have made — from the friend who meant to text her husband about the emotional response she’d had to the song but texted me by accident to the friend who emailed me with a thoughtful and detailed appraisal of the song. Comments and compliments like these mean the world to me, and I imagine that other musicians feel the same way when friends, family, and even strangers reach out to say a kind word or two about music they’ve written and recorded.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to know what to say to a musician — or any artist for that matter — about a recent release, especially if you’re not a musician yourself. So here are a few ways to say “Nice song!” in a way that the musician in your life will really appreciate:

  • Hey! This song reminds me of… This is a great way to show your musically-inclined friend that you’ve not only listened to a new song but also thought about how it fits in with other kinds of music that you like. Also, you get bonus points if the point of reference is a song that your friend likes and admires. For example, a friend of mine recently wrote, “Reminds me a bit of Brian Wilson with that jangly staccato piano.” I took that as a huge compliment!
  • I love the line about… If you want to let your musician friend know that you really listened to the lyrics, mention your favorite line — or, better yet, favorite lines — of the song. Maybe there was a clever rhyme that you noticed, or maybe just an image that jumped out at you. Whatever the case, the songwriter in your life will really appreciate that something in the song made you take notice. For me, it was a friend who mentioned that he liked a line in my song about an X-chromosome!
  • I shared this song with… Again, if your goal is to let the songwriter or musician in your life know that you really appreciated a song, share it with someone! Back when I was in high school, the way to do this was to make a mixtape. Now it’s even easier. Just share a link to the song with someone who you think will appreciate it, and also let your friend know that you did so. I was extremely flattered when a friend of mine told me that she shared “Before the Boys” with her daughters!
  • I added your song to a playlist! Musicians and songwriters love to hear this because it means that you’ll be listening to their song again and again. If you want to add some context, let them know which playlist, and maybe even who else is on it. I was quite flattered when my mom mentioned that she was adding “Before the Boys” to her “Driving to the Cape May” playlist!

I’m sure there are plenty of other creative ways to show the musician or songwriter in your life appreciation for a song, but these are four of my favorites. If anyone has any other ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments!

Album cover for "Before the Boys."