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/

In the Pink

It’s hard to say where this all started.

I emailed Jen and Jeff a few weeks back and asked them to record a drum track for me so I could build a song around it. Then Jen asked what tempo I wanted, and I said something vague like “I don’t know… Somewhere between 110 and 120 beats per minute?” Then Jen said something like, “So 117.24985?” Which I said would be perfect since that’s always been my lucky number.

So they recorded the track, and I didn’t do anything with it for about a week. But then there was a massive thunderstorm, and my gutter got clogged, so I went out on the roof to see if I could clear the downspout. When I came back in, I realized that if anyone saw me out on the roof, they might think I was crazy — and would likely be correct in their assessment, but for all the wrong reasons. That’s when the first lines of the song came to me: “If there’s a reason I’m up on the roof, it’s not the reason that you think.”

Given the state of the world these days, the song quickly took an apocalyptic turn, and I imagined someone looking out on a world with dead streets and fire in the sky. Of course, that imagery was kind of dark, so I lightened the proceedings with a chorus that I’d written a year or so earlier: “I keep seeing angels in the corner of my eye.” I distinctly remember that I was making an espresso when that line came to me, but beyond that and another line about the angels being devils in disguise, the lyrics never went anywhere.

So, arguably, the song started back when those two lines came to me. But there’s a further complication: As I was working on the song, I realized that I needed an instrumental bridge for the middle. That’s when I remembered an instrumental track that I’d written and recorded a while back called “Poly the Glot.” It had the perfect instrumental break for this new one. Or almost perfect, anyway. I had to change the key and make some other minor adjustments.

Since no one had really heard “Polly” except for a handful of people, I didn’t think anyone would mind that I was pillaging my back catalog for the sake of new material. So while I was at it, I took some interesting sound effects from that track as well — a lot of the electronic screeching you hear throughout the track originally appeared (in another key) on “Polly the Glot” as well.

Oh, I forgot to mention that when I started recording the song, I decided that “between 110 and 120 beats per minute” wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so I sped Jeff’s track up a bit and ended up with a tempo of 142 beats per minute. And to sweeten the deal, I got my friend Tony Yoo involved. He’s the one you can hear singing backing vocals on the chorus.

In any case, “In the Pink” could have started on any number of occasions: Back in 2015 or so when I recorded “Poly the Glot,” a few years later when I was making espresso and the chorus came to me, a few weeks ago when I asked Jen and Jeff to record a drum track for me, or the afternoon I went out on my roof to clear the gutter during a thunderstorm. Whatever the case, I hope you enjoy listening to it!

Soft Light Redux (for a good cause!)

Longtime readers of this blog may recall that I recorded a song called “Soft Light” a while back. Today, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve teamed up with several extremely talented music producers to release eight new versions of the song! The producers are all students in my colleague Jen Mitlas’s music production course at Montgomery County Community College, and they’ve each come up with a different take on the song. Worth noting: All proceeds from sales of this album will support a scholarship fund for students in the Sound Recording and Music Technology program at Montgomery County Community College.