“Black Boots”

As you may have noticed, I’ve been releasing a decent amount of music lately. In part, this is because I’ve been collaborating with other musicians like Timothy Simmons, The La-La-Lettes, and my cousin Vince as part of The Ministry of Plausible Rumours. Meanwhile, I’ve also been recording a few songs on my own, and the latest is a somewhat long song with a country & western lilt called “Black Boots.”

The earliest version of this song came to me many years ago with the phrase “I’m wearing my suit to the steakhouse tonight.” One of the couplets went something like, “I’m tired and lonely and looking to fight. I’m wearing my suit to the steakhouse tonight.” But sometime in 2020, I started playing with the idea from a different angle and it became “Are you promising to hold your tongue but looking for a fight? Are you wearing your black boots tonight?”

And as far as that “different angle” goes, instead of imagining a guy with anger management issues, I started thinking about a pair of sisters who don’t get along but who still love each other. This idea stemmed from a picture that my friend Jen Mitlas shared on social media of herself and her sister eating ice cream when they were children; the caption said something like, “See? Sometimes we do get along!”

Hence the first verse of the song: “Unfocused picture: You and your sister/Ice cream on Saturday night./Moment of detente,/You both get what you want/Before diving back to the fight.”

Of course, the song is a work of fiction, and I imagined that the two sisters were of different political philosophies–that one was a cop or in the military (“a warrior by trade”) and that one was ostensibly of a kinder and gentler bent but was, nevertheless, always the first to attack (or, in the song, “pull the blade” on) the on the other.

I also imagined that the sisters were twins, but I think that notion came about when I realized I could rhyme “Fighting each other” with “Inside your mother.” I just thought the idea of two children punching and kicking each other even before they were born was funny.

On the topic of rhymes, I felt like I was cheating a little when I rhymed “ice cream” with “ice cream” in the final verse, but I liked the idea that, as adults, the two sisters still set aside their differences to enjoy ice cream when they get together.

Musically, the song owes a massive debt to “Mississippi” by the Cactus Blossoms, which I first heard in an episode of Twin Peaks: The Return. I really liked the drum beat on that song, so when I bought a drum kit back in the Spring of this year (itself a weird story), one of the first patterns I tried to learn was the rhythm from that song. Once I had it down, I recorded it and built the rest of “Black Boots” around it.

Fun fact: The sewer pipe for my house runs through the room where I record drums. You can hear water running through it at about 3:28 on the song. Someone must have been taking a shower at the time. Either that, or they flushed the toilet. In either case, I actually thought the sound of running water was pretty cool, so I kept it in. Also, I didn’t feel like recording the track again.

My initial plan was to save the song for later — maybe to include it in an EP or an album, but then I saw a review of “Mine Forever” by Lord Huron on Jeff Archuleta’s (quite excellent) Eclectic Music Lover blog. Since the instrumentation on that song — especially the twangy guitars — was similar to the instrumentation of “Black Boots,” I figured Jeff might enjoy my song, so I sent him a rough mix and told him I didn’t really plan to do anything with it. But Jeff said he liked it, and since I’ve been a big fan of his music reviews for quite some time, I figured I had no choice but to release it… So here we are!

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