How did you approach all the great musical talent (including Andy and Dave) about helping out with "Game Show Teeth"?
MF:I’ve been enormously lucky to be friends with Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory ever since I met them in person for the first time in September of 1984. So over the years, as we’ve gotten to know each other better, and I’ve gotten better at writing songs, I’ve also developed the nerve to ask them if they would be willing to play on some of my stuff. Because they are two of
the nicest and most generous people you’ll ever get to meet, they were more than happy to oblige. In fact it has gotten to the point where they ask me if there is anything I’m working on that they could contribute to, because it has become sort of a tradition to have them on my albums. They also know that having their names associated with my songs could only help bring more attention my way. And who would be foolish enough to turn down any opportunity to work with their musical heroes?
Since 1985-ish, when I first discovered freeform radio station WMFU, and consequently the music of R. Stevie Moore, I’ve been a volunteer and faithful listener. I met R. Stevie on several occasions way back then when he was a dj at the station, and we have become friends over the years too. He’s also a big musical hero of mine, and just like Andy and Dave, happily volunteers his services if I need them. I always find something for R. Stevie to do!
When The Loser’s Lounge tribute series in NYC decided to do an XTC show a few years ago, I asked the musical director Joe McGinty if there was some way that I could participate in it. When he agreed and told me that one of the songs they were going to do was "My Love Explodes" from The Dukes of Stratosphear’s "25 O’Clock" album, I offered to imitate the Woody Allen sounding irate phone caller that you can hear as the song fades out. At three performances of the song I got to run on to the stage and blurt out
my impression. Last year, at the Loser’s Lounge Kinks tribute show, I approached Joe and asked if he knew of someone who could do a passable Jerry Lee Lewis piano imitation, and he said he could and would be glad to help out. So when "She’s Dynamite!" was ready for him, I sent him the tracks and he quickly did his thing, which blew me away with its frantic ivory ticklings.
Andrea Perry is a songwriter I found out about thanks to some other XTC fans a few years ago. When she sent an email announcing the release of her latest album "Rivers of Stars," I wrote back and introduced myself to her, offering up a copy of "Purple Burt" if she was interested. She loved my album and we have become good friends since that time. I think she’s a musical genius in many ways, and I am always knocked out by her very melodic bass lines. Since coming up with bass lines on my own has always been a bit of a struggle, I asked her if she’d be kind enough to play on "Keep It a Secret," which she did,
in addition to throwing in the opening and closing guitar solos. She was very generous to play the bass on "My Dumb Luck" and "In The Know" as well. I think her playing on those songs really brings them to a new level they would have never reached if I had done the bass parts, so I’m really grateful for her help.
The other great musical talents that helped me out on the cd, namely John Dunbar, Jim Smart, Todd Bernhardt and Daryl Bean have all been friends of mine for a while. I always try to think of what each person can do best and then match their talents with the songs that would benefit most from them. In the old days I would try to do everything myself; now I’m much more open to having other people play along, and do things I could never do on my own.
It seems you always had a skill for the goofy musical composition. Is that what got you into children’s music?
MF:I suppose it is what led me into doing children’s music, but it wasn’t intentional. The fact that I wrote "adult" songs which were playful and silly with lots of lyrical tomfoolery, led both Andy Partridge and Martin Newell to independently suggest to me that I should do a children’s album. It seemed like a good idea at the time because I really didn’t know what I wanted to
do next, and I generally thrive when given some kind of fun project I can really dig my brain into.
Tell me a little bit about the craziness on your stint with "The Howard Stern Show"
MF: You might be disappointed to find out that while I did work *for* Howard Stern, I did not work *with* him. Which is to say that I edited his tv show but we did the editing away from the radio station. So any of the craziness that happened during the radio show was confined to video tape by the time it got into my personal space. However, there was never a shortage of infantile nonsense, gratuitous nudity (which is not necessarily a good thing when you have to blur ever single frame of it by hand, and that includes horrible implants, naked dwarfs, vomiting, and small penis contests,) and lots of behind the scenes footage that no one ever gets to see of celebrities in the green room, etc.
As jobs go, it was the least serious and most ridiculous work I’ve ever been paid for. Plus we were encouraged to add our own immature idiocy to what started out as the most idiotic stuff you could ever imagine. In the two years I worked on the show I got to meet Howard Stern on three occasions, for a cumulative running time of about 1 minute and 30 seconds. But I did get to hang out with Beetlejuice for a few hours one night at a party.
You mentioned that "Game Show Teeth" is for immature adults —
any chance you could get even more serious, or is that not in your musical DNA?
MF: I’ve tried to write a completely serious song, with no humor in it whatsoever. That’s "Make Yourself at Home" from Game Show Teeth. Did I succeed? I’m not sure. I enjoy serious songs written by other people, but I just don’t take myself seriously enough as a songwriter to get away with it. That’s not to say that I am not proud of the songs I’ve written. What I mean is that I’m not convinced that I have something really important to try to convince people of. "Make Yourself at Home" ended up being just another one of my songs in a different genre — the genre of "serious songs." That amuses me.
Songwriting and producing the songs I’ve written is fun. And I get added pleasure when I can create music that hopefully provides fun for other people too. Everyone can get their serious songs from somewhere else. What good is a serious song if it’s not serious enough?
Did you ever try to get "Purple Burt" made into an animated cartoon?
MF:I didn’t try *too* hard, because I was never sure what else it could benefit from becoming, other than an album. There were notions of making it into a stage musical, a live show, an animated tv series, and even a book. In fact I plan on starting the book version in a few months. I’ve got lots of new ideas for how to expand the story, and purply flesh it out, as it were. Plus I’ve written several new songs that I’d love to include on a cd that would come with the book, which would also have all the songs from the original album, but none of the between song stories (because the book would handle that part of it.) It might end up being called "Purple Book."
Tell me about some of your musical heroes (other than XTC).
MF: Ray Davies is probably my biggest musical hero. And I got to spend a week with him as my teacher in England in 1998 at his songwriting course. In fact during the course I wrote a song called "Splendid" that contained the lyrical phrase "game show teeth," which Ray became obsessed with for the rest of week, asking me to "play the ‘game show teeth’ song!" several more times. No one is a better lyricist and no one writes better melodies to go with their lyrics. Plus he’s got a great sense of humor and the willingness
to experiment with all kinds of different musical styles.
There’s the aforementioned R. Stevie Moore, who in my opinion is the single most underrated and underappreciated artist in musical history. Period. I love the songs that Noel Coward wrote. Great wit, wordplay, and melodic twists The Residents early work was a huge influence on me. It taught me that it was more than okay for music to be abrasive if it was for artistic reasons. Plus they also have great lyrics and a very dark sense of humor.
For a very long time I was a huge They Might Be Giants fan. The first time I heard them was in 1985 on WMFU, when they aired the early 1 minute long demo version of "Don’t Let’s Start." I saw them live numerous times in that period, at tiny venues in NYC’s lower east side. Their musical quirkiness, melodic sense, lyrical playfulness and intelligence, variety and prolificness really inspired me, and still does.
I used to be a very big Jonathan Richman fan too. His low-tech, honest, direct kind of entertaining live shows, as well as his sneakily brilliant songs showed me that being an eccentric was quite alright if it was done in a gentle way.
One of the first albums I ever owned was The Monkees’ Greatest Hits. Such perfect pop songs. I still love them all. (As a side note, I recently realized that two of The Monkees’ most famous songs have the word "believer" in their title – "I’m a Believer" and "Daydream Believer." Weird.)
What’s next for Mitch Friedman??
MF: Well, I’m sure in a little while I’ll get the songwriting bug back and start working on some new material. In fact I’ve already written two new numbers that I’m going to record in the near future, one of which will feature first time guest stars (for me) Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby. It’s a long story, but I’m friendly with them too. Then there’s the Purple Burt book. And the need to find new work that actually has an income associated with it. But isn’t that the American way these days?
Thanks for the interview, Mitch!