A Guided Tour Of Factory Showroom
Greetings from John and John. Factory Showroom is our latest album, and our second with a full band. Encouraged by Elektra's liberal A&R staff to take the album in our own direction, we decided to forego our usual woodshedding process. Instead, many of these songs were finished during a weekly residency at the Mercury Lounge in New York this spring and short east coast and midwest tours. Having recorded most of John Henry with the full band live, we set out to integrate our old, highly personal, electronic way of working with our new, more organic full band sound.
- 1 The Sessions
- 2 The Songs
- 2.1 1. S-E-X-X-Y
- 2.2 2. Till My Head Falls Off
- 2.3 3. How Can I Sing Like A Girl?
- 2.4 4. Exquisite Dead Guy
- 2.5 5. Metal Detector
- 2.6 6. New York City
- 2.7 7. Your Own Worst Enemy
- 2.8 8. XTC vs. Adam Ant
- 2.9 9. Spiraling Shape
- 2.10 10. James K. Polk
- 2.11 11. Pet Name
- 2.12 12. I Can Hear You
- 2.13 13. The Bells Are Ringing
We recorded the album at both fancy and unfancy studios in New York City, including our apartment-shaped personal studios. With our new freedom, we had the opportunity to make recording in ways we only imagined-from full string and horn sections for the opening track to recording at the Edison Laboratory without electricity on a wax cylinder recorder from 1898 for the song "I Can Hear You". We gratefully acknowledge the production skills of our old friend Pat Dillett who helped us realize a lot of our ideas for the project. We met Pat when he worked as an engineer for the recording of Flood. To finally be able to create an entire album with him has been a pleasure.
Our drummer from the John Henry sessions, Brian Doherty, carries on with us, and has been joined by the awesome and notable bassist Graham Maby (Joe Jackson, Freedy Johnson) and lead guitarist Eric "Wah-Wah" Schermerhorn (Iggy Pop, David Bowie).
Thanks for checking out our latest album. Hope you like it. See you on the road.
The opening track, and first single, is a pretty big departure for us, as it is our first ode to getting it on. Written with Iggy Pop's bassist Hal Cragin, and featuring a horn and string arrangement by TMBG road veteran Kurt Hoffman (also known for his work with the Ordinaires) this track spotlights Eric's phenomenal playing over a very fine groove laid down by Brian, Hal and percussionist Sue Hadjopoulos.
Performed at the breakneck tempo of "classic new wave", this song is the harangue of an embattled old-timer who refuses to yield the floor. Chorus: "I'm not done, and I won't be till my head falls off." Check out the rock power of bassist Graham Maby in the breakdown section.
This song is as much about freedom of expression as it is about how to sing high. Its title was inspired by part of TMBG's live show where Flansburgh had to sing in a falsetto to reproduce the sound of a sped-up vocal from a recording called "She Was a Hotel Detective". And so the idea of having "the right to sing like a girl on demand" was born.
A song of admiration for a departed hero. The title is inspired by the name of a parlor game of the Surrealists, "The Exquisite Corpse", in which players take turns constructing a sentence word by word without seeing what has already been written.
5. Metal Detector
Partly inspired by a zealous guidebook to buried treasure in coastal Maine, the perspective of "Metal Detector" is that beach recreation is frivolous compared to the serious business of treasure hunting. We dug up the dusty but still squawking MicroMoog synthesizer for many of the sounds on this track.
6. New York City
This song was originally recorded by a group called Cub from Vancouver. The original version is an inspired piece of garage-grrrl rock. We took a little bit of the garage element out, and put a little more New York New Wave into the mix. The original lyrics were not immediately intelligible, so some liberties were taken. (Co-op City is not mentioned in the list of memorable New York sites.) Lyle Workman from Frank Black's band sits in on lead guitar.
In a sense, the sound of this track hearkens back to the earliest They Might Be Giants recordings. All the percussion is from a tiny Yamaha sound module. The bass is a cello plucked by Mr. Garo Yellin. The words, which visit the themes of depression, alcoholism, and self-destruction, are the original products of our own imaginations, although the chorus makes fleeting reference to a popular soft-rock song from the '70's: "Precious and few are the moments we two can share."
8. XTC vs. Adam Ant
This song is about an imaginary rivalry between these two seminal but totally distinct early '80s rock icons. It is also definitive proof TMBG is still hopelessly trapped in a world of pop culture references. We recorded a song for the XTC tribute record last year, and while we were tracking it we had to record some backwards vocal for a psychedelic section. Since it didn't really matter what we said we recited a bunch of bands contemporary with the lads from Swindon, including Adam Ant. The contrast between the two seemed striking and while doing a bit of press to promote the tribute album, we cooked up this song.
9. Spiraling Shape
TMBG wishes to make the case that not all of our songs have a single strict interpretation, but "Spiraling Shape" is generally about the fervent embrace and then abandonment of a cultural "bubble." It might be "smart" drugs, it might be virtual whatever, or it could simply be spin art. Steve Light adds his snazzy vibraphone to this swirling cut.
10. James K. Polk
This song was written with childhood friend Mr. Matthew Hill. Originally featured as a b-side, its legacy has grown with hardcore TMBG fans, and now has been resurrected in full hi-fi for Factory Showroom. The lyrics are as factual as we could make them with the reference books handy. James Knox Polk, the 11th President of the U.S., was a dark horse candidate who unexpectedly won the Democratic nomination and the election based on his popularity in the South with his stated goal of annexing Texas, the Southwest, and the Oregon Territories. Once in office he fanned the flames of dispute between the U.S. and Mexico to achieve part of this aim. (The Mexican War is still commemorated in the expression "Remember the Alamo!") Personally, we find his expansionist policies ruthless and unscrupulous, but the existence of the Western U.S. is largely due to him. The spooky sound halfway into this recording is a "singing saw," an actual metal saw stroked with a bow by Mr. Julian Koster.
This track takes us deeper into the Memphis groove than the band has ever been before. The song is about a slightly sleazy couple with a tenuous relationship to each other and a suspect relationship to the world.
12. I Can Hear You
This track was recorded at the Edison Historic Site in West Orange, New Jersey on an Edison wax cylinder recorder. We performed this and other songs in front of a small audience, singing and playing acoustic instruments as loud as we could into a pair of enormous metal cones, the larger of which was perhaps twelve feet long, which fed the sound into a hundred year old non-electrical recording device created by Thomas Edison in the 1890s. The wax cylinder recorder carves a groove into a rotating tube of softened wax with a needle that is vibrating from the sound pressure collected at the small end of the cone. That is the best we can explain it. It looked very cool.
A song about the seductive appeal of social order (as opposed to individual freedom), and an expression of the terrifying and exciting power of propaganda. The part of the bells is sung by Amanda Homi.