Dear New Orleans

August 24th, 2010 by tim

Today’s the official release date of Dear New Orleans, and you can hear the entire, epic benefit album right here.

OK Go, Mike Mills from R.E.M., My Morning Jacket, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, Jill Sobule, Flobots, the Wrens…do I really need to go on?

Spread it around.

Oh, if you just want to jump straight to “The American Way,” the latest salvo from Tim and Jay’s Wonderlick project (complete with three trombones), you can play/share this little widget:

What Tim Did With His Summer

August 14th, 2010 by tim

cover I spent a good part of the summer helping my friends from Air Traffic Control pull together the Sandinista of benefit albums: Dear New Orleans features over 30 tracks from a wide array of indie, country, hip-hop, jazz and r&b artists, all doing songs dedicated to (and in some cases specifically about) one of our country’s most precious and musical cities.

The album’s being released to mark the 5th anniversary of the flooding caused by the breaking of the levees after Katrina hit, and proceeds will go to the community organizations still helping to rebuild the city and preserve the wider Gulf area.

I’m biased, of course, but I think the album rocks pretty hard. The full line-up will be announced next week, but for now I can tell you that A) it includes several of my personal heroes, B) all the participating artists are alumni of the artist-activism retreats ATC and the Future of Music Coalition have been hosting in New Orleans for the last few years and which I blogged about last March, C) it comes with a booklet featuring artwork by the Mekons’ Jon Langford and some liner notes by yours truly, and D) Wonderlick has a new track on the album.

That track is a new version of “The American Way,” complete with a brass band — multiple trombone parts were arranged by Mark Mullins from NOLA’s own Bonerama, and the Bonerama horns recorded their parts in New Orleans just a couple weeks ago.

More details will be coming over the next week, including news about how to snag the triple album for the price of a 7″ single (really) the day before it comes out.

Song of the Week: That’s A Lie

June 9th, 2010 by tim

For some reason, our video for “That’s A Lie” has disappeared from the interwebs, which is a shame, since we made some crappy videos, and that one was far and away the least crappiest.

So we’ve taken the liberty of rectifying the situation with this here fifth-generation copy. It will also live permanently on our Videos page.

The cover tune came about in the first place because we were listening to LL Cool J’s Radio album (well, cassette, actually) in the van somewhat obsessively, and every time “That’s a Lie” came on we’d all remark on how much like a Too Much Joy song it seemed, lyrically.

So we punked it up a little, made up our own suburban lies, and wrote a new third verse (my dad really did used to tell me, “Never tattle, never lie,” usually when I ran to him after my older brother had just punched me in the face for being younger than him). When we played the song live, it had a choreographed dance routine, which we thankfully did not film for the video.

LL Cool J did the shoot as what I can only assume was a favor for our shared PR maven, Leyla Turkkan. Years later we ran into him at the Mondrian Hotel in L.A. and talked to him like we were buddies. He was pretty clearly mystified, so we reminded him about the video, and he said, “Oh, yeah, those Too Much Joy guys.”

We figured some poor shmoe at MTV would have to slow down the part with all the text on the screen to make sure we weren’t cursing or telling kids to kill themselves, so we included a message just for him telling him his job was kind of lame and he should quit. Years later we ran into that guy, too, though not at the Mondrian. He came up to us after a show and told us we were right, some shmoe had indeed had to scroll through all the verbiage frame by frame, and he was that guy. He hadn’t quit, but he’d appreciated the offer to come tour with us. He was less enamored of the bits in Latin, which he’d had to translate to make sure they didn’t include curses or instructions for kids to kill themselves, either.

It all seemed pretty hilarious at the time.

The track itself was recorded at Radio Tokyo in Venice Beach, California, along with the rest of Son of Sam I Am. I think the sessions lasted six weeks. I had to fly to Maine in the middle of them to watch my mom get married, which I was not very pleased about (though I was less displeased than my younger brother, who got drunk and punched the groom after the rehearsal dinner).

I don’t know why I’m making my family sound like brawling maniacs. There was very little punching among us, if you average it all out over twenty or thirty years.

Anyway, the point is that when I returned to California, the band had laid down the harmonica, which was played by some guy they saw in some restaurant, but who turned out to be a relatively well-known harmonica dude, and who later recorded the theme to Roseanne.

And it sounded awesome.

Rehearsal Tape Series Episode 4: TQ + Bonerama!

April 3rd, 2010 by tim

I spent a few days the other week at a mind-blowing Artist Activism Retreat in New Orleans. I’ll be posting a long piece about what-all went on there on the Rhapsody blog before too long. In the meantime, though, some folks have been asking if there’s any audio from the benefit show that capped the retreat, and the answer to that is, yes indeed.

About a dozen musicians attended the retreat, including Southern Gentleman Mark Mullins from New Orleans’ Bonerama, who always back the assembled artists at the closing benefit. Since Bonerama is fronted by three trombones, Mark writes these amazing horn arrangements for whatever tunes each performer wants to sing.

That’s the horn chart for “King of Beers” above. Who knew it had so many notes?! My favorite part of the chart, though, is this notation in the bridge:

It just says, “crazy.” That’s pretty much how the whole night was. After “King of Beers,” we covered The Clash’s “Hateful,” and Tim McIlrath from Rise Against joined on guitar and vocals. You can hear how they both sounded below:

Bonerama’s site has the full set list with all the performers, plus a bunch of pictures from the show. Many thanks to Tim, Mark and the rest of the unbelievably talented and cool Bonerama — and all the other performers, who were also unbelievably talented and cool. It was an honor sharing a stage with them. I hope I didn’t spill too much beer on it.

If you want, you can download both tunes for free, but since this was a benefit concert, I have placed a New Orleans Voodoo Curse on them that will leave you wracked with guilt forever if you do so without donating whatever you can to Sweet Home New Orleans, who’ve spent the last several years helping bring musicians who were scattered by Katrina back to the city, in rebuilt homes when necessary. Alternatively, you can donate to the Gulf Restoration Network, who are working to restore the wetlands between NOLA and the Gulf of Mexico — if those wetlands hadn’t been eroded so much in the last 45 years, Katrina wouldn’t have done nearly as much damage to New Orleans.

Even better if you donate to both!

Song of the Week: Pride of Frankenstein

March 12th, 2010 by tim

Too Much Joy were saddened by the news this week that the Hartsdale Cheesery has gone out of business. To pay tribute to this hometown institution (technically, it was an institution of the town next to TMJ’s hometown, or, if you were Tommy, who grew up in Eastchester, the town next to the town next to your hometown), we are naming “Pride of Frankenstein” our song of the week, as it is the only commercially released song we’re aware of ever to name check the Cheesery.

Sadly, that may be the most notable fact about the tune. It’s not my proudest moment as a lyricist, and the arrangement is charitably described as busy, which may be why it was played live all of twice before being retired from the set.  Some fans seemed to like it, though — one sent me a letter with an essay he’d written for a high school English class about the song.

The dude the song’s about really existed, and really did used to wander around Scarsdale and Hartsdale writing down the license plate numbers of all the parked cars in a little notebook he carried around just for that purpose. The bit about throwing rocks at him is dramatic license — not that I never did anything cruel to sad figures when I was a kid; I just don’t remember throwing rocks at him, specifically.

In a semi-related bit of trivia, one of the rare arguments I’ve had with my wife happened one night during a Scrabble game, when I scored a bingo playing “cheesery” using a Y that was already on the board. She challenged me. Turns out it’s not in the dictionary.

And now it’s not in Hartsdale, either.

Song of the Week: William Holden Caulfield

January 28th, 2010 by tim

catcher-in-the-rye-coverJ.D. Salinger died today. He was 91. He was also something that’s very hard to imagine in 21st century America: allergic to fame.

Like most alienated youth, we loved the way The Catcher in the Rye spoke to us, about us. And like a lot of over-educated alienated youth, we moved on from Catcher in the Rye to Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey, and the rest. If you haven’t read “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” go do so now.

“William Holden Caulfield” owes more than just 2/3 of its title to Salinger. It’s all about a fierce desire to maintain Holden Caulfield’s jaded but idealistic mindset into adulthood, and the fear that doing so might not be possible.

Typing this today, as an almost-45 year-old (which means I’m not even halfway to the grave, if I live as long as Salinger managed), I have to say we were half right. A lot of that adolescent insistence that things should be more just and anyone who settles for less is a sell-out does, in fact, bleed away, no matter how hard you try to prevent it from happening.

But not all of it. Never all of it.

In memory of Mr. Salinger, the band is giving away a live version of “William Holden Caulfield.”

Download a Live Version Free!

A Brand New Too Much Joy Song. Free. Because It’s Christmas.

December 17th, 2009 by tim

We tried to have this ready for Chanukah. But art takes time. So we are compensating for our tardiness by offering not one free download, but four – one from Too Much Joy, and one from each of the three side-projects that have sprouted like mutant limbs from TMJ’s trunk. Just click the button below to snag your tunes (you can also push the play button in the widget beneath to hear all four songs in their entirety — feel free to share with friends).

Free Downloads! (Merry Everything)

The TMJ tune is called “Mystery Limousine.” It was written in the early-‘90s, but never got recorded. Until now. In keeping with our holiday theme of family, love and forgiveness, the song features both original member Sandy Smallens (on bass and vocals) AND producer/replacement bassist William Wittman (on too many guitars), and was mixed by old friend and Son of Sam I Am producer Michael James (who may have added some guitars, too, but you can still hear Jay cutting through them all). The lyric, if you care, was written when the band was riding around in limos, and trying to process the disappointed faces of onlookers who were expecting someone more famous to emerge from said limos when they pulled up at hotels.

The Wonderlick tune is called “Easy,” and should be self-explanatory. It is one of several songs Wonderlick recorded recently with a live band – it’s a rough mix, which will evolve over time, and the first salvo in their third LP, which they hope to have finished by springtime. Besides Tim and Jay, the band features Ken Flagg on keyboards, Chris Brague on drums, Daniel Fabricant on bass, and the awe-inspiring Jean Cook on violin. Ken and Jean and a guy named Justin from the studio all shout along at the end there. More free rough mixes will be forthcoming before Christmas Eve are now available on www.wonderlick.com.

The Surface Wound song is a selection from their brand-spanking-new LP, The Kids Are All Gone (Acquired Taste). It’s called “Pretty French,” and features Sandy and Tommy from TMJ plus guitarist Steve Hamilton.  The horns come courtesy of ska band Edna’s Goldfish brass section (Gary Henderson on trumpet and Thomas Comerford on trombone).  NYC-area gigs are being slated for the new year.  You can stream and buy the album (for only $6!) and learn more about the band at www.surfacewound.com.

The Its song is called “You Are All That I Need.” That one’s basically Bill, Jay and Tommy from TMJ singing a lyric by Tim. It was originally written as a stalker anthem, but in this more festive context perhaps we should hear it as a cry of love from each Joyboy to the other. (12/19 update: turns out we had a mis-named file in the original package, so if you downloaded before 5pm on Friday, 12/18, the Its song you got was actually “Don’t Say a Word.” The problem is fixed, so just hit download again if you want a free copy of “You Are All That I Need.”)

Fah-hoo-doh-ray.

(The songs are yours for the taking, but if you have any desire to throw some digital coins in our metaphorical hat, you are welcome to do so — just click the button below):


My Hilarious Warner Bros. Royalty Statement

December 1st, 2009 by tim

warner stmt detail

I got something in the mail last week I’d been wanting for years: a Too Much Joy royalty statement from Warner Brothers that finally included our digital earnings. Though our catalog has been out of print physically since the late-1990s, the three albums we released on Giant/WB have been available digitally for about five years. Yet the royalty statements I received every six months kept insisting we had zero income, and our unrecouped balance ($395,277.18!)* stubbornly remained the same.

Now, I don’t ever expect that unrecouped balance to turn into a positive number, but since the band had been seeing thousands of dollars in digital royalties each year from IODA for the four indie albums we control ourselves, I figured five years’ worth of digital income from our far more popular major label albums would at least make a small dent in the figure. Our IODA royalties during that time had totaled about $12,000 – not a princely sum, but enough to suggest that the total haul over the same period from our major label material should be at least that much, if not two to five times more. Even with the band receiving only a percentage of the major label take, getting our unrecouped balance below $375,000 seemed reasonable, and knocking it closer to -$350,000 wasn’t out of the question.

So I was naively excited when I opened the envelope. And my answer was right there on the first page. In five years, our three albums earned us a grand total of…

$62.47

What the fuck?

I mean, we all know that major labels are supposed to be venal masters of hiding money from artists, but they’re also supposed to be good at it, right? This figure wasn’t insulting because it was so small, it was insulting because it was so stupid.

Read the rest of this entry »

TMJ Elsewhere on the Net

November 19th, 2009 by tim

Spinner.com just published a feature on bands with their own theme songs. They include TMJ at the end, so you have to scroll all the way down. Includes a gratuitous knock on the band. Sigh. Anyway, you can read it here: http://www.spinner.com/2009/11/18/band-theme-songs/

Also, NPR has been doing some end-of-decade coverage on their Monitor Mix blog. They surveyed a bunch of musicians and other industry-type folks. Today’s question is “What does “indie” mean to you. I answered that, and several others on earlier days, and theoretically some more to come, if you want to check it out.

Song of the Week: Secret Handshake

October 25th, 2009 by tim

secret-handshake

This week’s entry is a request from Ian Farrell, who wrote in asking about this song. It was one of the first written and recorded after Mutiny, though it was left off …Finally since the groove didn’t really sequence well with the punkier numbers on that one. We did play it a lot on tour in ’94 and ’95, and it eventually came out as a bonus track on the CD reissue of Green Eggs and Crack.

Lyrically, it’s about what we tried to do with the band – if “Theme Song” was about how we behaved on the road, “Secret Handshake” was about what the quest was for: namely, some kind of genuine connection with like-minded individuals. Since it was written after being dropped by our major label, it was also an acknowledgement that there might not be tens of millions of such connections to be made, and an attempt to accept and, just maybe, even celebrate that fact. Even when it doesn’t feed you, there is serious joy in the notion that art can help you shake hands with someone you’ll never meet.

If all that sounds too pretentious, or if the lyrics themselves fail to say it better and more succinctly, then you might at least be interested to know that the second verse really happened. My wife Donna and I were enjoying the first perfect day of spring in Washington Square Park. We’d just bought some ice cream cones, and sat down on a bench in the northeast corner of the park to eat ‘em. It was one of those days after a long and miserable winter when everyone in the city was so happy for the nice weather that they make a point of smiling and being polite to strangers, and one of us was saying something about how gorgeous and pleasant it all was when we heard a noise that sounded wrong, heard some screams, and suddenly watched people being flung through the air in a horrifying manner. It wasn’t immediately obvious what was going on, but soon we saw a car just tearing through the middle of the park, running people over.

Grim doesn’t begin to describe it. It is a strange thing to watch actual people actually die, and at moments like that I think the brain tries to construct a narrative that makes sense. The most logical explanation to me was that the driver was doing it on purpose, that something in his or her brain had snapped, and he or she had decided to run down as many people as possible.

Donna and I ran to a phone to call 911. I think at least 10 other people in the park were doing the same (back in those pre-cell phone days, every street corner had banks of pay phones). We briefly debated running into the melee in case we could help the wounded, but decided we’d probably do more harm than good. So we went to a bar on Bleeker Street and drank a bunch of pints of beer, which didn’t seem to make us drunk, or to make what we’d just saw make any sense. I remember the bartender was irritated when we insisted he switch away from the baseball game that was on to a local newscast, so we could find out what exactly had happened.

Turned out it was an old lady who forgot the gas pedal was not the one that made the car stop, no matter how much harder you kept pressing it.

Anyhow, that went into the mix as well, because sometimes having a genuine bond with someone – like we now did with everyone else who’d been in the park that day – isn’t so desirable after all.

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