I met Mike when I was in middle school. He was a weird and sometimes mouthy bastard cockmaster of the first rank. I immediately hated him, and shortly after that we were best friends forever.
That right there is what we call an archetypal story.
It was because of Mike that I started playing guitar. He was doing it so I wanted to, too. I bummed a low-rent classical guitar (one of those fat-necked, nylon string jobs) from my dad and started making things up. In Mike’s family’s finished basement, and subsequently at my grandma’s house, in the local parks and cemeteries, and all across this great land wherever noise ordinances were lax and ears were tolerant, we made a goddamn boisterous racket together. I do not exaggerate when I say that this was perhaps THE defining element of my teenage years, and by extension, my whole life. It made me a person who values creation, and who wants to create. Many people don’t quite get Mike – the self-elected president and house cheerleader for that organization has long been my own dear, sweet mother – but he has a lifetime pass with me.
Mike and I have been in a hundred bands together that were all the same band, except in name and the horrifyingness of our musical output. The first band both of us were in was The Septic Bobs, who I’ve talked about in this space already, and whose necessary third strut was one Sweaty “Murderface” B. We also founded and later folded Deathfork (parody death and thrash metal); The Warm Pool (really crummy industrial); Barber Groves (home taping experiments and avant garde nightmares); and – swear to jebus – Victory Chicken. Which is still the best band name I hope to one day record an album under.* Here’s the cover from Deathfork’s best-of compilation:
Mmm-hmmmm. Oh yes.
When college happened, Mike and I were temporarily rent asunder. It took a few years in the wilderness for us to realize that we were both still seeking the wet nourishment of each others’ oases. (Yes, it required a full minute to craft a metaphor that homoerotic. I hope you enjoyed it.) We reunited over a long weekend before I graduated – by then, Mike was out of college and living as a semi- and elective-homeless person in Lafayette – at which point we cranked out five meandering songs for a new tape. That stuff was highly influenced by the alt-rock we were listening to then, the likes of Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, and Failure, so there was quite a bit of soft-loud-soft-again and seven-minutes-when-five-would-do. Nonetheless it came out pretty well – really, one of the most enduring things I recorded in college – and so we slapped on an indifferent picture of Mike reclining in a chair and called it Kramer (which was both the band and album title). And then we went our separate ways again.
Got married. Moved to North Carolina. Moved to Chicago. Moved to Indianapolis (alone). Got divorced. Lived with Sweaty B for a while. Found someone new. Moved in with her. <– That was about five years.
At the end of it, Mike was waiting on me again. We met in my too-expensive apartment with the vaulted ceilings and the sun room in front, and decided to expand on and evolve from whatever we’d been doing last. Time for Kramer to become something else. What had been happening musically for the last half a decade? Well, the old grunge and alternative stuff had gotten stale. Electronica had become far more popular and its tendrils were entwining around the roots and branches of non-mainstream rock. Lou Barlow, whose Sebadoh I had listened to through college, had a minor hit with Folk Implosion’s “Natural One,” a sinuous and kind of dangerous/sexy (really? Lou BARLOW? are you sure?) little number that proved that indie rockers had maybe a touch of funk in ’em after all. (Just a wee touch, though. Let’s not exaggerate things.)
Volkswagen started running commercials with fairly hip folky and electronicky songs in them, and other advertisers followed in their wake. Bands like Eels were starting their tiny ascent, though of those Eels in particular I was unaware – I only mention it to give a taste of what was in the atmosphere that year. And Aphex Twin had become one of the media’s favorite underground superheroes. Mike and I were both hearing all of this, and it was a natural next step for us anyway, having listened to some hip hop and dance music as far back as high school. We started playing nascent recordings for each other, and it was clear that we were already on the same page. So Breakfast Jones was born.**
Part of the idea of Breakfast Jones was to bring whatever to the table and cram it in there. Which is how we ended up with a sorta-punk song from my 4-track called “Damn Hell Ass Kings” (title from a “Simpsons” quote), and also a Casio-reggae/rock hybrid called “Zihuatenejo,” with some lyrics about traveling south of the border, and others swiped from Wall of Voodoo. But the predominant flavor of our first album was definitely electronic and dance mixed with indie rock. It was invigorating – felt like all the walls had been knocked down.
Pity, then, that almost everything on that CD was under-realized or out-and-out crap.
Our second CD (“Second”) was knocked out a year later, and was improved in every detail from its predecessor. Where before we had song ideas, this time we had songs. Where before we had three minute noise interludes, this time we had one minute noise interludes. Where before we had a song about going to Mexico, this time we had a song about already BEING in Mexico. Yes, Breakfast Jones’s second stab at indie-pop glory was, if still wide of the mark, at least done with a knife instead of a soiled Q-tip.
But I bore you, Diane; I do go on. Here is “Wishful Thinking.” It was written around a bassline, and has a dark feeling that we were going for most of the time with this project (which still exists in theory today, even if it has produced no music the last couple of years). The lyrics are intentionally abstract, but I still feel like one of my finest lyrical ideas was this one, from near the end of the song: “I like the way you laugh, ha ha ha.” …Well, it makes more sense when you hear it. This song was also part of a long-developing pattern of songwriting experimentation for me – including things like having “choruses” with no words, abruptly changing from one mood or style to another mid-song, finishing on a prolonged instrumental coda. Yet it is still recognizably, kind of, more or less – a pop song. Hope you like.
* Victory Chicken originally played awful, tongue-in-cheek blues rock; but if reincarnated today, it would play patriotic country music or Christian black metal. Or bluegrass songs about superheroes.
** The source of that name is too miniscule and unfunny to explain.