Becky Brooks and Nate Mitchell are the snuggably crypto-geek dance-this-trash-around duo called Cars Can Be Blue, which mixes up tasty teenage sleeze with delectable Bubble Yum-centered minimalist tunes as heavenly as Betty Crocker's duck butter left on a batter.
Broken into an imaginary "Side One" and "Side Two," CCBB's debut album All The Stuff We Do has twenty short-n-snaphappy songs that feel as fun as a Jonathan Richman beach barbeque crashed by a bunch of developmentally disabled compulsive huggers high on helium.
The stand-out cuts include "Abortion" which starts with Becky complaining, "Been six weeks since I bled from my hole — all because my boyfriend didn't pull out his pole" after which Nate chimes in, "Well her figure keeps getting bigger — we gotta kill that baby before it gets in the way." Becky confesses that they probably should have mutually self-abused with pornography, and this elegant mini-opera ends with the entrails-rattling resolution, "I think maybe killing this baby was the best choice we ever made!"
Rollicking simply but effectively, dry heaving 50s white rock riffs in a 60s folk rock way, songs that establish a pleasing tone and then deliver lines as devastatingly wrong as "She's so retarded the other retards call her retard — when she sings it's like a retarded angel getting her wings — you're my favorite fucking retard!" ("Retarded Retard") will either seem utterly irresistible to you or downright fucking atrocious. Therein lies their courageous beatuty.
With superb CD art by Johnny Ryan ("Angry Youth Comix"), and odes to Batman (wherein Becky meets him at a "superhero dance" and then goes back to the Batcave with him, only to be turned off by the stench of bad guys later on when he comes home night after night), pompous counter culture types ("hey hippy, just because you drink that tea doesn't mean your better than me!"), and a lot of anal sex, Cars Can Be Blue is perfect transgressive pop, sort of a Mentors for the twee generation.
TIG: How'd you two meet?
Becky: At a friends' house, I saw a tape of Nate playing drums in an old band of his. My friend made a comment like "I bet you and Nate would really get along." The next day he came into the video store I worked at to drop off movies.
Nate: I was renting the GG Allin documentary "Hated" and Becky told me that it was one of her "staff picks." I looked at the box and there was a sticker that said "Becky's Picks." At that point I didn't even know her name. I think that was when I decided that she might be worth befriending.
TIG: What kinds of covers did Nate used to do in his cover band?
N: The band was called Macaroni Tony and the Fabulous Two (I was one of the Fabulous Two, AKA Eddie Spaghetti and our drummer was Al Fredo). We were basically a Me First and the Gimme Gimme rip-off act, mostly doing '80s hits in a "punk rock" style. Stuff like "Take On Me," "Summer of '69," "Once Bitten Twice Shy," and "Every Rose Has It 's Thorn." We would also slip in faithful covers of Weezer songs and indie-rock fare like Built To Spill, Neutral Milk Hotel, Modest Mouse. We would also cover the occasional Britney Spears, Backstreet or Outkast song. The band was a fully-functioning bar band that was beloved by bar patrons in our region and we would get paid fairly handsomely for our shows. It was a lot of fun while it lasted, but Macaroni Tony felt it was comprimising the integrity of his "serious" songwriting career.
TIG: How long had Becky done improv? Was it musically oriented?
B: I've done improv since high school. I love improv. I started the improv group in Keene, NH because I missed it so much. It was just sketch stuff. I thought about doing music stuff, but it never happened. CCBB is my first band. I actually started learning guitar just to be in the band.
TIG: You actually mention the Modern Lovers in a song. Were they an influence?
B: I love Jonathan Richman. I think when I wrote that song it was just at the height of my crush on him. The song "I'm Straight" drives me NUTS! I don't think I try to sound like them, but I guess anything I love is going to come out in my songs some way or another. I think I yell a lot as result of listening to a lot of musicals. And listening to Prince makes me sexy.
N: I would definitely claim Jonathan Richman as an influence, just for being such an odd peg in the music world, sticking to his guns, working minimally and cheaply. All worthwhile attributes that we try to apply to our own musical venture.
TIG: Nate, are you a big ukulele afficiando? Are you part of some secret NE uke-cabal with Stephin Merritt?
B: Actually I (Becky) am the one who plays Ukulele. I love the ukulele. Some of our songs were writen on the ukulele, but because we couldn't mic it properly at shows, we had to transfer them to the guitar. I eventually ended up getting an electric ukulele. Nate and I sold all of our stuff to go on tour, so that had to go. my favorite ukulele player is Cliff Edwards. He was also the voice of Jiminy Cricket.
N: I have thick, spatulate fingers that prevent me from playing the ukelele. Guitar is a big enough challenge. TIG: What is it about anal sex?
N: the thrill of getting someone to open up the dirtiest part of themselves for your thrusting pleasure.
TIG: Becky, how long have you been writing songs?
B: As long as I have been in Cars Can Be Blue.
N: "I Like", "Perm Guy" and "Abortion" were the first CCBB songs.
TIG: Whose songwriting did you really enjoy as a kid growing up? What were your first favorite records?
B: I listened to a lot of musicals and Prince. My first album I owned was Madonna's "Like a Virgin." The first one I had someone steal for me was "les Miserables." The first CD I bought without having heard any of the songs on it was Liz Phair's "Exile in Guyville." My dad listened to a lot of good music, a lot of old blues recordings. I remember really liking Charlie Patton, Hank Williams, Canned Heat, Etta James.
N: The first music I remember was a record I inherited from my parents: "The Chipmunks Play The Beatles". The Beatles were my favorite and I didn't even listen to a lot of "contemporary" music until late in Junior High. My mom and dad grew up in the classic rock era, so I just listened to their record collection. I loved The Who, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath. My mom even bought the first Mothers of Invention album when she was in eighth grade. I also used to the radio all the time and tape songs I liked onto blank cassettes —"Electric Avenue," "Rock Me Amadeus," "Mexican Radio." I really liked synth-heavy New Wave stuff, although I never had any money to buy albums like that when I was growing up. When I first started buying my own music I was in Junior High and I was mostly into heavy metal (Mettalica and Slayer) and rap (Public Enemy, Ice-T, Run-DMC)
. In High School I was very into Faith No More, Primus and Nirvana, which was the band that introduced myself and thousands of other kids to the indie subculture. Anytime Kurt would namedrop a band, I would seek that band out. I'm very grateful for discovering The Vaselines and Danny Johnston that way.
TIG: Do you ever get any inimical reactions to the (occasional) harsh reality of your humor? People in the audience reacting adversely?
N: The worst cases have been, someone punching a wall and busting open their knuckle, an 18 year old Christian gal running out the room in tears, getting "banned" from two venues for our lyrical content and a woman demanding a refund at the Athens PopFest.
TIG: What is it about Batman? Because I'm not gay or anything, but I'd probably go back with him to the cave too.
B: I like Batman because he is an average dude, no powers. He is just smart and has a lot of really neat toys.
TIG: Are you guys lovers of bubblegum pop? You seem to have assimilated various styles of it very well (50s, B-52s New Wave, etc.).
N: Yes, we LOVE bubblegum pop. Given the choice between modern music and oldies, I always gravitate toward the past. Songs that are cheerful, joyous, simple, clever, weird, goofy…two bands I was introduced to this past year were The Plastics ('70s Japanese new wave band) and Sparks (unbelievably I had never actually given them a chance, being daunted by their twenty-five album back catalog).
TIG: How was it playing the The Velmont Lounge in Washington, D.C. and to The Fire in Pennsylvania? Well-received?
N: It was actually The Velvet Lounge in D.C. and both shows had problems. The Velvet Lounge was a great set, one of Becky's funniest performances with between-song banter, but we got major attitude from the staff and made zero dollars from the door. The Fire performance was basically to an empty room. There was literally one paying customer in attendance. But that tour was two years ago. We're getting more booking-savvy all the time. We learned that house shows are a better bet than a club in an unfamiliar area.
TIG: Hey, you have a theme for a certain band of 80s Asian be-shelled mutated forest crawling superheroes on the record. Why not a song about "Small Wonder" too? That theme is kind of complicated though isn't it? Man, that was a creepy show. Sorry, that wasn't a question. But really, you HAVE to write a song about that little robot bitch.
N: That show was probably one of the worst shows I ever saw in the '80s. My sister used to watch it and me and my brother always made fun of her. I don't see us doing a musical tribute anytime soon. Sorry.
TIG: Have you played Seattle before? Do you know much about the city?
N: Nope, this tour is our literal first time on the West Coast. I seem to remember some bands in the '90s being from Seattle and it's where Sir Mix-A-Lot is from.
TIG: Are you working on new songs?
N: Yes, we've got a few in the set that are not on the album that were written more recently.
TIG: How often do you write?
B: Whenever I am hyper and a little sweaty, songs just kind of happen.
TIG: If you were forced by your next high paying label to do a double CD concept album, what would it be about?
B: I think one CD would be Nate's solo stuff and the other would be mine.
N: Concept-wise, I think it would be a musical or pop-opera.