Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.
Smith: I’m really excited about my band’s new LP, The Comedy Album, and not just in the way that I’m always excited about all of our new albums. I think that it represents an important milestone in the development of our sound(s) and approach(es) to putting records together. Squarepusher is one of my favorite artists; I don’t necessarily love all of his records, much less every song on every record, but he has a very methodical approach to determining what sorts of things he wants to do, and I’m guilty of trying to emulate that. I haven’t heard or read him say it, but Ultravisitor, an album he put out in 2004, always struck me as an attempt to collect all of the various things he had tried out one album at a time into a cohesive unit—sort of like a greatest-hits album with all new songs. I may be kidding myself, but I believe The Comedy Album feels like this (KGW-canon-wise), too.
Now, when I say I’m guilty of trying to emulate this one specific aspect of Squarepusher’s presumed compositional methodology, it’s a bit misleading, because throughout my career I’ve tried to emulate a lot of different people’s/bands’ methodologies. Usually, it’s bands I really like, but sometimes it’s bands I don’t particularly care for—I want to deliver what they seem to be trying to deliver, but better (by my standards, of course). One interesting thing I realized is that for this album, I can’t really pinpoint specific influences that I was trying to mimic.
To give you some examples of how flagrant I have been in the past. I can tell you that on Ponyoak, for instance, there are achingly specific touch-points (which I think you’ll see is a very generous term). In the climax of one song, I was basically consciously ripping off a particular Wilco vocal hook I liked; for the song “Wait For Me (Please),” I was trying to write a Wings song. Neutral Milk Hotel’s seminal/final album came out while I was recording it, so I did my best to rip off the whole “heartfelt acoustic song” thing, too (once Mango made it clear that he was hanging up his spurs, I decided that that was a shitty thing to do to all the people who liked his music so much, so I made a conscious effort to try to recreate—again, being generous to myself—some of that Neutral magic).
I never really consciously tried to reign in this mimetic tendency, though I have an excuse involving a competition to write a theme song for a new TV show (I lost), which gave this inspirational note as guidance; the song “Lots Of Love And A Long, Long Ladder” was my attempt at making a song that sounds like “Hey Ya.” I think I actually succeeded in that case, but I’m quite sure most people would disagree.
All of this self-incrimination aside, I think the main thing I tried to emulate on The Comedy Album was Kleenex Girl Wonder. When I started the band long ago, or more accurately when I tried to come up with a mission statement, I wanted to have a very wide variety of sounds, tones and moods. I played around with creating side projects a few times, but ultimately I folded them back into KGW because that was part of the thesis. In a certain sense, The Comedy Album delivers on that promise. There are a lot of different sounds and songwriting styles on display here. I hope to provide some insight into how I write and what inspires me in these articles, but I also hope to shed some light on how I think of KGW as a cultural unit in and of itself.