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: For The Comedy Album, I was having some difficulty getting motivated to actually record the long list of songs I had written for the LP, for reasons I will save for another post. At some point in (I believe) early 2014, I realized that if I could convince some of my favorite musicians to produce songs based on simple acoustic demos I had recorded, then I could kill two birds with one stone, or really three entire living birds:
Living Bird 1: Hear new music from artists who I really wanted to hear music from
Living Bird 2: Save myself some of the time and agony it costs to arrange/record songs
Living Bird 3: Incorporate different sounds to ensure that the album covered a wide tonal ground
It worked out pretty great. I totally murdered all of those dang birds.
The first track, sequentially, on the album produced by an outside producer was lovingly crafted by the illustrious Max Tundra, one of my very favorite musicians of all time.
I can’t even recall how he and I became friends, to be honest; I know it involved MySpace. I do know that in the early 2000s, he became an idol of mine after I became aware of his album Mastered By Guy At The Exchange, a kaleidoscopic, genre-smashing maxmimalist pop record that evinced an astonishing attention to detail. By the time his next album, Parallax Error Beheads You, came out, we were in contact personally, and I did everything I could to try to force him to record thousands of songs a year that I could buy and listen to. I remember we first met in person at (le) poisson rouge, and a proper friendship was minted.
In 2010, he sent out a request (via email? Maybe Myspace again?) for places to crash when he came to New York to play some shows with mash-up auteur Girl Talk. I responded saying, “Sure, if you don’t find anywhere else, you can sleep on my couch/floor/whatever.” I expected he would get tons of enthusiastic responses, but my house it was, and we hung out, I recorded him covertly playing an insanely great show at Glasslands (R.I.P.), and I always made sure to hit him up for a meal and a lengthy conversation every time I found myself in London.
So, all of these factors taken into account, it was a no-brainer that I would ask him to produce a song for The Comedy Album. He agreed, and we went back and forth trying to find a good fit; at some point, he asked if I had made a reference to Infinite Jest in one of my demos, and I said no. But I realized one of the songs I had kicking around was called “Permanent Humor,” which was conceived as a riff on permanent make-up, but also works as a synonymic rendering of infinite jest, so we called it kismet/a day and got to work. I think the end result is a thing of maximum wonder.
I sent him some questions that I asked to all three of my collaborators to get his insights and please my ego:
Did you enjoy working with me on our song? I did, no pressure.
Yes. Yes, I did. Though I love looking at your face so it would have been nice to be in the same room at the time.
Collaborations across genres are ever more constant on today’s records. Why do you think this is? Is it just a matter of technological advances, or is there something deeper?
I think people are growing tired of the strict rules and regulations qualifying a song as belonging to a specific genre. Why should a grime track be a certain BPM and have a specific drum pattern? Is there any necessity for ukuleles on advertisement music? Producers are tentatively stepping outside their comfort zones, but this can be scary, so hands are being held across ever-softer genre divides. I’ve always adopted a relatively genre-free attitude to music-making, which has led to classification issues when it comes to the sale and review of my albums.
You are, like me, empowered by home recording. Besides convenience or necessity, what do you prefer about that method? Do you enjoy more traditional recording processes, e.g. professional studios with premium bottled water and perhaps a bejewelled curtain for the vocal booth?
I have never had the pleasure of a vocal booth on any Max Tundra recording. If you turn up my acapellas you will hear passing Tube trains, stomping neighbours, car horns, ice cream vans, babies gurgling, leaves being loudly blown, grass being shriekingly cut, microwaves pinging, litter being dropped in the street and a fly scratching its eyeballs, depending on the quality of the microphone. I don’t know if this empowers me but it’s nice for those with an ear for texture.
What artists have influenced you repeatedly and/or intensely?
Laura Mvula, Todd Rundgren, James Ferraro.
Outside of income, what keeps you pushing forward and making new and exciting music?
I am consistently motivated by the drabness of most commercial music. It seems that, certainly in Britain, there is a glut of ever-more maudlin cover versions of chipper songs from the past. The world really needs cheering up at the moment: the last thing it needs is a slowed down miserable acoustic version of ELO’s toe-tapping “Mr Blue Sky.” I make music for people to escape into, if they want. Welcome!
You’re way behind—but it’s never too late!—if you haven’t already gotten familiar with Max Tundra’s three albums and assorted side-pieces. In particular, there are some great covers and remixes floating around the dark web. Hunt ‘em down. But his advice is “Check out my brand new record label.”