Thursday, December 28, 2017

Pheaturing Neil Hannon From The Divine Comedy

Hello, and welcome the last Phile entry of 2017, people! The ending of a year prompts reflection about all the good and the bad that has happened in the past 12 months. As 2016 wound down and 2017 approached, people were feeling optimistic because 2016 had been less than fun. Remember all the celebrity deaths? Goodness gracious, 2016 was a rough time. In many ways, 2017 has been even uglier, with celebrities trending not because they had died but because of revelations about sexual assault. This year has been the evil step-mother to 2016's evil step-sister. I mean, if we're honest, 2017 has just been the second semester of 2016.
We have almost zero context or information about how or why this new phenomenon is overtaking Twitter. But, someone tweeted this...

And apparently museums aren't just a place to soak in ancient knowledge. They're also factories run by the CIA, using state-of-the art technology to record the features of every person in the world. These "museums" then pump out an exact replica of exactly every face on the planet so they have a record of each person to walk the Earth. Why? No one knows. But it's clear that they then disguise these records as "portraits" from hundreds of years ago. So you don't get suspicious. Alternatively, a lot of people were inspired by the above tweet by Deenerys... which went mega-viral over the holidays... and responded with their own portrait clone-faces, which are completely coincidental and testament to the fact that the gene pool's a lot shallower than we like to think. Much, much shallower. It's safe to say with absolutely no hyperbole that this is the freakiest thing to ever happen on the Internet. Let the hunt for your own face begin.
As the rest of the world tries to catch up on the life and backstory of the newest cast member of the English royal family, a new player has risen to the top of the drama watch: Samantha Grant, aka Samantha Markle, Meghan Markle's half-sister. (Samantha now goes by Markle in her Twitter bio, but she's Samantha Grant in her handle, @SamanthaMGrant. Some reporters find that strange. We'll just call her Samantha.) It's currently unknown whether Samantha is invited to her half-sister's wedding to Prince Harry, a question that becomes more and more interesting every time her salty comments make the news. This time, she delighted royal drama-watchers by taking to Twitter after Prince Harry's odd remark that his own family is "the family I suppose [Meghan Markle's] never had." And of course Samantha had something to say about it...

Including a promotion for her new tell-all. Samantha's book will be titled "The Diary of Princess Pushy's Sister." Additional information for your consideration are the reports from April that Samantha was "reportedly planning to star in a reality show to expose their ongoing family dramas." And the reports from British tabloid "The Sun" that she once called her half-sister a "shallow social climber" with a "soft spot for gingers." And the info from the Daily Beast that she's also "alleged that Meghan stopped speaking to her after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008." Excited for the wedding yet? Apologies for this next line, but it has to be written or else the British tabloids will put a curse on my family for not paying them homage with a corny subheader... Meghan may be the princess, but Samantha's the drama queen! Nice. Everyone's really rooting for the reality show rumors to become reality, right?
Who didn't see this one coming? The new Donald Trump animatronic has only been on display for a week in the Hall of Presidents attraction at Disney World, but according to Theme Park University, a fight already has broken out over the robo-president. Wow, that took 6 days longer than I thought it would. In this video uploaded to YouTube on December 27th, you can hear an audience member chant "lock him up!" during Trump's speech. Other audience members start arguing with the protester, one even pointing out that this particular Trump is not even real, and things escalate from there. The Disney Cast Member in the theater tries to step in, but is drowned out by the yelling. It's all... really dumb. Happiest place on Earth, right? The video cuts out just as the arguing gets intense, so we do not know if this fight ever came to blows, but it certainly sounds hostile in there. It is unclear what the protester hoped to accomplish by demanding an animatronic be locked up... especially because we can only assume he knew he would be seeing an avatar of the president when he willingly walked into something called The Hall of Presidents. Hopefully all parties were able to cool off, grab a delicious, non-partisan Mickey Mouse pretzel, and set aside their differences by riding the much less-controversial Space Mountain or something.
In the latest installment of aging rockers voicing the ideological equivalent of "get off my lawn," U2's baby boy frontman Bono told "Rolling Stone" he thinks music has gotten too girly. I can only assume this statement was followed up by a later edited tirade about the dangers of transmitting cooties through extended conversations with women. In the newest, and certainly not the first "Rolling Stone" cover story featuring Bono, the 57-year-old singer told alleged sexual predator Jann Wenner that the music world has been wrongfully softened and tarnished by the increasing presence of female musicians. "I think music has gotten very girly. And there are some good things about that, but hip-hop is the only place for young male anger at the moment... and that’s not good." His commentary is fun because it not only expresses a distaste for feminine artistic influence, but also includes some casually coded racism in the assertion that hip-hop, as huge and wide spreading genre is "not good." If you were hoping for reconciliation through clarity or intent on Bono's part, it's sadly unlikely you'll find it. The more the Irish singer went in-depth, the worse his pull quote sounds. Based on the interview, his main reason for despairing about women's presence in music is the assertion that the art form should be an outlet for anger. There of course, seems to be a large oversight about the many, many things women have to be angry about (see: systemic sexism and the continued existence of Bono). "When I was 16, I had a lot of anger in me. You need to find a place for it and for guitars, whether it is with a drum machine... I don’t care. The moment something becomes preserved, it is fucking over,” Bono mused, whilst staring into a pocket mirror reflecting his tortured millionaire soul. “You might as well put it in formaldehyde. In the end, what is rock & roll? Rage is at the heart of it. Some great rock & roll tends to have that, which is why the Who were such a great band. Or Pearl Jam. Eddie has that rage." Does Bono know about Courtney Love?! Or X-ray Spex?! Or the godmother of rock and roll Sister Rosetta Tharpe?! The whole Riot Girl movement?! Women in rock music have BEEN angry and if they weren't already, obnoxious (but unsurprising) musings from Bono are sure to birth dozens more angry baby female musicians. The whole tone of the interview begs the question: does Bono realize he's the leader singer of U2?! They're not exactly a hard raging band that gets teens in trouble with their parents. Unless of course, swaying with lighters is against your parents religion. Hopefully, for the sake of music as a whole, Bono is able to single-handedly keep the anger alive in rock and roll. I have faith, that with more interviews, he can keep it raging.
Ivanka Trump has a New Year's resolution, but it's doesn't seem to be "stop writing tweets that are so easy to make fun of." Yesterday, President Trump's daughter tweeted a link to an article about the benefits of sleep, and added that her "New Year resolution" was to sleep more. Ivanka Trump really can't get out of her own way. Sure, more sleep would be lovely, but most of us don't really have that luxury. Tweeting about sleeping just set her up for tons of mocking responses, most having to do with her father's administration (and just how out-of-touch with normal life Ivanka really is). Looking forward to seeing if Ivanka Trump posts about any more "New Year resolutions"... like wearing more expensive dresses and going on fancier vacations.
So, I have never been arrested... but if it ever happens I hope I'm not wearing this t-shirt...

Ladies, did you ever read those "Sweet Valley Twins" books when you were kids? I'm really not sure they were written for kids at all with titles like...

Hahahaha. Hey, remember that kid from Bad Grampa? This is what he looks like now...

Feel old yet? If I had a TARDIS I would go back to see the Hoover Dam when it first was built, but knowing my luck I'll go back too far and end up in a pipe when it was being built.

Hey, parents, I hope when your kids go back to school next week they don't bring like this back to you...

Actually I take that back... I hope that they do. So, I was supposed to Google "cast of 'Game of Thrones'" the other day, as one of the cast might be on the Phile soon. But instead I Googled "cats of 'Game of Thrones'" and I discovered this...

Ha! Richard Brake from "Game of Thrones" is the one who might be on the Phile. I have no idea who he plays. If you're thinking about cheating on your loved one you might think twice after seeing this...

Man, that Donald Trump Jr. sure tweeted some weird shit in his life...

Huh? So, you know those Porgs from The Last Jedi? Well, I think they were in some anime before...

Apparently BB-8 and Rey were as well. So, if the Internet could read my mind this year this is what they'll see...

Pretty much all Phile related shit. So, I did a survey people people felt about 2017 and I thought I'd put it in a nice pie chart. Check it out, people...

Yup. Pretty much sums this year up. Hey! It's Thursday. You know what that means...

In 2004, Turkish man Mehmet Yilmaz squirted milk from his eye into a coffee cup at a distance of 2 meters and 70 centimetres, setting a bizarre new Guinness World Record. Mr Yilmaz, 28, has mastered the discipline of eye-squirting... sucking milk through the nose into the eye before squirting it out across a table. Ugh!

This is dumb. If you spot the Mindphuck let me know. Well, I don't know what 2017 was like for you but for some people it just plain fucking sucked. So, here's a new pheature called...

Today's person who had a sucky 2017 is Donald Trump. Why? Because he hates this as much as you do. One of the many articles we've read over and over this year... other than the classic "Trump supporters still support Trump!" trope... is insights into just how miserable this old, cranky man is in his new job and his new house. "Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals," "The New York Times" reported. But instead, Mr. President's days are filled with an "hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation," in which he "spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television, sometimes with the volume muted, marinating in the no-holds-barred wars of cable news and eager to fire back." A simple peep at his tweets presents a sad, sad man in pursuit of praise. His approval ratings are in the toilet... you know, that place where he tweets. Other than his golf trips forcing taxpayer money into his pockets, his business is suffering as the name Trump has ceased to become synonymous with "gaudy luxury" and now means "America in decline." Sure, he managed to pass a tax bill that will personally make him millions and is on track to reshape the federal judiciary in a way that suppresses civil rights for generations, but in addition to ruining America, he's also ruining his life. As Mueller and midterm elections beckon in 2018, next year is looking like it'll be even worse. SAD! for him, good for the world.

I don't understand. Hahaha. One thing I do understand and this is football, so once again it's time to talk football with my good friend Jeff.

Me: Hey, Jeff, welcome back to the Phile for the last entry of the year! Was it a good year for you? 

Jeff: Always good to be back here on the Phile. Twenty-seventeen? Meh, it has it's moments. It was an up and down year. What about you?

Me: It was a hodge podge of a year. Did you have a good Christmas?

Jeff: I did have a good Christmas this year. We had a bit of a white Christmas, it snowed Christmas Eve. Not enough to be a headache though so it was good.

Me: So, did you hear Carlos Hyde say the 49ers will win the Super Bowl in 2019 after another win with QB Jimmy Garoppolo? How can he look so far ahead?

Jeff: I think he's being way too optimistic. The 49ers are undefeated since switching QB's to Garoppalo, but that doesn't translate to a Super Bowl win. We will see what they do in the draft and free agency. I will admit that the team is looking better now than they have all season.

Me: Speaking of the Super Bowl, who do you think will be in it this year?

Jeff: I'd love to see it be Eagles versus Steelers. It would be my team versus my brother's team. Plus I know someone else who is a big Eagles fan and I really want them to come so close... and then lose!

Me: Ha! I thought this was interesting... Buffalo Bills' DE Jerry Hughes accused the Patriots of paying off referees to help get wins. I wouldn't doubt it, would you? The Patriots have such a reputation for cheating.

Jeff: I don't know that I think they are bribing refs, though the game against the Steelers wasn't the first time the refs helped New England win a game. I made a meme earlier in the week that shows Roger Goodell telling Brady to make up for his four game suspension last season the refs would do what they could to help, then showing two horrible calls that both went in favor of New England.

Me: This is crazy... Every year, the NFL waits until all the games are completed in Week 16 before finalizing their Week 17 schedule in large part to have the best matchups with playoff implications in the late game window and on "Sunday Night Football." But this year, the NFL couldn’t find a game worthy for “Sunday Night Football” in Week 17 so decided to not have one. The NFL released it’s Week 17 schedule last Sunday evening with all the games taking place at either 1pm or 4:25pm. eastern time, with no game on Sunday night. What do you think of this? It's kinda sad, don't you think?

Jeff: It is kind of sad, but there's some benefits for the players. Some more players will be home for New Year's with their families? But there's a lot of bad games this week so there's a part of me that totally understands the decision.

Me: So, what NFL news do you have, Jeff?

Jeff: Steelers clinched a first round bye for the first time in 10 years. The Eagles clinched home field throughout the NFC playoffs as well. The Steelers released their all time sack leader in James Harrison. The good news is there was no major injuries in Week 16.

Me: Hey, Disney has taken over another team again...

Me: What do you think?

Jeff: Nice Bullseye helmet! I could see that!

Me: Okay, so, how did we do last week, Jeff?

Jeff: Both teams I picked won! But not by my spread so I went 0-2 with a Steeler win. You went 1-1 this week with a Giant shut out. As in you got shut out. No points. So sad.

Me: UGH! Let's pick one more time this year... I say Bills by 3 and Texans by 1. What do you say? 

Jeff: My picks are Vikings by 4 and Chiefs by 3.

Me: Alright, Jeff, I'll see you back here next Thursday. Have a good and safe new years. Be good. See ya in 2018!

Jeff: See you in 2018!

Dick Enberg 
January 9th, 1935 — December 21st, 2017
Oh, my.

Today Anna Wintour became the latest victim of Donald Trump's cyber attacks after the President called her out on Twitter in the wake of "Vanity Fair"'s controversial "Six New Year’s Resolutions for Hillary Clinton" video. In addition to being the longtime editor of "Vogue," Wintour also serves as the editorial director for CondĂ© Nast, the company that owns "Vanity Fair." In case you missed it, "Vanity Fair" came under fire after releasing a satirical video suggesting that, in the new year, Hillary Clinton take up a new hobby like knitting or improv comedy. The sketch was largely ill-received, with many pointing out that the video read as sexist and regressive. "Vanity Fair" later released an apology, saying they that the video was "an attempt at humor, and we regret that it missed the mark." President Trump also criticized "Vanity Fair," but for their treatment of Hillary Clinton... but rather for caving into pressure from the left to apologize for the video. While he was at it, he also took the time to drag Anna Wintour into the whole mess. In the tweet, Trump takes a stab at Wintour, suggesting that "Crooked H," a.k.a. Hillary Clinton, was planning on naming her the Ambassador to the Court of St. James, the formal title for U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. Trump now claims that Wintour is "beside herself in grief & begging for forgiveness!" That's one way to land yourself on the worst-dressed list for life. Well, that, and those too-long ties. Maybe Trump is just salty that he hasn't been invited to the Met Gala in recent years?

The 72nd book to be pheatured in the Phile's Book Club is...

Phile Alum and author Jim Korkis will be on the Phile in a few weeks. And now for a pheature simply titled...

Phact 1. The World’s Littlest Skyscraper scam was committed on Wichita Falls, Texas. The designer said the building would be 480 in height. Investors assumed it was 480 feet not 480 inches and soon realized they invested $200,000 in a 4 storey building. They lost in court and the builder kept the money.

Phact 2. In 1988, "Cosmopolitan" magazine ran an article stating that women had no chance of contracting HIV from sex with a man because HIV could not be transmitted in the missionary position.

Phact 3. The snow in The Wizard of Oz was asbestos. The Wicked Witch’s broom was made of asbestos, as was the Scarecrow’s entire outfit despite the fact that asbestos’ health risks were already known at the time in 1939.

Phact 4. Robin Williams provided 14 hours of improvised lines for his first animated voice work in Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. Originally given an 8-minute part, after impressing the director, Williams’ screen time was tripled.

Phact 5. George Washington had his own personal recipe for egg nog that he would serve to guests, which included one pint brandy, 1/2 pint rye whiskey, 1/2 pint Jamaica rum, and 1/4 pint sherry wine.

Today's pheatured guest, and the last for 2017, is a singer and songwriter. He is the creator and front man of the chamber pop group The Divine Comedy, whose latest CD "Foreverland" is available on iTunes. Please welcome to the Phile... Neil Hannon.

Me: Neil, hello, sir, welcome to the Phile. It's so great to have you here. How are you?

Neil: I am good. It's an honour, thank you so much for having me.

Me: I've had a lot of requests to have you on the Phile so so glad you are here. I love the new album "Foreverland," which I downloaded from iTunes. I love the duet on "Funny Peculiar," Neil. It sounds like something that could be in an old musical? Did you have that style in mind when you started writing it?

Neil: I think ever since I saw Breakfast at Tiffany's I've been trying to write "Moon River." More specifically I've been trying to write Audrey Hepburn playing a guitar sitting on a window sill playing something when all of a sudden the orchestra comes in. I love that. I think I've tried that over the years and I think I got pretty close with "Have You Ever Been In Love?" from "Bang Goes the Knighthood." But this time I totally nailed it.

Me: When did you know it was going to be a duet? And who is that singing on it?

Neil: That's my better half Cathy Davey. That was funny because I thought suddenly this could be a duet with a female type person. Hmmm, who should I have? And I went through some wonderful exotic notions and until somebody says yes I better get Cathy to sing it so I know what it'll sound like. After much begging she did it and I thought ahhh, it sounds really good... It's really quite sweet and she's just a really good singer obviously. She's a professional. She's part of the reason we... anyway, moving on.

Me: With your songs, the lyrics are always so witty so I imagine they come before the music, am I right?

Neil: I think I was probably writing the words after I had the song laid out and the tune. I would of had bits of the choruses and things as I was writing. It's very hard to pinpoint what part of the process it happens in and why these things occurred to me. It's mostly do to my jealousy of Cole Porter.

Me: I thought it was weird there's no drums on the song. Was that on purpose?

Neil: If you put drums on a song like that it'll sound like a Beatles song. I wanted to keep it away from that and just add a bit of a shaker really. It infuriates my drummer as I constantly try to get him to stop playing drums all the time. We rehearsed it with the shaker but when we got to the venue to play it live for the first time he said, "You sure a little bit of nice brushes wouldn't be better?" No, Tim, you have the shaker.

Me: I love the song "Napoleon Complex." I know a few people who that could be about. Anyway, with the orchestra on it, do you write all those parts yourself?

Neil: Oh, um, I just over do it all the time constantly. I know that I do and I can't help myself. It's a real problem. I grew up in the 70s, I was born in 1970, and therefore I was a child of the Osmond era, you know. I grew up on ELO string laden and it just never seems like a song is finished until I put the strings on. It's really bizarre. I'm sure for a lot of other bands the songs wouldn't be finished until you put the synth-pad on it, or something like that. Yeah, strings for me is a very expensive affliction.

Me: So, what is the "Napoleon Complex" to you, Neil?

Neil: A short guy that wants to rule the world. There's a bit of that in me. There's a bit of the crazed dictator who thinks he knows better than anybody else about how music should be. Hahaha. I likened it to other albums where I don't have the same voice all the way through and it's really nice to throw it into a different perspective. So, I enjoyed having the girl singers coming in the chorus... it's just Cathy again. Pretending to be German. Ironically given the title of the song. I guess this harks back to "Pop Music" by M which I was slightly obsessed by.

Me: Your music is amazing and all over the fucking place. Who were your influences growing up? 

Neil: There are specific areas of music which had such an impact on me in my youth or as a teenager or as an early twenties, that these things are in me every time I write or record. They just come out. It doesn't matter how much I want to be something else. But this is what I am. I am actually constructed of these elements. I talked about the 70s thing. Then there's the golden age of British pop from 1978 to '83. The Elvis Costello's and the synth pop and David Bowie's great stuff at the time and weird stuff like pop music. All of that is what really is so engrained in my psyche I would splurge it out when I write. If anybody wants to wonder why my records are so weird you just have to think what goes into them.

Me: There's another historical person referenced to on the album... Catherine the Great. When you write about something like that do you do research on the person or do you just know everything about the person?

Neil: A little bit of research, not much, because too much accuracy and I'm a history teacher all of a sudden. But I have to say I'm a massive fan of Lucy Worsley. If you or your readers don't know who Lucy Worsley is, she's sometimes on BBC 4, and occasionally on BBC 2. She's the curator of royal palaces by day and presents history programs by night. Not only is she adorable but she's brilliant. She's so watchable, she really brings the whole thing alive for me. I think over everything else I was sort of visualizing her in the role, but is os 50/50 in the content of Catherine the Great and my Cathy whose great.

Me: So, do you write on the piano or guitar, Neil? I know you play both... I think. Haha.

Neil: Normally what I write on doesn't end up on the song but sometimes it should and I forget. It was a long writing process on this album and I went over songs again, and again and again and again. Because I was so tired of finishing albums and wanted things to be different. I thought I'll just try every possible alteration of each song until I have the one that does to for me. The only problem with that is after I've done weave versions of the same song I kinda forgotten what's good about it in the first place, so it can have the reverse effects. A lot of the times I go down a certain road then listen to the songs demos and I think screw the last six months of work... let's go back to this. Hahahaha. That's not a big trial, I enjoy all of that so much, that I could really go on for the rest of my life.

Me: Like I said, your music is so complex... how do you remember what you want to do? "Other People" was recorded on your iPhone, right?

Neil: We were doing promotion for The Duckworth Lewis Method's second album "Sticky Wickets," which is available now, and I was in my hotel room, and I was writing this song in my notebook, I've probably been doing to for ten or fifteen minutes, and I thought it's a pretty good idea. I got the tune in my head but I'm going to forget it because I do. This happens to most songs so I sang into my phone and thought no more about it. Then when I listened back to it I thought that was a very good vocal surprisingly for me. It's in tune and when I stopped at the end of the take I sang "blah, blah, blah" I'll finish the rest of the song at a later date. I couldn't think of anywhere else it needed to go, it was a single thought so I thought wouldn't it be funny if I put that vocal on top of a massive string orchestra. Because a songs not finished until it's got stings on, and see what happens. I arranged it and it sounded really good so that's pretty much the end of the story.

Me: Do you do a lot of demos, Neil?

Neil: That's the funny thing, we have Pro Tools at home which is the industry standard program and we have some nice mics so our demos basically become the record. I mean all of the songs on this album I brought as session files to London and we worked on the ones I've already been working on so there's not so much demoing and recording anymore.

Me: With my music project Strawberry Blondes Forever I tried to come up with some clever song titles... your song titles are very clever. Do you have fun coming up with them?

Neil: They always seem funny at the time then they appear on the album and I think... that was a good idea? Sometimes a good idea are in themselves, that's the end of the journey.

Me: Where do you do most of tour writing, Neil?

Neil: Wherever I am at the time, if I'm in the right kind of zone. Majority of actively making songs is at home but then quite a lot of the little creative off points for a better term could happen anywhere. The best place is a train but I never get to go on them. I can't just go on a train for no particular reason. They'd wonder where I've gone. I'm writing. Leave me alone. I'm going to Glasgow over night. Hahaha.

Me: What's your best instrument to write with?

Neil: The best instrument to write with is a new one. In fact I've lost count on how many songs I've written when I've just brought something. Be it a keyboard, or a guitar, or a banjo, or a melodica machine, or this brilliant new apps you can get. I've got a vintage synth collection on my iPad. Oh, no, I'm advertising on your blog.

Me: Haha. It's okay. So, do you get recognized a lot, or people ever think you're someone else, Neil? 

Neil: My family is wonderfully small. I think I'm mildly notorious, that would be the height of it. I can walk around in unanimous oblivion, and it's really helpful A) to happiness and well being and B) to creativity because I don't know how really famous people can create anything because they're so aware of themselves and it's reflecting back on them all the time. So I'm suddenly become not in anyway famous. I'm just the bloke who feeds the dogs at five o'clock and write. When I write it's pure selfness. I can do whatever I like.

Me: Neil, all your songs seem very positive to me. Is that correct? Are they?

Neil: Thanks. I'm more optimistic than pessimistic I guess and life is a funny ol' thing. It's interesting to me... I mean boredom is one thing to be afraid of. I think my music reflects that really and I get so much joy just from making music. The joy of making music comes out in the music. There you go. 

Me: Do you write in the style of who you admire or do you make up your own music?

Neil: I end up writing in the style of artists I admire even though I don't mean to, so I have to really try and not do that, or else it would be like a Mike Yarwood show. That show my age, there's a reference you and your readers might not get. And like Stanley Baxter... all the greats. Yeah, so I don't try to write like anyone. I try and let my inclinations and habits do the rest.

Me: I know who both Mike and Stanley are, Neil. I used to have a book by Mike Yarwood. He's great. I should try and find it. So, how do you think other people that write songs do? Do you think they do the same thing you do?

Neil: To often I find out young folks that are starting out they managed to write some songs and I think because it's quite a difficult thing to do when you're that age they get very attached to them... can't really see the wood through the trees so they have to be self-critical. If a song sucks just write some more, always write some more. Then they write the better they get at it and the more likely they'll hit the jackpot.

Me: How old were you when you first started writing?

Neil: I started doing piano lessons when I was 7 and when I was about 10 I've written dots on a piece of paper and I said, "Look, dad, I've written a concerto for piano." "Well, I think it might take a little more time than that but hold on... I'm not buying you a synthesizer. It was just literally incremental by my early teens when I was in my Nik Kershaw faze that the sort of writing morphed with what I was listening to. I was writing more and more anti-war political songs because I was listening to too much Sting. They were terrible, I have to tell you. They were awful but that's okay... I had to start somewhere. As I become more indiefied they all sounded like early REM. It took awhile to find my own voice I suppose.

Me: Did you do a lot of reading when you were young?

Neil: Yes. I was a book nerd, because I had no friends. I had some very good friends but not a huge wide social circle. I was that sort of sensitive young man who read "The Enforcer" novels... a lot. I read them over and over again. I've never been a quick reader. I'm not a devourer of books. I think that's any a lot of them make their way into songs because I was so pleased with myself I got to the end of one. Your character is formed by the age of 17 I think. Pretty much everything after that is massaging your basic "you." I will always be looking for that bittersweet plot twist two thirds of the way in.

Me: Are your most of your songs fictional, Neil? Somehow I think they are.

Neil: Yeah, a lot of my songs are fictional and some are a sort of wishful fulfillment.

Me: You've written for a bunch of other stuff as well... the musical "Swallows and Amazons," "Father Ted," "Doctor Who." Is that fun for you writing for so many things, Neil?

Neil: I can do it and I like a challenge which is useful if it's not something I want to do myself. I like it when other people say you do this and I'll give you money. So, it's slightly less than pure art but it is interesting and sometimes incredibly worthwhile if it works out in something you weren't expecting. "Father Ted" was a different thing because that was very early on and they literally said can you give us a tune? So I just gave them the tune of the song I was writing at the time, I thought it would be that easy forever but it only gets harder as time goes by.

Me: So, tell me about The Duckworth Lewis Method. How is that project different then The Divine Comedy? Do you do the songwriting for that band as well?

Neil: It's kind of a mix. There's some songs on the albums that we did on our own writing things. The majority would be coming in with a bit of one and the other person finishing or moving it on in some way. Thomas Walsh and I write fairly well together, whereas I co-wrote with other people and it's been a disaster. I think its because Thomas is funny and human and writes really good tunes. I found with a lot of other people I've tried to write with that ideas were not forthcoming. They would be waiting for me to come up with something and going that... not that... that. I was like, "You're just editing me. You're not writing it." I'm not going to tell you who I'm talking about but anyway... Some people were so fast like we had to get it done in a morning. Then we'll do another one in the afternoon. I was like, "Hold on. Can I go to the toilet and maybe write proper lyrics? I feel so stressed out." It's a lot easier when I'm trying to write a song about cricket.

Me: Hahaha. Neil, thanks for being on the Phile. I hope you'll come back when your next album comes out. Mention your websites and keep making music.

Neil: Thank you. It could be worse. Cheers.

That about does it for this entry of the Phile, and the year. Thanks to my guests Jeff Trelewicz and of course Neil Hannon. The Phile will be back next Thursday with Matthew Nelson From Nelson. Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye. Have a safe and happy new year. See ya in 2018!

Not if it pleases me. No, you can't stop me, not if it pleases me. - Graham Parker

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Peverett Phile Christmas 9 Pheaturing Sparks

Hey, kids, welcome to A Peverett Phile Christmas 9... how are you? Are you ready for Christmas? Make it through the holidays by doing a shot anytime a Christmas song comes on. Avoid drinking too much at the office Christmas party by drinking too much before the office Christmas party.
It's hard enough to be single at the holidays, but this woman's family made sure everyone in their address book knew her relationship status. Emily Seawright's family Christmas card is going viral after she shared a photo of the fam-tastic photo on Twitter. Pictured are: 1 set of parents, holding up a sign that says "Excited," one who are "engaged," another who are "expecting," and finally... Emily. Holding a sign that says, simply, "Emily." It's like an especially cruel version of a Kardashian Kristmas.

The Seawrights apparently couldn't come up with another way to sum up their daughter's status in one festive E-word. Elegant? Nah. Eco-friendly? Too political. Instead, they settled on the word that seems to convey everything and nothing... just Emily's name. The photo has been retweeted thousands of times on Twitter, with fans weighing in to empathize. Hey, another E word! Happy Holidays to all the Emilys out there.
A 5-year-old boy in Mississippi just learned about the "Grinch Who Stole Christmas," and he decided nothing of the sort was going to happen on his watch. According to "People," TyLon Pittman called 911 to ask police to stop the Grinch. In a rare Christmas miracle, the police actually did it. “Our dispatcher posted a status on Facebook that she had received a call from a little boy... and he told her he thought the Grinch was going to be coming to steal his Christmas,” local police officer Lauren Develle told the "Clarion Ledger." “I asked her to send me his address.” Develle then went to TyLon's house to let him know that the police wouldn't let the Grinch anywhere near his Christmas. If the Grinch did come, TyLon told police he had no qualms about where to send him. “I want y’all to come back to my house and take him to jail,” he said. “The Grinch is not going to come steal your Christmas. I won’t let that happen,” promised the officer. The police force then took it one step further, inviting TyLon into the station to let him lock the Grinch behind bars.
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer posted an Instagram on Tuesday of a copy of Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol." But for some reason, he captioned the picture, "FDRs book of Christmas Carols."

See? This makes no sense. Even if Spicer didn't know that "A Christmas Carol" is the well-known story of Ebenezer Scrooge, he'd have to notice that it was very clearly not written by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Is he… kidding? Being silly? Somehow, I think not. His sense of humor doesn't seem sharp enough for that kind of absurd joke. Spicer will definitely claim it was a joke and/or delete it, but this is just another flub by a man known for embarrassing himself. Like, for example, that time he declared vehemently that Trump's inauguration was the most well-attended ever. It wasn't. But holidays are not kind to Sean Spicer in general. Remember when he was the Easter bunny?
Following the smashing success (ha) of the Halloween hats, Donald Trump is selling MAGA ("Make America Great Again") Christmas hats. Check it out...
These red hats look almost the same as the regular red caps, with the exception of a string of lights embroidered on the letters of the front, and the words "Merry Christmas" printed on the back. Oh, and they cost $45, which is an 80 percent increase from the regular $25 MAGA hats. Yup, nothing like the sanctity of Christmas except the commercialization of it. Jesus would be proud. The official GOP Twitter account tweeted the new hats, with the words "Make Christmas Great Again." Okay, but come on... when has Christmas not been great? That's like saying "Make Candy Great Again." The GOP's advertisement for the hat wasn't met with a lot of holiday cheer on Twitter. It did get some guffaws, though. 
How well do you know Santa's reindeer, really??? You are obviously familiar with Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen. And of course everyone knows the most famous reindeer of all, the Beyoncé of the group, Rudolph. But are you as familiar with these reindeer as you thought you were? Maybe not. Because someone named Cat Reynolds on Twitter just presented a pretty solid theory that all of these reindeer are not quite who you thought they were.

Reynolds' revelation about reindeer has been shared nearly 210,,000 since the 12th of December. It's a Christmas miracle!!!!!  It's not a miracle though... it's actually a fact! Scientists have confirmed that male reindeer shed their antlers in early December when the mating season is over and they no longer need to impress female reindeer with those weird curly fries on their heads. Female reindeer, on the other hand, sport antlers all winter. Of course, some haters tried to claim none of this matters because Santa isn't real????? EXCUSE ME?! But then this guy proposed an alternate theory...

Either way, it sure makes you think about Rudolph pretty differently. Merry Christmas!
Okay, I have to talk about this... Disney, the greatest company to work for in the world, recently added Donald Trump to their Hall of Presidents attraction, and photos of the bizarre animatronic statue have been all over the Internet this week because it is so, so, so, so, so, sooooooo creepy and weird. 

More like stat-EW amiright?! The Internet has many opinions on who and what the statue resembles. But most agree that it does not look much like the real thing (although it's almost as scary). But the most common theory on Twitter is that the statue bears a striking similarity to Hillary Rodham Clinton. And why would Disney erect (tee hee) a Trump statue that looks like Hillary Clinton???? That reason is pretty obvious. This is something we all have to deal with right now. Thankfully there are a lot of cookies around to help us get through these difficult times. 
Hey, it's a few days til Christmas... instead of writing this blog I should be drinking egg nog, wrapping presents and listening to this album...

Um,,,... maybe not. Hey, if you are looking for Star Wars toys for your kids for Christmas Toys "R" Us is having a good sale. 

 Cool, right? So, I just found out that Taylor Momson who played Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the lead singer of the band The Pretty Reckless. Here's a pic of her now. Mind. Blown.

Wow. Anyway, moving on... So, if you don't know where to hang mistletoe let me help you, guys.

Actually, that's a pretty good idea. Ha! Do you remember the Star Wars Holiday Special? Well, word is they want to update it to make it better and I have an exclusive screen shot from it.

Hahahahahaha!!! I'm cracking myself up! There's one Christmas TV special I don't like and that's "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer," but there's one Misfit toy in it I do like...

That's so great! And there's one scene in the show I like as well...

So cool. So, I was supposed to Google "Santa's elves" earlier and instead I Googled "Santas's Elvis" and this is what I got...

Huh huh. If I had a TARDIS I would want to to Port Jefferson, New York and see my family back then. Instead I'll probably end up going too far back and seeing this parade...

Yep, that's really Port Jeff. If you are still looking to get something for your kid for Christmas how about this new toy?

It looks fun! Did you see the Trump's Christmas card?

Hahahaha. Okay, I have to mention this... today is the 80th anniversary of the animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. If the movie came out today in 2017 Snow White would look like this...

That's not too bad actually. Hey, it's Thursday so you know what that means...

An Overton, Lancashire couple, Gary and Angela Williams, are in negotiations with potential buyers after stumbling across a valuable piece of ambergris during a stroll on the beach. Ambergris, otherwise known as whale vomit, is used by perfumers to make scents last longer and can fetch very high prices because of its rarity. The 1.57kg lump of the substance found by the couple could be worth around £50,000 ($70,000). Ambergris is secreted in the bile duct and intestines of sperm whales and is thought to be produced to ease the passage of hard, sharp objects that the whale might have eaten. And, no, it doesn't smell great. Gary Williams said it has a distinctive scent, "like a cross between squid and farmyard manure.”

If you spot the Mindphuck let me know. Okay, it's time to talk football with my good friend Jeff.

Me: Hey, Jeff, welcome to the Phile for this Christmas entry. So, before we start talking football, I have to ask you if you saw The Last Jedi. If so, what did you think? If you didn't I hope no one spoiled it for you.

Jeff: As always, it's great to be back on the Phile. Even though I said I probably wouldn't get to see The Last Jedi anytime soon, turns out I lied. I saw it on Saturday. There were parts about it I loved, there were parts I wasn't so thrilled about. To me it was an average movie, but not up to the standards of a Star Wars movie. I was lucky to avoid all spoilers before seeing it! What did you think of it?

Me: I think they forgot there was gonna be another episode... they seemed to wrap everything up. But I liked it. Okay, so, let's talk about your Steelers... After a 69-yard reception to rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, everything looked to be falling into place for the Steelers as Ben Roethlisberger was on his way to yet another 4th quarter game winning drive when suddenly everything fell apart. First the whole Jesse James catch, no-catch fiasco cost the Steelers a sure touchdown but two plays after that, in heartbreaking fashion, Ben Roethlisberger threw a game-ending interception in the end zone, giving the Patriots a 27-24 win. You must of been at the edge of your seat, am I right? I thought for sure the Steelers were gonna win.

Jeff: To be honest I was pacing back and forth. I was sitting on my bed until they broke huddle then I  got really close to the TV and started pacing. I was screaming at the TV when Smith-Schuester caught the pass. And when James caught the pass I was jumping up and down. I started jumping up and down for a much different reason moments later. The Steelers should have won.

Me: Did you see following the loss, Steelers fans turned to Twitter to voice their anger at their quarterback by attacking a guy named Ben Roethenberg. Unfortunately for Steelers fans, Ben Roethbenberg is a freelance writer for the "New York Times," not the starting quarterback for their team. Haha. Check it out...

Me: That was just a part of it.

Jeff: That's just sad. Take a moment and look at who you are tweeting to! That's an embarrassment to Steeler nation worse than the interception in the endzone!

Me: Did you see that Colin Kaepernick says he wants in on buying the Carolina Panthers? I didn't know they were up for sale. Do you think he'll buy them, or be part owner, Jeff?

Jeff: I don't know that I saw he wants to buy the team, but I did see that P. Diddy and Steph Curry want to buy the team so that Kap can be their quarterback. Although Carolina already has a good quarterback in Cam Newton.

Me: Any other NFL news? A bunch of teams are off to the playoffs. Not the Giants though sadly.

Jeff: Yup. A few times clinched playoff berths, including Jacksonville making it for the first time in 10 years! Steelers were already in though. All that and the Giants won't even secure the number 1 draft pick as the Browns still haven't won a game this season. Other news include the injury to Antonio Brown will miss the rest of the regular season and possibly a playoff game.

Me: So, Disney has taken over another team...

Me: I like this one... what do you think?

Jeff: That's right up there with my favorite Disney logos. I like it! It just needs to read "YOHO YOHO A Pirate's Life For Me" above it!

Me: Okay, so, both our teams lost over the weekend... how did we do, Jeff?

Jeff: I don't think you want to know how we did this week. I went 2-0 with the Steeler loss and you went 0-2 with a Giants loss. My lead grows!

Me: Ugh! Let's pick for this week... I say Eagles by three and Falcons by 6. What do you say?

Jeff: I say Rams by 7 and Panthers by 5.

Me: Okay, well, have a good Christmas, Jeff. I'll see you back here next Thursday for the last entry of 2017. Wow! That's crazy. Have a good one.

Jeff: Merry Christmas, Jason. And Merry Christmas to the readers as well. See you next week!

Hmmm... okay, so, another friend of the Phile wanted to come on here and say something nice. He's a singer, patriot and renaissance man. You know what time it is...

Good evening, pluckers. Sometimes, the only thing you can do is let someone know that you're there for them. In spite of time and distance between old friends, keeping someone in your heart and on your mind... letting them know that you're with them through tough times could mean the world to them. Pick up the phone, send them a letter, a text, an email... tell them that they're on your mind and in your heart. Don't let them become a distant memory just because you're busy or in fear that too much time has passed since you last spoke. Love and friendship are one in the same... Friends are the family you choose... treasure and cherish them. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all... never forget to say I love you. Don't wait until you're standing over someone's grave to tell them how you feel.

Bernard Law 
November 4th, 1931 — December 20th, 2017
Your elevator is ready, sir. Going down?

To demonstrate that one could indeed do something more tone-deaf than throwing a fancy lawn party to celebrate the passage of a bill that will lead to suffering for many people, President Trump decided to make a joke about the congressman who got shot. In June, Rep. Steve Scalise was shot in the hip at a baseball practice with his fellow congressmen in Virginia. His injuries were life-threatening, and spent weeks in the Intensive Care Unit. But look on the bright side... my dude got thinner! Trump joked that getting shot is "a hell of a way to lose weight," which is funny, I guess? According to "Washington Post" reporter Paul Kane, the line is a joke that Scalise has been making in private... so it's not even original material. Of all his crimes and character flaws, the fact that he is a JOKE THIEF is truly beyond the pale. This joke is not only a gas for Rep. Scalise, but also the hundreds of victims of gun violence in America. LOL! Perhaps the notoriously chauvinistic isn't pushing any meaningful gun violence prevention programs because he wants people to get shot so we can all be as svelte as Steve Scalise.

The 72nd book to be pheatured in the Phile's Book Club is...

Phile Alum and author Job Korkis will be a guest on the Phile in a few weeks. And now from the home office in Port Jefferson, New York, here is...

Top Phive Things Being Said By The Hall Of Presidents' Animatronic Trump
5. Just like the real Trump, I don't have a heart or a brain!
4. Strangely, I look way more human than the actual Donald Trump!
3. If I could only tweet with these damn rubber fingers of mine!
2. Be sure to check out the "Make America Great" hat with Mickey ears in the gift shop!
And the number one thing being said by the Hall of Presidents' animatronic Trump is...
1. I could shoot somebody on main Street, U.S.A. and not lose any voters!

Caroling is proof you're not even safe from Christmas music inside your own home.

This is cool... today's pheatured guests are Sparks are an American pop and rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1972 by brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Their latest album "Hippopotamus" is available on iTunes and on Amazon. Please welcome to the Phile... Sparks!

Me: Ron, Russell, welcome to the Phile for this Christmas entry? How are you?

Ron: Good. Thank you.

Russell: It's a pleasure.

Me: I didn't know you were brothers til I read your bio so I am glad I won't ask you how long you have known each other. Haha. I love the new album "Hippopotamus." I love how the album opens with the sweet song "Probably Nothing." Did you plan to have a short intro like that?

Ron: It wasn't the first song written for the album but for that song we kinda worked backwards and tried to figure out what is the vignette that goes around that. I particularly like that track because it's a sort of snap shot in time of an event and you're not exactly sure of what happens before or what happens afterwards but I like that thing where there isn't a completeness all the time to something. 

Me: So, was the song written to be just about a minute long?

Ron: It was always that length it just seemed perfect at the length that it was but as far as starting the album we weren't sure about that because we wanted to kind of hit people over the head at the beginning too and it's the kind of song that before hitting them over the head they have to sit through a little bit softer for a minute and a half. It seemed to just set the right tone and ads more drama to the whole album and it also in a certain way makes the whole album seem as one as if that track is like one book end to the entire album.

Me: And then it goes into a song about a sex position... "Missionary Position." That song is so catchy. What made you guys write a song like that?

Russell: It seems that Ron has been writing the lyric to these but from a distance and having to sing them. There's a large part in there where there are unusual situations that are not normally treated in popular music or there are situations that are treated in a fresh or unexpected kind of way so it sort of seems to me that if we have to generalize it in some the way the lyrics sort of have that quality often times. In a song like "Missionary Position" it's kind of praising something that has not really an ongoing debate about... it's not even a topic of discussion. To bring that up as an issue even it's like someone said missionary position is bad so we wrote a song in defense of the try and the true when no one really asked of there was a problem with it.

Ron: I do think one kind of goal as a lyricist is to take just an ordinary situation and try to frame it in ways that haven't been framed before and try to do it in a non cliche sort of way. From our standpoint it isn't trying to be clever it's just trying to be interesting because it's really infuriating for us to hear songs where things are expressed the way they have always been expressed over and over again. The music is the only thing that is the most important thing to us but it seems like a blown opportunity to not have the lyrics reflecting the ambition of the music.

Me: Before you guys were known as Sparks, you had a different name... and you were signed on Bearsville, the same label as Foghat. What was it like back then?

Ron: When we first started we were called Half-Nelson and the Half-Nelson album didn't do all that well Albert Grossman thought it was a branding issue that Half-Nelson was not the kid of brand name that could possibly be commercial so he made the suggestion to rename the band. Because we were so funny somehow to him he wanted to call is Sparks Brothers. We hated that but he was a pretty powerful person so we said how about we just take the Sparks part which is not good or bad name, just a name. He went along with it and the renting didn't really help any.

Me: Do you say Ron has the ideas well developed by the time they come to you, Russell, or do you shape the way they are gonna be as well?

Russell: Well, they normally come fully formed. There maybe one instance where I thought Ron had written a really amazing melody and song and we recorded it and we didn't capture how beautiful and bittersweet the melody was, I suggested not changing one word but just redoing it. It's hard to tell when we put in all the effort to write a set of lyrics and then to have me say I think it does not live up to the promise of what the music was. That was the case of "When Do I Get To Sing 'My Way'?" because it wasn't originally called that. The song was so good and somehow was being diminished slightly by another lyric that had been written so Ron then completely rebranded. To my credit, obviously I didn't do any of the work, but the song was really successful, whether you judge to commercially successful which really captures the melonic content of those lyrics.

Ron: We use the studio for one tool for writing and Russell is involved in that sense. A lot of times the songs are really formed and we bring them in a record them but sometimes we just record some tracks and we're always trying to collect new sounds. Sometimes a sound could be a spur to the thinking of that the song could be so sometimes there's not a big operation between the studio and the writing.

Me: When you write, Ron, where and how does that happen?

Ron: I have a very, very, very primitive set up in my place and I actually finally switched to digital recording because I was using cassettes. I brought a few machines because I knew they were got to discontinue them. They're really easy to use and quick and I don't really like to fiddle around with stuff. The last one conked out so I've done digitally. I have a keyboard and sometimes an acoustic guitar and I make crude demos, sometimes with my crude singing just enough to remember the song really. We kind of develop it and Russell sings it the way it should be sung. Some of the songs on the album were done in that sort of traditional way, and sometimes they are written by comity somehow. It's a rarer thing now unfortunately but that does happen.

Me: I have to ask you about the some "What the Hell is it This Time?" What the hell is what?

Ron: That song was another case of coming up with a title rather than coming up with the whole concept. In a way it would sound like a bitter song, like you were angry and hostile but not in a very interesting kind of way. It was challenging that phrase in some kind of direction where it became not quote as direct and so having an angry god that was sort of chastising people that had less then important requests of him was the point of the song. If you just say "what the hell is it this time?" going from us it doesn't sound like the right character of a song. A directed anger that was too direct I guess so it was replaced in another way.

Me: When you get to the studio how do you guys work? Ron works on the music and you, Russell, work on the vocals?

Russell: It's all done pretty separately. I'm engineering all this stuff that Ron's playing and he just continues to play things until we find the right thing and we might listen to it the next day and say what we need to change from the previous day. It's kinda a lengthy process. Also, it's only one person playing and having to build up the tracks is timing consuming so we just kinda go at it methodically and do it that way. At some point early on once we think that there might be a little something there sing a dummy vocal to it because without the vocal in the track sometimes we can't tell what we have. The flip side of having a dummy vocal is sometimes it takes us a long time to record each song because of the process that we get engrained with that dummy vocal that starts to sound like the real lyrics. Then we go oh, no, we now have to change those lyrics which we have gotten used to hearing over and over and over and anything different now is not gonna sound as good as me singing nonsense words. It's all part of the progress so eventually the real lyrics I'll sing. If it needs harmonies or stacking up the vocals more I'll start doing that whole process.

Me: You play all the instruments, Ron? I thought you just played keyboards. That's pretty cool.

Ron: We'll put real drums and guitar on quite a few of the tracks on the albums. Those are the live instruments and we have a drummer who has played with us a long time... Steven Nistor, who lives in Detroit now so we would send him things and either have a dummy drum that would have a generic sound which we would have no idea and just let him add something. He would send files to us. Then there's live guitar on it but the rest of the instruments are done with a lot of sound libraries.

Me: You guys must put a lot of thought into these songs and they are not put together all willy-nilly, am I right?

Russell: Yeah, we are pretty brutal chopping up the recordings whatever it needs, if it needs something after we worked on it for two weeks we'll think it might be cooler to start with the bridge that we have or whatever section that happened later. We chop things up and shove them around. We like to work that way where in the past doing that type of stuff after the fact was more difficult but now that's the way we can work with. With computer stuff to work with it makes it a lot easier.

Me: You have a song called "Edith Pilaf (Said It Better Than Me)," on the new album. At first I thought the song was about Edith Blyton. Hahaha. I'm an idiot. Anyway, what is that song about and who is she?

Ron: That song is about a guy whose life is empty and is envious of Piaf who was a French singer, and got to sing and didn't get to regret anything, and he is that position of somebody that is remorseful that he doesn't have anything to regret and he and can't sing that song because he just has no richness in his life to even be able to regret things that he should be things that he should regret. So, its just sort of playing with that.

Me: Why a French singer? Haha. None of your songs are autobiographical, right? They are all about other people and stories?

Ron: In a direct sense, yeah. I think everything we do is autobiographical in this sensibility sort of way that people could see what we are like just as an overall kind of view of things but we don't feel that there's a place in our sings for talking about specific issues. So we think it's really autobiographical safari as being able to pinpoint our kind of personalities and view of things but it's kinda too easy for us. It could be done in a good way like "When Do I Get To Sing 'My Way'?" where it's a song about somebody looking back at his whole life... in general those confessional songs are too was unless it's done really, really well so it's more of a bleep but I think it reveals that there is a lot revealed about us.

Me: I have to talk about the new album's title track... "Hippopotamus" which mentions Hieronymus Bosch who my favorite singer Graham Parker once wrote about. What were you thinking when you wrote that song? Why that animal?

Ron: Well, this was another one working from the title because we had the music from that song which was a song that even we thought sounded unusual which takes some doing. It seemed like it needed the type of subject matter that would not be of there tried and true and the sound of that word kind of popped up and so we then tried to figure out that would a song called "Hippopotamus" be about. It just seemed right to write a surreal picture of these separate little events or seemingly random things that are found by a guy and his swimming pool that have no relation to each other except that that they rhyme. There's no point to the whole thing but it's a dark nursery rhyme kinda song. So, it was working backwards from the title that was a concept of a swimming pool and finding the hippopotamus that was working the other way.

Me: Don't take this the wrong way but there's a lot of repetition in your songs... with the same lyrics over and over again. Is there a reason for that and Russell, do you like singing those type of songs? 

Russell: A lot of it depends on the backing. Like with "My Baby's Taking Me Home" which is like the zenith of repetition, a lot of that comes from the variety of the arrangement where each cycle of that song gives me room to be able to repeat a line over and over. On "Hippopotamus" we take each melody and it seems like each cycle of that of that there's a little bit of some additional harmony parts that happen one time so we can afford in our minds to have that kind of repetition but knowing it needs to have some kind of punctuation's along the way to kinda keep it not being completely monotonous whereas its always a challenge. A lot of those parts come to me winging it adding those punctuation bits or adding extra harmonies on lines just toggle it a little extra pizzazz.

Ron: It's really an advantage of having our own studio because Russell can experiment with different singing parts without having to be sure of everything so f the thing doesn't work it's only a waste of time. It's so nerve-racking in a real studio where we cannot take as many chances. The way we work now and for quite awhile we can kind of do things that we aren't sure harmonies but maybe they're just stacked voices of hitting the same notes so it is a positive thing and creative thing of having our own studio where time doesn't really matter.

Me: I have a music project that I came out with a few years ago called Strawberry Blondes Forever, and that was a little inspired by you guys. One of the main thing how was the humor... I think that's my favorite thing about Sparks. Is humor important?

Ron: The big thing for us is getting the music right but if the lyrics needs to be funny then they need to be funny.

Me: Anyway, on this new album "I Wish You Were Fun" is a funny song by the way. If this song came out five years ago or so I would of played it to someone. Hahah. What is this song about?

Ron: It's almost being sung by a person to themselves in away where they're hoping for some ideal that can't be there and also knowing that they really can't change the other person by they wish that they could. So obviously the frustration is something that would make someone melancholy, even if you should be an accepting person, people always want to change somebody into someone slightly that they are not. Also I think also the piano part at the end of that kind of contributes to that sense of melancholy because the lyrics or the tone of the song have a silly feel the piano tag at the end is kind of more melancholy so its kind of reinforcing the melancholy side of the song.

Me: So, I think I know the answer but what comes first, Ron, the lyrics or the music?

Ron: We start off with the music so the lyrics become less than predictable. By doing the music first we have the freedom to maybe fit the lyrics in an uneven kind of way. It seems like if we wrote the lyrics first it would seem like an uneven kind of poetry that would be like one line, one line, one line, one line. We kind of like the freedom, at least in some songs, to be able to lap over to another bar if we want to and its kind of destroying everything. Things don't have to be as tidy. I think the one downside of recording with computers is we try to fight it all the time is the kind of squareness of things. I still try and sit down and try to record and not think in a kind of way. Like with "This Town Ain't Big enough For Both Of Us," I never had a clue about there being a 2 note bar phrase as that kind of thing is kind of beyond me. Those kind of things I like and when I work with computers it alters my brain cells.

Me: How do you sing the songs live, Russell? The recorded tracks are so complex.

Russell: My brother doesn't write songs in regard of the singer. There's one thing singing the songs in the studio where I could punch in if I need to but live I can't punch in so it's more of an issue.

Me: Haha. Ron, when you wrote the song "Scandinavian Design" were you thinking about Ikea? 

Ron: Russell is more of an Ikea person that I am.

Russell: Yeah, I hang out there for the Swedish meatballs.

Ron: My place needs a trip to Ikea I can say that.

Me: I love those meatballs. So, how do you guys keep it fresh and original after all these years? 

Russell: It's just kind of a passion and not be lazy and just be incredibly motivated and focused to come up with fresh stuff each time we set out to record. It's always an unspoken thing if someone was to hear the latest album and that being the only album they know of Sparks at all... they don't know the 22 or whatever the previous albums that exist, that new album has to stand on its own and be as vital and vibrant we might've recorded early on in our career. We sort of approach things that way to make them fresh and have it not sound as if it is coming from somebody that has a history of someone that has 22 previous albums.

Me: You guys worked with Franz Ferdinand. Does stuff like that help you with your creative process?

Ron: Yes, in a way it was more of an inspiration to work on separate three or four minute songs because we worked on a movie, this project we've been writing, called The Net, and so just to realize that we really enjoyed working that way and with a band playing live, more than an inspiring anything specific about writing for that album, the concept of doing what we've done in the past in that sense was inspired by the FFS project.

Me: I have to mention on more thong... you guys were on the "Gilmore Girls"? What did you do on that show?

Russell: We performed the song "Perfume."

Me: That's fucking crazy. Well, it took a long time for you to have a new album out and I am so glad you do and came onto the Phile. Mention your website and please come back again soon when the next album comes out. Have a good Christmas.

Russell: Merry Christmas, Jason.

Ron: Thank you, Jason. Cheers.

That about does it for this entry of the Phile. Thanks to my guests Jeff Trelewicz, Laird Jim and of course Sparks. The Phile will be back next Thursday with Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy. Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye. Have a Merry Christmas, everyone! Enjoy your elves!

Not if it pleases me. No, you can't stop me, not if it pleases me. - Graham Parker