Saturday, May 18, 2013

One-Mind Tracks: Self-Love

Just as a word of warning, this post is not G-rated.

When I got the idea to do this compilation, I had completely forgotten that May is National Masturbation Month, but how fitting! There are a ton of songs about love and sex, but a slightly smaller subcategory of songs about masturbation and privates (men like to sing about their boy parts a lot, actually). These are some of my favorite songs about self-love. I've even made you a Youtube playlist!

My Ding-a-Ling by Chuck Berry
I was planing on leaving this novelty tune off of the playlist until I heard this amazing live version. Chuck Berry apparently has an amazing sense of humor, as well as some pretty liberal ideas about sexuality. This song passed the censors of the day because it's "about a toy." Apparently this track got a lot of play on Dr. Demento, and it's not hard (tee hee) to see why. Not only is this song a great introduction to this playlist, but it's a great reminder that this sort of song can be fun, and there's nothing wrong with that.

In Quintessence by Squeeze
"In Quintessence" is not exclusively about masturbation, but it is about a fifteen-year-old boy, so there is the inevitable "In the corner with his book and tissue//all he can do is pretend to miss you//Closes his eyes as he sees her body//pulls funny faces and that's his hobby." It's also a fantastic song, both musically and lyrically.

Billy Liar by The Decemberists
In a similar vein, "Billy Liar" is about a boy's boredom during which he seems to spend a good deal of time with his pants/knickers down. "Billy Liar" comes from an English novel about a boy with an active imagination. Apparently the song character, however, imagines mostly one thing.

I Touch Myself by The Divinyls
Everyone's favorite, blatant song about masturbation can't be left out. The Bens (Ben Folds, Ben Kweller, and Ben Lee) also did a pretty amusing cover of it, but as this playlist shows, men touching themselves is a lot more commonplace anyway.

Captain Jack by Billy Joel
Billy Joel wrote this song about the teens in the housing project across from his apartment, who bought a kind of heroin called "Captain Jack." But because he's Billy Joel, it's not just an accusation or judgement on these teens. He imagines what it's like to be a poor teen, including, yes, the masturbation. It's a pretty depressing song all-in-all, it kind of gives the playlist bad vibes, but I love Billy Joel, so I can't leave this one out.

U + Ur Hand by P!nk
While this isn't really a song about masturbation, this feminist rock-anthem does center around P!nk telling a guy to self-service because he isn't getting anything from her.

She Bop by Cyndi Lauper
It's a nice change to hear a woman sing about self-love, since it almost seems like a pastime reserved for men, at least according to media. But Lauper sings openly about "she-bopping" and is adorable whilst doing so. She also reminds us that "She bop, he bop, a we bop//I bop, you bop, a they bop."

Dancing With Myself by Billy Idol
When I was younger, not only did I used to get Billy Idol and Billy Joel mixed up, but I also argued until I was blue in the face that this was just a fun pop tune. But the more research I do, it's probably about "dancing" with yourself. Especially when you see Idol's body language in the video. Still a great song, and a great addition to the playlist.

Turning Japanese by The Vapors
The internet loves to argue about this one, but at least three of the interpretations have to do with masturbation, so I'm calling it. Apparently it's actually about a guy who loses a girl and is so overcome by grief that he becomes someone else, but Urban Dictionary says otherwise.

Pictures of Lily by The Who
A boy has trouble sleeping until his father gives him a picture to stick on his wall. The implication is that something about this pin-up girl causes the narrator to be able to relax himself. He also says he falls in love with Lily. Pete Townshend got the idea for this song after seeing a picture of Lily Bayliss on his girlfriend's wall.

Pink Thing by XTC
Andy Partridge penned this unusual homage to his penis. In actuality, the song is built to have a dual meaning. Yes, it's about his penis, but hidden beneath that is the fact that it's about his son. You follow me? Because I barely do. Partridge and his wife apparently called their son "pink thing" when he was a baby, and Partridge wanted to write a song about his son without it being cheesy. Thus, he gave it a wax overcoat of being about a penis. It works.

Fingers by P!nk
Trust P!nk to make it on this list twice. Apparently her record company wants to make it really hard to get to this song. That's not coming from research, it's from experience. P!nk was going to include this on I'm Not Dead, then changed her mind, then released it on the platinum version of I'm Not Dead, so you have to buy the whole deluxe album to get it, and then I can't add it to this Youtube playlist because it's only viewable on its own. Anyway, it's about P!nk not getting enough from her boyfriend, so she has to finish the job herself. Very sexy tune, and a perfect wrap for this playlist.

Got any more? I'd love to hear them!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Interview: Elias Gowins of Elias and the Error

Last year, Canton, Ohio band Elias and the Error released Aren't We So Lucky to be Alive. Now they're introducing Help Yourself, and I've got the scoop on it from Elias Gowins.

Elias Gowins
No More Blood From a Clone: How would you describe Elias and the Error?

Elias Gowins: Elias and the Error is a multimedia project built around my songs. I'm really inspired by the highly-visual, chameleon career artists like David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Todd Rundgren, DEVO, and Sparks. All of these artists make powerful music that's socially aware and supplemented with striking costumes, make-up, videos, and photography.

NMBFC: Can I ask you to explain what you mean by "chameleon career artists"?

Elias Gowins: "Chameleon career artists" is the only way I know how to describe people like Bowie or Manson and the like who have made several decades worth of albums, worked in many different musical genres and moods, and have evolved and changed their highly visual presentation.

NMBFC: Your latest album is largely about mental health and you've done a show specifically as a community outreach about mental health. May I ask why this matter speaks to you so vocally?

Elias Gowins: I am extremely vocal about mental health because it's such a terribly misunderstood subject, at least where I live in the Midwestern United States. I spent my adolescence and early adulthood chained to my own self-destructive wrecking ball. I was quitting jobs, burning money, destroying relationships, and hurting myself without understanding why or how to stop it. Unfortunately, the uneducated attitude most people take to this is "Oh, well, snap out of it. Cheer up." They try to inject logic into suicide. It won't ever work. It took me so long to summon the courage and the resources to finally get help. So, now that I'm at least able to get up in the morning without demolishing various aspects of my life and my body, I want to try and speak to people who are like me. I want to reach out to kids who are surrounded by people who don't understand mental health and ascribe a "get over it" attitude to their issues. I get a lot of messages and letters from fans. I've gotten pictures of arms slashed down to the bone, attempted suicide stories, and people telling me about their struggles with sexuality and gender issues. These people have no party in their life that won't judge them or shame them for trying to unravel their mental health issues and if my presence and my art serves that purpose for them, then I am honored and humbled to assume the role.

NMBFC: How do you feel you've advanced as a band since Aren't We So Lucky To Be Alive?

Elias and the Error
Elias Gowins: The songs are a lot denser and complex now. I used to play live solo or with a couple backing musicians, but we're a consistent four piece with a drummer now. That has added an incredible amount of power to our performances. Our visual representation is a lot more polished, too, and much less colorful than the visuals we had during the release of our first album.

NMBFC: Is a less colorful live performance better?

Elias Gowins: Less colorful doesn't mean that the shows are less fun or anything - it's more of a palette change than a dynamic change. We've been making things more monochrome and dramatic rather than over-the-top glammy and sci-fi like the previous live show we did. I think the new show lends itself better to the serious and intense nature of the new album's material and themes.

NMBFC: The songs on Help Yourself each seem to deal with different types and aspects of mental illness. Was there a particular system to writing these songs, or did you just coincidentally end up with these common themes?

Elias Gowins: I stopped making music for several months because I was in the deepest, most insane state I've ever been in. I quit my job and moved to another state to follow this person that I was convinced was going to love me forever and I would finally stop hating myself. As our relationship predictably became volatile, I became increasingly self-destructive, culminating in me going to the hospital in an attempt to keep me from killing myself. I charmed and deceived my way out of the psychiatric ward and returned to my house. Forced to really look at everything that had lead up to that, the only way I could reconcile it was to write a song. That song was "As I Was Going to St. Clair." From that point forward, I felt strongly that bringing myself back to music and dealing with my feelings through the music was going to help me through this period. I didn't have anyone to talk to, so I talked to the music. I didn't intend for the album to focus so directly on my story, but I didn't let myself second guess anything I was writing because I wanted to create an honest snapshot of what my life was like during this breakdown.

NMBFC: My favorite track on Help Yourself is actually "As I Was Going to St. Clair." Can you tell us any more about the story behind it?

Elias Gowins: My roommates whom I lived with in Pittsburgh staged this really frightening and isolating intervention that made me feel more scared and anxious rather than help me. When they saw that I continued to hurt myself beyond that point, they took me to a regular sort of hospital and just dropped me off. They expected me to go away for a long time or something. After I got booked, I was interviewed by the staff psychiatrist. It doesn't take more than a Psych 101 class to figure out what answers their looking for in regards to committing you, so I lied. I did so well I even received a prescription for powerful sleeping pills as a bonus prize. The whole situation was filled with people trying to "help" me, but it scared me to death and made me retreat further into myself. It did a lot more damage than good. So, my anger and frustration with these powerful people making decisions about my life and health who seemingly had no regard or understanding for my happiness or comfort inspired me to write that song.

NMBFC: How did you decide on the jazzy, almost vaudevillian, yet still very modern sound for it?

Elias Gowins: The original arrangement of the song was more like the choruses in the album version. It was electronic and very dissonant and frightening - a result of my anxious and terrified emotions that night. I found out about Cab Calloway through Danny Elfman, who most people probably know was the composer for all of Tim Burton's films. Cab Calloway's records are early 1900s hot jazz tracks with lots of call-and-response crowd vocals and jumpy, swing dance rhythms. I felt the swing-timing of the song would lend itself to a jazzy, cabaret arrangement and spent a lot of time honing the track to incorporate those elements. I'm also into a lot of vaudeville and jazz revival stuff like The Dresden Dolls and Squirrel Nut Zippers, so they definitely were a template for the style of that track.

NMBFC: I can definitely hear the Cab Calloway in that track now that you say that, but you've done a great job of giving it a modern twist.

Elias Gowins: Thanks!

NMBFC: What's your view on songs like "Fire and Rain," which is about James Taylor's experience in a mental institution, but really has nothing to do with his struggle with depression so much as his "lost love"?

Elias Gowins: I think a lot of depressed people find themselves in unhealthy, codependent relationships. I know I certainly did. The song "Gelobtes Land" is directly about my worst relationship. Something like "Fire and Rain" seems to pin the solution to our problems on the love of another when the love we have for ourselves is the most powerful. I can't speak for everyone, but my low self-esteem and dependence on others for love and approval was the root of my issues with depression. I hope to encourage more people to accept themselves rather than look for their self-image in a relationship, religion, or whatever.

NMBFC: Is it possible that love is just like a semi-tangible thing we can all pin our depressions on, instead of having to think about the fact that really we're sad for no specific reason?

Elias Gowins: I think love can definitely put up a smokescreen between us and the real nature of our emotions. Love is a great thing when it is healthy, but it is also a common outlet for a lot of hateful and hurtful things.

NMBFC: I noticed that there seem to be more female vocals on this album. What caused that shift?

Elias Gowins: I would consider myself to have a very feminine spirit, which is something I fought with for a long time. As I've developed my singing voice and learned proper technique, my singing voice has dropped an octave, giving it a deeper, bolder post-punk sort of tone. I wanted to keep this sort of daintiness and fragility to some of the vocal parts, so I enlisted some friends to help me out. Most prominent on the album is Romie RoMak, who has been in a bunch of LA-area bands, she's the female vocalist on "Gelobtes Land," and she is my ideal candidate for the things I find enchanting about female vocals.

NMBFC: Do you have any more live shows planned to promote this album?

Elias Gowins: Our production right now costs a lot of money, most of which comes from my own pocket, so we're taking things very slow when it comes to performing right now. I would rather play four shows a year where we can do the full production on our terms and give the audience an experience than play every weekend in a different basement with no videos, costumes, staging, or video screens.

NMBFC: Have you considered making a Kickstarter to help fund live shows?

Elias Gowins: If we had an idea that was big enough, absolutely. Kickstarter is a great platform for an artist to test the true marketability of an idea before they throw money at it.

NMBFC: Tell my readers a little bit more about your live shows.

Elias Gowins: I'm a very big fan of live music. I listen to just as many live concert recordings as I do studio albums. However, when I go and see most bands live, I find it tends to become very static after four or five songs. I'm not sure if I should ascribe this to how the modern media assaults and overloads all senses or my frustratingly short attention span. Bands like Nine Inch Nails, of Montreal, Daft Punk, SSION, and Amanda Palmer all have great live shows that utilize a variety of media to keep you constantly interested and stimulated by what's going on in front of you. Their shows feel like an experience, rather than just a collection of your favorite songs played live. My father lived in Las Vegas for nearly a decade, and I saw a lot of the Cirque du Soleil shows out there, which also create a dynamic experience that touches on many moods and vibes. I want our shows to be engaging, interesting, and interactive like the ones I referenced. Some elements to the current show are live video mapping, costumes, props, and custom staging. We play on a series of elevated platforms that are backed by surfaces we project video content onto. Our stage is decorated in rotten mushroom statues and we're all currently dressing in a sort of a classy 1930s swing dance troupe's garb. We go into the crowd as much as possible to sing and dance with people. We want to connect with these people and have love pouring from both sides of the front row. We only play in our home base of Ohio right now, but we regularly have people driving from out of state to catch our sets. We're extremely happy to entertain people that much that they find a 10-hour round trip drive is worth it.

NMBFC: What exactly is live video mapping?

Elias Gowins: Video mapping is the process of taking the entirety of a video projector's output and declaring different "zones" within it. Say for instance, I set an apple and a banana on a table. The video projector is projecting over the entire table, but using software, the projector only puts images on the apple and banana. So, each different place we play in, we adapt the video show to the set-up of the stage and wherever we end up putting the screens, so with one video projector we're getting several "zones" of unique video at once. Maybe some colors are strobing on my face while animations play on the wall behind us. It's really cool stuff and we're still learning what we can do with it.

NMBFC: Sounds awesome. Is there anything else the world should know about Elias and the Error?

Elias Gowins: Hoobastank follows the Elias and the Error Twitter.

If you want to hear more from Elias and the Error, you too can follow them on Twitter @Elias_Error.
Or if you want to hear their music, you can check them out at Bandcamp.