On Spells, its first album for the punky label Vagrant Records, the Comas wake up from a way overstated stoner-rock reputation, look in the mirror and see psychedelic-pop freaks. Sometimes the New York band resembles the Flaming Lips without the dancing bunnies, sometimes the New Pornographers without the cultural politics. Mostly the Comas use pop, metal and sci-fi-isms as building blocks for singer and songwriter Andy Herod's towering babel of sound and words. He's got some explaining to do, and B-Sides gave him a shot.
B-Sides: If you were stranded on a desert island would you rather have the collected works of Robert A. Heinlein or Slayer?
Andy Herod: Heinlein, definitely.
I figured. I'm not a sci-fi fan, so I'm not sure I'll ever get this album. What should I read?
I've been getting into Greg Bear's Eon. But there's only one song on the album that really is based in science fiction. And you don't have to be a geek to get it. There are images of fantasy, but those are part of popular culture too.
If I hadn't read this on the Internet I never would have believed it [cough], but the Comas started as a country parody band?
That's an unfortunate fact of our biography. We started out as a response to the whole alt-country thing in Chapel Hill in the '90s. All these bands that were playing alternative punk suddenly put on cowboy hats. I thought it was kind of silly. And some of our early stuff had some country to it, but it was never something I was serious about.
The new album is driven by melodies. Any tricks you can pass along?
Listen to the Beatles from age eighteen to twenty-two. That's pretty much what I did. Now that's not even a reference I make much, but melody is still one of the most important things to me. It's definitely what comes first.
Maybe I don't smoke enough weed, but I do not get the stoner-rock label.
I don't get it either. That was something that was said in an early bio and someone wrote a review that mentioned that, and you know how these things are. And there is the fantasy, the lush arrangements, and it's very much a headphone record, so I could see how it would lend itself to smoking weed. But then, so do a lot of things.
You recorded the album in an old mansion in the Catskills?
It was amazing. We went in January, way up in the mountains. It was this big, beautiful place built in the '20s, four-poster beds, huge windows that looked out above the cloud cover. And it was cheaper to rent then, because most people don't want to record up there in the dead of winter.
Sounds like The Shining.
It wasn't really creepy at all. Maybe a little bit at first.
The band has gone through a lot of lineup changes. Are you doing anything to keep the current members? Comas stock options? Vagrant stickers for their skateboards?
Yeah, well, they got the stickers. The Comas' stock isn't worth so much. I've moved a lot over the years, and I'm getting ready to move again. But the current touring lineup is the one that played on the record and it's pretty much definitive.
What do you think of the RAC remix of "Red Microphones"?
I loved it. I'm planning on going to LA to record more with the guy who did it.
What the fuck is that song about, anyway?
I don't really know. It started out as a bunch of silly images and then it turned into some kind of metaphor for being in a band in New York. But I can't really explain it.
Sam Beam's indie-folk vehicle Iron & Wine seems to get bigger with each release. (Oddly enough, so does Beam's beard.) Head over to his Sub Pop label site to download "The Boy With a Coin" from the forthcoming album, The Shepherd's Dog. From the sound of "Coin" a song layered with bongos, soul-claps and electric steel guitar Beam's lazy Sunday afternoon acoustics seem to be taking on a more sinister, Saturday-night quality (brought on by the beard, no doubt). But even if the whole thing goes belly-up, we're sure he's got a standing offer with any ZZ Top cover band. (www.subpop.com)
After making the eastern hemisphere laugh for the past five years, the Flight of the Conchords has finally taken off stateside, giving us a reason to keep that HBO subscription a little while longer. Formerly promoting itself as "New Zealand's fourth most popular folk parody act," the Kiwi duo made its American debut on the Sub Pop imprint last week with The Distant Future EP. Head over to Spinner.com's MP3 of the Day section for the lead-off track, "Business Time." Or while you're waiting for the full length (due early 2008), hit up the band's fan sites for a wealth of downloads, including in-studio performances and unreleased songs from FotC's early days. (www.whatthefolk.net/sounds.htm; www.conchords.net/audio; www.spinner.com).