If you read this blog with any regularity, then you know that new Intelligence album is now out. But did you know that it may be their best record yet? The superiour fidelity carries over from previous album Males, but instead of a full-on rock album, they dial it back a little and branch out, incorporating acoustic guitars, bossa nova, horns, and spacey synths on top of the pre-existing warped sense of pop. If you are already a fan of the Intelligence, this album may surprise you, but more importantly if you weren’t previously a fan, this album has the potential to convince you of your passed indiscretions.It’s that good and varied.
What better way to find out about the story behind the album than talk to Professor Intelligence himself, Lars Finberg. We did something similar when Males came out in 2010. For the new record, Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me we altered the format just a little this time. Instead of just a song title as a prompt (which is all Finberg really needs, the guy is a natural comic.) I offered a question, thought or impression about each song. So here it is, the track by track interview with Lars discussing the Intelligence’s latest album Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me.
1. I Like LA – So you left Seattle for sunny environs. We miss you man. Do you really like LA? I get the feeling that the first part of this song is meant to trick us into thinking that you’ve gone back to the lo-fi?
I was missing you today too, feeling kind of depressed even thought it’s sunny here and I’m wearing Daisy Duke shorts (not kidding) then I talked to someone on the phone there and they said it was “freezing and miserable” and I cheered up instantly. I really do love it here, I’ve been traveling so much the last year I haven’t had even spent a week straight in my place but the change of scenery is mood elevating for sure. Last night I went to the Magic Castle (an old Mansion that hosts magic shows) in front of us in line was the guy who drew Flipper’s first LP cover and actress Shannon Sossamon and just the drive over there was gorgeous glinting light and palm trees and billboards with bikini butts. I like having no idea where anything is and endless lights of other people failing at their miserable dreams too in every direction. Seattle is cool but i was there for half my life and if I had to do the drive from west Seattle to Ballard on the 99 or eat breakfast at Easy Street one more time I was going to kill myself.
You kind of nailed it with the ‘trick’ of the first song, with “Males” being kinda hi-fi I wanted the skittery drum machine to do a palette cleanse so you didn’t know where we were going to go. Like starting a movie in black and white or a flashback of our older selves. With the counting I have no idea where that comes from, I just made it up and started to picture someone walking into my friends gay nightclub “Pony” and walking in in the middle of it wondering what this absurd wannabe “Warm Leatherette” rip off was. Also the guitar riff is supposed to be an ode to Wire’s “3 girl rhumba” because with the Wire comparisons I thought it’d be funny to be 3rd in line (after Elastica) to rip off that song, I doubt anyone notices though.
2. Hippy Provider – Sadly the kids today probably don’t remember those Freedom rock commercials.
What a shame, I wonder if a Youtube view of that commercial would be met with anything more than a limp shrug. The song’s about being in Manson’s cult and trying to talk yourself into not taking LSD and “wastin’ pigs”. For folks that never saw the commercials it was for these classic rock (I love calling it ‘Job Site Rock’) compilations and these too headbanded longhair burnouts are sitting by a boom box going
“Hey man is the Freedom Rock”?
“WELL TURN IT UP MAN!”
3. Evil Is Easy – I hate to invoke surf-rock these days, but this reminds me of the Surf Punks and the way they could just make absurd craziness into songs. Do you ever go to the Valley?
I have a Surf Punks LP I bought for my dear uncle “Lancers” who just passed, he would always tell me they were his favorite band. They were the first punk band I ever heard in the 4th or 5th grade. When I found the LP recently I was pretty excited but when I put it on it was pretty awful, I couldn’t get through a song or the chorus on the bass guitar. I did want it to have that ‘hey kids I got some knowledge from my tales around the block’ but is so dumb you can’t tell if they’re kidding kind of a vibe maybe.
It’s fun live, I like to describe it as if “Ballroom Blitz” was a good song.
4. Techno Tuesday – Love the horn at the end of this. I know the last time we conversed, you mentioned being into Funboy 3. To me, this song has a Funboy 3 feel to it. Is that accidental or intentional?
Had never thought about it at all but I can see that when you mention it. The horn was hard to get down, Heidi from the Sandwitches is playing it and the original idea was to have her play the vocal melody line in a kinda ‘Mellow Yellow” way. It just wasn’t panning out so cool and Woodhouse had her strip it down. Then when we were mixing I think Woodhouse was frustrated it was a little “pitchy” and was trying to pitch shift it up and mix it low or figure out how to make it more right. I wasn’t paying attention to any of this, the playing or the pitch shifting – I had lost interest and checked out – but when I came in and heard how weird and sad and harbor siren ‘don’t crash into the rocks at night’ it sounded I made him leave it alone, I loved it.
The song was inspired by and takes the title from the wonderful comic strip by Andy Rememter called Techno Tuesday. Susanna sent me this one night, “all alone with a camera phone” and I was hooked. “Guide to Nowhere” and “Magic Box” are my other favorites but they are all amazing.
5. The Entertainer – This sounds nothing like Scott Joplin’s version. Maybe if Joplin was addicted to social networking we would have gotten to this point a lot quicker. How do you feel about being constantly connected and society’s lack of long-term attention spans?
I thought it would be either so pompous or clueless it would be funny to use that title. I go back and forth between worrying about it being our doom and “please god give me my ipad so I don’t have to look at the hordes of human freakshows at the airport”. It’s terrible, I spend more time scrolling through my Ipod or Netflix trying to pick THE BEST THING than I do enjoying something. Kids today should be kissing Steve Jobs feet though at the easy of looking at naked people on the internet, we had to go find an old tire in an empty lot praying to the peverted gods for a rain soaked Playboy.
6. Reading And Writing About Partying – Re-recorded from a 7″ that came out a few years ago and sounding much, much huger. This continues a recent Intelligence trend of rescuing older songs from 7″ obscurity. This new version makes the original sound like a demo. Are you an advocate for revisionalist history?
A part of me hates that and had a rule against it forever but I just think some of those songs are better than the cassette recordings and the limited 7″ pressing of 300 allowed them to be heard. I think it is totally lame to have covers on our record too but then we do them and I hear them and I like them and I just remember: THE INTELLIGENCE DOESN’T PLAY BY THE RULES.
7. Dim Limelights – You used acoustic guitar on Warm Transfers & Singles Barge back on the Fake Surfers album, but they were absent from Males. Now they have returned in full force. Was this a conscious decision?
Yes, there just wasn’t room for them on “Males” I was trying to make a punk rock band statement or something on that one. But that’s not really who I am all the time. I figured we did that on the last record, we haven’t just tried real clear recorded pop yet. I wrote this song on this little cruddy nylon acoustic and wanted to capture that, Also with Woodhouse, he can record anything great so why not. We laughed when the percussion comes in, he said “are we making a Marty Robbins record”?
8. (They Found Me On The Back Of) The Galaxy – Maniquins in the Vaitican are the least of the Catholic Churches worries these days. Is this song about being an alien hairdresser for the pope? You recorded this with Kelley Stoltz, talk about rock ‘n roll dream team. I can’t believe how insanely great this song is. How did you end up recording with Mr. Stoltz?
Thank you Toby, I am very glad to hear that. Erin A Frame came over for a dinner party and the ladies were watching a haircut reality show and he overheard and repeated “TRANSFORM YOUR MANIQUIN” we laughed and it just stuck with me. (Wow for 4 years.) It’s about EMPTINESS EVERYWHERE and finding a place where you feel you have something to give. This is the first song I wrote in LA, it strangely all came in one fell swoop walking down the street, the chords and melody and I typed all the words in my phone walking down the street and ran home to record it. That never happens. I wanted to be old fashioned and have a 7″ single of the LP come out a little earlier. I also love love love Kelley’s work and have dreamed of doing something with him, when I found the art I just pictured our names together and when I met him on a Wounded Lion/Sonny and the Sunsets tour we hit it off and I called him up and asked him out of the blue one day in SF. He was laid back, hilarious, and cool and after I had used up all of his day to record my goofy lil song (for free) I felt kinda bad and tried to run out as soon as possible, as I knew he had to get ready for a dinner party, he asked if I could stay and listen to a couple songs on his amazing Wurlitzer Jukebox. The Revels “Midnight Stroll” and “Talking to My Heart” were two of them.
9. I’m Closed – In the chorus it sounds like you got a whole room full of people to sing. The band that existed during the recording of Males has changed considerably. Who’s in and who’s out? Are there really two versions of the Intelligence, one in Seattle, and one in SoCal?
That was one of my favorite parts to record. I didn’t plan out or demo a lot of stuff to keep it fresh and fun and loose in the studio and I didn’t have any idea what to do with the end of the song so I just sang the last line over and over and over. That was the day we had all the singers there Shannon from Shannon and the Clams, Brigid from Oh Sees, Heidi from the Sandwiches, this girl Jen. Then Pete from Coconut Coolouts, Dave from the Shins and Susanna were there recording as well so I lined them up and had each person come in a line at a time going boy-girl-boy-girl-etc. Dave came up with the harmony and it was really touching to hear this amazing team of everyone singing and building up the chorus of this kinda sad loner song.
On the record there was an LA band on almost half, Seattle band on almost half and me alone or a mix up on the rest. The band now is kinda all mixed up, the bassist Jed (from Zig Zags) and drummer Leslie (from Red Aunts) and synth player Josh (from the Lamps) live here in LA. Susanna, Dave and Pete are in Seattle. The idea was to have 2 different bands so I could play in LA easily and fly up to Seattle to play but as we made the record I’m more excited to have a bigger line up. The recording was so collaborative and fun that I’m more interested in putting the best band we can together and leaving it at that.
10. Little Town Flirt – Lots of Shannons in this song – Del Shannon and Shannon and the Clams. How did you decide to include this cover on the album? (I also want to thank you for turning me onto the Del Shannon’s album Further Adventures Of Charles Westover.)
Oh man, that LP is so great! I just randomly heard that “Gemini” song (I am one) and flipped. The Little town flirt story is, I was on tour and kinda down and heard the ELO version playing in NY at the Cake Shop. The sound guy was telling us where to put our stuff and I couldn’t concentrate because the song was knocking me out so much. “Sorry man I didn’t pay attention to a word you just said, what is this?” He got excited, told me it was a B side off of “Discovery” and restarted it and cranked it up. I played it over and over on that tour and got obsessed with it. It wasn’t the lyrics at all, just the chords and the vocal melody and the overproduced slick recording just really cheered me up for some reason. It’s just such a cool pop song. I knew I wanted to cover it and knew I wanted to ask Shannon to sing on the record. I texted her asking if she’d sing on the LP and she was into it, I wrote check out “little town flirt” and she wrote back “I play that song over and over when I’m sad or cleaning my room”! A real cool moment. Though she was said she was disappointed in Jeff Lynn’s version. Ha. I was going to have her just do the back ups but the day she came at the last minute I just decided to have her sing the whole thing, then I though maybe it would be cool for me to just sing the bridge but at the last second I kept on going for the duet and (in a falsetto voice) FUCKING NAAAIILLLLEEED IT! Just kidding, I was nervous as hell to sing next to such an amazing voice. Brigid Oh Sees and Heidi Sandwiches are doing the back up and they said they sound like teacups in a Disney movie.
11. Return To Foam – The beginning of this song reminds me of Henry Mancini in the Breakfast at Tiffanys shoplifting scene. This is your hate letter to Seattle right?
Pretty much. But that song is also probably 4 years old. It’s ripping on the dark passive aggressive vibes, where everyone is so bummed they are about to SNAP, if you don’t realize they are in line at the coffee shop or how everyone fucking honks all the time. I NEVER EVER hear a car horn here in LA. Serious. I’ve seen a baby stroller get run over and dragged 15 feet but no horn. And there were these really aggressive gutter punk fake beggars in front of the Pita Pit in Portland that made it in there. For the record “Pardon me c*unt” part is literally something a hysterical frothing grandma in a raindeer sweater said to Susanna in a Target parking lot at Christmas and is a quote, I would never sing ‘c*nt’ in a song.
12. Sunny Backyard – This is the darkest, scariest song you’ve ever done. It’s like the scary part of the movie when you want to hide your eyes because you don’t want to see what happens next. Tell me what happens…I can’t watch.
This is a cover of The Vulvettes, an SF band that had already broken up when I heard their demo tape around 2001 (Dragnet records released it as a CD eventually and I think Min has quite a few hundred copies in his garage) That song just stuck with me, I did a version of it on a split 12″ with thee oh sees but it was really blown out and ugly. It’s a frightening song but I thought that keyboard bass line has such a catchy element to it and we hip hop the drums up a little bit that I thought it was worth doing again. Very hard to sing, for the weird vibrato I was choking myself with my hand and wiggling my throat to try to do it.
13. Fidelity – Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me is a break up album in more than a couple ways I gather? So you’re now living alone in LA, fermenting in wine and listening to Elton John records?
Pretty much. But it’s weird, I was trying to take some bummer city stuff and make it fun. Recording this record was the happiest experiences I’ve ever had and was the most joyful time we’ve had as a band. But don’t get me wrong, I want Roy Orbison to burst into tears in his grave when he hears this song. It’s funny the cliche is they say you should write a sad song to make yourself feel better but I find it just made it worse. IT GETS WORSE. But it is supposed to be so sad that you laugh. Just like life.
The Intelligence return to Seattle on July 19th (when the weather here is most SoCal-like) for a now rare show at the Crocodile . Mark your calendars and be sure to schedule your vacations accordingly.