Q&A: Talibam! On Going To Bed And Discovering Atlantis, Meeting Macaulay Culkin, And Starting The Post-Goof Movement
Talibam! with Sam Kulik
The ubiquitous brainiacs behind Brooklyn's maniacally creative and hilarious duo Talibam!--beardo keyboards squelcher Matt Mottel and bizarro drums wizard Kevin Shea--are airing out their gripes, sort of, as they chill in their Wall Street studio at the Swing Space, an underground bank vault turned artistic bunker. First packaged as 'avant-jazz' when Talibam! formed in 2003, the term has stuck, and alas, Mottel and Shea are ready for something different. Enter their preferred calling-card: 'Stylish Production Team.' "We're creative musicians," says Mottel. That term, 'creative music,' is a William Parker term. He'd say 'I am not playing free jazz. I play creative music.' I like to think we play creative music."
Calling Talibam!'s 2009 apotheosis, Boogie in the Breeze Blocks "creative music" is quite the understatement. That LP firmed their current trajectory towards dead serious experimentalism fused with shits-n-giggles trippiness. On their ESP-Disk debut, the twosome melded their aesthetic to perfection: the free jazz moxie, the classic rock and metal flash and the Zappa meets Peanuts fuckfoolery. "Our band started in 2003 primarily as a free improv unit," Mottel says. "But as a band should do--develop and grow--we basically became, as a duo, an extreme punk rock organ-drums psych unit with free elements and been playing a tight set list the last two years. Once you get tagged with 'avant-jazz,' especially by critics, that really stays and that's the only thing they associate with the band."
Talibam!'s live show usually amounts to an insane spectacle. Mottel and Shea replace pretentious avant-noodling by donning wigs, flashy clothes, tuxedos, and even breaking out into white-boy rap (more on that later). Not exactly all free improv. The duo playfully chide Time Out NY for running the same Talibam! blurb for the last seven years ("...octopoidal drums and synth splatter") and (gasp!) The Village Voice isn't spared amongst their litany of targets. "There were these two articles recently and I was like 'Man, Talibam! should be known in both of these circles.' There was the alt-comedy and Reggie Watts pieces. They are doing comedy at P.S. 1 and calling it art. We're really in this strange border between being a serious band but we are funny. We don't want to be a joke band but what we call post-goof."
Now post-goof purveyors and Stylish Production Team, Talibam! have bridged its weirdo musical improv genius gap with theatrical frolics on their latest ambitious sprawl they call Talibam! Goes To Bed with Sam Kulik and Discovers Atlantis (the trailer is here http://soundcloud.com/samkulik/atlantis-trailer) and will stage their "low-budget multimedia disco free-jazz opera" at Swing Space over three evenings. Atlantis' crux amounts to a distant and sexually demented fucked-up relative of the beloved and pure Disney tale The Little Mermaid as Talibam! and Kulik splice current events, political drama, avant-garde music and acting against a backdrop of radio-play histrionics as horny teenage sex deviant Franklin (played by Shea) travels to Atlantis to save its seascape and fish people from evil politicians and an oil spill--with only his special pillow.
How will they manage to pull this off? Mottel explains. "There's going to be costumes and no extras, just us. We're all playing multiple parts. There's going to be some puppets involved, props and a spear. We've even got scripts. It's going to be a fun evening in a weird, creative space that not many people get to see that is underground and subcultural. Wall Street is cool. Manhattan is always going to be where cultural events happen."
I spoke to the trio about the Atlantis extravaganza, its record release (they are actively seeking a label to put it out) and their upcoming hip hop and dub records. (Here's a taste of Puff Up The Volume.) Only the dudes in Talibam! could pull all this shit off.
How did the Atlantis concept materialize?
Kulik: We started recording this in January, 2010 and because Matt and Kevin were simultaneously working on three other records, Atlantis has rolled along. Every few months, it got a little more updated. In a way, that's a bonus in the shitty climate of trying to release a record is that we've had all this time to sit with it and make it better. But on the other hand, we gotta get this out.
Mottel: What we did with Atlantis is we took current events and popular culture and melded it into being fun and provocative. Not many bands right now are making an eighty-minute "audio comic book," is what I view it as, with a narrative story, plot and cool songs--accessible for everybody.
Shea: There might be a reason why not many bands make eighty-minute audio comic books [laughing].
What inspired Atlantis?
Shea: It was in Finland when we came up with this idea.
Kulik: The three of us were on tour together there in 2008. When you're on tour, there's time to do nothing but make inside jokes and brainstorm about things that you want to do. There was a song called "Franklin and his Pillow" in the set at that time so we had the idea of doing a children's story about a boy named Franklin who had a pillow. We didn't know what it was going to be, then the Atlantis idea came along and the two ideas got combined.
Why Atlantis and what about the connection with The Little Mermaid?
Shea: Didn't it have something to with all of us drinking milk? In Finland, there was this woman breastfeeding at the time. We met her and she was about to feed us. She was talking about how her breast milk wasn't good because it was too sweet. We thought that sounded really good. I thought the mermaid thing came from that. Or maybe it was just in my mind or my fantasies.
Kulik: Our version is a little nasty for The Little Mermaid. It's like the porn version.
Shea: We got these porn titles...
On the Atlantis LP, there are some risqué song titles: "Sluts on the Planet," "Squeeze My Nuts" and "Naughty Tonite." Is the character Franklin horny?
Kulik: He's a pubescent adolescent, discovering his own sexual desires in Atlantis. One part of the story perhaps not explained adequately [in the work itself] is there's a sex ritual happening in Atlantis. One of the things in this story is that it's a more sexually free culture than we have here. Franklin is not allowed to participate in the sex ritual because he's a human being from Terra. He sorta then throws down and says he wants to be naughty tonight and engage in the ritual. And that's his way of proving to all the fish people in Atlantis that he's on their side and there to use his magic pillow to preserve their way of life, which happens to include having lots of sex.
Mottel: ...and hanging out in jazz bars.
What will the stage set-up be for the production?
Kulik: There's a proscenium we are constructing that has various nautical things attached to it and there's going to be a little oil spill area. We gotta do it really bare bones because this whole process has been stupidly only the three of us: no recording engineers, no director, no anything. But we have this really cool space in this bank vault and use it effectively. We're not anticipating just a sit-down audience watching this happen. There's going to be a lot of craziness happening around the audience. We'll be moving around, playing our instruments on some of the songs and on others we'll bring in a backing track from the recording and do more theatrics, act, do dialogues and monologues away from our instruments.