The paths of Erich Michener (the man behind Fishboy) and myself (Andrew Fenstermaker) crossed in October of 2007 at a little dive somewhere on the south end of Manhattan. It was the annual College Music Journal festival and HHBTM was having an event. They crossed again sometime later in Seattle, a visit that, oddly enough, included a troll, fish sticks and Gassworks Park. That is, unless I’m joining two trips together, which is entirely possible; there was that show at Comet Tavern which may or may not have been at the same time. I digress.
In 2008, Fishboy released Albatross, which they proclaimed a “Rock Opera.” The album came in at #2 then overtook Lekman a year later in my Retrospective Best Of list. The band is now prepared to drop Classic Creeps, which also comes with an interesting theme. Rather than delve into the inner workings of the album and the band, I figured I’d chat with the man behind Fishboy himself: Eric Michener of Denton, TX. We begin…
…but first, here is the opening track off Classic Creeps:
Fense: What’s the general concept around Classic Creeps?
EM: The general concept of the record is that each song is a self-contained story about a different fictional character and within the lyrics there is a connection linking that character to the character featured in the next track. So person/song number one is connected to person/song number two is connected to person/song three..etc. Over the course of the record a larger narrative forms out of the smaller stories. It’s a pattern that’s been done several times in books and movies but I personally haven’t heard an album that does it (although I’m sure there are plenty out there for me to discover).
Fense: Why aren’t there any songs about an Andy?
EM: Ah yeah, I forgot to mention all the songs are titled after the characters whose names begin with the letter A and they are also in alphabetical order. So I already had an Andre and an Andy is just short for Andrew which seemed too close. Plus there wasn’t time to introduce a new character in between Andre and Archibald. Maybe you can make it on a b-side.
Fense: Sweet! As far as you can tell, will all your future albums follow a story from beginning to end?
EM: I don’t think so, but I like the format for sure. I consider all my songs to take place in the same fictional universe similar to a comic book world that I am just slowly expanding on with every song. It’s definitely easier for me to write story songs when I address certain points that I want to hit before I start coming up with melody and lyrics but there is always room for more abstract lyrics that don’t always tell stories.
Fense: Will you continue the alphabet and write an album with songs that begin with B next?
EM: I do plan to continue this series of character albums but I probably won’t do B next and I might not stick to one letter per album.
Fense: What inspires you to write music?
EM: I really love the challenge of the pop song. It’s like a puzzle to me. Writing any sort of pop music comes with a huge amount of restrictions; there are only X amount of tricks you can use melodically and they have been used several times over, but trying to come up with creative arrangements and lyrics is so fun especially when I add more restrictions to myself.
Fense: How would you describe your sound?
Fense: Who are your top 3 influences?
EM: Like the comic says, I love the British Invasion and all the bands involved but more in a songwriting sense than a production sense. I’m always afraid of name dropping these huge amazing bands as my influences only to let someone down when we haven’t captured the perfect sonic feel of the 60’s with our recordings.
My older brother and his songwriting under the name Cavedweller has also made a huge impact on my own song writing. (Here’s one of his albums on bandcamp.)
Fense: What are your top 5 favorite albums (at this moment or all-time, doesn’t matter)?
EM: This is almost like a go to list of all time favorites:
• Beatles’ Abby Road (if I could include the whole catalog I would)
• Beck’s Odelay
• Belle and Sebastian’s Tigermilk
• The Kinks’ Arthur (if I could could include everything that came before Arthur by the Kinks I would)
• Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
This is the stuff that never gets old to me.
Within the past five years I’ve really gotten into new and old albums by: BOAT, The Thermals, Apples in Stereo, Tullycraft, Jonathan Richman and a few more, all of which have shaped how I currently make music.
Fense: Will you ever join the stories in your albums with a comic — a so-called graphic-music novel?
EM: I made a short 11 page comic (one for each song) for Albatross that saw a couple of physical copies initially and it has been reprinted on the sleeve of the new vinyl reissue out on Fishstick Records. The Classic Creeps insert will have the same set up. I haven’t ventured into long form graphic novel format yet but I can see myself doing it eventually once I’m confident enough with my art and have a story to tell that fits the format. Oh also, you can read those two comics at classiccreeps.com and farewellalbatross.com!
Fense: What inspires you to write comics and does that play a factor in the music you create?
EM: My daily comics which I started about a year ago serve a lot of purpose for me. Here are some bullet points as to why I draw them:
• I am slowly learning how to draw by practice (look at the archives and you will see some rough early stuff).
• It gives me a daily mind boost of creativity and tiny sense of accomplishment.
• It helps me stay updated with friends and fans with what’s happening with the band, even if its very little.
• It has taken the place of any sort of Tweets or Facebook updates I might be dropping into the void of the internet otherwise.
• I might someday be able to collect them all in some sort of physical or digital format and either be proud of myself or disgusted with the old ugly comics.
• I am not a songwriter that writes personal introspective songs about my life and the drama I’ve gone through. I’ve never identified with bands like that but appreciate the fact that they can preserve memories within their (usually boring) songs. This is my way of preserving fun memories I probably would have forgotten otherwise. I think its a good match: Songs about fake people, comics about my life.
• Also, my wife thinks they are cute and I like seeing her smile.