Fishboy is one of my favorite bands because frontman Eric Michener approaches music in a different way than most musicians. His albums, at least the latest two in Classic Creeps and Albatross, follow stories chronologically throughout the album. They’re amusing, funny and lighthearted. While Classic Creeps was originally released back in 2011, Michener recently released an acoustic version of the album with a tour diary comic.
Above photo by Dave Koen. Below photos by Fishboy.
I sat down with the Fishboy frontman last weekend and we had a little chat about the album, the comic (pictured below) and what he has in store for us in the future. I of course forgot to ask about his recent contribution (stream it above) to Pretend to be Brave, the limited cassette compilation that found friends of BOAT covering songs off their new album.
Fense: This has probably been documented somewhere – if not many places – on the web, but tell me what inspired you to draw and write comics. Was this birthed through your music or was there some other motivating factor?
The short answer to this is: doodling turned into poster making for shows which turned into making posters with comics in them which turned into drawing comics for albums which turned into drawing webcomics…which has now turned into printed comics. I decided to start really working at it in 2010 when I had an extended break from work and my wife wanted me creating something everyday instead of sitting around the house.
Fense: Is the Classic Creeps Tour Diary your first full-fledged (i.e. printed) comic or have there been others?
Unless you count the inserts to Albatross, NOM and Classic Creeps, this is my first official printed release.
Fense: One thing I really admire about your music is that albums like Classic Creeps and Albatross are stories. Given the conceptual nature of these albums, can you provide us insight into your process of creating an album?
I’m still working out the perfect creative process, but essentially I get a broad concept or story idea that I want to tell and I try to take it song by song and story beat by beat asking myself “if this were history’s greatest album, what would come next?”
Fense: Aside from being acoustic, are there any defining differences between the original Classic Creeps and this version?
Absolutely. We re-imagined every song to make it work better in an unplugged intimate setting. Rob “Googolplexia” Severson wrote new accordion parts and adapted things for the kazoo and bell kit as well. There is also a sing-a-long part during “Aspen2k” that we only do live thats on there. The bass was also switched to guittarron which has a different tone and string arrangement. so yeah, lots of different stuff. Probably some tempo changes as well. If it wasn’t drastically different I would feel guilty about releasing a live record (everything was played live in studio, did I say that?) but yeah, its different enough that it warrants its own release.
Fense: Listen to the album below.
Fense: I find it difficult to listen to your album piecemeal; it’s better taken from beginning to end, chronologically. I know when I saw you play Comet Tavern in Seattle in support of Albatross a few years back, you played the album accordingly. Do you ever mix things up or would that be weird? Sub question; if you don’t mix things up, do you slip older songs in and how do you go about doing that?
We eventually start mixing things up. When both Albatross and Classic Creeps came out we played them in order at every show until we got sick of it. Most bands make a tour set list and play the hell out of it until its sounds super tight. I just think ahead and write that set list into the album! with the acoustic shows I was telling the whole story of the album in between every song laying out how each piece was connected to the next. It was as much a part of the show as the songs.
Fense: Is there any Eric Michener in the protagonists of these stories? How do you go about creating characters, and now that you’ve begun creating comics, how does that fit into the creation process?
There are pieces of me in the characters for sure, Albatross is about a Texas rock band so its written from a familiar perspective… I didn’t really meet any ghosts though. Every character in Classic Creeps has some kind of character flaw, many of which I see in myself. I try and make my characters over the top and relatable at the same time, which is a fun challenge. Once the music is done, I make the art work by translating the lyrics into comics. Most of the web stuff I draw are journal comics that are direct stories from my life. I can kind of switch my brain over from fiction to non-fiction when I switch mediums.
Fense: As all the songs on Classic Creeps began with A, will your next album be compiled of songs beginning with B? Sub question: is a Classic Creeps follow-up LP in the works?
I want to continue the “Character-Song-Letter-Pattern” someday in one form or another… but not immediately. *BREAKING NEWS* We have a follow up 7″ ep/mini-comic that was just mastered yesterday! It’s 3.5 songs (one song has two versions) and tells the story of a boy who drinks magic volcano ash, turns into a volcano and struggles with leaving society for the greater good. It’s going to come with a 7×7″ minicomic that slides into the sleeve. I’m drawing it now so I’m not sure how long its going to end up. I’m really happy with the songs, they are the first thing we’ve recorded with our new drummer Grahm and bassist Scarlett. We recorded and mixed everything with Mark and Jeff from the Marked Men who are one of my favorite local bands. Mark is the lead songwriter for Mind Spiders as well and they both have just been recording great stuff with their own and other bands. It’s coming out this summer on Lauren Records out of southern California!
Fense: Back to the comic.
Was the tour diary just that or is it something you documented after the fact?
It’s 90% done after the fact with notes. I drew rough sketches of things while on the road and we had some down time between tour legs where I finished a few pages, but mostly I draw on a tablet in front of a computer which is hard to do in a car. This is the main reason the printed edition was released almost a year after the tour ended. I also debated whether or not to release the printed edition and figure out how I would even do that, which leads into the next question…
Fense: Did you release the comic on your own (i.e. DIY) or is there a label or publishing house behind it? Having released several records under the Fishboy name, what has your impression been on releasing a comic book and how different have the processes been?
I released this one on my own because I didn’t know if people would buy it and if it’s even something fans of the music would want, so I didn’t want to hang that risk on a label. The process of self publishing a book is surprisingly similar to self releasing a record. A lot of combing over the fine details to make sure things are in place. I did my first indie comic convention in March and found out sitting at a booth trying to convince strangers to buy something is exactly the same as sitting at a merch table trying to convince someone to buy a CD for gas money. Go figure! The merch table is probably easier because already know what the music sounds like.
Fense: Do you collect comics as well as write them? If so, what are some of your favorites and why?
I’m not a huge collector but I try to get around to reading everything eventually. I just love everything and I can’t buy it all. I feel like I have to give you a really good answer here or I’ve screwed up this whole interview….so much pressure! I can’t decide a favorite! My pal Andy Hirsch is doing some great work on Garfield now! Check him out!
Fense: Does Rob really prefer Yahoo search over Google? If so, is he in his 70s?
Yes, he does. He also only uses a landline. RøB (he prefers to type it that way) is a really odd character who made the tour infinitely more interesting. He has about a thousand videos of himself on youtube and has dozens of projects including this 7″ in which he commissioned two embroidery portraits from me and without my knowledge put out a 7″ with the parody title of “ass sick creeps.”
What a guy.
Fense: Well, thanks for chatting! I know I always have a great time shooting emails back and forth with you, and get the biggest kicks out of your music (one of my favorites is “Louis the Bear” from a rare 7″-single from the Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records singles club from way back in 2008 or 2009). Anyway, keep an eye out for new stuff by Fishboy and check out the Classic Creeps Acoustic Album and Tour Diary.