Saturday, March 15, 2014

Music Weird interviews LMP (La Musique Populaire)

LMP (La Musique Populaire) can rightly be described as "legendary," because popular myths have sprang up about them. 

Originally based in Champaign and Evanston, Illinois, LMP attracted particular attention for the 2004 release A Century of Song—a 6-disc box set on which they recorded a song from each year of the 20th century. Many of the songs that represented each year were unlikely choices, to say the least. The song that cemented my resolve to purchase the set was their choice of Hayley Mills' "Cranberry Bog" for 1962.  

Even though the box set was released in a hand-numbered limited edition of only 100, the scope and craziness of the set captured the imagination of millions. Or of more than 100 people, in any case. I'm the proud owner of #84. I bought it because Jeff Weiss, the former owner of Muncie's celebrated punk club, No Bar & Grill, recommended it to me.  

In addition to LMPs engrossing and inexplicable Century of Song project, the group has released two albums of original material: Aunt Canada and Love Conquers Alda. The latter, in particular, is a wildly entertaining synthesis of pop music clichés, pop music references, and radio-friendly melodies.  

There are so many bands that I love for various reasons and love to obsess over in one way or another, or that I want to see live or whatever. But LMP is a band that I want to be in. Guys, seriously—if you need a bass player or second guitarist....

LMP is Ryan Bassler and Eric Haugen. Music Weird interviewed LMP on March 13, 2014. 

The most pressing question on everyone's mind is: What's going on with the new album? What can you tell us about it? 

Eric: It's been finished for a while, and we'll finally be releasing it on vinyl this year. Twelve new songs, our usual mix of super-catchy songs and self-indulgence. It's called You Ain't Nuttin' If You Ain't Struttin'. The cover art is really fantastic—it was done by a guy named Sandy Hoffman, who illustrated some amazing album covers back in the day, like The London Muddy Waters Sessions and a bunch of others.

After your mammoth Century of Song project, rumors circulated about other similar LMP initiatives. Like, I remember hearing that you were going to record the entire Beatles catalog in chronological order. Were any of these rumors true? Did you work on anything like that? 

Ryan: That rumor made us laugh, but honestly we had nothing to do with igniting that. Pretty sure it started on our Wikipedia page, which we were frankly surprised to discover even existed. Honestly, us recording the Beatles canon would probably be boring.

Eric: We did actually have a project like this prior to Century, but the idea was to write all-original songs using the Beatles' titles. As though a band had finally come along who could write a better "Yesterday," "Strawberry Fields Forever, "Let It Be," et cetera. We recorded a fair number of good demos for that but never ended up releasing any of it.

Ryan: Typically over-ambitious LMP idea. See also the idea of recording 100 LPs in a year. We had all sorts of ground rules laid out: only x many comedy albums, y many ambient recordings, z many live albums and compilations, etc. Not sure we have the energy for projects like that these days. 

Your last album of original material came out 10 years ago. It followed your debut by 7 or 8 years? That's a relaxed pace, so how prolific are you? Do you write a lot of material that never gets out? 

Ryan: Independently, Eric and I tend to have separate writing bursts—when one's quiet, the other's inspired, and vice-versa. Whenever we have something promising, we'll typically send stuff to each other to help flesh out or evolve. So there's a crazy amount of demos stockpiled. I also have a side project with my friend and music teacher Bill Corrough. We've recorded 15 children's education albums under the name Green Bean Music.

Eric: We have a lot of interesting unreleased stuff—everything from lo-fi improvs to fully produced albums. I probably record about 5-6 hours of demos and fragments every year, and I send Ryan only the few that seem like potential gems. We've talked about starting some kind of archive seriespotentially a podcast, or a limited physical release, possibly, just to document all the unexplored avenues. 

How often do you play, or have you played, live? Are you going to tour to support the new album? 

Eric: We were a live band for about 5 years back in the '90s. We were originally a four-piece, and grew into a rotating lineup with full string and horn sections, with, like, 18 people onstage at a time. The last gig we officially played together was a one-off in Minneapolis for a friend, and I remember it was 2001, because on the way home we heard Pink's "Get This Party Started" on the radio for the first time and it blew us both away. We'd love to tour the new album, but not sure it's going to happen.

Ryan: To me, playing live is ultimately a hassle, and almost impossible at this point since Eric's in LA and I'm in Chicago, but I guess never say never. We have some insanely talented musician friends we'd be able to corral if we got the itch, but honestly, once you've assembled an 18-piece band with strings and brass like we did back when we were in Champaign, it's all kinda downhill, expensive, and just a huge battle. 

You guys seem like gearheads. What are the most interesting instruments in your arsenal?
Ryan: Heh, tough one. We're definite gear nerds, with a pretty lucky track record of picking gear that's really uncool at the time but ends up becoming collectable, and thus unaffordable, much later on. It's hard to limit our favorite pieces to just a few…. Like, there are easily 100 pieces in the drum machine closet alone, which is admittedly ludicrous, but I guess you can't fake passion and/or OCD. The Baldwin Syntha-Sound is beloved—a super-rare, super-oddball monosynth from '73 that instantly sounds like Edd Kalehoff/"Price Is Right" incidental music. We even have a spare, just in case. A few years ago, I took a road trip up to northern Michigan to buy a 4-octave celeste, and that's probably the most special piece in the studio these days. I've slowly been writing an album of lullabies.

Eric: Ryan's the LMP gear ninja, without question. I think he has every Roland drum machine except an 808, which, to some people, is the equivalent of a master chef not having salt in the kitchen. We love oddball stuff like the MTI Auto-Orchestra, which can't really even keep a consistent tempo but just gives you these amazing happy accidents. Personally I'm more drawn to newer gear. Like, I love the Arturia Spark, Earthquaker pedals, Korg's Volca groove boxes.... Stuff that's easy to use and adds an element of unpredictablity. The middle ground between me and Ryan in terms of gear is probably Dimension C

You have self-released practically all of your stuff. You have exceptional songwriting and instrumental chops, though, so what kind of label interest have you attracted?

Eric: We've had some brushes with industry attention over the years. We had a video shown on an early Conan O'Brien episode, a Century mention in Rolling Stone, a couple of songs featured in a small indie film, but not much else, really. We've always thought that self-releasing our stuff is the only way to ensure it stays the way we want it, free from the influence of whoever's footing the bill, for better or worse.

Ryan: The last time we really ever shopped ourselves around was circa '96, the Aunt Canada period. There was virtually zero interest, so we said the hell with it, let's just keep doing it ourselves. Probably the closest thing we've gotten to major label attention was a cease-and-desist from a certain major right as the Century box was about to sell out. We responded to them by sending a demo cassette with a letter asking for a record deal. Never heard back, so apparently that's a good trick to stop the lawyerbirds in their tracks. 

Do you ever fantasize about being Brill Building-type songwriters and writing hits for current pop stars like Ke$ha and One Direction?
Ryan: Oh yeah, that's a dream gig right there. We were mildly obsessed with that writing team the Matrix for a while, just trying to determine how they even got to that level. In some ways, we've always viewed our albums as semi-polished demo sets for others to pluck from.

Eric: We both have a huge respect for pop songcraft, and while it's not fashionable to say so, we're not snobs about Top 40 music at all. Top 40 pop is our shared musical DNA. But we also always bring this self-aware "meta" mentality that quickly becomes "Archies-like duet between Katy Perry and Ron Dante." In which case, if that's what you're after, we're your guys.

Visit LMP on Facebook or at Polyholiday

1 comment:

  1. Whatever happened to the very short lived, Ryan Bassler-executive-produced, Urban Panic? Beer swillin' men from Troy, IllinoiS said they could have been the next "big thing" in the abyss that was mid-90's to Y2K. It was over before it even began...