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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mom and Fops: The Troubling World of 'Yeth Yeth Yeth' Explained

Posted By on Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 8:52 AM

click to enlarge Chadwick Donald Bidwell, Dee Kessler, and small infant human
  • Chadwick Donald Bidwell, Dee Kessler, and small infant human
In addition to their titles as frontmen of two of the Bay Area's best underhyped bands, Dee Kessler (Thee More Shallows) and Chadwick Donald Bidwell (Ral Partha Vogelbacher) -- known together as Fops -- can both claim the decidedly un-rock-and-roll mantles of Lamaze partner, diaper changer, spelling bee coach, scout leader, that kind of thing. Fatherhood hasn't made them give up the music scene, though, nor has it turned them into Wilco-caliber dad-rockers: it's made their sounds a little more focused and their weirds a little weirder, and we should all be thankful. They've already sired two albums' worth of material, one of which came out in October on London's Monotreme Records. The second is slated for release early next year.

The first, Yeth Yeth Yeth, has the vaguely hallucinatory qualities of Thee More Shallows and the mischievous churn of Ral Partha: it's missing the dimension of a live band, but the songs are still diabolically inviting, rickety castles piled high with troubling details and insidiously catchy melodies. As Bidwell (with a little help from Kessler) explains below, it also sounds like the work of two dangerously creative minds confined to a basement recording studio while the confusing California seasons transmogrify. Monotreme's press release sums it up pretty well: "Prepare to dance whilst scratching your head."

What connection does this project have to fatherhood?
Fatherhood was the impetus for Fops. Dee had his first kid a few years ago, and because he couldn't really leave his house as much he invited me to venture over to his house to kick it in his basement and maybe record some sweet tunes. It was fortunate that he happened to have a makeshift recording studio in his basement. Then about four months ago, my wife had a daughter. And then two days ago, Dee's wife had their second son. So, fatherhood has been a huge part of both our lives while we've been writing and recording. We end up talking about similar experiences, give each other bad advice, discuss unexpected places our minds end up going as parents. So, while Fops was probably initially an escape from parenthood for us a few hours a week, it actually is becoming about parenthood because it was an escape from parenthood for a few hours a week. See what I just did there?

What's the division of labor in the creation of Fops songs?
I (Chad) write most of the lyrics, but sometimes Dee will add a passage or change words that don't work. Early on, I would become very angry with Dee when he would change the lyrics. Now I don't care if he does. We usually write songs by recording a bass line or repeating keyboard figure over a drum machine. Then we add a few layers of instruments. Dee does much of the playing of instruments, while I try to push him out of they way so I can play at least one instrument on each song. Actually, we probably played an equal amount of the instruments on the first album. Dee handles all the recording. Dee also does most of the singing. Sometimes I'll add improvised backing vocals while we're recording, and sometimes I handle front guy singing duties. Then after we record something pretty fast, we start pulling things out and adding other things. Occasionally, we'll rewrite a song several times and end up with three or four versions of the same song.

Are these songs all material you've had around for a while?
The songs are anywhere in age from two years to two weeks old. Most of the songs on the first album were from the first year of recording. "Maple Mountain" and "Solid Copper Huntress" were both written more recently and sound more like what we've been writing in the last year or so. When Dee originally invited me over to record, I don't think either of us could foresee that we would actually continue meeting most weekends for two years to work on this stuff.

What's the current status of your respective other bands?
Dee is, in theory, working on the next Thee More Shallows album. I've heard parts of very, very early versions of songs. Unfortunately, he seems to be enjoying making Fops songs. The publishing rights to my band, Ral Partha, were sold at auction to a 17-year-old goth kid in Goteborg, Sweden. Good luck with that, Sven!

So how true is it that, per the press release, "Both albums are novels at heart, investigating the possible and impossible, gaudy and fantastical, mundane and downright depressing pasts and futures of a single protagonist"?
First of all, the albums aren't novels, they're albums.  If the lyrics were taken and printed out, they might fill up two or three pages -- enough to fill the pages of a pamphlet, maybe. The protagonist, unfortunately, is me. As for the songs, they're about:

1. When I'm flying, I imagine my dad's ghost sitting next to me for the first 15 minutes
2. Remembering boar hunting with my dad who tried to make me drink the blood of a boar after my first killl
3. My relationship with my wife
4. Confronting the possibility that I might be an alcoholic
5. Longing for my hometown
6. I'm not sure what I'm talking about -- possibly World of Warcraft, possibly jogging
7. Imagining an art project that a friend refuses to show me
8. Rescuing my wife from a suicide attempt (in a dream, didn't happen in real life)
9. Hanging out in a dance club in Accra, Ghana
10. Watching ants and thinking my way out of not crushing them

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Daniel Levin Becker


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