I Like America

Maybe you’d better shake free of America.

Sometimes Steven captures audio of random bands he’s booked at the club and sends it to us at home. We’ll be playing a boardgame or skidding around on the floor in our socks, and there in our mail will be a clip from Pianos. I think it’s just meant to be a representational sampling — dropping the needle on Steven’s life for a moment or two. Usually it’s presented without context and it doesn’t move me one way or another. But a few months ago, Hilary pressed play on a message from Steven, and I heard it from across the room and thought, hmm, this particular group of randos is really intriguing. I like what they’re doing: there’s a Belle & Sebastian-like feel to the rhythm section, a certain hop to it that felt uncommon in New York City pop-rock. I wanted to know more about this fabulous group; maybe they were something I could really get into. There aren’t a lot of bands like this anymore, I thought to myself, especially with Cake Shop gone, and I was happy that somebody was keeping the flame. Imagine my embarrassment when the instrumental break finished and George The Monkey started singing.

Yeah, it was Overlord; some Overlord audio Steve had lifted off the board. Talk about self-absorption: I’d been impressed by a group that I’m in. In fairness to me, I wasn’t really playing much of anything during the segment. I was responding to the bass and drums, and George’s guitar tone. It was just really swell, if I may say so myself, immediately appealing to me even as it surely sounded anachronistic to folks in the audience. There was a time not so long ago when cupcake pop was the coming style in New York and Philly, or one of the emergent styles anyway, and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and Sunny Day In Glasgow and even Vampire Weekend were the commercial faces of a pretty wide movement that was a heck of a lot of fun to be affiliated with. Even then, Overlord was a funny fit, at least partially because of an odd name that wrongfooted the previously uncommitted. But we were definitely part of that, along with My Teenage Stride and the Consultants and Palomar and a bunch of other groups I’m proud that I contributed to. I hope it all comes around again.

But let’s be honest: it’s not going to happen in 2017. Nothing about this year augurs a tweepop revival. The Overlord thing — very dark, wrist-slitting lyrics set to bouncy-ass music inspired by Sixties bubblegum pop and early Giorgio Moroder — is too nuanced for a thoroughly unsubtle moment. Most of the albums put out this year by mid-level indiepop bands we all loved in the ’00s are suffering from this same problem, which is part of the reason that it’s been so refreshing to hear blunt talk from Roger Waters and Ray Davies. George isn’t going to change his approach the way some weathervane-y writers do, so I suppose we’ll just have to be out of step for awhile. There are worse fates. I’ve always felt that if you stick to your guns, eventually the world catches up to what you’re doing, and in the meantime, other musicians respect your integrity. We’re probably incapable of pandering, anyway — we’re all too obstinate. Consider: after all of these years, the name of the band is still Overlord.

I admit that I haven’t thought about Overlord very much in 2017. I’ve been preoccupied with the Almanac and absorbed in my weekly short stories, and hey, the Mr. Flannery & His Feelings album is coming out in a few weeks. But The Well-Tempered Overlord is no less excellent now than it was when it was released last year (I can say this because I’m barely responsible for what makes it good), and I kinda wish we’d found the time and the method to promote it properly. Overlord has been a fairly reliable proposition in concert for the past couple of years — we still have our dodgy shows like everybody does, but most of the time the audience is going to appreciate what it gets. There’s still only one way for a band like Overlord to bring its message to the people, or just that small segment of the population that appreciates indiepop more than, say, Comedy Central or political Twitter, and that’s to go out and shake hands and schmooze and rock America in person. Which we didn’t do. But I think we could have, if the stars — and everybody’s schedules — had aligned.

It helps that I really do love making music with those three people. Matt played drums on the very best songs on Let The Night Fall, and he’s done many shows with me, so he’s no stranger to the Tris McCall game. One of my biggest regrets about LTNF is that I never managed to get Sarah’s bass on any of the tracks. Mike Flannery and I handled the bottom end on most of the Almanac songs done at Bass Hit in Manhattan, but neither one of us can make the four strings growl like she can. George’s voice is there in some of the mixes you might have already heard, but I hadn’t yet harnessed the chorused-out power of his electric guitar. So we brought Overlord into the studio on 26th Street and cut a couple of songs — “I Like America,” which hits the site today, and “King Of Pops,” which is scheduled to go live in a couple of weeks. Matt also gave me a couple of hi-hat parts for a song called “O Columbus” that’s taking awhile to get together. But we’ll get it together.

So yes: this is Tris McCall plus Overlord. I like to think it’s akin to those times when Glenn Mercer stepped to the side and let Dave Weckerman pilot the ship; same Feelies sound, but they called it Yung Wu. (Also, in this scenario, I get to be Dave Weckerman, which sure pleases me.)  No doubt you will notice that on this song I sing “eschatological”. I’m not sure that’s even a word, but whatever. I do feel a little bad dragging my pals in Overlord into my ongoing battles with the English lexicon, but hey, after ten years+ of my act, they knew the risks.