The Best Looking Band in the World
An interview with the Shawn Setaro (electric guitar), Matt Dodge (drums), Matt Savage (vocals), Dan Madri (acoustic guitar/vocals)
by Scott Hefflon
So the record was originally called Evil Umpire…
Matt S: No, it wasn’t.
Dan: We changed it to Silent Treatment from a Talking Horse before it came out.
Matt S: See the connection?
Shawn: We had a whole Rage Against the Machine parody concept cover…
Dan: Rage Against the Machine are the Queensrÿche of this decade. We thought it was funny for about three days…
Matt D: I still think it’s funny.
Matt S: That’s when we knew…
Matt D: Sometimes I’ll spontaneously burst out laughing because of something I saw on All in the Family ten years ago. Now that I’m older and wiser, I comprehend a lot of the… um…
So where’d this album title come from and why is it more pertinent than Evil Umpire?
Dan: It’s funnier and more original. It refers to nothing other than itself.
[Some friends come in, are warned of the running tape recorder, and balk quietly at being offered Bud Light in cans from the 30-pack.]
Talk about where the name came from, and why you had this gun fixation on your flyers and covers for a while.
Matt S: The gun’s gone. Officially, it’s gone with this record. The reason it’s gone is cuz you asked us in the last interview [the one I never transcribed and then taped over when I ran outta tapes] what the fixation was and we realized there wasn’t one. Actually, on the back cover, there’s a photo of one of our old stickers stuck to the floor of the Middle East…
Dan: It’s our way of saying goodbye. And the name is from The Simpsons. It’s actually going to be changed as soon as more people know the name Godboy. We could say “formerly Godboy” now, but no one would really care. We also have an alter ego, our country band, The Melancholy Smears.
Shawn: We’re curious to see how that works out, playing a country set in front of people who take roots music pretty seriously. Some of the stuff we do is overt parody, some isn’t.
While preparing for this interview, aside from drinking heavily, I listened to your CD repeatedly. And the most common question asked by various people around me was, “What the fuck are you listening to?” There I am, chatting amicably with friends and business associates, and suddenly “Analligus!” is shouted…
Shawn: Let’s explain the country stuff first…
Then we’ll get to your butt fetish…
Shawn: So the thing is, while it’s not really country, it’s close enough to pass for it. I have a little bit of the sound in my head, but I don’t try to pass myself off as a country guitarist.
Dan: Some of it’s parody, some of it’s genuine, and it’s not always clear which is which. And it’s really fun to throw in as another element to the music.
Shawn: The first country stuff I heard these guys [waves in the general direction of Matt S. and Dan] do sounded like English rock bands who had their roots in the blues trying to play country. Bands like the Stones…
Dan: Most of the country stuff is from our four-track tapes [Godboy has the habit of releasing a jam-packed four-track tape of “experimental” material between “real” CDs] and is pretty genuine. What’s usually the tip-off to whether it’s a parody or for real is the lyrics. But even the lyrics sometimes… Matt [S – yeah, as if the drummer writes the lyrics] writes what, on the surface, might seem a little weird if you’re not used to it, but I think much of it is very sad…
Shawn: And revealing, in a strange, oblique way.
Dan? Confirm? Deny? Got a lighter that works?
Dan: [passing over a lighter, seeing as my fancy-ass Zippo failed me yet again] What am I confirming or verifying?
What’s your thing with butts?
Dan: I dunno… We have about 170 songs, it just happens that both “Analligus” and “Yer Butt Makes Me Puke” are both on the same CD. [Conveniently side-stepping the question.] I think the next CD that we do will combine both four-track and studio a bit more. The four-track is a medium we’re very comfortable with.
Shawn: There’s more of a loose feeling to the four-track tapes. When you’re in the studio, everything is so crystal clear, you have to get everything perfect, on the four-track, you let some things go because some imperfections – things that at first you think are glaring errors – turn out to be kinda cool. Four-track recordings almost enhance mistakes and make them interesting, whereas studios make them sound just like mistakes.
Dan: You can do sloppy stuff in the studio, and some people can pull that off and make it sound raw, but I don’t think we do that particularly well.
Matt S: One original problem was that in the studio, we were trying to do the same thing as we’d done on the four-track. And it just didn’t translate well.
Dan: In the studio, there was the conspicuous absence of a bass. That’s fine, sometimes charming on the four-track, but in the studio…
Shawn: The four-track aesthetic is deeply-ingrained in the band. These guys [motioning again toward Matt S. and Dan] were into it from the whole Guided by Voices indie thing, which I didn’t listen to at all before I met them. I did four-track stuff out of necessity, and it was always a somewhat elaborate process…
Dan: It’s a way of cataloging songs. A lot of the stuff on four-track tapes I have no desire to go back and adapt for studio versions. Those are the versions I’m happy with.
You have no bassist. Why not?
Dan: Matt [S.] and I had just moved to Boston in late ’96 or so, and we did acoustic sets at The Kells in Allston every Monday night for about a year. Originally when we got Shawn, we were also going to get a drummer and bassist and maybe…
Matt S: We had a direction crisis…
Shawn: When I originally auditioned, it was for a jazz freejam sorta thing…
Wasn’t there talk of horns?
All [but Matt D]: Yeah.
Shawn: They have arrangements for all the old songs with MIDI and horn charts…
Dan: But as it turned out, since we played The Kells every week, we’d write songs every week to debut. So we’d have two or three new songs every week. And since we had limited instrumentation, the songs eventually got stripped down and were geared toward acoustic performance.
Matt S: They would’ve translated to what we thought we wanted our band to be.
Dan: And we liked what we were doing a lot better than the more elaborate four-track stuff we were doing at the time. So we decided to go with that and not get a bass.
Have you ever had a bassist?
Shawn: A long time ago we had a bass player, and he was phenomenal player. If we were to have anyone play bass, I think it woulda been him. I didn’t like having a bass because I think our songs have a lot of space I can work in and around. With the bass, all the stuff that was implied is actually played. There was a lot less room to toy around and it felt very confining.
Dan: To overcome not having a bass, I’ve learned to treat the acoustic as two separate instruments. The lower three strings are the bass, and the upper three are the rhythm, playing with the drums. If we got a bassist, I’d have to change the style of my playing, and I like it this way.
Have producers asked, “When’s your bassist gonna show up?”
Matt S: They used to.
Shawn: But there are a few live sound guys who get it.
Dan: Like Jack from Bill’s Bar. He’s been the best sound guy I’ve ever had. He’s the one person in this town who really got my sound across.
Matt S: The problem is, most people don’t know how to mix us. We like to keep the guitars even, and if one’s significantly louder than the other, it throws everything else off.
Shawn: A lot of people make me louder because I’m the electric guitar, and people think the electric guitar is supposed to be louder than the acoustic which is just in the background.
Dan: Essentially, I play rhythm [and bass] and Shawn plays leads, so if he’s louder than I am, there’s no rhythm to the songs.
Matt S: Now before we go into the studio, we give four-track tapes to the producer ahead of time.
Shawn: Quite a few textural things were added in the studio that made all the difference. Like what turned out to be my main guitar line in “Analligus” was added incidentally. I used to play this almost reggae rhythm that I thought was really good, but actually wasn’t very interesting. Andrew [Mudrock, producer] kinda prodded me in another direction, and it turned out much better.
What was the vocal effect, the distortion, in “Love is a Vapor”?
Matt S: I sang that through a telephone. It was pretty awesome. I said I wanted some kind of effect, and Andrew picked right up on what I wanted.
Shawn: We’re the worst at describing what we want… We did the same thing when we got Matt [Dodge, the talkative drummer].
Matt D: Usually I just ignore them and play what I’m going to play. They’re usually happy with it.
And you’re drummer number what?
All [including Matt D]: Three.
Dan: He’s been with us longer than our second drummer.
Matt S: Matt’s saved us from peril.
Dan: He’s been the most committed drummer we’ve ever had.
Matt D: I am a little afraid of spontaneous combustion…
Dan: We’re more afraid he’ll go to grad school.
Seeing as I have a lot of trouble describing your music to people, why don’t you tell me what it’s all about.
Matt S: We used to call it “Violent Post-Modern Pop.” We realized it was as meaningless as anything else, and we liked the way it sounded.
Dan: A friend of ours described his band as “Foam Core.”
Matt S: What happens is we go through our different phases individually and as a band, so we have 20 songs that’re like this, and 20 songs that’re like that, so regardless of how we try to sum things up, we always deviate from it.
Matt, you don’t sound at all in person the way you sound live or on record.
Matt S: I have a great phone voice, let that be known.
Dan: Matt was a telemarketer, so it was kinda sink or swim.
Where’s the voice come from?
Matt S: I think it’s a combination of a lot of bits and pieces from different people and different things I’ve heard that I liked.
Matt S: James Hetfield, Will Oldham, Jackson Brown… It’s not like I sit down and try to sound a certain way, it’s just that in certain songs, certain vocal tricks feel good and sound good. Singing is really expressive, very emotional, and I think when you sing, you’re able to use much more of the range of your voice than when you’re just talking.
Dan: The feedback I’ve gotten is that you either really like it or it really puts you off.
Shawn: And I’d rather have it that way. Far too many bands are OK musically, but their singers are indistinguishable. The singer could be anyone, and the band could be anyone… That’s just not the case with us, we’re memorable.
Matt S: Fuck it, we’re Godboy.