Friday, May 23, 2014

Men in Fur: A retrospective and interview with Jayme Guokas





Men in Fur is one of those one-album wonders that I like to write about, like Sweet Sweet Concorde and Gigi. Its creators considered Men in Fur to be a joke band, but I think that the sole Men in Fur album is a minor twee-pop classic. All of the songs are about animals and feature strummy guitars and cheesy drum machine beats. You can't go wrong with that formula. I especially like "The Deer Song."


The band was a side project of Jayme Guokas and Frank Jordan, who played (and play) in many other bands: Jordan in the Bright Lights, Snow Fairies, and Boyracer, and Guokas in Glitter, Ex Friends, Snow Fairies, Rabbit in Red, etc. 

Guokas took some time out during his current tour with Ex Friends to reminisce about Men in Fur. Music Weird interviewed Guokas on May 20, 2014. 



How did the Men in Fur album come about, and how did it end up being released on Happy Happy Birthday to Me (HHBTM) Records?

Men in Fur was a joke band I started with my friend Frank Jordan of the Bright Lights and then ended up writing a bunch of songs that were actually pretty good. Frank moved, but I spent a winter in my basement making that album. 

It was a dreary winter, and I had a shitty job at Barnes and Noble alphabetizing books, so all my energy went into recording. I was sort of hibernating in my basement, going to work, and then coming home and recording obsessively. 

It got a lot weirder than I imagined. I ended up taking the tape machine to a church with a vaulted stone ceiling to record the 12-string guitar, because of the great reverb there. I had sent a demo tape to Mike HHBTM and he agreed to put out the album based on some demo recordings.


The album had a concept and maybe even a philosophy behind it. Can you describe that?

The original concept behind the band was to write songs about animals. But then time travel got involved, and this story formed about returning to an age of innocence, when people lived closer to nature. So these silly animal songs started to include parables like the Peaceable Kingdom, and raised existential questions about our essential relationship to animals and to the natural world. 

There are these references to a more evolved human being ["The Messenger"] that beckons us from the future to live simpler and more humane lives. I thought of the music as primitive new wave, synthesizing drum machines with more acoustic instruments, with a more organic approach to technology.


What's the cover photo from?

I wanted an evocative black and white photo, and my friend Dan had this vintage 1930s picture of a German dude with his pet rabbit sitting on his mantle. It was perfect: a man petting his rabbit with driving gloves.


Can you talk about writing the songs and recording the album? Who all played on it?

Frank wrote "The Tiger" song and "Rabbits in the Springtime," which was inspired by Watership Down. Eric Van Osten, who is in Glitter with me now, wrote "The Salmon Song" and sang on a few others. I wrote the rest. 

Some of the Snow Fairies sang on various songs: Rose on "The Shepherd Song," Melissa on "The Birds and the Bees." I had a lot of fun making that record.






How many times did you play live as Men in Fur? 

Our first show was at Bryn Mawr College with fur costumes. Then, a half dozen shows in Philadelphia, and one in DC. And, we played at the HHBTM Popfest in Athens.


Have you thought about doing more Men in Fur recordings?

Nah, it was a concept album that stands on its own.


Discography

Albums


Men in Fur (Happy Happy Birthday to Me HHBTM061, 2004)

  • The Messenger / Elisa / The Birds and the Bees / The Lonely Bear / Sister Moon / The Shepherd Song / Sam the Salmon / The Tiger Song / The Deer Song / The Monkey Song / The Snake Song / Rabbits in the Springtime / The Messenger (Reprise)






Compilation appearances


The Way Things Change Vol. 3 (Red Square RSQ05, 2001)
  • Various artists. Includes "Set Them Free" by Men in Fur.





Invited to Dinner (Red Square RSQ08, 2002)
  • Various artists. Includes "Theme Song" by Men in Fur.





No Parachute: A Compilation of Indie Music Videos Volume 1 (Happy Happy Birthday to Me HHBTM066, 2005)
  • The title music of this video compilation is a Men in Fur instrumental, "Mr. Bear Takes a Walk."




Happy Happy Birthday to Me Vol. 4 (Happy Happy Birthday to Me HHBTM088, 2007)
  • Various artists. Includes "A Rainy Day" by Men in Fur. 




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