THE STRANGE BOYS: WE’RE ALL HARPOS

November 15th, 2007 | Interviews



shea m gauer

The Strange Boys recently relocated from Dallas to Austin and have a 7” out on Dusty Medical Records. They and the Black Lips were both backing bands for the Mighty Hannibal. Guitarist/singer Ryan Sambol speaks from somewhere in Austin.

You’re the second band we’ve talked to who backed Hannibal—how was it?
It was fun. But it was harder than we thought it would be.
Isn’t he blind?
And deaf in one ear. So that made it hard. We’d go off his hand signs—like he’d grab his ear, and one hand signal would be start or stop—and we thought we were totally ready. And we had a thirty-minute practice beforehand and we couldn’t finish one song. We just met him the day of the show and as soon we got a song going, he’d be like, ‘Cool, that’s it.’ We talked to Black Lips because they did it too, and I think they only got through four or five songs. And we got barely above that.
So you’re the ranking record holders.
I guess! We saw a DVD of some band that did it well—some guys in Chicago dressed up in suits.
Did you really learn everything you first knew about music from a Best Of American Bandstand tape?
Well, that’s just Phillip and I. We’re brothers. We listened to that a lot when we were younger—anywhere from like five or six to twelve.
What did your parents think of the Beatles?
My mom’s favorite was Ringo, and my dad saw Hard Day’s Night ten times in a row.
Was that the first music you ever heard?
That and Raffi.
Who do you like better—Question Mark and the Mysterians or Raffi?
I like Question Mark way better now, but at the time I was probably pretty even. I liked the Temptations a lot—singing groups like that—and even old Italian music, like ‘Mamma mia! Pappa pia!’
What does ‘pappa pia’ mean?
I don’t know—it’s just fun to sing. It wasn’t ever that big a deal—it’s like every time we mention it in an interview, they really like that. They really like that it’s American Bandstand.
What’s your longest unbroken streak of liking a single band?
I like Dylan a lot and I liked him for a while. Stuff like blues—the first stuff you get into. Everything you probably think I like.
What do people think you like?
The articles all write the exact thing every fucking time—
Let’s get it all right now.
Like 13th Floor Elevators—they go that way, or the Kinks. Stuff like that. A lot of things we don’t mind at all—like Black Lips, which is super-flattering because they’re the best band around right now. But it’s a little weird reading articles comparing us to the same sixties groups. I think we’re a little different.
What’s ‘80s band do you pull the most from?
We used to sound a lot like Redd Kross.
Perfect answer.
They were a big influence. And Jesus And Mary Chain because we like them a lot.
How does Texas rank among America’s top rock ‘n’ roll regions?
I don’t know—you’d have to ask Vice. They probably have the exact number and percentage.
What kind of strange effects did Greg Ashley suggest adding to your recording?
We learned a lot from Greg. How to handle yourself in the studio more—how to have this third-person view of it, and not just be doing it for the performance at the time. We didn’t do any of that when we recorded, but the next session after Greg we did everything he said we should do.
Why not when he said to do it?
We were at a weird place in the band. We were living in Dallas after way too long and it was a drag. And we invited Greg out to record, and he recognized the whole situation instantly. He tried to do his best but I was a fucking pain in the ass.
What lessons are you still using?
The first takes are the best, and don’t over-think anything, and especially with vocals—he taught me to get loose and do it and don’t think about it too much. He taught us how not to give a shit!
How long did it take to learn to not give a shit?
I guess some people are born with it. I had to learn it a little bit.
Now that you worked with Greg Ashley, do you wanna go work with Greg Cartwright?
We actually played with him a few months ago. Everyone in the Strange Boys likes everything he’s been involved in. I’d love to record with him, but I don’t know! I used to think that if we got someone that I liked their record to record our record, it’d be the way I want! But now I don’t think that way—if I get along with them and can trust them, I’ll record with anybody. I’d hate it to be someone I really look up to and then have an awkward situation because we work differently. It’s all about the sounds that come out anyway. It’d be cool to say Greg Cartwright did it, but if it doesn’t sound good…
You could just pay him to use his name and produce it yourself like they used to do.
Or put like every name from the last ten years—all the people who were influential to us—and we’ll say they produced the record. An all-star producer list. We’ve been talking to Phil Spector—we’re gonna do a jail record with him. We’ll record in the jail—turn his jail cell into a recording studio. Make Death Of A Ladies’ Man in jail.
Maybe he could even transfer to Texas.
Yeah—who doesn’t wanna come to a Texas prison?
Did you know the Marx brothers got their start in comedy in Texas?
Actually, I did know that. That’s really cool. They’re fucking bad-ass. Tell everyone the Strange Boys are trying to make a song to make people laugh without any lyrics. Experimenting with funny sounds—notes that actually conjure laughter.
Like Harpo.
Definitely a Harpo vibe. We’re all Harpos. I don’t know who’s Zeppo but no one wants to be Zeppo.
What Marx brothers scene could the band best re-enact?
Any time they put their thighs in people’s hands when they shake hands. Or any skit with Chico, Groucho and Harpo fucking with one person all at once. And any time Harpo puts shit tons of stuff in his coat. That’s really funny. And Groucho’s TV show You Bet Your Life is hilarious.
What’s never influenced you and never will?
The Smiths. The Smiths have never influenced any single person in the Strange Boys.
Who should replace the Smiths in world history?
I don’t know. Mouse and the Traps. Wouldn’t it be funny if they blew up worldwide? And Donovan never influenced me. We don’t sing about elves and forests and dragons.
Now people know never to ask about that.
They’ll ask because in this interview they heard we don’t like that.
So you can’t win.
You can never win. But sometimes it’s fun to lose.

THE STRANGE BOYS PLAY SAT., NOV. 17, WITH E.K.U.K, BAD DUDES AND THE PRAYERS AT THE COMIC BUG, 1807 ½ MANHATTAN BEACH BLVD., MANHATTAN BEACH. 7 PM / $5 / ALL AGES. AND SAT., NOV. 17, AT THE PRESTIGIOUS HOUSE OF VERMONT, LOS ANGELES. MORE INFO AT MYSPACE.COM/HOWTOBEAMICROWAVE. AND SUN., NOV. 18, WITH JAY REATARD, MIKA MIKO, NO AGE AND DISASTER AT THE SMELL, 247 S. MAIN ST., LOS ANGELES. 9 PM / $8 / ALL AGES. WWW.THESMELL.ORG. AND SUN., NOV. 18, AT PART TIME PUNKS AT THE ECHO, 1822 W. SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 10 PM / $5 / 21+. MYSPACE.COM/PARTTIMEPUNKS. AND MON., NOV. 19, WITH JAY REATARD AT LINDA’S DOLL HUT, 107 S. ADAMS, ANAHEIM. CONTACT VENUE FOR TIME AND COVER. MYSPACE.COM/DOLLHUT.