"The rock 'n' roll business is pretty absurd, but the world of serious music is much worse," Frank Zappa once told a bemused interviewer. Fergus & Geronimo started with the premise of "Motown by way of Mothers of Invention," and the Texas-bred, Brooklyn-based duo clearly shares Zappa's mischievously sardonic outlook. Unlearn, the band's full-length debut for the Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art, is at once more musically polished and more lyrically caustic than the group's promising run of singles on well-regarded indies Woodsist, Transparent and Tic Tac Totally!. Right before Kelly and Savage left their apartment to pick up a new four-track machine Savage had just bought off Craigslist, they spoke with eMusic's Marc Hogan about Top 40 production values, a Super Bowl bet gone wrong and why networking is really, really important.
On shedding the "lo-fi" tag:
Andrew Savage: The difference between the singles and the record comes from the fact that we recorded the record on half-inch tape — 16 tracks — and the singles were recorded just, like, straight to a computer. I think that a lot of people have been writing about the songs that have been released from the album, the few that have made it, and still kind of branding them as lo-fi. That's kind of perplexing to me, because we spent a lot of time making this record sound as great as we can. I just think that if it doesn't sound like a Rihanna record...
On what else the blogs are missing about Fergus & Geronimo:
Andrew: It's not my job to make sure anybody takes one thing away from this project. But really, I try to communicate as clearly as I can through music. And I am a sarcastic person, and we both definitely have a sense of humor and are very dry. That's just an extension of who we're trying to make this band be. It's kind of really an exaggerated, kind of magnified version of our own emotions. A lot of the songs are pretty grandiose. Like, I'm not sexy enough to feel the stuff in "Powerful Lovin'." That's really not me. But it's a pretty, I guess, sexy song. That's the whole idea. So I don't know. I guess if anyone were to take anything away from the group it's that Fergus & Geronimo are sort of caricatures of our songwriting abilities. We're playing these characters, really.
On the band's name, drawn from 1994 Irish child-gang movie War of the Buttons:
Jason: Andrew takes the role of Fergus, while I take the role of Geronimo. Even though, in the movie, I don't relate with Geronimo as much as I do with Fergus, because Geronimo is kind of a rich kid, the preppy boy, and I was never that dude. I could relate with Fergus more because he was the leader of the like ragtag poor kids. But I just liked the name Geronimo. It has a nice little zap to it.
On moving to Brooklyn:
Andrew: We only moved here because we lost a bet, a Super Bowl bet. I bet that the Jets would lose, and of course they won. So we're here. We're sticking it out for I think we said in the bet five years. As soon as that's over, we're getting our asses back to Texas. No joke. It's really just a bet. If the Jets win, we'll fucking move to New York City, like, the dumbest city in the world. [Actually, the New Orleans Saints won last year's Super Bowl-- ed.] Jason: Can't wait to get back to some heat. Andrew: That's what I want people to know is we're sports fans first and musicians later, and that's how much we care about sports is we moved a thousand miles away.
On current musical favorites:
Jason: It's all over the spectrum. Sometimes I'll listen to Sam Cooke and the next day I'll be obsessed with the Fall. I listen to a lot of Alice Cooper and Badfinger. Wire. Classic shit. Andrew: It's no secret I'm pretty obsessed with the Fall, as well. But lately I've been listening to a lot of Adrian Orange, a dude out of Portland. And probably my favorite active American band right now is Tyvek, from Detroit. This band really is kind of a sum of our own influences. We're both music hoarders, and so we take out of that bits and pieces and kind of quilt it together, you know?
On the fate of Andrew's other band, Teenage Cool Kids, whom Jason also recorded:
Andrew: Teenage Cool Kids isn't really active right now because we all live in different places. But we do have a record that needs to come out. So if you'll put that in your, like, blog, the new Teenage Cool Kids record, that would be cool. 'Cause it's really good, and it needs to come out, but right now we're pretty much only doing this. I'm working on another thing right now, too, but it's top secret as of now. Jason: They recorded the Teenage Cool Kids record in the same exact recording setup as the Fergus shit. So it sounds really good. Andrew: If you like good-sounding records, it's right up your alley. So if you're reading this out in 'zineland, you should know that there's this sweet record that needs to come out. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On finding labels for their singles and album:
Andrew: Jeremy [Earl] from Woodsist has been my friend for a little bit. I met him back when he played my house in Denton with his band Meneguar, and I did a show with [another Earl band] Woods. I just sent it to him, you know, as a bro, and he offered to put it out. The Transparent one, maybe kind of came out of the blue — we'd never heard of those guys before, and we were like yeah, sure. The Tic Tac Totally! one was kind of similar circumstances, but of course we'd heard of them before. Jason: I actually knew [Hardly Art's] Ruben Mendez for several years from his old band, the Coconut Coolouts. I just saw him play a lot. Andrew: So basically it came from a lot of networking, just knowing the right people. Conference calls. You gotta know the right people to make it, you know.
On recording at home:
Jason: I'd say the only pitfall is just keeping yourself from just laying around. It was in the wintertime, so it was like super cold out, and we had this like super cozy, almost cottage-esque little house. Sometimes it would be kind of hard to get motivated to play a loud-ass like punk song or whatever. But I dunno. That's not even really a disadvantage. Because if you take advantage of it, it can be really great. So, I don't know— I think it's perfect.
On their album's guest performers:
Andrew: All three of those women have been very good friends. I've known Casey since I was 15. I'm probably closer to her than I am nearly anybody. And we've known Elyse and Monet for a really long time. They're all very talented. Jason: Denton's pretty small. It's kind of like one big family there. And they were just kind of like part of the family so that's how we all knew each other. And they happened to be talented, too. Andrew: It went down like we knew needed to have flute, and they played that, and we knew we needed a chick to talk on the record. Jason: It just so happens that Elyse has amazing taste in music. Andrew: It just so happens she's a chick. Jason: She has phenomenal taste in music. She's a super big fan of, like, '60s girl pop and all kinds of shit, really, all over the spectrum. But she totally I think naturally did the whole Shangri-La-esque voice. Like, perfect. Exactly what we wanted.