Lambchop – Mutton, Honey!
Clarinetist Jonathan Marx, who has been playing with Lambchop since 1992, adds, “That’s one of the principles of how the band works. It’s as much about the spirit of what people bring to it. Ultimately, the thing that I’ve learned is that if you have the right kind of feel for what’s going on, you grow organically with this group of people. You become part of the dynamic — what you have to bring influences what happens, and, at the same time, what everybody else does influences what you do. It’s been a definite learning process for me. The important thing is not so much how much skill you develop. I mean, that’s definitely part of it. It’s important, but it’s also how you learn to work with people. Playing music is a good metaphor for how you get along with people. It’s a sense of community and it’s very important to what we do.”
Burch has great respect for Wagner’s strengths, noting what a fine rhythm guitarist, painter and songwriter Kurt is. “But he’d never say that. Lambchop is a shy band,” Burch says; Marx quips, “Not once you get to know us.” Which may well be true, as the sense of real life that pervades the band (day jobs, mortgages, spouses, other artistic projects) is balanced with a modesty and sincerity.
“I’m as much a fan as I am a member of the band,” Marx says. “That’s how I became a member of the band. ‘Cause I saw them play and I thought they were incredibly cool. I’d have a hard time defining exactly what I heard except there was something innately grabbing about the songs. At the time [summer of 1990] I was listening to a lot of New Zealand bands, stuff like the Bats and the Clean and the Chills. It wasn’t exactly like that, but it was more like that than anything I’d heard in Nashville before; something about the clarity of a real simple melodic idea put over well.”
Take, for example, the gorgeously pensive “Or Thousands of Prizes” (Marx cites this as a favorite) on the 1994 Merge comp Rows of Teeth. Organ, percussive bells, strings and horns create the lush velvety fabric of melody into which Wagner’s guitar and vocals melt and weave a Tuesday night encounter between a man and a woman: “Such promises of senselessness /Emotionless defensiveness the two awoke / To the sounds of lawns mowing trees growing / He’s knowing she’s going / And never spoke.” It’s an experience many of us have come close to, perhaps felt a burning shame for later. Here, Lambchop exquisitely encapsulates the flush of color rising to our cheeks, post-coitally hot and draggy, wondering why, promising never again.
Likewise, winter’s offering, How I Quit Smoking and the summer EP, Hank, bring us the lovelies “For Which We Are Truly Thankful” and “The Scary Caroler”, then “I’m A Stranger Here” and the aforementioned “The Tin Chime”, respectively. Lest one think Lambchop is perpetually trapped in slower-than-molasses tempo, bluer-than-blue drone, they are playful and humorous, as well. The bouncy “Cowboy on the Moon”, from 1994’s Jack’s Tulips (a.k.a. I Hope You’re Sitting Down), features the animated lyric “The blessed buttons / The sacred sandwich / And a happy hamper in which to put my clothes.” As evidenced in “Smuckers” (a song about hanging out with the band) from Smoking, and “I Sucked My Boss’ Dick” from Hank, Lambchop get off on frolic and some well-used profanity.
Wagner is pleased with the pace of the band, feeling more proficient at recording, though he’s most concerned with everyone “having a normal life” rather than surrendering to the grueling nonstop touring and merciless self-promotion that Nashville demands of the Bigs. Marriage and home ownership has “changed the way I go about the things I do,” he says. “I’m more inclined to divide my time a lot thinner, but I think the jury’s still out on how much a fuddy-duddy I’m becoming, like watching the paint peel off the side of the house, saying, hmmm — I should do something about that…”
That schedule leaves little time for Wagner’s beloved painting, and songwriting now comes more slowly than in earlier years, when he wrote furiously and threw most of them out. “They don’t have to be stories, they can be moments. I mean, there are whole movies about a moment.”
And on the business end of things, “I’m trying to learn from other people’s mistakes about, you know, these are people who really love music, and before long, they’re a million miles away from what they initially loved about it. There seems to be more longevity this way. There’s not a whole lot of going out and trying to sell ourselves. You know, you desire to create things about your life or whatever, and still have a life. …That’s why these things are surprising me — people calling me up and wanting to know what I’m doing.
“We’ve actually been farting around doing all kinds of things. Jonathan’s got projects and Deanna has her own thing going up in Chicago. Gosh — all these guys are so busy, and I’m just sitting around the house clippin’ the hedges!”