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Imaginary Bill: New York, The Strokes and Name Games

Imaginary Bill

Currently enjoying the kind of reviews that only God could command The Strokes are in the strange, yet compelling position of being loved by just about everybody. Poor,poor pedestal babies you may be thinking, but is it really fair to put so much pressure and faith into a band who have only released two singles and performed only a handful of (often postponed) live dates? Perhaps there is a touch of cynicism in my voice, but surely the abyss beckons when you are featured on the cover of the NME and the pages of The Face (hello Oasis) in the same month? Not that we can suggest the precise clinicians of their marketing department negotiated these inclusions in any way (heaven forbid). But it does make a suspiciously perfect opening gambit. And yes the music is great (well, The Modern Age was at least) but whenever was great music a saving grace in this business?

But this is another New York Story altogether.

Crud caught up with Imaginary Bill, another stateside band creating a buzz, but somehow only within their native the Long Island.Their eponymously titled debut album was released last year on the minor off-white label Sportin Company and contains the kind of timeless pop tunes that make you remember they have more than a state in common with their downtown brothers.

Crud pondered the bands history the so called NYC scene and the name game as we know it!

Crud: In England we have heard about a great NY scene that The Strokes and The Moldy Peaches belong to, does this exist? And if so, are you guys part of it, or part of any scene for that matter?

IB: It does exist, though we've always felt a bit more at home in the Long Island clubs than in NYC itself. Don't get me wrong we love NYC because it's ours and there's hot garbage in the summer and everyone owns a gun. The Manhattan scene has these incredibly great bands, playing 10,000 clubs all equipped with soundmen who are completely dedicated to the art of indifference. The reason NYC has a scene at all is more a testament to a band's dedication and perseverence (ie; The Strokes and The Moldy Peaches) than to the NY clubs, who's real main focus is keep the drinkers rotating and music fans out. (See $15 cover charge and $8 drinks. I'm not sure how this works in pounds but it's pricey). I must admit a certain dark allure to the NYC scene though.

Imaginary BillCrud: So,tell us how you guys got together?

IB: Steve moves from NY to Delaware to join a band . Meets Mike (who is from Baltimore, Maryland). Steve and Mike leave to join a different band featuring Jed (from Delaware) and some other guys. We all move to NY. We wind up living together for years, in all sorts of crummy, bug infested apartments, all the while playing with different combinations of musicians in different bands. Then in 1999, the three of us who have been best pals for so long, decided to fool around with just the three of us and wound up writing 4 songs in one night, all of which wound up on the debut cd. It seemed the winning combination was right under our noses all along. We were immediately surprised how easy it was to create music between the three of us, how much freedom we had to try different things, and how full the band sounded for a three piece.

Crud: There seem to be lots of complex counter- melodies in the songs - to me that seems to be the sound of your three personalities coming through. What do you think?

IB: Absolutely yes. We write all the music together. Our favorite songs are usually the ones we spontaneously write -(one of us will be goofing around and the other two jump in and boom----song). The fact that we're such good friends and have such similar musical influences and tastes, lets us all have free reign because we always know what the others will dig. I could write a song by myself, but it could never be an Imaginary bill song without Jed and Mike's 2/3rds.

Crud: My favourite song on your new album is "Wash" it sounds a little bit different to the rest of the tunes. Can you tell us a little about that track?

IB: Oh....Wash.... Wash is a song that always seems to get us in trouble. (Me mostly, because I write the lyrics). The song is about a guy who wakes up, regains consciousness, to discover a dead woman, maybe his girlfriend, and his walls and floor covered with blood. He then frantically starts washing the walls, his hands, the sink, completely freaked out and trying to cope. There are times we'll play this song live and have women come up to us very vocal and upset. We're just happy to know someone was listening to the words. The song is actually about a moment of blind utter panic. When I write lyrics, I do it in an "automatic" writing type of way, whereas I feverishly scrawl stuff onto napkins, and kind of figure out what they're about later. As a general rule if there's a pretty melody, expect some disturbing words because I dig the contrast.

Crud: I picked up some unexpected influences on the album; Aimee Mann, The Beatles? Who were you into when you were making this album and what influences informed which songs?

Imaginary BillIB: For me personally, I'll always remember the hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach I got when I was 5 and really listened to one of mom's Beatle albums for the first time. It kind of felt like grade-school puppy love, but never really went away. I also dig Mann's Voices Carry. We're also collectively floored by : Radiohead, Weezer, Jellyfish, STP, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, the Muffs, Veruca Salt , especially the American Thighs and the Blow It Out Your Ass E.P. Doors, Stones, PJ Harvey, Janes Addiction, Sex Pistols, Ween, NOFX, Bowie, NIN and some weird 80's new wave stuff.

Crud: Steve, vocally who are you influenced by?

I would gladly drown in Thom Yorke's spit. I also dig Lennon, Geldoff/Boomtown Rats, and Mike Patton. You can also probably hear some Bowie and Morrison, partly because I shamelessly steal their stylings.

Crud:You have the name game on your website. That's not the name game! The name game as I know it is that one where you say a famous persons name, say Kevin Bacon and then you have to follow it with the name of a person that begins with the first letter of the last person's surname. So, in this case "B", so lets say," Billie Holliday" and so on.Fun fun fun!! Explain your so-called name game to us please! Also, you use a lot of people's names for your tracks and even your band name is a name! Is there a reason behind this?

IB: We tend to name many songs after people who disturb or fascinate us. For example, Troy Dorsey is the name of a boxer who bleeds profusely and hardly ever wins. Tom Brokaw is about an American news anchor who got in trouble by telling a joke on-air about homeless people (a real knee-slapper, I'm sure). Donnie and Marie O.C.D. is a song about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, an affliction which Donny Osmond claims to suffer from. Mike thought it would be interesting for fans to try to match the name of a song with a description of the person the song is about in another column. We're hoping it will replace Boggle and Naked Twister as a fun party game. As for the name of the band, it came from a friend of ours. She would always talk about her boyfriend Bill, saying things like "I just got off the phone with Bill", yet Bill was never physically seen. We then took to calling him "imaginary Bill". Turns out the guy was real.

Crud: You have some cool stories on your website, ever considered publishing a book? IB: Every single day. My mind can't fully comprehend the extremely bizarre people we've encountered and the exceedingly strange circumstances that follow us around. There are times I'll tell a story that seems commonplace to someone outside our immediate circle, and I'll witness their jaw drop and the bemused/ horrified expression on that person's face.

Crud: What's next for the band? Are you guys coming to Europe?

IB: Yes please. If there's any European promoters reading this that are willing to fly, ship, drag, rocket launch, catapult, or mail us there, please contact us. We were supposed to tour there twice so far. The first time, the band we were going to support broke up (probably just to see the look on our faces). The second time, the guy who was setting it up wound up in jail (it had nothing to do with us). Being as into UK music as we are, we've always seen the UK as an Eden with lush green fields where everyone has this amazingly cool accent and listens to incredible music. We'd also like to see Amsterdam on general principles….

More info available at : Imaginary Bill

Interview conducted by Crud's Priya Elangasinghe © Priya Elangasinghe/Crud Music Magazine 2001

April Review of Imaginary Bill by Imaginary Bill

Tickle my tits and blow me over - this is just spanky. On the evidence of Bottom Feeder alone, New York City's Imaginary Billcould just be the sort of jangly melodic garage blunder we've been looking to steal over here to the UK. A brave and heady fusion of Syd Barrett psychedelia, flange bass and soaring Byrds harmonies give it a pretty damned unique New York meets West Coast resonance. Hard on attitude - big on tunes. Beatles in Hamburg? You better believe it. I've never once said the word excellent in response YET to an unsigned band.

I have now.

If you're into The Strokes and the New York scene: buy it.

Review by Giles Beaumont.

  © Crud Music Magazine/ 2001
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