Imaginary Bill: New
York, The Strokes and Name Games
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.
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
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
Crud: What's next for the band? Are you guys coming
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
Interview conducted by Crud's Priya Elangasinghe
© Priya Elangasinghe/Crud Music Magazine 2001
April Review of Imaginary Bill by Imaginary
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
Review by Giles Beaumont.