February 21, 2014 9:00am PT by Colin Stutz
Fred Armisen Promotes Faux Bands of Yore With Stealth 7-Inch Series
Comedian Fred Armisen is making a hearty push into music. On Feb. 24, the Saturday Night Live alum will lead Seth Meyers' new Late Night band, and Tuesday marked the launch of a new 7" single series by the Portlandia star called Hometown Heroes (released by label Drag City).
The series' first release is a split single by bands of Armisen's creation on SNL. They are The Blue Jean Committee from Northampton, Mass., with "Massachusetts Afternoon," and The Fingerlings from Bath, England, with "Embrace Me." Both tracks Armisen debuted in 2011 on SNL, "Massachusetts Afternoon" with host Jason Segel and "Embrace Me" earlier that year with Dana Carvey.
What relates the songs for the series, Armisen explains to The Hollywood Reporter, is the idea of a local band on the verge of success.
"Every town, every region, any place that you grew up had that band that was at the cusp of making it big," he says. "I remember, I grew up on Long Island and there was this band called Nite Fire, and there's this thing with the town where everybody goes, 'Oh this is about to happen. They're about to be huge.' And it's kind of a nice thing. It's kind of like a local sports team, you get behind them like, 'This is our band.' "
Armisen continues: "In a way, it's not wrong. If a band is really successful locally in, say, Rockford, Ill., or Olympia, Wash., or Toronto, it's not wrong. If that band isn't big outside that city, they're still big. It's still a crowd of people at a show. It's still an audience. They can be world famous or they can be locally famous, they're still famous."
As for Armisen, his hope with these releases is they take on a life of their own without focus on him. In Drag City's own marketing, the label has obscured the actor’s involvement, stating these singles are plundered from his record collection in a "series dedicated to the regional music stars of decades past and local one-hit wonders."
One press release reads:
First in the series comes The Blue Jean Committee, the proud products of the late 70's Northampton, Massachusetts music scene. Comprised of some of the most sought after local session musicians, the group was most defined by Richie Cornish's busy talk-singing lyrical style. The gently soulful "Massachusetts Afternoon" celebrates the time in one’s life when independence, friendships, and the autumn sunset seem to go on forever.
On the flip, from Bath, England, come The Fingerlings, a prolific synth/post-disco band who released twelve EPs between 1981 and 1983. Typically, a group such as this would have been formed at an art college, and The Fingerlings were no different. Their aesthetically meticulous nature earned them a reputation for creating some of the most elaborate and expensive 12" EP covers ever to be produced in the UK. "Embrace Me" is the jam, a huge local hit, its lyrics evoking imagery of neon framed cities like Paris and Berlin.
"I don't want it to seem like it's me," Armisen explains. "I don't want it to be about me, I want it to be like something that if someone happens upon it by mistake they're actually fooled into thinking it's something that happened at that time. So it's not a parody, it's not a joke, it's something so that when it ends up in record stores the goal is that someone will pick it up and make the mistake of thinking that it's real."
The songs' heavy reliance on pop influences is key to their charm. For Armisen's Blue Jean Committee, he says the ideal would be to match something nationally like Rickie Lee Jones; with the Fingerlings, the model is Soft Cell and the band’s singer, Marc Almond. "I think about a band that tried to make something that was a hit song," he says. "They weren't trying to be underground, they were trying to make a hit, and that informed the kind of songwriting that they did, and it reflects some of the things that were on national pop radio at the time."
But, what does the attempt at ambiguity add to this project?
"My favorite things in the world are things that are unclear," says Armisen. "That's the fun of anything you hear, is you don't know exactly where it comes from or why it existed. With any of your favorite records, at first there's a mystery. Sometimes you try to think of what they look like, for instance, and a lot of times you're wrong. That question mark is the fun of having a record and finding something.
“I like finding things -- I think in order to appreciate the world, you need things to find. For my gratitude to being alive and finding something by mistake, I think it's therefore everyone's obligation to then make something that can be found by somebody else."