SOLOSTEW interviews TNPSTEW of The Negro Problem
SOLOSTEW: what's up?
TNPSTEW: TNP is about to drop another disc.
SOLOSTEW: It's about time, Skillet. What took so long?
TNPSTEW: Only you can answer that, Le Stew.
SOLOSTEW: That's funny. Can we talk about this record of y'alls...?
WELCOME BLACK by The Negro Problem was goosed, juiced, induced and
PROduced by Stew & Heidi Rodewald. Our dynamic duo have taken a break
from their primary focus of the last two years, Stew's solo thing (Naked Dutch Painter, 2002 & Guest Host, 2000) to create a return to the sonic kaleidoscope that raised eyebrows, eardrums and consciousness levels way back in the glorious late 90's
(Post Minstrel Syndrome, 1997 and Joys and Concerns, 1999).
But to get the right feel, they had to return to the Real - So along the way they re-hooked with OG TNP alumni, Monster Probyn Gregory on trumpet/guitar/b-vocs (Wondermints, Brian Wilson) and Lady OG Lisa Jenio (Candypants) on B-vocs & specs. The cast was rounded out by relative TNP newbie Morley Bartnof (Cosmo Topper) on keys, TNP/Stew road veteran Josh Baldwin on drums & label mate Susan West (Sparklejets UK) on b-vocs.
Gregory's trumpet is the first sound you hear... a moody Stew composed instrumental reveille for sleeping pop geeks. It segues suddenly yet sweetly into Ms Rodewald's vocal, which gently tugs at the dreamer's ear lobe - she's whispering sweet somethings into his mind's ear...but before you know it, Stew, like a psychedelic Sgt. Carter, comes crashing
through the door of the barracks. All stand at attention.
SOLOSTEW: So what's up with the opening tune "Father Popcorn?" It's kind of a show & YELL vibe...
TNPSTEW: The lyric to "Father Popcorn" is my opening argument. Everything that has either bored or disappointed me is on trial.
SOLOSTEW: Sounds heavy. Maybe it's the coffee yer drinking.
TNPSTEW: "Father Popcorn" is our 'drunk chick at the open air show in a Halter-top on somebody's shoulders swaying back and forth holding her lighter up' song. Are you feelin' it?
SOLOSTEW: Like a pool table. It's felt. And speaking of green, "Lime Green Sweater" is a big departure for y'all as well.
TNPSTEW: The old TNP woulda never been relaxed enough to do such a laid back, Faces-type track. We woulda thought it beneath our majestic pop station. Now we know how to have fun.
SOLOSTEW: There's also that little issue of the time factor involved with the making of this record...
TNPSTEW: Yeah . . . It was done in two weeks. Mixed in three days. YOU had to bolt for a UK tour so we had no time to get all preeny about WELCOME BLACK. This record is a girl who didn't have time to look in the mirror but left the house with a load of attitude. We like to think of it as our quick and dirty late night party record -- but that's only how we APPROACHED it. It sounds, for the most part, sweet & friendly.
What else is new on WELCOME BLACK? It's the first TNP record to feature music written by Heidi Rodewald, Stew's multi-instrumentalist/co-arranger since the release of PMS in 97. The self-effacing Ms Rodewald wrote the music, vocal melodies and all, to "Out Now" and to what many consider the album's centerpiece and shining moment "Watering Hole." Rodewald also handles co-lead vocal chores on "Watering Hole." Have Stew and Heidi become the Steve & Edie of Silverlake?
SOLOSTEW: "Watering Hole" sounds like a standard. She really nailed it down. You could spin that cut for your grandma.
TNPSTEW: I got to play Hal David for a sec. I wore a turtleneck sweater while composing the lyric. It really helped. Yeah, you could sing the directions for instant mashed potatoes to that melody of hers and nobody would blink. She knows what she's doin'.
In "Is This The Single?" we find a cynical yet hilarious peak into the world/mind of a touring/hustling musician. This tune rocks playfully and features fuzz-poppy guitars, sassy 'uh huhs,' cat whistles, girl group talking, empty club ambience and goofy synths (which are clearly poking fun at the neo-new wave revival that seems to be rearing its head). The title mocks the record company exec/radio promo man/DJ/journo's ultimate shallow question while listening to a record "Is this the single?" But through it all Stew seems to be at peace with his vocation, since he describes his road life as "a vacation with guitars."
Turning to the more psychedelic, "Out Now" is classic TNP swirl taken to the max . . . whispering robots, interwoven co-lead vocals, the 5th Dimension in deep trouble with no way out except the fade out. It references funk, pop & psychedelia in an incredibly fresh combination that is vintage TNP.
SOLOSTEW: So everybody needs to know what planet yer from.
TNPSTEW: Born in LA. In High School it was rock bands. In college I wanted to be Jean Luc Godard. I guess after college I just went back to high school, i.e. bands.
SOLOSTEW: And your 'Arty Detour?'
TNPSTEW: Yeah, I moved to Berlin. I got arty for a minute. It happens. I don't regret it. I had fun being obscure.
SOLOSTEW: Not unlike now?
TNPSTEW: One hopes one's current obscurities are more tuneful. "The Teardrop Explodes," an upbeat yet haunting funk-pop number, finds TNP at it's most accessible ever. Stew's usual in-your-face approach gives way to a downright wistful performance. Rodewald's bass drives this song, which references both John Mellencamp & Julian Cope.
"Sebastian Cabot" was a live favorite back before TNP even had a record out. However, in its current incarnation it takes on a Lidsvillian sort of Broadway Musical for Kids persona. It's cartoony, but menacing. The subject matter, a homeless black man living in downtown LA who thinks he's Sebastian Cabot, could only be found on a TNP record.
SOLOSTEW: Am I correct that "In Time All Time" is about Thelonius Monk?
SOLOSTEW: Odd subject matter for a pop tune, or?
TNPSTEW: Uh, yer one to talk. A clear case of the pot calling the kettle 'Negro.' Anyway, Monk is just one of those figures in music that transcends genre and time. I felt like an elementary school kid writing a poem about their hero. Also I found something incredibly funny about a little pop ditty dedicated to this giant of music.
SOLOSTEW: Folks keep asking what's the difference between you and me?
TNPSTEW: You wanna draw portraits. I wanna make big goofy pictures. You wanna tell stories. I wanna leave holes. You wanna create characters. I wanna BE the character.
To the ears who've heard it, WELCOME BLACK is the most accessible TNP record to date. And yet none would say it was a reach for mass public acceptance. After all, why bother worrying about mass acceptance when we've got that "scary name" issue to contend with?
SOLOSTEW: So people still trip off the band name?
TNPSTEW: Yeah. Like Cheney wakes up in the morning going "OK, what do I deal with today, the Middle East crisis or Stew's offensive band name?"
SOLOSTEW: Whatever happened to Silverlake?
TNPSTEW: I've switched muses. Now its Panorama City. In Silverlake I was just a cynical observer. Too easy.
"Bermuda Love Triangle" tells the story of an ill-fated ménage a trois which resulted from an ad answered "in the back of a left wing magazine." The locale is Fox Hills. Nuff said?
SOLOSTEW: Smile/Image Ent. will be re-releasing the first two TNP records in conjunction with this new release. Do you attach any significance to this?
TNPSTEW: Yeah. It's been an action packed 5 years. I'm very happy the label is into giving the public an opportunity to see what we've been up to - all at once. My solo career is my main focus these days. But TNP is like this decadent weekend vacation in Amsterdam that allows me to get my rocks off and get back to the desk Monday morning focused, refreshed and rejuvenated. I've got the polaroids in my bottom drawer whenever I need to reminisce.
If its afro-baroque let it fix you.
End of interview.
Non-interview bits by Butman Ausby