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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lost Politics: Full Transcription

Tomorrow's edition of Seven Days features an interview with Thee Silver Mt. Zion co-founder Efrim Menuck. As so often happens, the confines of the print edition require that conversations such as this one be trimmed down to fit the physical limitations of the space. Thanks to the unceasing wonders of the Internet, no such constraints exist in the blogosphere. So you, loyal Solid State readers, get to check out the interview in its entirety. Enjoy.

PS- If you haven't bought tickets to this show yet, you really should. Like now.

Lost Politics

A Conversation with Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s Efrim Menuck

Tick Tick Presents: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band with Oak and Greg Davis & Friends this Friday at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington, 8 p.m. $12/13/15. AA.


The members of Montreal’s Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band have passionate social and political beliefs, reflected by an equally passionate fan base — even though their music itself is rarely explicitly political. Seven Days recently spoke with SMZ co-founder Efrim Menuck about politics, misconceptions and a certain ad for the TV show “Lost,” in advance of their upcoming Burlington performance.

SD: TSMZ is often tabbed as a “political” band. But that seems to be a designation you bristle at.
EFRIM MENUCK: For the most part we get broadly cast as a political band or anarchists or openly idealistic. There are all sorts of generalizations made about us, and I think that’s what I bristle at. We don’t conceive of ourselves as activists or political. We just think of ourselves as formed, grown-up human beings who choose to write songs that sort of address the mess that the world is in. There aren’t any statements we’ve made that are contentious or anything. They all seem to be plainly held truths by most people. You know what I mean? I don’t know why people feel the need to characterize us as “political anarchists” or anything. But it’s really far from the truth.
    It’s frustrating too. There was a time — I mean, it seems like forever ago now — where, like a lot of people, we were sort of on the margins of the anti-globalization movement and going to protests and stuff like that. There’s a level of politicization that happens in that context that we were definitely a part of. There were references made in songs, specifically about those types of movements.
    It’s frustrating at points too because there are a lot of people [for whom] that whole milieu is alien to them. You’re trying to write songs that are kind of nuanced, but it’s kind of specific. It can be frustrating feeling like you have to give someone a sort of like “International Protest Movement for Beginners” spiel or something.

SD: Does that have anything to do with 13 Blues being the first album for which you’ve included lyrics with the liner notes?
Smzbymarkslutsky_4 EM: There are a lot of people who like our band for whom English is not their first language. So we mostly wanted to put the lyrics somewhere so people who didn’t speak English that well necessarily, would have a bit of a chance at understanding what was going on. So I posted a bunch of the lyrics just on the Internet for that purpose. And when this album cam out I just told [Constellation Records] “This time, there’s gonna be a lyric sheet.”

SD: You’re often pointed to as the “leader” of the band, but that’s not entirely true. It’s more of a collective process isn’t it?
EM: It is absolutely a collective process. We’ll start with a handful of riffs . . . there’s very few songs where I’ll come in with chords or lyrics ready, you know? There’s maybe three songs like that in the history of the band. But for the most part we’ll start with a handful of riffs until some sort of rough structure is there. Then we’ll start adding counter lines and melodies and things. Then, really late in the process, I’ll start writing words and sort of roughing them into the song. It takes us about a month of serious work to get a song together, because we’re all stubborn and have this strange writing process.

SD: And they’re all pretty epic songs. Like, ten-plus minutes.
EM: We’ve tried to write shorter songs. I guess it’s maybe not a strong point for us. We sort of need that much runway. We’re self-conscious about it, so we try to make it as concise as we can.

SD: Not to get political again, but have you been following the US presidential election?
EM: Yeah. yes I have. Mostly though because it’s ridiculous theater at this point. It’s like evidence of everything that’s wrong, not just with your political system, but with political systems of all the wealthy industrialized nations. It’s like watching a train wreck.
    There’s no truth there. The way it’s spoken about. The way arguments are contextualized and framed, it’s clear that it’s the cable news networks that are running the show. They have a vested interest in continuing specific narratives and they’ll just spin things however they want to.
    It’s frustrating, and I can imagine it’s even more frustrating for an American. Somewhere there’s some sort of policy discussion going on. But you’d be hard-pressed to find it.
    It’s sad too because it socializes politicians to this sort of dull grey fog. Obama got a free pass for a while because it was such a novelty that there was a charismatic dude running for office who spoke off the cuff a bit. It’s sort of like what happened with Dean too, although he wasn’t too charismatic. But [Obama] is like a totally different dude now. So I don’t know.
    At the same time, whoever gets elected President is going to be at the reins of a train wreck. I don’t envy that person.

SD: I promised a friend that I’d ask you about how “Tho You Are Gone I Still Often walk With You” came to be used on the ABC show “Lost.”
EM: Every year we get offers to license music for movies, television shows and advertisements and we say “no, no, no, no, no.”  We turn down like tens of thousands of dollars every year because it’s either a piece of a song that we really have an attachment to or that we know other people have an attachment to. Or what they want to license it for is something that we just find heinous or boring. And so this “Lost” thing came in and there’s some people in the band that watch that show. And also it’s a little ten-second chunk of a song that none of us feel any attachment to.
    We talk to people after shows; we’re an open band that way. And in all of the touring we’ve done, no one, no one, has ever brought up that song as something they’ve liked or was important to them. So it was really like a perfect storm of “OK, like, what the hell?”
    It’s been interesting because our engagement with the music industry has always been incredibly pragmatic. You know what I mean? We try not to fuck people over and we take every decision that we make very seriously and we don’t grab at the easy quick money ever. What it comes down to is that it was a perfect storm of mitigating factors. It was ultimately a pretty easy decision to make and a pretty easy decision to justify.
    The other thing is the ad screened for a total of one week. That was the deal. We got some e-mails at the beginning, before the ad even screened,  from outside fans who were obviously “Lost” fans because they were on ABC’s  website going through trailers. They were like “What are you doing?” And it’s like well, dude, you’re obviously way more into the show than any of us are. Those were sort of the only questioning e-mails we got about it. And then Pitchfork picked it up . . .
    So much of what gets written about us is that we’re hardcore anarchists and that we’re lecturesome. So you start with that and then we sell ten seconds of a song to a “Lost” ad and it’s like “Ha ha! Fucking sellouts.” And it’s this boring narrative.
    At the same time, we know that there are lots of people who are fans of what we do who expect us to maintain this hard line, sort of absolute negation of anything corporate. So for those people, we’ve had conversations after shows about this stuff. I mean . . . again, we’ve been pragmatic in our approach with the entertainment industry. And we’re also, first and foremost, working musicians and prideful of that.
If you actually want to get into what our political stance is, that’s the sloppy little plank in our platform. We’re prideful and take playing music seriously as a trade, like any other trade. We expect and we demand that musicians get treated with respect and don’t get exploited.
    It was a fairly easy decision to make and I don’t think it’ll happen again in the career of this band. If it weren’t for the fact that it was like a piece of music that we didn’t feel any attachment to and no fans seem to feel an attachment to, it never would have happened. And if it hadn’t been a program that some people in the band actually watch on televisions that don’t even have cable. So yeah, that’s the long story.


Tyler M

Cool interview. pretty bummed that I won't be in town for this show.

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