2011 was a good year for the Detroit pop duo with the silly name. They released their major label debut It's a Corporate World in June and spent much of the remainder of the year touring behind it. The band will ring in 2012 with a string of high-profile dates on the West Caost supporting Fitz and the Tantrums, including two shows at the Showbox Market on January 20 and 21. We caught up with Josh Epstein, one-half of the group, the one with the shorter hair, to talk about the band's debut full-length, recording it in a grandmother's basement and which Jewish comedian people think he resembles on the cover.
Some of the songs on the album are so sonically dense. How do you know when a song is done? And how much of that do you know before you start recording? Before we started recording every song, we played each on either the piano or acoustic guitar to make sure that in its stripped down form we were happy with it. We'd record that stripped down version and just start building everything around it. I think there was a general point for every song where the two of us would just kind of look at each other and be dancing. And that's when we knew when to stop, when we had a physical reaction to it.
Can you tell me about the title? It's especially curious considering it's your major label debut. We named it that before we knew where the record was going to come out. There's a sense of irony, but it wasn't directed at the label. The song "It's a Corporate World" happened right after the Supreme Court ruled that corporations were people. And it's becoming a way more omnipresent fact that corporations have a huge foothold. The world is getting top-heavy. In a lot of ways it's a terrible thing, but there are moments when you're grateful for it, like when you're driving through some weird town in a part of the country you've never been but you know that you can go somewhere and get a cup of coffee and use the internet at Starbucks.
Do you have a favorite song on the album? "Skeletons." It came out so fast it almost wrote itself and I just think that it's very honest and it's fun to play every time.
Do you have a favorite lyric? I like the opening like to "Skeletons": "I guess I've been bruised, if we were to speak plain. Every bruise that comes to flesh makes its mark on the brain."
You guys have an ear for interesting covers, from The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" to Pavement's "Summer Babe" and Gil Scott-Heron's "We Almost Lost Detroit." What makes a song ripe for you to try your hands at it? It's always pretty accidental. With "We Almost Lost Detroit," we were playing a show in Detroit and wanted to do something special so we started thinking about a song we could do. And as the record started to become more firm in our mind it seemed like the sentiment of that song was perfect for our record. Things that work well are usually accidents and not as contrived as you might think.
Can you tell me about the cover art? The portrait of you guys is very regal looking. What was the concept behind it? The initial idea was that we were going to take a picture of someone painting a portrait of us. We were thinking about the corporatization of art and it seemed like portrait painting was the first time art was corporatized. Some rich guy comes up to some talented painter and is like, "I'll give you one-hundred shekles to paint my daughter. Make sure she looks a little bit thinner and more beautiful." We had a student at an art school in Detroit paint the portrait for us, and when we saw the image it just looked so striking to us. It's like a really accurate depiction of Daniel but I look nothing like me. I thought that was really funny.
Do you think that only you see it that way because it's you or have other people given you that feedback as well? People ask if Eugene Levy is in the band.