Andy Shmushkin: The Interview

How do you solve a problem like... Andy Smushkin?

He's what some people would call a "confrontational" musician, which makes me think those people missed the whole Sex Pistols thing. His records are frank, direct and uncomfortably obscene. He's the kind of person Nancy Grace would rail against for being responsible for the downfall of society, repeatedly and fervently until she successfully achieved orgasm (which we know ain't gonna happen) (Nancy's orgasm, I mean).

After a few years of laying low, honing his blend of happy scatology and signs of possible personal growth, Smushkin is emerging from the ether, gradually working his way back to polite society just so they can kick him right out again. In addition to a new collection called Mustache Music, he's working on a project with folk master Dan Bern, and hosting The Dive Bar Film Festival in Seattle this coming Wednesday April 2, the details of which you can ascertain via this link.

I got a message from a courier a few weeks ago that Smushkin wanted to break his silence and talk to me. Well, to be specific he wanted to exchange some emails. So I sanitized my Mac, asked the kids not to bother me for a few hours, and then this happened:

PP: There was a considerable time gap between Mustache Music and your last record, Total Fucking Bullshit. Why was that?

AS: Well, I don’t know how much you know about the anti-Shmushkinites but Total Fucking Bullshit generated a very strong reaction. What’s funny is that it was all a hoax that went out of control. My manager and the folks at National Lampoon thought it would be a “transgressive” promotional campaign but it actually caught on and scared everyone involved. NatLamp cooled on the project. My manager moved back to Olympia. And I spent the better part of a decade as a “well-kept” companion in Europe until even this lost its allure. That’s pretty much where Mustache Music begins.

PP: Someone claiming to be your press agent sent me your biography, but my nephew thought it was one of my “travel documents” and ran it through the shredder. Could you fill me in on some of your biographical details?

AS: What’s to tell? I’m a Canadian, raised in a Buddhist monastery in Banff, by my mother. I spent summers after the age of 10 with my father, who was a very famous alcoholic which, in Canada in the 1970’s, was actually a profession. What else? Nobody believes it, but I was born with a mustache, and the family name (which they changed and I reclaimed upon my 16th birthday) is a bit of parental slang that some Russian women of the 19th century used to refer to their pre-pubescent daughter’s vaginas, the way some mothers would use the term “flower” or “yoo-hoo”.

PP: There’s also the German equivalent, “Glücklich Haus.” And the Norwegian “skjeden." People tell me you’re angry. I don’t think you’re that angry. Are you angry? Why do people think you’re angry?

AS: I have never been angry in my life, so that’s just funny. Have these people listened to my music? I mean, James Taylor’s nephew once called me a “pussy”, so…

PP: Had you offended James Taylor’s nephew in some way? Why’d he say that?

AS: Well, I only heard it second hand but he may have picked up on how badly I ripped off JT’s “Is That The Way You Look” for my song “Porn Mom”. I could see him taking offense at how much I get compared to Sweet Baby J, and how much we play with that. Maybe he thought I was being ironic but I really do love James Taylor. I love all those early 70’s singer-songwriters who came after The Beatles. Taylor. Croce. Simon. Fogelberg.

PP: Why do you think “Christmas Cunnilingus” didn’t make it onto the Glee Holiday episode?

AS: Give it time. Give it time. You never want to rush “Christmas Cunnilingus”.

PP: Not long after you wrote “A Mustache Is A Man’s Way Of Saying…” the “ironic mustache” phase passed, and now it’s not at all ironic. It’s completely acceptable to have a mustache in a non-ironic way. Do you think your song make folks rethink their position about mustaches?

AS: I hope so. The last record Total Fucking Bullshit was intended as women’s music. And I meant that sincerely. I wanted to connect to the same energy that Tori Amos, Sinead O’Connor, Ani DiFranco & Mirah were tapping into. Mustache Music is different. It’s for the men. It’s about getting to that place where you have lost yourself in women, in the feminine, and all that’s left is the song. I guess you could say that it’s a dark record, if you think men are dark.

PP: When you say it was “for the men,” I immediately think of Tom Leykis, how he strives to re-masculate the male culture. Is that in your ballpark?

AS: Not at all. I’m not trying to influence anyone (except maybe to come to my shows and dance). Leykis and his ilk are like cavemen to me. I’m a 21st century man. The most exciting, and the most challenging thing for men of the 21st century, is having access to deeper levels of our femininity and making sense of this, for ourselves, with the women in our lives, and ultimately for the next generation. Do you really get angry reactionary bully from my music?

PP: Well, I get more of the Shaft vibe. The "complicated man." I wouldn't say "bully."

AS: I mean, some people do react that way, and if you do, you too might be an Anti-Shmushkinite. When I say that the last record was for the women I just mean that’s who I was singing to and for, and on this record, I feel like I’m singing to, or for the men. Maybe the next one will be a kid’s record. I’d like to do one for pets. Nobody makes pet records.

PP: Mustache Music was very stripped down, very intimate. Where was it recorded, who was there, and how long did it take?

AS: What you heard was just the acoustic demos, recorded over a one month period with my manager and chief collaborator, Andras Jones, in the fall of 2012. He had some deal with an online Open Mike site called YouNow.com, and I got booked to perform once a week for a month. During that time the inspiration just flowed and we knocked out the demos you heard.

PP: Have you read Andras Jones’ chapter about you in his book Accidental Initiations? What did you think of it? Will you sue him?

AS: I would never sue Andras. He’s me He-bro! Yes, I loved his book. I especially like how he makes the reader question my reality, like I’m his Tyler Durden or something. It is a neat synchronicity that we share the same ancestral name, and my life hasn’t been the same since we met in Andy Dick’s backyard in 2002. I only wish there were more Shmushkins. Between Hitler, Stalin & J. Edgar Hoover, it’s been a rocky road for us.

PP: Some people consider your work pornographic, even obscene. Yet others insist it’s a return to naturalism. What do you say?

AS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T6W8QMYLjk

PP: I wonder how Lenny Bruce would be received today, whether he’d be pilloried in this adrenalized, offense-avoiding culture. Somebody should make up a Lenny Bruce Twitter account if they haven’t already.

AS: I think Lenny was a phenomenon of his time, like Kerouac or me. Our greatness is in our ability to synthesize and say what everyone else is on the verge of thinking or saying. That doesn’t make us great, just lucky, or unlucky, depending on how you look at it.

PP: Who was “Goodbye Stalker” written for? Because if it’s me, all I did was deliver that wreath to your townhouse. And I made sure it was free of bugs before I sent it.

AS: Now, you’re not being serious, Paul, and stalking is a serious issue. This song actually comes from my manager’s life, but I relate to it. It’s not easy being a beautiful man. I’m sure you can relate. I mean, it was easy when I was an indiscriminate fucker, satisfying women’s desires whenever it was demanded of me, but now that I’m basically celibate, I’ll tell you that I have a whole new understanding of the old saw about “hell having no fury like a woman scorned”. Seriously ladies, no means no.

PP: Did Henry David Thoreau’s work have any influence on your composition “Fart (Let It Fly)”?

AS: Not a whit.

PP: Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, then? Jimmy Dean?

AS: We’ve changed the title simply to “Let It Fly” in order to allow the listener to discover what it’s about slowly, as one would recognize a fart. We’ve all lived that moment but I don’t know if anyone’s ever sung about it. That’s what I like to do, explore the universal unspoken. If that bears the mark of Thoreau as an influence, so be it.

PP: Talk to me about “Zorba’s God,” because it’s the saddest song on the album and I don’t want to ask anything that might be taken as an insult.

AS: Well, I really love that song so thanks for asking. You know when you have a really sad story and you meet someone else who has the same really sad story? And this shared sadness becomes a source of happiness? Well, that’s what happened with this song. Andras and I both saw Anthony Quinn live onstage when he revived Zorba in the 1980’s. It’s funny. That’s one of the cool synchronicities we shared when we first met, but it took a decade for it to turn into a song.

PP: Mustache Music came out in 2012. What have you been doing to promote it? What kind of live stuff have you done?

AS: Oh, that record isn’t out yet. I’m currently working with a couple of producers in LA (R. Walt Vincent & Marshall Thompson) on the record. It has a serious Yacht Rock vibe I think you’ll dig. In fact, I’m going to attach a rough recording of “Goodbye Stalker” for you to check out. It’s so smooth you may think it’s 1982.

As far as promoting, I leave that to management, but I’ve got some cool shows coming up and a couple of cool projects in the works. I’ll have the beezwax people send that info your way.


PP: My secretary just handed me a telex — who sends telexes these days? — that just reads “Don’t ask him about the ‘Plato Unbound Cruise’ in the Lower Antilles. The litigants are still being identified, he won’t talk about it and he’ll hang up the phone.” First off, I think my secretary was under the impression that I’m talking to Tom Jones. Second, you can’t hang up on me because this is email. Do you have any comment about the Plato Unbound Cruse in the Lower Antilles?

AS: I have no idea what you are talking about.

PP: Should men fear Andy Shmuskin?

AS: It depends what you’re asking. I’m not going to fuck your wives and daughters, if that’s what you mean (no matter how much they may want me to) but I will ask that you join me in the occasional stare into the abyss of our shallow masculinity, and laugh with me at our shared folly.

PP: Tell me about this series you’re doing with Dan Bern. How did you meet Dan Bern? What led up to this series?

AS: This project just came together and it’s the hottest thing I have going. My manager and Dan go way back, and he’s been sending Dan my stuff for years. I think the guy is about as close to genius as I’ve met. Super prolific, with a really unique writer’s voice. Funny. Topical. And Deep. When you hear the songs he wrote for Walk Hard and Get Him To The Greek you can tell that they’re his and I love that. So, he’s got this novella, I guess you’d call it, of short stories about a songwriter who quits music and becomes a detective. It’s called “10,000 Crappy Songs” and I’ll be playing The Detective in the pilot they’re gonna be shooting in LA this spring. The script is really funny and Dan’s writing the music so I’m pretty excited.

PP: Also, tell me about the work you’re doing with RAWSTOCK. All capital letters, right?

AS: YES! All caps when referring to RAWSTOCK. They’re local Seattle filmmakers that do a Northwestern Grindhouse vibe that I get a kick out of. Andras has acted in some of their stuff and bartends with a couple of the guys from time to time. He hooked me up to MC and perform at their most recent festival called: KLAUSTERFOKKEN. After that I started working with one of their guys (Justin Freet) on some outlines for some music videos with the idea that I will become a character in a new series of shorts they’re working on, tentatively titled The Binge Chronicles.

PP: Hold the phone here, Joyce just handed me something else from the telex machine — for God’s sake, why do we even have that thing plugged in? Did the toaster oven lose a bet or something? — “Correction: Greater Antilles.” Okay. So does that ring a bell for you?

AS: No, but it’s interesting for you to bring it up because my manager just submitted me to JJ Abrams to play the role of Wedge Antilles’ son in the upcoming Disney-fied Star Wars. Longshot. Fingers crossed.
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