Tyrants In Therapy
'Prescription To Party'
The kooky duo of AbbeAbbe and Michael J are the brainchildren behind Tyrants in Therapy, a progressive L.A. based electro-punk cabaret outfit. Although difficult to classify, the Tyrants have been plotting an underground musical revolution since the early 1980’s with their first release 3 People Nude Below the Waist in 1984. Refusing to assimilate with modern-fascist music culture, Tyrants are ready to drop the unexpected musical equivalent of the A-bomb with their new album 'High Class Trash'.
Nine years in the making, 'High Class Trash' is an unexpected melee of quirkiness; from flamenco to Caribbean-style nursery rhymes to spoken word to ironically hilarious, romantic elevator-music, and that’s just the first song. The one thing you can say about the new album is that it’s undefinably, undeniably, unabashedly original. With over two decades of music behind them, the only words that can be used to describe Tyrants in Therapy is: Tyrants in Therapy.
Exclusive Magazine had the recent pleasure of speaking with AbbeAbbe (Abbe Kanter) and Michael J (Michael Jaye) about the the Tyrants, the tyranny and the Trash.
Your music has its roots in electronica, disco, country, rock, blues and everything in between. Who were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? [ABBEABBE] "My older sisters always had the radio on, so I was constantly absorbing different music. When I was a kid, Top 40 played songs from many musical genres, so I got exposed that way. Both Michael and I love melodic pop songs with hooks that get you singing along. Songs that you want to play over and over and over because they bring you such joy, such a high. I adored the Beatles. Anyone familiar with their records knows that they didn’t shy away from any musical style. If they were still together, they’d probably have done some hip-hop by now."
[TYRANT MICHAEL] "I grew up liking the British invasion bands, Sonny & Cher, Phil Spector, R&B, Motown, pop country like Roger Miller and Marty Robbins, and surf music. Later, I got into Big Band music, and even learned to appreciate some forms of Jazz. But when I hear a really great new pop song for the first time, it still brings tears of joy to my eyes."
You guys just released the new album High Class Trash which has been in development for almost nine years. For someone who may not be familiar with Tyrants, how would you describe the sound and style of the new album? [ABBE ABBE] "It’s a party! Or maybe like a week in the life of a psychotherapist, set to music. Different stories about different emotional states, some comic, others serious, sad, provocative, tongue in cheek. Or, as I prefer to think of it, like spending time with a really witty, daring, charismatic friend who takes you on a wild ride!"
[TYRANT MICHAEL] "High Class Trash is totally reflective of the music we love. The newer material has a much more traditional sound, live bass, drums, guitars, etc. The oldest song on the CD “3 People Nude Below The Waist,” is totally synthed out with scratches and samples, etc. It took a long time to figure out the order of the songs for this CD, because too much cleverness on the part of anyone (including the Tyrants) wears you out. So we tried to strike a delicate balance between our satirical songs, electronica, disco, quirky pop songs, and ballads."
Tyrants formed after a chance encounter between founders AbbeAbbe and Michael J. Tell us a little about this odd coupling and those first shows you played together on the local L.A. punk scene [ABBE ABBE] "We met in an improvisational acting class in Hollywood. Michael was starting his songwriting career and I was an actress doing TV and some stage work. We began singing to the tracks of the weirder songs (like “At the Cowboy Lounge”) that Michael was writing for his New Wave band, U.S. Customs, and for and other artists. Then we gradually started writing original songs for the Tyrants."
[TYRANT MICHAEL] "Our first gig was at Club 88 in West L.A. where a lot of new wave bands got their start. Originally we were a 5 piece. Gradually we whittled it down to 3 people, and continued playing punk and new wave dives like Madame Wong’s, the Central, the Limbo Lounge, the Lhasa, Cathay de Grande, and the Troubadour with songs like “In the Shadow of Hitler,” “The Communist Reggae,” and “Dick Lane.” But we never quite fit in. First because we performed live over our original backing tracks, and second because of the way we dressed."
"Even at the most grungy, low rent clubs, The Tyrants always looked like we’d just come from a cocktail party at the Dutch Ambassador’s mansion. Then once we started having some popular dance records, it got schizophrenic…we found ourselves playing punk clubs one night, and discos the next. We did this throughout the late 80’s, going through about 6 or 7 co-Tyrants (girls and guys) in the process. Then in 1990, we were offered quite a lucrative gig at Circus Disco in Hollywood. None of the others girls could make it, so we thought what the hell, and did the gig as a duo. We signed some autographs later, and everyone thought it was our best show ever. We’ve been a duo ever since."
Where exactly did the band’s name, Tyrants In Therapy, originate from? Is there an interesting story behind this? [TYRANT MICHAEL] "Nah!"
[ABBEABBE] "If you spend a little more time around us, you’ll find out!"
You’ve produced a slue of records, beginning with 1984’s 3 People Nude Below the Waist to the most recent release of High Class Trash. What album or single do you feel says the most about Tyrants as artists? [ABBE ABBE] "For a single, maybe “Twisted Life” from Meet the Tyrants in Therapy. For an album, our latest, High Class Trash. I think it’s the most assured, and covers the widest span of what we do."
[TYRANT MICHAEL] "The new one, High Class Trash, is the most tyrannical because it contains the newest, best produced material in our canon, and also some of the oldest (like “Words Like That” and “High Class Trash”) that we brought up to date. In our Atollsonique Studio, I worked with a very talented modern classical composer named Daniel Walker (who arranges for Giorgio Moroder and Bill Conti) on song structure and musical arrangements, trying to make them as timeless as possible. But High Class Trash has a touch of the past too, because there’s a version of our first record, “3 People Nude Below the Waist” included primarily because a lot of fans (mostly in the UK and Germany) just love that track."
In 2000, you formed your own label, Emotional Coathanger Records. What was the motivation behind this move and what has it meant in the creative direction for the band? [ABBE ABBE] "The music business “version 1.0,” never really knew what to do with us. Sure, there were specialty labels, but they were very genre-focused, sometimes suffocatingly so. We understand people being passionate about their music, but to only listen to punk, or only metal or only R&B – that’s like saying I only eat cauliflower or I only eat fruit cocktail. So we felt if we started our own label, it could be home for eclectic, adventurous tastes."
[TYRANT MICHAEL] "Forming our own label really was a total liberation. Early on, we were lucky in being able to find indie labels that wanted to release our material. But it was only for singles, and mostly for the dance market. There was a whole rock and punky side of us that was not being validated. In Florida, at the Winter Music Conference in the mid 90s, we had just sat through some serious dissing of our song “Angels Remember” (cut #14 on High Class Trash) by a panel of so-called experts. I remember Abbe turning to me and saying “I think we’re at the wrong convention".”
"While I was pretty content to continue to make dance records, she realized then that what we really wanted to say was way too content heavy for dance music. In the end, it was logical that if we wanted to remain viable artists in the music business, we needed to drastically reshape our career in a way that first made us feel fulfilled. I always think that we write cool, catchy songs, so you do that, play out live to get enough reaction so you’re not lying to yourself, and hope that the public will catch up."
How easy or hard is it to create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderments and accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? [ABBE ABBE] "The question reminds me of a quote by John Cage who in effect said, “You can’t create and analyze at the same time; they are two different processes.” For me, that’s true. My approach to songwriting is to open up to the vibe and see what comes. We usually start with a title, but sometimes just a riff on the guitar or a little vocal melody we come up with. We write with other musicians, too, so the collaboration significantly colors what emerges musically. I don’t think that writing music to be “wanted by the public” as you say, really ever quite works out that way. The most successful records are usually born of some mysterious alchemy, as well as some hard work. You can swear up and down something is a slam dunk hit, only to watch it crash, burn and sink like a stone. And even if it’s astoundingly brilliant, it has to be heard. Which brings up the whole business side of things. Distribution, buzz, airplay, etc."
[TYRANT MICHAEL] "If you’ve got a surefire way to create a “vibrant wanted by the public sound,” there’s a big VP job at Geffen waiting for you. To me, the answer is that it’s very difficult to be vibrant and wanted by the public and surpass everything that’s been done before, so why try? Everyone’s trying to do it. All the youngsters, and oldsters, and in-betweensters. Most of the songs people love the Tyrants for, like “In the Shadow of Hitler,” “Boy,” and “Sex is Back” and “Apocalypso,” are so left field that nobody in their right mind would write them if he was just going for a hit. But that freedom of style and content allowed us to evolve original new styles like Punk Cabaret and Neo Nightclub. As for production techniques, less is more. You might envy someone’s production approach, or the way they used some echo on a vocal, but if you copy it, you also should remember that your project can’t possibly be released into circulation for at least 6 months. For High Class Trash, we went with a timeless approach that we hope won’t become quickly dated like super trendy stuff."
Critics have likened Tyrants to a cross between The Eurythmics and Mel Brooks. Where do you think these comparisons stem from and what do you think about the accuracy of that description? [ABBE ABBE] "The Mel Brooks comparison probably comes from our classic anti-fascist waltz “In the Shadow of Hitler,” which people seem to mix up with the song ‘Springtime for Hitler’ from his film and Broadway show, ‘The Producers.’ But also because Mel Brooks’ humor is very broad, and we have been known to do some low comedy. That’s Tyrant Michael’s specialty. I’m the one with my head in the clouds. And The Eurythmics, wow, that’s high praise. One of our favorite writer/performer duos."
[TYRANT MICHAEL] "The Eurythmics? Because we’re a duo. And Mel Brooks? Maybe because we have an outrageous and sometimes crass elements in our shows. I personally think we’re closer to Sonny & Cher crossed with Nichols and May. Other people think we sound like the B-52s and the Talking Heads. We don’t mind these comparisons either."
Tell us a little about your sensational half-hour comedy variety series “Meet the Tyrants In Therapy”, available on Youtube [ABBE ABBE] "It’s been like being a kid in a candy store! Or a guy in a hardware store? We started the series accidentally – we wanted video to send to booking agents in Europe. We knew using the studios at public access TV was free, so we went to an orientation and by night’s end, we were anointed ‘producers.’ After the first show, we realized the possibilities TV held for us, even with the terrible lighting, crummy sound and amateurs of varying ability behind the camera. Since our material has a decidedly theatrical bent, and many of our songs are little stories, we began cooking up a back-story about the Tyrants. How we met at Casa de Trembling Oaks, a posh mental asylum in Buenos Aires where our respective families had committed us. How the medical director (Dr. Alberto Cabeza) introduced us, and pretty soon we were writing poetry to each other, and then songs."
"We entered the asylum’s monthly talent show and wouldn’t you know it, but Brazil’s leading talent agent – Mauricio Saperstein – was in the audience. He loved our show and put us on tour of Latin America’s finest mental hospitals where we were so wildly successful, we thought we were ‘cured.’ So we went AWOL and escaped to Hollywood, where being crazy is normal. From there, we added other characters like the next-door-neighbors and various crank therapists, wrote sketches, did short films and performed songs. We were aiming to create a kind of subversive and surreal sitcom. Sort of Sonny & Cher meet Samuel Beckett at PeeWee Herman’s Playhouse."
[TYRANT MICHAEL] "The first episodes weren’t that sensational. It was a learning experience. These 22 shows were done for Los Angeles public access. But when online video sites started popping up we edited down the sketches and musical numbers into shorter clips that fit on YouTube and the other sites like Veoh, Metacafe, and FunnyOrDie. We gave them racier titles to grab viewers, and people seem to like them. We’ve got more than 3 million web hits on all the various sites combined."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today and why? [TYRANT MICHAEL] "“I’ve Done Everything For You (You’ve Done Nothing For Me)” by Rick Springfield or Sammy Hagar, which we sometimes do live. Or maybe “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” by the Gap Band (which we’ve also done live)."
[ABBE ABBE] "We also perform some oddities from the 70’s like “Sympathy,” by Rare Bird. Then there’s 60’s gems like” Anna” by Arthur Alexander and the Beatles, and “Je T’aime” by Serge Gainesbourg. We wrote some English language lyrics for it that always go over great in concert."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins, do you? [TYRANT MICHAEL] "Sure I love Penguins. And in fact, while I was in advertising as a copywriter, I even worked on the Munsingwear account, whose symbol is the Penguin."
[ABBE ABBE] "Yes! But not as much as Morgan Freeman!"
If you’re in a need of a little therapy, check out Tyrants on their myspace and website. The doctor is in!
Interview: Erin M. Stranyak
So, if you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Tyrants In Therapy's new CD, just answer this easy question: Their breakthrough occurred in 1986, with a 12-inch single that became a hit in Los Angeles’s New Romantic underground. What was it called?!
Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these wonderful AUTOGRAPHED CDs by Tyrants In Therapy! Just send us an e:mail here before October 1st with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: SIGNED TYRANTS OF THERAPY CDs to: email@example.com
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