So What’s This New Record, “Etchy Sketchy Skies”?
Hello! Timothy Sellers here, chief cook and bottle washer at Artichoke. Most people know us for our concept records about the lives of scientists, bees, an arkload of animals, and stories from northeast Los Angeles.
With the 15 songs of “Etchy Sketchy Skies,” I escaped the shackles of the concept album and pranced about, free as a vicuna dancing in a thunderstorm on a mountaintop about to be struck by lightning. Or something. So what ARE the songs about, you ask? The album kicks off with a portrait of our local farmer’s market. The sitar played by Paul Livingstone seems to tie all the lyrical images together. Next is “The Ancient Flu,” a high BPM tale of town-creation, centered around the idea that we inhabitants are more fleeting and younger than the hills — and even the viruses — of a place. “Big Moon” gave me the chance to say “I’m lookin’ at / a levitatin’ rock / afflicted by / a meteoric pox.” Track four is about the time that Jesus and Satan escaped the monotony of their lives by swapping characteristic behaviors and forming a rock band. Track fifteen repeats this story, but with trumpets and higher singing.
In April of 2011, I was engaged as “songwriter in residence” at Nimbios (the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, I think). My job was to hang out with scientists in Knoxville, Tennessee and write two songs related to science. It was an awesome gig, and I met some great people. “Coffee and Pi: Daydream of a Mathematician” is complicated music (for me, anyway). If I remember correctly, there are seven different musical parts, the first of which uses chords played in groups of 3, 1, 4, 5, and 9. The song may qualify as “math rock,” and I can certify that a lot of coffee was consumed in the writing process.
Track six is “I’ve Got A Proposition For You.” Most of the lyrics for this song were taken directly from an eerily poetic spam email which attempted to swindle soft-hearted people out of their bank account numbers. I was delighted to find this email in my inbox, and even more delighted to swindle the swindlers by stealing their awesome lyrics.
“Don’t Worry About the Government” is a timeless song by David Byrne and the Talking Heads. Unlike track six, I paid for the right to cover it.
“Etchy Sketchy Skies” showcases the guitar work of Nick Reiter. I sang some lead guitar parts onto Nick’s voicemail, which he later played and then embellished awesomely. By the way, am I too old to rely on “awesome” and its word-kin to this extent? Perhaps I can diversify by also saying “super” a bit too super-often.
Well, speaking of things that are super-awesome, how about trumpets? Artichoke’s occasional live drummer Joe Babiak played most of the trumpets on this record, including the horn solo on “We’re Goin’ Down the Tubes,” a depressing — and possibly true — song, which contrasts perfectly with the composition that follows it: “It’s So Easy Bein’ Me.” There is really no denying that this song is a clever bugger. It’s catchy and practically plays itself. Somebody should pay me some serious cash to make it a hit.
Song #11 and #12 were accidentally not labeled on the CD liner notes. But don’t worry, they are on the audio CD. Number 11 is an instrumental about Joshua Tree National Park called “Home to the Monzongranite Dunes.”
Number 12 is a grand song called “Mr. and Mrs. Woobeewoo.” Accordion, trumpets, Beatles-ish vocals, and a nontraditional guitar tuning all lend a hand to this autobiographical piece.
“Dr. Edmund Schulman and the Bristlecone Pine” is the second song I wrote for the Nimbios songwriting residency. It could also find a place on “26 Scientists” if we didn’t already have Schrodinger and his pickled cat for the letter S.
“200,000 BC in L.A.” is how we grill in the back yard, but with more backwards singing, trumpets, and the super-awesome drums of Shawn Nourse. Shawn played all the super-awesome drums on this record. I would also like to thank Andy Creighton for several bass parts, Annie Hayden for vocals, Anna Hollingsworth for playing the accordion, Steve Collins for an all-too-brief theremin burst, Paul Livingstone for sitar, and Matt Rubin for trumpets when Joe Babiak had moved back to Chicago. This album also features a wealth of guitarists: specifically Nick Reiter, Daniel Leyson, and Chris Lawrence.
The final song on “Etchy Sketchy Skies” is another version of “The Jesus Satan Reunion Tour” because Amy Phillips and Nick Reiter kept asking why I had foolishly cut it.
Big thanks to Allison Achauer for designing the CD and helping me with various art and technology emergencies. Whopping big thanks to this album’s Kickstarter supporters and to the folks at Nimbios. And humungous thanks to some third entity which simultaneously thanks the heretofore unthanked while somehow welcoming the as-yet unwelcomed.
Timothy Sellers, Artichoke, August of 2012.