I know a lot of interesting people. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve met while traveling the world, some just owe me money. My name may be on the website, but it seems kind of boring if I’m the only person whose voice is heard here. So I’m bringing some of my friends to the site, as time permits. I’m not a podcasty kind of guy, so I’m just keeping things simple: one guest, six questions.
My guest this week is ukulele sensation MOLLY LEWIS. I first heard Molly’s music at W00tstock, then got to know her at PAX and JoCoCruise Crazy II. Her music addresses such timeless topics as the Lincoln Assassination and the immortal wisdom of Mister T; she’s also a brilliant gamer who plays a mean hand of Pit. If you aren’t familiar with her work, YouTube is here to help you out, and I suggest you go there IMMEDIATELY. We’ll still be here when you get back! In addition, Molly is just about to embark on a West Coast tour with nerd-folk duo The Doubleclicks. If you’re on the west coast, check the schedule for a local show!
If someone made a quirky primetime sitcom based on your life, what would we see in the first episode?
I’m picturing an old-fashioned expository theme song and title sequence, sort of like That Girl. (“Who’s that? Doesn’t know how to drive a car / la la la lalala la / Who’s that? Eating kimchi straight out of the jar / la la la lala la / She loves board games, she’s kind of arty-farty / She’s a party animal! in that she talks to cats at parties / She’s MOLLY.”)
In Seinfeld, the original premise they pitched was you watch a comedian go through his day and gather material for his standup show, which you see at the end of each episode. It would be way taxing on me as a songwriter if I adopted this premise and then had to crank out a song every week, but if I have a sweatshop of other songwriters to help me, it might be plausible.
In the first episode I think we’d follow me getting ready for an upcoming Dammit Liz show. The primary sets that my sitcom would use the most would be My House, My Home Office, and Cafe Mox (Central Perk : Friends :: Cafe Mox : my sitcom). The first episode of my sitcom would have to establish all these sets.
We’d open up at INT – Molly’s House – DAY, where Ben and I are in our living room. He is playing Darksiders II or looking at pictures of shoes on his phone or something. I’m sorting through my Cards Against Humanity set to create a sanitized set I can take home to play with my family over the Thanksgiving holiday. After I reduce my whole pack down to about 10 useable white cards, I declare Mission Accomplished and decide to go upstairs to get some work done.
So we cut to INT – Molly’s Home Office – DAY. I get a Skype call from Dammit Liz (IRL I would get an email but Skype makes for better television) inviting me to the “Dammit Liz Presents A Guy Fawkes Day Musical Fireworks Celebration” or something. But uh oh! it’s been 6 months since I’ve written a new song, and I don’t have any material appropriate for Guy Fawkes Day. 🙁
I go to INT – Cafe Mox – DAY to meet up with my fellow nerdy songwriter friends The Doubleclicks and Marian Call. (By warped sitcom physics, Juneau Portland and Seattle will all be very close together.) We talk about my songwriter troubs and they suggest ideas that are well-meaning and clever but very distinctively their style, and I feel bad stealing ideas from my friends.
The pilot episode would probably end up at some Dammit Liz production, because we need to establish (1) that I’m a professional ukulelist, and (2) it would be a quick & easy way to introduce all my friends that might make appearances later in the series. Look, it’s the hilarious duo Kris & Scott (spinoff??), OMG the Loading Ready Run people, oh Logan Bonner you lovable scamp LOL.
The show would end with me singing my new song about Guy Fawkes Day (“My Parliamentary Heart Bursts For You” or something).
What are your favorite songs… that you’ve written, and that you haven’t?
Right now I am mainlining some “Ballad of Booth” from Assassins, something fierce. As someone who has written a songbit about the Lincoln assassination from Booth’s perspective, it is SO choice. The whole reason I wrote my Lincoln song is because I read Assassination Vacation immediately before I got that prompt, and found the portion about JWBooth fascinating – He honestly thought he was being the Good Guy, a liberator and patriot, and wrote as much in his diary post-assassination.
I judge the quality of song rhymes based on whether or not I can tell which rhyming phrase was put down first; sometimes you can just smell when someone went “Oh crap, what rhymes with ‘call me MAYBE’? ‘This is CRAZY?’ Pffft, that’s fine.” If the rhyme works into the song naturally, and if you have command of the language, the anal-retentive listener shouldn’t be able to tell which phrase you put to paper first – or the rhyme has to be so cheekily clever that it comes around the other side. (Tom Lehrer does this a lot; he’s the inspiration for the “commuter bus / uterus” rhyme in my Mr. T song.) Sondheim rhymes are so tight that you can’t pick out where the thought even started. (Some say it was your voice had gone / Some say it was booze / Some say you killed a country, John / because of bad reviews.) I’m pretty sure he could crush me between the lobes of his brain.
And it’s weird because he’s my friend and stuff, but “I’m Your Moon” by Jonathan Coulton is a fantastic song. That was the song that made me go “Just who is this Jonathan Coulton guy??”
I generally think love songs are boring cultural excess, but “I’m Your Moon” works for me on so many levels because the most romantic bits about it are based on actual scientific facts about Pluto’s relationship with its moon (they’re very similar in size and so Pluto’s center of orbit is between them, and their rotational orbits are synched so that they are constantly facing each other, like dancers), and it also gave the whole Pluto Isn’t A Planet thing some closure (at least in my heart). It took these inert space bodies and gave them personhood, gave them pathos. It was just everything you wanted to tell Pluto after it got demoted, from the only celestial being qualified to really console Pluto on anything. It’s really a very lovely, thoughtful, and well-constructed thing.
When I was in high school we had to write an Elizabethan sonnet for my English class; everybody else wrote sonnets about love or teenage angst, and I wrote about Pluto lamenting that it wasn’t a planet anymore. It remains an issue close to my heart.
Another recent acquisition is Let’s Misbehave / Irving Aaronson – A fantastic song for ukulele, I might add. It’s the kind of mischief that I want associated with the ukulele.
What led you to the ukulele?
The sheer novelty of it. No, really. I had gone through guitar, mandolin, and banjo in the span of 2.5 years. Guitar was too big for my tiny frame, mandolin was tough on my fingers (two of each string, ouch), and banjo was inherently fragile and dorky in a way I couldn’t work with. So one day my dad is coming home from the office and he sees this weird looking tiny stringed instrument in the window of a shop and says “That thing looks dumb, maybe Molly can play it.” So he brings it home and I go “Whaaa?” but it ended up incorporating all the advantages of the other 3 instruments while doing away with the disadvantages.
I played guitar for about 3 years before ditching it for ukulele, because I was reasonably good enough at it and it’s important for me to be able to sing while playing my instrument. I always got squirmy though because when a girl gets onstage with a guitar, especially a teenage girl, people are really quick to compare her to other lady singer-songwriters. People were eager to put me in a box, and they thought it was a compliment when they told me that I reminded them of Michelle Branch or Jewel or The Dixie Chicks or something. I found it insulting for some reason.
I picked up ukulele in 2004, sort of as it was starting to crest into trendiness, and there were no ukulele playing ladies that anybody could compare me to. I liked people asking “What IS that thing?” when I brought it out and played it. So I stuck with it.
If you were kidnapped by animatronic presidents and forced to work at a Disney Park, what would you want your job to be?
I’d love to play with Billy Hill & The Hillbillies, but I don’t think they have any openings.
If I worked at the Dole booth outside the Tiki Room I could eat pineapple whip all day. I’d like that.
I definitely want to be the person who loads people on and off the Matterhorn. I’ve always envied their sweet wooly jackets. They’re long, kind of gray and forest green – they might even be reversible? Ben tells me they’re called toggle coats, because they have these horn things instead of buttons. The people that load the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride also get pretty cool outfits. They get to wear orange and burgundy striped socks, and the ladies get this suedey bodice thing – and pants. Most Disney ride operator ladies have to wear dresses of some kind.
When I was a kid I really wanted to be a skipper on the Jungle Cruise because I thought they had the most creative freedom of all the Disney employees? and then learned as I grew up that they actually have to submit their jokes for approval before they can use them on the job. So, that’s boring.
When you enter the Haunted Mansion, there’s this haunted stretchy gallery room you start in before you get into the boarding area. You’re supposed to stand in the middle of the room to get the full effect, and so there’s an employee (also with a great costume) who says “Ladies and gentlemen, kindly drag your bodies away from the walls to the dead center of the gallery,” their emphasis. This one time we had this lady who did not get where the jokes were in that spiel, and so she said “kindly move your cadavers away from the scary walls to the dead center of the haunted gallery.” I wanted to school her about how I was 12 and could do her job better than she could, but didn’t.
What’s your favorite game at the moment?
Earlier this week I played Cash & Guns for the first time, the game mechanic of which involves pointing foam orange pistols at other players; I worried it would be sort of a gimmicky game mechanic that doesn’t add much, like the inflatable clubs in Ugg Tect, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a good and easy pickup game.
I really like team games that involve more bluffing and talking than, uh, actual strategizing. So Fiasco is a favorite, Werewolves is good (The Resistance is also in the same vein, but has more structure). Deck-building and turn-based games are touchy for me because I had some roommates in college who really loved Dominion but weren’t good about talking the other players through what they were doing in their turn. You only spent 1/4 of the game enjoying yourself, and the rest waiting for it to be your turn; there was a lot of “[nudge] Is your turn over?” “…Oh. Yes.” (They also didn’t like to put out that involved any kind of intrigue or stealing cards from other people, which is half the fun of Dominion.) Games like Fluxx or We Didn’t Playtest This or Gloom keep everybody involved in the game even when it isn’t their turn, and Dominion should be like that, but I wasn’t playing with the right people.
And I’m normally sort of unenthused with iPhone games, but I’ve recently discovered Spaceteam, which involves barking nonsense commands at your friends and twiddling knobs and switches on your phone screen. I love games you can spontaneously break out when you and your friends are waiting in line for something, or sitting around a table in a bar. (I carry Zombie Dice in my purse for this reason.)
If you were trapped on a desert island with only three Cards Against Humanity questions, what would they be?
“Why am I sticky?” Seems like a question I’d ask myself often on a desert island.
“In a pinch, [blank] can be a suitable substitute for [blank].” because that’s the sort of resourcefulness one needs on a desert island.
“[blank]. High five, bro.” You need to keep morale up when you’re stuck on a desert island.