TheArtDepartment

Here at Figment we have strong feelings about what exactly constitutes a fake band.  In our opinion a fake band is a band that exists merely as an idea and doesn’t actually record any music, because the minute you record music the band ceases to be fake.  Our opinion is not necessarily the consensus however, as many people classify bands like Spinal Tap, The Rutles and even Josie and The Pussycats as fake bands.

Regardless of what you think constitutes a fake band though, one thing is for sure, a lot of people create fake bands.  They may do it with friends, purely for their own enjoyment or in the case of Mingering Mike privately, only to have it come to everyone’s attention by accident.  More importantly, for many people fake bands are a creative outlet, and in some cases, maybe the only music-related one they’ll ever have.

So that brings us back to the question of what constitutes a fake band.  If creating fake bands were a way for someone to unleash their creativity and it ultimately led to the creation of a real band, would that band still be considered a fake band?  If you had asked me that question a few weeks ago I would have said no, but that was before I stumbled upon an article in the Washington City Paper about a band called The Art Department, and was immediately struck by the fact that this very “real” band had indeed started as a fake band.  The Art Department is the creation of Jonathan Ehrens a Baltimore based musician.  Although started as a fake band (by our definition that is…without music but with a back story), Jonathan used the characters he created as inspiration and wrote and recorded music he thought they might play if they were real.  In the end, the music he created for that fake band led to him to start a real version of the band that tours, records and even has living, breathing band members.

So is a fake band that makes music really a fake band?  We still say no, but we thought we’d put the question to Jonathan Ehrens to see what he had to say on the subject.

(Editor’s Note:  You can either read the conversation or click on the player to listen to it.  You can also listen to some of Jonathan’s other bands at the bottom of this post.)

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Figment News:  First of all, I kind of stumbled across your band in an article in the Washington City Paper and was absolutely fascinated.  I’ve given you a background on what Figment’s all about, and I think what I was really interested in was we’re a website about fake bands, and when we say fake there’s no music whatsoever.  It’s more the idea of a band more than anything else.

Jonathan Ehrens:  Oh okay.

FN:  But I’ve noticed you’re a fan and avid creator of fake bands, but instead of just creating the idea, you actually go to the next step and actually write and record music for them.  How and why did you decide to do this?

JE:  I guess, let’s see, I think originally it was just, I would record music by myself just because I had the ability to, I had, as a teenager, I had a 6-track recorder and this was sort of the easiest way for me to write songs or come up with ideas because I feel like, I had a high school band at the time and we would play guitar and bass and drums and like whatever came out was what we did, but by myself I had the ability to sort of conceptualize.  So it was mainly on a song-by-song basis.  So you know, like this is gonna be a stoner rock song with country vocals or that kind of thing.  Then I kind of took it further.  I wanted to do a surf album, so I kind of invented some personas for that.  Mainly afterwards for that, but yeah, just different ways of coming up with different sounds.  Like, The Art Department was one where I just felt it warranted more than just one song or two songs.  I wanted to do a whole album, so it was really easy way to come up with songs and just kind of let your self-critic go and just pretend you’re not yourself.  So I kind of just adopted some personalities for each member of the band, like I created a back story sort of just so I could get it so I could focus more on playing the music as somebody else from a different time and place then who I was.

FN:  So did it kind of help you in essence kind of flesh out what you wanted ultimately to do musically, creating that back story first?

JE:  Uh, yeah, I think especially in the instance of The Art Department, and another one that I did, Factoid of the Dustbowl, that only has like four of five songs.  But uh, it definitely helped me like just imagine the type of music, these people, and where they are, and at what time and the type of music that they would come up with.  Rather than, rather than feeling the pressure of needing to come up with something new and exciting right now, it was easy, easier to kind of come up with something that maybe was new and exciting in the past.

FN:   Okay, so I mean with The Art Department why did you decide then to make it real band by playing live?

JE:  My friends, who I had played with in another band, they really like it and wanted to play it out.  And I wanted to be in a sort of a real band I guess.  I just felt like it was really hard going around town and talking to people and they’d be like “are you in a band?”  And I’d be like “oh kind of”.  I record by myself and I have all these CDs I can give you, and it’s very vague.  People don’t really listen to CDs if you just give them to them a lot of the times, I find, they just sort of let them sit there and forget about it or they’re like reluctant.  I mean that happens to me too, and a lot of times I’m in the wrong, but when people hand me CDs my natural inclination is to think it’s not very good [laughs], but then a lot of times I’m proven wrong, but it’s sort of an instinctual thing I guess.  So I wanted to do something like, I thought it was the most different and the most accessible in a way.  So, I wanted, it’s still sort of a vehicle on the forefront of the broader, my broader musical ambitions.  It’s definitely an ear-catching kind of thing.  It’s poppy, but it’s technical, so it’s difficult to play, the songs, so it has both of those elements to it.

FN:  So when you were creating, originally when you were creating The Art Department as kind of an idea, and you were creating this kind of back story for the band, did you actually create other band members as well?

JE:  Yeah, in the original band, there were, how many were there?  I think there were 4 people in the band.  There was a girl who played drums, whose brother was the guy who played tambourine and sang in the high-pitched voice.  They were like blond in my head [FN laughs] and like younger than the other two people.  And the main guy, the main singer-songwriter guy was a quiet olive-skinned guy, with, who always wore a baseball cap when he sang and he played music on the side.  And then the bass player was a local Native American, like sort of a fat drunk guy [JE laughs], Native American guy, who just liked to have fun and just sort of stumble upon these sort of alternative music kids or whatever. Cuz I feel like, I don’t know, I mean a big part of the sound came from the Meat Puppets and they were from Arizona, and so I chose Carson City, just because I figured something similar could be going on there and maybe they like caught the Meat Puppets one time or something.

FN:  So now, I mean like when you guys now play live, do you actually kind of don those personalities or has it become something different?

JE:  No, originally it was going to be, we were going to kind of continue the lie, and pretend that we were a tribute band and that we were like these guys who found this CD, through some miracle, of a band that no one had ever heard of and we thought they were so good that we were going to imitate their sound to just like spread the gospel of how good they were [laughs].  And then eventually we just decided to drop that and just be a regular band, which is cool, I mean like it definitely opened up the sound, it wasn’t as constricted.  I don’t really think in those terms.  When I was recording the first album, I was like I was kind of like doing character, like method acting, like when I would play I would think about what would this guy play here, what kind of thing would he do, not clearly what I would do.   I like characters in terms of movies and TVs, but I can’t act and obviously making a movie is really hard, so I figured it was a good way to like get in character and play with the idea of a character.

FN:  So how would you describe The Art Department’s sound?

JE:  I always have a hard time with this.  It depends on who I’m talking to, but it’s…it’s uh…fast.  [Laughs].  I usually just kind of break it down and say I mean its really fast, and I finger pick really fast and there are really high-pitched active bass lines and punch drums.  I usually just break it down that way.  I don’t know it’s hard to fit it into a genre.  People that we play with a lot say it just sounds really like 80’s college rock.  So I guess I would say it’s that sort of thing.

FN:  On our site, basically people create fake bands, and they’re allowed to, if we don’t have a genre they would like, we allow them to create genres, so…

JE:  Yeah I did create one.  Neofolkapsychapopadelica.

FN:  There ya go!  [Laughs]  Can you say that one more time please?

JE:  Neo-folka-psycha-popadelica

FN:  Very nice, very nice.  We have Wimpadelic, we have Dorkadelic, we have Dad Metal, we have Amalgum, we have all kinds of crazy things.

JE:  There’s this one guy in Baltimore who has this guitar that he makes that is mainly springs that he hits and he calls his music Boingcore.

FN:  [laughs] I think at this point it’s kind of fun to create genres, because it’s kind of gotten, the whole genre thing has gotten so out of hand that you might as well.

JE:  Someone else will do it anyways…if you don’t do it yourself.

FN:  That is correct.  Why let the press do it for you right?

JE:  Yeah. Yeah.

FN:  So have you created other fake bands?

JE:  Yeah, I the first one I think that was ever a deliberate attempt to create a fake band was a surf band called The Hypnic Jerks.  And that was just because I wanted to make a surf album, and that I did when I was like 17.  After that, other ones were Factoid of the Dustbowl, which kinds of sounds like, I was sort of imagining people, these sort of weirdo’s in the dustbowl who like read to much and were like drinking all the time.  Kind of like sickly weirdo’s [laughs].  Playing like, I don’t know you’ll hear it; it’s kind of strange acoustic kind of stuff.  Then there’s Art Department.  The Revoltn Developments is a garage rock band.  And that one was also kind of, I really didn’t come up with up with like, I guess the bass player I kind of had a character in mind, but the rest of it, it was mainly it was just a sound.  I mean I just wanted some really loud garagey stuff.  And let’s see…there’s…give me a second, I have to remember.  [Laughs]  Sword Swallow is a noise, sort of noise, like pop-noise kind of thing, that was the only one I ever thought of as being right now or taking place at the time it was created and just sort of like somebody like me, but not me, sort of, I was in college at the time, so sort of the white college kid, but he wasn’t me.  [Laughs]  So that was Sword Swallow.    I guess I play under the name of Jonathonian W. Ehrenkranz, which is kind of my name in a weird way.  That’s like a sensitive acoustic rock kind of thing that I would never do under my own name, because it’s a lot of breakup songs and that kind of thing.  [FN Laughs]  Let’s see, I think there’s, there’s other ones…

FN:  So it sounds like you’ve created quite a few then.

JE:  Yeah, most of them I haven’t done entire albums for.

FN:  Just songs?

JE:  Yeah, I did, cuz I guess there’s almost, there’s two albums for The Art Department, so that’s obviously the most.  Then there’s like 9 songs for The Revolting Development, six or seven for The Hypnic Jerks, four or five for Factoid of the Dustbowl.  There is one that I had called The Anywhere, and that ended up, I just kind of used it under my own.  My main like solo recording thing is called Repelican, and that will be just a lot of kind of like recycled songs, like if I only had just like 2 songs by a fake band then I’ll put it under my own name or the Repelican name.  There was one band called The Anywhere that was like an 80’s power pop band but I ended up just using my own name for that one.

FN:  Okay.

JE:  Then there’s October Railroad, which is that idea I was kind of describing earlier, which was basically just, stoner, slow sludgy stoner rock, but with sweet country harmonies.

[Both laugh]

FN:  Well it certainly allows you to kind of expand your palette doesn’t it?

JE:  Yeah, I mean people always, yeah.  I mean, no one really heard a lot of this stuff until recently, because The Art Department is getting some local attention, so then some people asked me to hear more.  And they’re like “man, you sing in a lot of weird different ways, and you do a lot of different bands.”  And I don’t know I like lots of different types of music so it’s hard for me to use one.

FN:  No, that’s great.  I mean I’m kind of the same way.  I listen to a little bit of everything.  So I know how that feels.  People ask me who is your favorite band and I really can’t answer that question, because I have so many that you know

JE:  Yeah, what time of day is it?

FN:  Yeah, Exactly.  What kind of mood am I in?  Etc.

JE:  What did I just eat?

FN:  [Laughs] So now tell us about Mobile Lounge Records.  Is that…

JE:  It’s kind of defunct at this point I would say.

FN:  Oh, really?

JE:  Yeah, that was me and my friends in high school.  And at this point, I don’t really, my ex-girlfriend updated it and she hasn’t lived around here for 2 years so.

FN:  Okay.

JE:  I don’t know HTML or anything [both laugh].  So that kind of killed it.  And then the other guy, one of the other guys that I started that label with when we were I don’t know like 15 or something, he pronounced it dead online one day without asking me, like there was a MySpace page for it, and he was like “this is the end of Mobile Lounge Records” and he didn’t even ask me.  [both laugh]

FN:  Oh nice.

JE:  And he was kinda right. [both laugh]  I am thinking about starting another label, but like trying to make it like one that I can live, or try to make it like a job, it’s kind of a dream at this point, but I’m trying to do that now, but it won’t be under the Mobile Lounge name, it’ll be a clean slate, and I think the first thing we’ll release will be the new Art Department.

FN:  Okay.  And what do you do when you’re not playing in The Art Department.

JE:  I work at a radio station, that’s where I am right now.  Yeah, I’m an engineer of a talk show and I edit news pieces for Public Radio.

FN:  Very interesting.  Well tell us where can people check out more about The Art Department or some of the other artists you’ve mentioned or bands that you’ve created.

JE:  Where can they find it?

FN:  Yeah.

JE:  Well, let’s see, the new record, the master tapes have yet to be mixed, and they are being held hostage in Athens, GA, where we recorded it, by the guy who recorded it, he’s just sitting on them right now, and we want him to mix it as soon as he is willing to.  We recorded that in April and we’re still sitting around waiting on that.  So hopefully that will be, I don’t know, something people can get their hands on at least online.  The first album is pretty much out of print, but I mean if anyone wanted to send me a message on MySpace I would send them a copy.

FN:  And can people listen to some of the songs on MySpace?

JE:  Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of songs there – live songs, first album songs, and some of the newer songs.  And then, I don’t know if you look at the, on MySpace, the top friends there’s Repelican and The Revoltn Developments, those are just two of the fake bands and if you click on those then you’ll see other top friends.  It’s sort of, it’s intentionally elusive I guess.

FN:  Sure.

JE:  I don’t want to throw out, I also do this and I also do this and I don’t want to be a dick about it.

FN:  Gotcha.

JE:  So I let people discover it if they feel like it.  I’ll hand CDS to my friends, just CDRs and stuff.  I guess the main one, I mean I’m focusing on Art Department right now because they’re a real band and people seem to enjoy it.  I mean I feel like, I don’t know if I went out and played straight garage rock people wouldn’t really care, you know, as much if there was something different.

FN:  It’s certainly, I mean, one of the things that struck me immediately is that obviously we have an interest in all things fake when it comes to bands, being a site that is kind of devoted to that idea.  This is the way I’ve always thought of it also, I create fake bands myself and my friends have done it for years, and I think one of the reasons we do it is because it is a creative outlet, but you’ve in essence taken that one step further even, and that is to then apply music to it as well.  We always have a question back and forth with our users and with other people who we talk to about this about is it a fake band if you are recording music?  But I think in your case, it really is because that’s where it was born.

But getting back to The Art Department, are you planning on touring at all?

JE:  Yeah, I think we are going to tour at the end of September, just as west as Chicago or St. Louis and maybe Tennessee and North Carolina, just like west from Baltimore, down and back up.  We like to go west and south.

FN:  Are there any new fake bands that you’ve created that you’ve yet to unleash on the public?

JE:  Yeah, but this time I’m getting a little more collaborative with my fake bands.

FN:  Okay.

JE:  [laughs] So I don’t know, there’s one called Aftershave Everywhere, it’s a good band.  It’s like a blues band, its sort of Captain Beefheart sort of, but no drums, because drums are too easy.

[both laugh]

I have to keep fighting with them on that, like no man, you put drums in there it’s too easy, everyone’s already going to like it because there’s drums.  You can make it good without drums.

FN: [laughs] That’s great.  Now who makes up The Art Department?

JE:  It’s me and Mike Meno plays drums, and Jason Howe plays bass.

FN:  Okay.

JE:  That’s it.  We don’t have a tambourine really anymore.  On the record we put it still, but live it’s…we had a tambourine player, but it felt really weird having a fourth member who just shook the tambourine and also it’s really hard to do, people don’t realize it, playing a tambourine at that rate for twenty-five minutes straight or whatever.  We definitely have a live thing that we do to, that someone who likes fake bands might appreciate, cuz we don’t, like we’re deliberately anti-stage banter, we don’t pause in between songs, we don’t play longer than 20 minutes, we don’t tune even if we’re out of tune.  We just go, we get up on stage and go ch, ch, ch…and we just start playing and it’s over 20 minutes later.

FN:  So I have one last question for you and that’s, what’s better a fake band or a fake band come alive?

JE:  A fake band come alive!

[both laugh]

FN:  Well in your case I can’t agree more!

So what do you think?  Let us know by posting a comment!

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– Cell Abrasion “Cell Abrasion”:  A Baltimore duo, reluctant to play and perform, only recorded one song and got so depressed that they never played again.

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– The Anywhere “Diana”

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– The Anywhere “MFT”

2 Responses to “Is The Art Department Really A Fake Band?”

  1. Thomas Ferranti Says:

    “FILE NOT FOUND” came up for for the first two songs at first, but the, I heard MFT and I got the other songs to work, too (although it still sez file not found. so dont give up if u get that msg.)

    Cell Abrasion sound’s like Ween’s less talented (but just as enthused) siblings, and The Anything sounds like Robert Smith’s and Andy Partridge’s illegitimate love child. 😀 Good stuff!

    Good interview!

  2. eric Says:

    Thanks Thomas. Not sure why those files didn’t work for ya, can’t seem to recreate it on my end, but thanks for sticking with it and letting us know what you think. So what do you think? Fake band or real band?

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