July 25, 2004
S.B. native's label releases satirical CD
INTERMISSION: POLITICAL MUSIC
By ANDREW S. HUGHES
Tribune Staff Writer
| The George W. Bush Singers wear red, white and blue robes to "celebrate the eloquence of our president" as they sing songs that use quotes from the president as their lyrics. The group's album, "Songs in the Key of W," is the first release for True Believer Records, a company co-founded by South Bend native and "Beyond Our Control" alumnus Lee Lodyga.
SOUTH BEND -- Politicians say the darndest things.
Take our president, for example.
The George W. Bush Singers have, producing an album, "Songs in the Key of W," that sets quotes from Bush to music.
The album is the first release of True Believer Records, a company co-founded by South Bend native Lee Lodyga, who now lives in Los Angeles and works for Universal's music label in its digital distribution department.
Conceived by Steve McAllister, a musician based in Austin, Texas, "Songs in the Key of W" alternates samples of Bush speaking each quote McAllister set to music with the 15-member choir he recruited for this project singing the same quote. For example, in "Deep Thoughts I," Bush says, "It'll take time to restore chaos," and then the choir sings the same line in a breezy style set against a horn-driven pop track.
"We purposely stayed away from two things: Combining quotes or speeches to make him say things he never said, and the second was to not comment on anything he said, other than singing it," McAllister says. "We felt that was very important to the humor aspect. If we did comment on it, it would become a political project, and if we made him say things he didn't say, that wouldn't be fair."
A 1984 graduate of Adams High School, Lodyga earned his satirist's stripes on "Beyond Our Control" on WNDU-TV. Records such as "The First Family" (about John F. Kennedy) and "The Washington Hillbillies" (about Jimmy Carter), he says, are part of his growing collection of political satire records. With the presidential election a little more than three months away, Lodyga says, the timing is perfect for "Songs in the Key of W" to join their ranks.
"If this record would have come up in October, I would have said, 'I don't think we should do it,' or two years ago," he says. "We've got time on our side; we've got the climate on our side; and I think we have the comedy on our side."
Adding to the satire
McAllister based the George W. Bush Singers on the JFK Singers, a group that recorded an album in the early 1960s that consisted of it singing the speeches of Kennedy.
"They were very serious and earnest and square," McAllister says. "They were Lawrence Welk-y, an accordion-based band. I heard a track from that record and thought, 'Wouldn't it be hilarious if ...?' "
With the JFK Singers as his model, McAllister says he chose to stick with the choir format because he had never worked with one before and thought it suited the humorous intent of the album.
"You rarely hear choral music that isn't serious, which lends weight to the serious side of it, and that in turn lends weight to the satire," he says.
The quotes on the album, McAllister says, come mainly from when Bush ad-libs. Not that Bush is alone in flubbing a line or two when he goes off-script. If somebody followed him all day with a microphone, McAllister says, he or she could write a comedy album about his use of language, too.
"Although Clinton had his gaffes with 'the definition of is is' and 'I didn't have relations with that woman,' it doesn't approach the volume of malapropisms of our current president, but that's what satire is all about," he says.
The album's artwork and design -- a sing-a-long with sticker, touting its "Stereo-Rific" sound, a claim that it's an "unbreakable record" -- give "Songs in the Key of W" a retro feel.
"We wanted it to feel kind of like an artifact, which is what it is," Lodyga says. "It's dated the day it came out because it's all old stuff. I miss good art direction. I think it's very important that when you do something, you make a statement with it in all aspects, musically and visually."
There is, however, a "Grammatical Advisory" sticker on the front that looks like the Parental Advisory sticker that labels issue to releases with obscenities on them. The president, however, doesn't use any obscenities in any of the quotes sampled on the record, and the sticker, Lodyga says, has created some confusion -- it's listed as a Parental Advisory on Best Buy's Web site.
Eyes on the future
"Songs in the Key of W" should sell through Jan. 1, Lodyga says, and then be done, whether Bush is re-elected or not.
"As cheesy as it sounds, it makes a great gift," Lodyga says of its post-election sales potential. "The interesting experiment will be a year from now when one scans, like there's one sitting in a store that somebody found, and we SoundScanned one unit in July 2005. Who knows? Even years later -- if we had done the Bill Clinton Singers while he was in office, you better believe I would have reissued that thing when his book came out."
In addition to True Believer, Lodyga and his business partner, Cheryl Pawelski, own Filthy Mouth Music, which represents artists for placing their music in films and television shows. They've placed songs on the DVD releases for "Dawson's Creek" and "Party of Five." The Knack and the Smithereens are among their better-known clients.
"We try to look for artists who control their own masters and publishing so when the music supervisor comes to us, they control it all," Lodyga says. "We can turn it around fast, and that's attractive to the music supervisor."
Although Lodyga and Pawelski chose a comedy record for True Believer's first release, they don't want it to become known as the "goofy satire" label.
"We want to be a full-service label," he says. "The Sub-Pops and the Touch-and-Gos and the Saddle Creeks had to come from somewhere. ... Cheryl and I both have very wide-ranging tastes and are fortunate to know a lot of great artists. ... I would love to give those people a big fat check for making a great record."
Staff writer Andrew S. Hughes: