Mal Blum – Tempest in a Teacup and Interview

A great album comes out today: Tempest In A Teacup by Mal Blum. You should get it. But before you do, you should also check out this interview I did with Mal about the album and a whole lot more.

When you listen to the music of Mal Blum, it is easy to quickly feel a connection. The lyrics are vivid and personal and they come to you through accessible melodies and more than a little self-deprecating humor. It was a pleasure to learn that Mal is just as easy to connect with in person. She's warm and funny and as genuine as she is talented. I had a really good time chatting with her. I hope you will all give her album a listen. Tempest in a Teacup is definitely worth your time. It's a strong, personal work and it's rich with many wonderful moments.

The nine songs are all great and they typically deal with relationships from an honest, insightful, witty, and emotional perspective, which is something I can always get behind. It's the kind of record that pushes through pain to find new sources of strength and relatability – it's that sense of throwing your hands in the air, smiling in spite of yourself and telling all your friends "Have I got a story for you." It's by no means a superficial or light record; rather, it seems more like Mal and her characters choose to do their best to take things in stride and try to keep moving forward. She's going inside these experiences to understand them and find some catharsis, which in turn makes for a thrilling and even empowering feeling to us as listeners.

Mal is a very strong writer, who knows how to convey insights in jaw-dropping ways. She weds the words to excellent melodies, which means you'll often find yourself singing them hours or days later. I won't get too into my favorite moments as many come up in the conversation with Mal, but rest assured, there are tons and I know everyone will find the ones that speak most to them. The music is split pretty evenly between acoustic guitar and light percussion with a more rocking sound complete with a full band. Both styles are welcome. I particularly like the transition from the rousing "Brooklyn" into the lovely, gentle "With Samson in Washington State." The contrast makes you notice each one a little bit more.

"The Bodies, The Zombies!" is as good a representation as any for the album. It starts with a comparison of the brain and heart and moves into the links between love and mortality, using the lens of zombification to make it seem a bit more clever than depressing as it might be. Musically, the song begins with just Mal and slower guitar, but it picks up the pace and adds cello for texture. With referene to a move to New York, it also brings up what I think is a common theme on the album: distance, and how we attempt to navigate that. Mal is especially gifted at navigating the self and what we consider our territory and then extrapolating outward to how we might bridge the gaps between us and fit into society at large.

Once you start venturing into adulthood, you start defining yourself in new ways or even defining yourself for the first time. You consider how other people fit in your life and how to handle difficult situations that come from not being on the same page – or knowing how to be. You screw up a lot. You laugh, you cry, you try and just be part of something. That's what I hear in this album. There are songs about making big moves to new places and songs about shitty parties. There are songs reflecting the moments someone else screwed you over and others where it is clearly on you, or in the case of "Valentine's Day," both. Basically, it's an album documenting the beauty in the struggles everyone goes through and it's a real joy to hear.

You can buy the album here. You should like Mal on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. Also, you should DEFINITELY go to see the album release show on Saturday at Public Assembly. Doors at 8:00, $8 in advance, $10 day of show, 18+. The show also includes Kid in the Attic and Aye Nako. All the details and info are here.

And now, the interview. We met at the Outpost and I had a good time talking with Mal about quite a variety of things, from Biblical figures to songwriting, Chris Gethard to Dan Savage, Blink 182 to Taylor Swift, and what makes a party bad or good. Oh, and we got a stew goin'. What you are about to read is cut down somewhat, but it should give you good insight into her music and her character, both of which are wonderful. Hope you dig it.

We start by discussing how great the Outpost is, and when Mal says it’s a place she likes to come to work, we transition into a little of the economics of being a musician, the whole "supporting yourself while pursuing something creative and how it can be a challenge" thing.

S: What is it that keeps you going? Is it the craft of making a song or the response you get? What do you think is the most rewarding aspect?

M: The most rewarding aspect of music? That is such an interesting question. I think it's different for everybody, probably. So there's the whole craft point, you're making something. That's not the most rewarding part. The most rewarding part is to take that and connect with other human beings with something you've made. Maybe some people would say that, maybe some other people would be like "No, no, no, it's all about the craft. It's all about the art." For me, it's more about that connection.

S: It's not like you don't like making it, right?

M: Right. But some people are really introverted. Misanthropes don't like that. That's a stereotype. I'm trying to cultivate that a little more.

S: What, being in the studio more? Or being more misanthropic?

M: Yes, being an introspective and misanthropic artist (laughter). It adds a little mystery.

S: Mystery's good (laughter). It seems when I listen to your music, I'm not necessarily sure that it's autobiographical, but it does feel very personal. Is that something you've always done or have you grown into that?

M: Yeah, it's always been not necessarily autobiographical, but it's always been very personal. Honest, I try to be. In later years, more recently, I've been experimenting more with characters and such. But it definitely started out very personal. I've tried to stay true to that as much as possible.

S: When I was listening to it, it felt like there is a story in a lot of the songs, and it's well-written. I wondered, do you have a writing background or have you done any other writing things besides music?

M: It's so funny, I didn't want to do music originally. This is a typical songwriter response, but originally I wanted to be a poet. That's what I wanted to be. I was younger and I thought that people in my age group, it's hard to keep their attention if you're just stimulating one of their senses. So I thought maybe words and music and started doing that. But I love words and am good at words in a way that I'll never be good at music. Which is not to say that I think I'm bad at music, but I definitely have more of a writer's mind than a mind for music.

S: Do you have a band or do you write everything yourself? Some of the tracks have drums and stringed instruments.

M: I tour solo generally. I have been playing with a band in New York and I played with a band in Austin. I play with other studio musicians a lot. The drum parts, the drummer on the album wrote a lot of them.  And the bass player wrote a lot of his own parts. With the exception of some tweaks, like "Oh hey, you're doing this fill here, but maybe you could do this." But pretty much that's their domain and they figured it out. The cellist wrote some of her parts and my friend Danielle who engineered the record helped write some of the cello parts.

S: When you listen to it, I think it almost alternates like every other song, more solo then more band. It may not match up exactly but it seemed like the odd numbers are just you and the even numbers are drums.

M: That is really interesting. I didn't even do that on purpose. I'm going to lie, I'm going to say that I did it on purpose. Maybe I could cultivate this. I'm just putting hidden messages into it.

S: Actually if you listen to it backwards, it's very fascinating (laughter). Regarding meaning, most of the time when I talk to musicians or anyone creative, I never want to tell somebody "I think this is about this. It is, right?" I want to know where it comes from but I think the beauty of it is everyone being able to fill it in themselves.

M: Yeah. I'm of two minds about it. On one hand, it's beautiful for everyone to have their own interpretations about something. But on the other, I really love going to head to head and talking about what something could be about and doing the analysis.

S:  Some people are notoriously "No. I don't want to talk about it. I'll never say what it means."

M: Oh really? I'm going to tell you right now. I am not one of those people (laughter). I'm very direct and honest and an over-sharer.

S: I was kind of wondering, Tempest in a Teacup, is that sort of ironic or is it empowering?

M: In what way?

S: The ironic way is like "Wow, this is my whole life, but really in the grand scheme of things, who cares?" A lot of what I get out of it is relationship issues and that internal drama of figuring stuff out. Maybe it's like "Poor me." On the other hand, tempest in a tea cup is like "Well yeah, it's a big storm, it's hard, but really you can just fit it in a tea cup."

M: See, this is why I love analysis because I had never considered either of those interpretations. Like the issues on the album in a tea cup, I never thought about that. It's actually based on this under-used idiom. It means to blow something out of proportion. Like mountains out of molehills, that's what the phrase means.

It took me a long time to put the album out. I cut a bunch of songs off it, I had it remixed, I took an extra six months to a year with it than it was actually supposed to be because I wanted to put out something really intentional and something that I was super stoked on. But then I was like "Ok, it also just needs to come out. And it needs to be what it is. I'm blowing it out of proportion." And then I found that idiom and I liked the way it sounded. It's also tongue in cheek because there were more band songs on it and I'm kind of a little human (laughs). But I like your interpretation on that, maybe I'll steal it for future interviews.

S: I still like to think of an album as a body of work.

M: I definitely like to think of it that way. And in some ways, you're right. Because the other aspect of blowing something out of proportion – the struggles of the album, most of them happened three years ago when I was writing the album. So they've all been resolved. They're important and they're legitimate and valid, but you know it's good to remember not to blow things out of proportion.

S: Would you say that a lot of it is about one relationship or is it different stories?

M: Let's look at it. It's not about one relationship.

S: I didn't feel like it was, but I feel like there are common themes.

M: What themes did you find?

S: One of them seems to be dealing with distance.

M: Like physical distance or emotional?

S: Both. A lot of them, you can chalk it up to distance between people.

M: There's definitely a lot of that. It's weird, because New York is this huge force, but in a lot of ways Brooklyn is kind of small.

S: Let's dive into "Valentine's Day" off of that idea.

M: Let's go.

S: Because of the community aspect.

M: The community isn't that big (laughs).

S: Almost out of necessity to make it manageable?

M: I don't know if it's necessity. Maybe it's a self-selecting bunch. All I know is there has been this phenomenon. Somebody that I know like to say "There's about 1500 people in the whole universe." People just pop up in your life in the weirdest ways.

S: I like how it starts, the opening line about waking up hungover on Valentine's Day and then parting the Red Sea of a drug store. I was like "Cool, I like this. I'm in there."

M: Hooked ya. You're like "Alright, you made a reference to Moses, I'm listening!" (laughter)

S: But then "Let's stop cheating on each other" is the entreaty of it and I'm like "Why?" If it's this much of a problem, why is it even a question?

M: Why not just break up? Yeah, there's a line about that actually. "Let's stop cheating on each other and just break up right now."

S: That's true. You get to that. I guess I'm wondering why do you think people are more willing to deal with that than end things?

M: I don't know. Ok, this is like the funny song on the album, so it's comical. But there is another song about infidelity. I think the reason people are more willing to weather that instead of breaking up is because I feel if you're in a long term, monogamous relationship, eventually something like that is probably going to come up. It's really easy to vilify one party in these things, but I think that it's all very complicated. I am also historically someone who's never ended anything out of any volition. Unless there was a circumstance that caused me to, I've never quit a job or really broken up with someone. In a serious "Well, I'm done now and we're done now" sort of a way.

S: It's not easy. Even when you know something is not good for you or for them, it's traumatic.

M: Yeah, it's hard. It's a confrontation, it's a drama. Better just write a funny song about it, you know? Just stay with it.

S: (laughs) That's a good point. I also just love the line that comes out of nowhere and the music stops and you're talking about how maybe it's all just to mask your own problems. I was like "Oh!"

M: (laughs) Oh, did that hit you?

S: Definitely. I'm not always like that, but I've been like that for sure. Especially when you're dealing with another person, it's so much easier to deny things.

M: Yeah, honestly, I think it's really easy to ignore whatever conflict is going on for you when you're completely focused on somebody else or some sort of conflict going on with somebody else. It's really easy. I think that's something I did a lot when I was younger. I would chase dramatic situations on purpose. There's something exciting about something that's complicated.

S: So you consider yourself more of a simple person attracted to complicated?

M: I consider myself a complicated person, but I don't think there's a lot of unpredictability. I have things, little for sure quirks and a neurotic nature like most humans, but I don't think anything's going to come out of left field and be a situation.

S: Ok, so the previous song to that "The Difference," I really liked the line when you talked about not taking the GREs but knowing how you feel. I think that's an interesting dichotomy.

M: I think when I wrote it was more about the kind of knowledge that's valued. I was feeling…or the character on that song is feeling insecure because they want to be this better person in some ways. And it's like, "Ok maybe I didn't take the GREs but at least I'm emotionally intuitive about myself. I have that knowledge, at least I have that figured out about me." So it is kind of a burn line. I think now in my 3 years older age, I feel that both kinds of knowledge are valuable.

S: I thought it was pretty striking.

M: I'm glad you caught that, yeah. It's funny cause when I'm writing stuff like that, it's "Is this uncool to put a line about the GREs in this song?" Then it's like "Whatever."

S: I like that. I'm a fan. I like little references and quotes. "Brooklyn" (listen here) mentions Dan Savage. I don't think I've heard that before in a song. That's cool.

M: I have a complicated relationship with his stance on certain things, but other things I'm like "Wow! You articulated that in a way in which I never knew how to but that's exactly how I feel."

S: I think the frankness for me is the biggest thing. Especially in matters of relationships and sexuality, to have this forum for people, I feel like that's great.

M: Yeah, totally. I do appreciate that about him. Actually, I was listening to some Dan Savage when I wrote some of the songs on the album. I don't want to say it's Dan Savage influenced, but his whole theory on monogamy and how if you're in a long term monogamous relationship, it's going to come up eventually and like the best thing you can do is work through it.

S: What's going to come up?

M: Infidelity. Cheating is going to come up. If you're in a long term monogamous relationship, it's going to come up at some point, the best thing you can do is work through it. It's a bad thing but it doesn't necessarily make a person this evil person.

S: That's true. And getting back to what you were talking about with "Valentine's Day," or with some of these other songs, you're right, it's not always "You cheated, you're done." It can't always be that simple.

M: I think some people probably feel like that. Sometimes I wish I was a more assertive person in general because I feel those are the types of people that go "Ok, deal breaker, done."

S: So is it fair to say that cheating has been an aspect of at least a relationship in your life? It's something you've dealt with?

M: Yeah, I think historically, it has been. Definitely something I've dealt with, although I'm sure you could say that about most people. I've never really cheated and then in the past two years I've been learning more about polyamory and stuff. But I'm not very good at anything romantically (laughs). But there's still time figure it out, I feel. And records to be made.

S: That's true, at the very least get a record out of it.

M: Or two. Or three. Or four or five (laughs)

S: Most people want to feel they have it figured out, right?

M: Yeah! But I don't think anyone really has it figured out.

S: Oh no. And I'm not good at acting as if I do, but I feel like a lot of other people I know are, so I'm always like "Uhh! Man…" (laughs)

M: That's funny. That's kind of how I feel as a musician some of the time. We all act like we have it figured it out and have it like an exact science.

S: Well when I listen to it, it sounds like you're passionate about music and interested in sharing stories and it feels like a confident work. Even if it is about questioning things, it's not tentative as a record.

M: Oh yeah, thank you. I think it's a very intentional record. I don't think it's a tentative record. I think it easily could have been if I hadn't taken those extra 6 months or whatever it was. But I think as it stands, I feel very solid about it. Like this is exactly what it should be.

S: What instruments do you play?

M: Electric guitar, acoustic guitar and piano.

S: So you are playing some piano on the record, on “The Difference?”

M: Yeah. Just on that song. Most of the songs that got cut were piano songs actually.

S: Let's see, maybe we'll go backwards through the album.

M: Yeah, hit me.

S: Next would be “With Samson in Washington State.”

M: Oh yeah.

S: The album hasn't been released but on the Soundcloud, that song is the most played so far.

M: It premiered on American Songwriter last week.

S: I like the idea of thinking this is a song people are responding to a lot. It's longer and it feels more intimate, maybe because it's quieter and that draws you in, and it doesn't feel like you're also sort of laughing at yourself.

M: No, it's very serious (laughs).

S: What was really powerful was, if we're thinking about Samson as this mythical figure whose power was in his hair, was the line about that you're scared and you're willing to cut your hair with this person. Partly if you think about having that source of strength, it's not strong enough to overcome your fear. But at the same time it's also kind of beautiful to sacrifice something for the sake of a larger cause of this other person. I guess that's not really a question (laughs).

M: That's a beautiful interpretation. I love that interpretation because it totally turns it. A lot of times you read all this "Delilah was Samson's downfall" and it's really negative, so I think that your interpretation was beautiful in a way because it's positive.

S: It can go both ways, but I think more the tone and your choice of how you presented the story made me think that. I think it's cool that's the song people are going for.

M: I hope people like it. It's my favorite song on the record. I don't know, probably because it's more like the stuff I've been writing lately. But I hope that people respond well to it. The interesting thing is I don't know why I wanted to write a song about that story, but I kind of researched it a little bit. The interesting thing about it is – have you read it?

S: I've heard it, I sort of know the idea, but I don't think I've actually read it.

M: It's interesting. It's pretty involved. At one point, Delilah is trying to suss out the secret to his strength. She asks him a few times and he lies to her a few times. "If you tie me down with these reeds, I'll lose my power." She tries all the things that he says and each time, she calls the Philistines in and each time he hasn't really lost his strength and he fights them off. But then eventually he's like, "Alright, it's my hair." He tells her. So I was like "Ok…he just has a problem with holding his tongue." He just talked himself into that corner all on his own. I was really into that little tiny aspect the most.

S: Sometimes I have this weird thing when I feel like I like somebody, I just want to tell them all these things about me.

M: (laughs) Like about yourself? You're an over-sharer. I have a tendency to do that too. When I'm nervous it's "Well let me talk about myself, just anything!"

S: So it's a Samson thing, that's what it goes back to.

M: I'm sure that's not what the Bible intended, but again, I took my own interpretation (laughs). I know there's that Regina Spektor song that I like a lot.

S: That's true, there is. I was thinking about that a little bit but I was like "Eh, I'm not going to go there."

M: Yeah. I mean, you could compare it, or to John Darnielle's whole Biblical album, but it's its own thing.

S: That's an interesting question to think about. Though I'm very wary of the "Oh who are your influences," that's a little cliched.

M: Yeah, I'm bad at that question.

S: But you can talk about that in an interesting way I think. It is interesting to know what inspires somebody or what somebody wants to be like. My recent analogy, maybe it won't work, maybe it's dressing it up and it's still the same question…

M: (laughs)

S: But the Mal Blum sound, let's think about it like a delicious stew.

M: Alright.

S: What are some of the ingredients when you're making that stew?

M: Ok, the stew is a'simmerin'. I would think of it more as a chili. Are we talking early ingredients? Like the first things you put in the pot when it's started? Or later on spices? Cause they're very different.

S: You can specify as you want. It's not really about other people so much as it is what you think has made you, thus far.

M: Ok. I think like early on, a pivotal moment was the mixture of what I listened to. It was a lot of folk singers and pop punk bands and ska bands and also blues music. I think that together molded something. It was at that time when you're attaching to music in that super desperate way.

S: Like writing on your binder, all your favorite bands.

M: Totally! I’m thinking about me as a teenager, listening to Ani DiFranco on a school bus, going to your first of high school or something. Then I get to college and it was more sort of anti-folk, folk-punk stuff going on, like my freshman year of college was when I heard Regina Spektor. And here's World Inferno and more weird stuff. And then I started getting into more the Kill Rock Stars acoustic roster, like the Decemberists. Recently, it's been Elliott Smith. I'm just finding Elliott Smith now at this age.

So it's been a shift: those early influences, then more quirky stuff, and now I've done this loop around where just now I'm finding rock band and some of that super minimal quiet "Alone in your room" music that I should have found in high school but I didn't.

S: You can't really say that. I truly believe you kind of find what you need to find when you need to find it.

M: Totally. Oh, here are three people I love being compared to I think am influenced by. Most people you cringe when you're compared to them, but these three people, when I'm compared to them, it's a huge honor. I think they're all amazing. The Mountain Goats, one. Jeffrey Lewis and Conor Oberst. Those are the three that I feel like I would love my stew to taste like that, in a way. I think probably it's all because they're all very good lyricists.

S: That's very true.

M: Ani DiFranco. I would also put Ani DiFranco in there. Although at some points, I care for her stew more than other times.

S: I think anyone you like in high school, that age when it's so formative, part of it is always going to be molded into you, in a way. There are certain bands where I'm like "Whoa…" But there's ones I like that I don't care if no one likes because they always meant a lot to me. I feel that way about Dude Ranch by Blink 182.

M: Oh my god, yeah. Totally. I feel both ways about Blink 182. On one level I'm like "Oh god," but on another I'm like "Whatever, it's still awesome!" I was a huge Blink 182 fan.

S: Yeah me too.

M: You know their live album, The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show? I used to listen to it every night while I was going to sleep for a good two, three month period. It's so funny, I was thinking "I wonder if that influenced my banter at all." And I went back and listened to it as an adult. And it's filthy! Their banter is filthy. It's all dirty jokes.

S: That's the thing, you realize they were writing for 13, 14, 15 year olds, which you get when you're young. When you're older you realize, "Wait a minute, they're like 30."

M: They were 30, yeah. It's funny to think about.

S: I did want to ask you about being on the Chris Gethard show. He seems like a cool guy.

M: He is a cool guy. Have you ever been?

S: To the show? No. I've just seen stuff he's done. And read stuff he's done. Like maybe a year ago, he wrote that really impassioned letter to that person who was thinking of killing themselves. That was really powerful.

M: I love Chris Gethard.

S: When I was looking at your site, I went down the rabbit hole of Chris Gethard. He started doing this thing for Vice.

M: Yeah, he's doing those really confessional pieces.

S: My god, that was incredible.

M: I love Chris Gethard in a really serious way because he is one of the most genuine and tender people I think that I've met in New York. He does all this cool comedy stuff and he's so approachable and so accessible. I think the whole community associated with the show is so unique and so awesome. You should just go some Wednesday.

S: Cool, that's awesome. The other thing I noticed was your Taylor Swift cover.

M: Oh, yeah.

S: (laughs) What drew you to performing and covering it?

M: What it was, honestly, my friend Richard who did the beats for that song, I went over to his place and he was like "You know what we should do today?" I was like "What?" He's like "We should cover this Taylor Swift song." And I was like "Alright." And then we did it and he's like "You know what you should do know?" and I was like, "What?" He's like "You should film a video for it." Did you see the video?

S: Oh yeah.

M: I was like "I don't know, Richard." He was like "Really. Just do it on your computer, it's fine. I'm telling you, you need a video for this." I'm like "Alllllright." So it was one Sunday afternoon and me and the two girls in the video just drank two bottle of Champagne and just, I don't know, danced around.

S: It seemed like you were having fun.

M: It was so fun. It was unbelievable.

S: Ok, to jump back to your songs, in "The Bodies, the Zombies!" there was the line about "I don't want you here, I don't want you gone." I remember something like that being a very adult lesson for me. You always think it has to be one or the other, but when you finally get to those moments when neither is appealing, or both, and you're like, "What?" That reminded me of that.

M: It's funny, the lines that you're bringing up are lines that I like the best. It's interesting that those are the ones you've latched onto. "I don't want you here and I don't want you gone," it's a false dichotomy, right? You can exist completely in the middle. And that line in particular, it's in the first person but it's actually about feeling like that. You feel like somebody doesn't want you there but they won't tell you to go. I don't know if that ruins it for you (laughs).

S: No, no. I don't mind. "Altitude," that's the song that's about being at a party. I like that somebody was talking about how they can suck.

M: Yeah, I think they usually suck.

S: They can be fun of course. But it's nice to get in that space of "Yeah, it is kind of awkward.” I was wondering what do you think makes for a hellish party?

M: A hellish party? And you mean hellish in the negative sense? Not like "Hella good."

S: No, but we can do that too.

M: I think cliquiness. That would be the number one. I hate when you go to a party, maybe here in New York for example, where you walk in and everybody is in their own group of like 4 to 5 people and they just look over their shoulder at the new person coming in and then go right back to their group, it's like "Why aren't we all just in our own apartments?" That to me is hellish. Also if the music is really, really bad. Although I think that totally depends on the mood. I can go to a party and be like "Uh, I don't want to be listening to this" and then the next night, I'll be like "All I want to do is listen to 90s slow jams right now!"

S: (laughs) KC and Jo-Jo.

M: Yeah. I think also I'm a bit of a socially anxious person in general in large groups, so if a party is too crowded that would be bad for me. Good parties I think, when people are having just a genuine good time and they're really welcoming to other people.

S: Integrated.

M: Totally, that's a really good party I think. Or a really good theme party. That's really fun. You can watch how people are dressed up.

S: It's funny, I don't think there are a lot of songs about bad parties.

M: Right, a party song is a fun, good song.

S: The Black Eyed Peas don't have any songs about bad parties.

M: (laughs) And yet there are so many bad parties. There are so many songs about good parties and not that many good parties. And there's no songs about bad parties and many bad parties. I don't know why.

S: So in "Altitude" you go to the party for someone and they're not really hanging out with them you that much.

M: And none of their friends are and you're just like "Man, what's wrong with me? What am I doing here?"

S: Wearing the wrong things, saying the wrong things.

M: Yeah, cause that's what you think, right? You go to a party that sucks and you think "Oh, this party doesn't suck. I must suck." But really, the party just sucks. You don't suck.

S: Yeah. But it is easy to think that.

M: It is. This song should be a testament that you don't suck. If the party feels like it sucks, it's not what you're wearing, it's the party.

S: I think that comes through. Let’s see…

M: You touched upon all of them except for "Counting My Breaths" and "Side I'm On." Oh, and "Overseas Now." "Side I'm On," though, when we were talking about infidelity, that was the one that that's about. So you kind of got that covered. That's the non-funny version of "Valentine's Day."

S: Oh, do you like Neutral Milk Hotel?

M: I do. I don't know enough.

S: That song gave me a little Neutral Milk Hotel vibe.

M: Totally.

S: And the first song gave me a little Modest Mouse vibe.

M: Really? Interesting.

S: Yeah, sort of your vocal delivery and the idea of the words. I haven't listened to a ton of Modest Mouse in awhile, but it reminded me of some stuff I liked about them, which is that it's sort of wordy and there's a certain feel to it.

M: Yeah, Modest Mouse is great. That's funny. The first song, I like that song a lot. That one was based on a book, actually. The second one, you might be picking up on that because it starts on the same chord with an acoustic guitar much the same way "Two Headed Boy" does.

S: That's probably it, yeah, because that's one of my favorite songs.

M: That's a great song. That's really cool that you noticed Modest Mouse. I never thought about that, ever, even as an influence but I did listen to them a lot too.

S: There's something about it. Especially when you say all the stuff and then "Somehow you forgot." That struck me as a Modest Mouse thing.

M: Cool, I have to relisten to it.

S: "Counting My Breaths," the thing I like about that one a lot is you talk about how what you finally learned you had to learn for yourself. That's something that's so important because so often we're told so many things but most of the time you can't really understand it until you do it.

M: Right. And you can't be on the other side of that telling somebody. They have to want to learn it themselves. You can't impart something on someone else, even if you know with all of your being, there's no way. You can try, but it's futile (laughs).

S: That's what I was thinking about for that one.

M: Cool. I like the things you picked out. I feel like you have a really good sense of the record. It's interesting to see the things that stuck out to you and I'm happy with the ones that have.

I feel like that's everything I could tell you about it. They're all pretty much autobiographical except for the first one. You ever read that book Breakfast at Tiffany's?

S: No.

M: It's kind of about that.

S: I remember there was a 90s hit song.

M: No, it's not about that. (Starts singing it) But that song is about the movie. I had always seen the movie and then I read the book and the book was so different from the movie. So different! Huge, leaps and bounds different. I would recommend the book if you have time. I don't know if you're a reader.

S: Oh I am. And that's the other thing I like to ask, if you have stuff you're into that you would recommend of other music or books or films, tv shows, whatever. Anything you're digging lately?

M: I was just hanging out with my friend Leah and her band is really good. They're probably one of my favorite New York bands right now. Slothrust. They're like a grunge-y, blues band. And I think they're kind of a mix between Cake and Hole, but darker. I love it, it's great. So them, I've been into.

Television-wise, I don't own a TV, I don't really watch a lot of TV, but I do have Netflix and I've been watching The Tudors, which is the Henry the Eighth series. I like it. I would not watch it if you are a stickler for historical accuracy because there is none.

S: (laughs) They took a lot of liberties?

M: Quite a few. I think. But I do like that one. The Henry the Eighth history is rather salacious (laughs). Oh, Chris Gethard show. I can really recommend that. To you personally and whoever. If you are in New York particularly because you can actually physically go to it. But they have all the episodes archived.