By Olivia Waits
“This song has fifteen solos,” Eric Michener playfully warns the crowded basement of J & J’s Pizza. As he fine-tunes his guitar, the other three members of Fishboy start in on an uptempo intro. People begin to press closer, some leaving their seats on the long benches lining the walls to stand right up front. Then the band launches full-tilt into their set, a rollercoaster of power chords and punk rock gymnastics. Michener’s lyrics spin stories of ghostly pacaderms, classic creeps, and even a man who suddenly finds himself a volcano. Fishboy’s latest album, officially out in November, is about the ghost of Topsy – an elephant publically electrocuted by Thomas Edison – plotting revenge against her murderer. The band’s current incarnation includes Scarlett Wright on bass (also of Spooky People and New Science Projects), Sam Escalante on keyboard, trumpet, and percussion, and Grahm Robinson on drums (also of Criminal Birds). Though the years have changed the faces of Fishboy, the musical artistry is still swimming strongly in the same direction.
I talked with Michener over email about artistic influences and the evolution of Fishboy:
How did Fishboy come into being?
There are a couple different ways to answer this one. It was the name I used for my solo music all throughout high school, and the name stuck once it became what I considered to be a “proper band” in 2003 with the release of our first somewhat official album (Zipbangboom). The band’s first drummer performed at that release show, so in many ways I consider it to be the starting point. There have been a few different line up changes, and each version of the band has its own sound. The current line up formed at the start of 2013 after the previous lineup had fallen apart mid 2012.
How have the intervening years (and personnel changes) moulded Fishboy from the minnow it once was?
With each line up I try and write to everyone’s strengths. The current band are all amazing performers, so most of the new record was tracked live with a very raw power pop feel.
As I age, I find I take the idea of becoming a “professional-successful-popular-musician” less seriously and take the actual work of creating great art more seriously than ever. There is nothing more satisfying than finishing a project and having it be your best work yet
Are there certain things that you utilize to draw inspiration for your stories and songs?
In a very general sense I like the challenge of evoking emotion without sappiness. I like movies and stories that are a blend of drama and comedy. Directors like Martin Scorsese or the Coen Brothers are able to tell these dramatic stories with a ton of humor scattered through out. I picture my story albums and comics as “no-budget” movies and try to write for the medium. In the case of “An Elephant,” I knew in no way would there actually ever be a movie or even animated feature about a murdered ghost elephant, but in comics and music it could work! For this album I was specifically inspired by the movie Dumbo, as well as some of the more adult pixar movies. My initial thoughts were to combine that type of dark, all-ages story with a Tarantino style revenge flick, and then it just developed from there.
Are there any groups/artists that you consider to be a major influence for the band?
Like most bands I would say I have a lot of tiny influences combined. I like to listen to a lot of classic 60’s bands: The Who, the Kinks, The Zombies, the Velvet Underground, The Beatles…but early on my tastes were massively shaped by the first Weezer album, the two Neutral Milk Hotel albums, the high concepts and creativeness of the Flaming Lips, the songwriting and creative production of Spoon, the pop sensibilities of Belle and Sebastian. I could go on!
What spurred the decision to integrate your art and your music?
I have always been inspired by bands that had consistent visual styles to their album art – something I have worked at over the years. Daniel Johnston, Of Montreal, Belle and Sebastian all have artwork that you can look at from across the room and immediately recognize. It also clicked with me early on that art isn’t so much about technical ability as it is consistency, which helped me free myself of a lot of self doubt. Although I didn’t have a great technical ability I knew that I wanted a consistent style across the board, so I forced myself to make all of our own posters and album art whenever I could. I went to the premier of the Devil and Daniel Johnston at SXSW and was blown away at how he was able to turn his music into a career in art and was inspired to try hard and practice my drawing skills every day. From there the visuals have become a bigger part of each release, to the point where the newest album is also a 160 page comic book.
What’s next for Fishboy?
We are going to make a series of music videos and release this album and book on Nov 18th, playing locally as much as possible. Then I’m going to work on more songs for 2015.
Fishboy will be playing at Club Dada in Dallas on October 19th. You can find the latest on Fishboy, as well as music and merch, at yofishboy.com.