SENATOR'S TINY LITTLE MONSTER-Y MONSTERS
From time to time, I get asked, "Dan, do you ever interview anybody on this site or are you the only one who gets to talk?" To which I always reply, "Please shut up." But the real answer to that question is YES, I do let artists speak for themselves from time to time and that's exactly what this post is-- an interview. Singer/songwriter SENATOR (aka Howard Baker) just released his debut EP Tiny Monsters, and decided to sit down with yours truly to talk a little shop... Okay. Full disclosure-- Senator and I were SUPPOSED to physically sit down and talk, but then my son went ahead and decided to inconveniently be born five weeks early, so I had to cancel and we had to finish this thing over the Interwebs. BUT I assume we were both sitting down when we typed out our questions and answers, respectively...
See? He's sitting down!
The BMM Interview is broken into three parts. I'm willing to bet that the pictures will help you decipher what the subject matter in each section will be. If they don't, perhaps the fucking name of the Web site will. The writer's questions are in italics and the artist's responses are in BOLD. But why don't you start by listening to "Lost Again" by Senator...
Let's start with some beer questions. And for my first beer question, soda. You're from Lancaster, PA, so I'm assuming that you are familiar with this non-alcoholic, sugary nectar of the gods also known as birch beer, yes? Do you drink it at all? Do you search every store high and low to make sure you have some on hand at all times like I do? Also, I drank a banana soda the other day, and I'm shocked to say it was actually pretty delicious. Yes, I'm as shocked as you are that it wasn't the most disgusting thing I've ever consumed in my life.
I have to say, I am not a beer drinker, or any alcohol for that matter. More of a weed smoker myself. I also hate birch beer-- 0 for 2. I feel like a total disappointment to you right now. [laughs]
Disappointment doesn't even begin to describe my emotions.
[the interviewer is crying]
I apologize. Start a column called “Marijuana Movies Music” and I’d be your poster boy. I do have some non-alcoholic drinks of choice. I kind of picked up a drink in each place I spent a good deal of time in. First is Turkey Hill iced tea.
Okay, I guess I can stop crying
That’s the Pennsylvania side of me. Hands down best iced tea I’ve ever had. Second is Yoo-hoo. My love of that is compliments of going to elementary school in New Jersey. Chocolate milk ain't got nothing on Yoo-hoo. And finally, my Texas drink is Mexican Coke. Made with real sugar cane and served in a glass bottle, can’t beat it. I also went to high school in Michigan but I never picked up a drink of choice up there. They’re really into Vernors ginger beer, but I never liked it. They also call soda, “pop” which always annoyed me. [laughs]
Ha! Me, too! I mean, what do they call water-- "mama"?
They do have Bell’s Brewery, which any beer connoisseur, like yourself, definitely needs to try. When it's Oberon season, the whole state loses their shit.
Oberon is the shit.
Love me some Bell's. You a craft guy at all? What are you drinking down there Austin way?
Like I said, I don’t drink alcohol but that’s not to say there aren’t any beers out there that I don’t love the taste of. Austin has a huge craft beer scene, so a lot of my friends there are big beer snobs. There’s a brewery called Live Oak and their HefeWeizen is probably the best beer I have ever tasted.
They won over a non-beer drinker so I have to tip my hat to them. Also, my good friend Grant, who was the drummer on my album, swears by Austin Beerworks. It’s pretty much all I see him drink.
If Senator was a beer, what kind of beer would he be? For example, I think of myself as a sour-- definitely an acquired taste. Most people flat out hate it and will continue to do so as long as they live, but for a select few, this odd sourness lingers and keeps calling them back, and even though they can't figure out why, they keep going back, loving every drop.
All right, due to my lack of knowledge of beers I had to outsource this answer to my aforementioned beer snob friend/drummer, Grant. He says I am, and I quote, “An imperial saison. Not sure if that is a real style. Saison is, and beers with the word ‘imperial’ basically mean it’s high octane. Saison is a very old farmhouse style ale, originating in France. So strong, old soul, French kind of romanticism stuff.”
Sounds fitting, and now I want an imperial saison... even if it's not real.
Apparently that’s me. Thanks, Grant.
Let's switch the subject to the second word in the Web site name. I hear you're pretty passionate about movies-- seen anything good lately?
Logan. If you haven’t seen it yet go immediately. It is seriously the best movie I have seen in a VERY long time. Not best superhero movie, just movie in general. It’s like a really great action/drama that just happens to have mutants in it.
What's the first movie you can remember loving the shit out of?
Probably the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
It was the first movie that I saw in the theatre, or at least the first one I remember seeing. I was blown away. After that I was obsessed with the turtles. I still love that movie to this day. I usually watch it at least once every couple of months. I’m constantly debating whether to get the quote, “Wiseman say, ‘Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza.’” tattooed on my body. [laughs]
Don't do that.
Little known fact, Sam Rockwell is actually in the first TMNT movie. He’s the dude at Shredder’s warehouse that says, “Regular? Or Menthol?” when the kid asks if he has any cigarettes. Another favorite quote of mine from that movie.
I'm a firm believer that Sam Rockwell quotes are much more worthwhile tattoos than Michelangelo's. What's a movie that everyone seemed to love that you actually kind of hated?
La La Land. Absolutely hated it.
How dare you!
Well, I shouldn’t say absolutely. The cinematography and camera work was really good. But everything else was horrible. I love musicals and I was actually very excited when I heard that a new big budget one was being made. But the songs were bad, the dancing was terrible, and the singing was weak and amateur. And yes, I am fully aware of how pretentious I sound right now. [laughs]
What movie did you love that all the idiots out there talk shit about?
Oh, man, but there are so many movies that I love, though, that most people hate. I am a pretty big Pauly Shore fan, so basically every one of his movies. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why people hate his movies, but I love them. Bio-Dome, In the Army Now, Encino Man, and Son in Law are all comedic gold and I don’t care what anybody else says.
Oddly enough, I've run into Pauly Shore multiple times in L.A.; at least three.
But don't ask him about it. He'll probably deny it and say he has no idea who I am.
Who would play Howard Baker in the biopic SENATOR? Who else would be in it? I need to ask because knowing what beautiful celebrities are in movies is how I pick 'em, 'cause I'm from 'Merica.
Young Nicolas Cage would probably play me. Like Valley Girl Nicolas Cage. And I only say that because that is who I get compared to most, looks-wise.
Sean Penn, would play my dad; Jamie Lee Curtis would play my mom; Kristen Bell, Shannen Doherty, and Drew Barrymore would play my sisters; and Frankie Muniz would play my brother. [laughs]
He’s gonna hate me for saying that, but I’ve said it since we were kids and I stand by it. Other than that, I would definitely push hard for Leonardo DiCaprio, Gary Oldman, and Meryl Streep to be in it, because they are some of my favorite actors. I actually think that Leonardo DiCaprio is the greatest actor of all-time.
He can also wear the shit out of a swan.
What about working in film? Ever think about scoring and/or writing songs specifically for a movie? I ask not only for the interview but because my filmmaking partners and I are always looking to collaborate…
[laughs] Sadly, I don’t think I would be much help to you in the scoring department. That’s a totally different skill than songwriting, one that I don’t think I have. However, I may be able to come up with a decent original song for the soundtrack...if the movie is like a super depressing drama or coming of age flick or something.
That's kind of what I had in mind. Leo will star.
[laughs] The thing I’ve always had the most interest in, when it comes to filmmaking, is directing. It’s the only thing that I think I might be pretty good at. I don’t think I would be that great of an actor.
And finally, the last part of the name, "Dot Com." What music did you listen to as a kid?
I listened to a lot of different stuff. I was fortunate to grow up in a really musical family so I got a lot of exposure. But Nirvana, Beck, and Radiohead have always been my top three. The first time I heard “Loser” by Beck, my life was changed. I also listened to a lot of Michael Jackson and Beethoven. My mom always thought it was funny that I listened to Beethoven. I was in like 2nd or 3rd grade when I told my mom I like Beethoven, so she got me a cassette tape of his most popular pieces for my birthday. I loved it. I used to listen to it while I skateboarded all the time. Kind of an odd combo, now that I think about it.
Charles Grodin would be proud.
Who influenced you as a songwriter?
I would say all of the above mentioned, but one that I haven’t mentioned, who has had a major influence on my writing, is Cat Stevens, or Yusuf Islam. I think he is a phenomenal songwriter. When I first started writing music it was solely acoustic singer-songwriter stuff and Cat Stevens was a big reason for that.
It's almost summertime and that means music festivals are coming up! Aside from the obvious headliner SENATOR gracing the main stage, who would play your dream music fest?
Jeez, too many to choose from. Obviously all the aforementioned artists and bands. But I would add, just off the top of my head, Band of Horses, Sia, Tame Impala, Billy Joel, Dave Matthews, Hank 3, Sigur Ros, ELO, Arctic Monkeys, Local Natives, David Byrne, The Cure, August Burns Red, Poison the Well, Chiodos, and Bette Midler to close the night.
[clearing throat repeatedly] Pardon me. The mere mention of Dave Matthews' name makes me dry heave. [retches] See? You have birch beer and I have Dave Ma-- [retching] Okay, I'm done.
[laughs] I could go on forever but I’ll stop there. There’s just so much good music out there, it’s hard to narrow it down.
What are you listening to right now? Not literally, of course. Just what have you been into lately?
Well, literally right now I am listening to Bette Midler sing a duet of her song “The Rose” with Wynonna Judd. [laughs] It’s pretty amazing. I’m a massive Bette Midler fan. I think she is ridiculously talented. I love her voice, songs, and she is hilarious on top of that.
Her movies are great as well. Watch “Big Business” if you haven’t. Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin. Can’t beat it. There, now you know my dirty little secret. [laughs]
And so do the BeerMoviesMusic fans... all five of them.
But the album that I have been really into most recently is The Lemon Twigs’ debut album, Do Hollywood. It’s so good! These little teenage bastards are crazy talented. They just get it. Musically, I mean. I just saw them live at SXSW, too, and the musicianship that these fresh out of high school kids have is insane. It pisses me off to be quite honest. [laughs] Take a listen to it if you haven’t already. It’s like the Beatles meet the Beach Boys but a modern indie take on it. Really good.
Definitely will. So, I spent my teen years in Coatesville, PA, and we'd venture to the Chameleon in Lancaster to see a show every now and then-- you know that place? How much Pennsylvania is in your music or is it more Texas?
I love the Chameleon! Been to some great shows there. Honestly, I don’t know where has had the most influence on me. I moved around a ton. I’ve lived in nine different states and have never lived in one place for more than 5 consecutive years. So I guess everywhere I’ve lived has had an influence on me. But I will say Texas is where I started really getting into music, so if I had to choose, it would probably be Texas.
You play L.A. a lot, right? What's your favorite venue to play? Where would you love to play that you haven't played yet?
I was playing a lot around L.A. last year but I haven’t been playing a lot recently. My favorite spot that I’ve played so far is The Viper Room. Good size for a small act, and it has great sound on and off the stage. A lot of people like to hate on the Viper Room out here because it kind of represents the old L.A., but to people who don’t live out here it is still pretty iconic. It was the one place out here that I always wanted to play. I mean, this is where Johnny Depp and River Phoenix used to party, come on. The other two spots that I would love to play in L.A. are the Troubadour and the Roxy. The Roxy is more iconic, but the Troubadour has way better sound. Both would be great shows though. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to play one of them.
Don't tell the rest of the venues, but the Troubadour is my favorite spot, as well. Shh!
By the way, congrats on the release of Tiny Monsters. I read somewhere that you "tried to take the darkest aspects of life and turn them into something beautiful on this album." What specifically are those dark aspects of life you explored? Are these the "tiny monsters"? Also.. what advice do you have for me to make my life more beautiful?
Thank you. Yeah, I write about some pretty fucked up shit. [laughs] Some of the topics I cover on the album are rape, suicide, torture, and stalking. You know, just your basic light, everyday conversation type of stuff. And yes, they are the “tiny monsters,” that is very astute of you. As far as advice I would probably just say, drink more beer. Everything becomes more beautiful the more beer you drink.
If you weren't a musician, what would you be doing? For example, I'm not a musician, so I'm asking a musician what he'd be doing if he weren't a musician... Whoa! I just blew my own mind!
The only other thing I could ever seen myself doing besides music, is teaching. Not music though. Preferably high school history/government. Being a college professor would be pretty cool, too. I’ve always been very into history and politics and I think proper education could solve many of the problems we have in our society today, so it’s always been an appealing field to me. Also, if it were possible to make a proper living by working in a record store, I would do that the rest of my life, but it’s not, so I don’t consider that an option.
Just like my favorite teacher, Professor Funkibunch.
Really dig that video with the growing boy in the snow for "Lost Again"-- did you have any creative input on that concept? Where did the influence come from?
Thank you. I did have a lot of creative input on it, but the main concept came from one of the producers on my album, Kyle Kuiper. The whole idea of a kid going into the woods and the deeper he goes the older he gets was all his doing, and as soon as he told me about it, I loved it. After that, I found a director (Paul Cummings), told him the basic concept and let him run with it. It was a blast to shoot. Really great experience. Cool little fact about the video, the oldest three characters were son, father, and grandfather. And the second and third characters were brothers. So it really does give you a pretty good idea of what they might look like when they get older.
And finally, what can we expect from SENATOR in the future?
Well, I would love to go on tour. That is something I am hoping to do in the next year. I would also love to make another music video for a song off Tiny Monsters, and then eventually record another album. We’ll see if and when all that happens, but I’m working on it.
For more information on the Senator, you can check out his Web site or Facebook page.
You can also stream some of his music-- Lost Again and Breathless-- and if you like it all, go ahead here and buy some stuff!