- Jorma Whittaker
It seems odd to launch a debut album with a series of reunion/farewell shows, but in the case of the band called Jorma & Movie Bare, that's just how it worked out.
The three-year story behind their new record, Lollipop Gold, is as twisted as the spookedelic minimalist guitar pop it contains. But the end result is satisfying to the artists involved, even if the long birthing process was sometimes painful — "a labor of love and strife," as one band member put it.
"It sounds like people enjoy it, and that makes me really happy," says frontman Jorma Whittaker, fresh from performances in Bloomington and Chicago and looking ahead to Fountain Square's White Rabbit Cabaret on Saturday. "Since I took such a hands-off approach, it's like somebody else's record that I can really enjoy."
Whittaker is best known as vocalist, bassist and chief songwriter for Marmoset, the Hoosier band that since the late '90s has developed a broad cult following with four albums on the independent Secretly Canadian and Joyful Noise labels. He assembled Movie Bare several years ago as a vehicle for his solo songs and other non-Marmoset material. (The name, originally spelled "Movie Bear," stems from a childhood joke about unconvincing cinematic depictions of wildlife.)
Once the co-ed quartet felt ready to take their repertoire to the studio, they tapped a friend to produce the recordings: Marmoset guitarist and all-around musician and studio hand LonPaul Ellrich, known to some as "LP." His untimely death in May 2008 was a blow not only to this nascent project, but also to the broader music scene he had served for many years.
Several months passed before Movie Bare decided to forge ahead, working at Indy's Queensize Studios with equally ubiquitous recording engineer Vess Ruhtenberg, who cofounded the facility with Ellrich.
"LP was about creating music, so after a reasonable amount of time grieving, we got on with it," says Movie Bare drummer Mitch Harris, who took on the role of production manager and chief cheerleader for the album after the band fell into disarray. "We joked about his presence in the studio. It was so heavy to think about, I think it had to be made light of, so we could flow with the work. Sometimes we would get an exciting and strange sound onto the tape machine and not entirely understand how we did it and say, "Thanks, LP!"
Recorded in eight tracks on one-inch analog tape, Lollipop Gold offers 17 cuts, with only one passing the three-minute mark. Loads of reverb and echo create an intentionally creepy atmosphere, lightened by the underlying whimsy apparent in such titles as "Potato Nurse" and "Raspberry Daiquiri Day." Whittaker's unconventional and seemingly unhinged vocal persona ranges from deadpan slacker to manic banshee.
But recording the songs was only half the battle. Harris and guitarist Erica Siegel were married when the project began but divorced in the process, and that wasn't the only personal strife going on in the band. Then Harris moved to Chicago, as did keyboardist Dana Cooper.
Given the circumstances, Whittaker didn't feel much urgency to complete the venture.
"Just like with any record I've done, you get to a point where you're kind of unsure whether it's any good or not," he says. "I just didn't know what to do with it, and that's where Mitch stepped in and really saw it through."
Eventually, Harris, who bankrolled much of the project with Siegel, took the tapes to Bloomington and mastered the album with Indiana indie-rock godfather Paul Mahern. Then Harris sent a copy to Secretly Canadian's vinyl-only boutique branch, St. Ives Records, which gave the project a boost by agreeing to a special release of 250 copies. Thus, limited-edition vinyl is the only physical format for the album, which also is available digitally through the St. Ives website and Secretly Canadian's distribution arm.
The release date slipped a few more months, again, as Harris lined up friends to help meet St. Ives' requirements: All releases must be packaged in recycled album covers, with the original artwork completely obscured by new artwork that is unique to each individual copy. The Movie Bare release carries a silk-screened abstract image on various hand-painted backgrounds.
And finally, to officially commemorate the release, the band had to be reassembled, with guitarist Nate Hammond filling in for Siegel.
"We had to rehearse in two different states to get this together," Harris says.
Meanwhile, Marmoset – original members Whittaker, guitarist Dave Jablonski and drummer Jason Cavan, joined by Pravada drummer Casey Tennis on guitar – continues to develop songs for a new album, hoping to record soon.
"We just rehearsed new
material last night, and I'm really into it, so I'm looking forward to getting
this new record together, finally," Whittaker says.