mp3 premiere + interview: "South Philadelphia" - Bootsy Spankins, P.I.

photo: Laura Ferrara

photo: Laura Ferrara

Bootsy Spankins, P.I. is teaming with Future Oak Record Co. to release South Philadelphia - a two-track, hand-lathed vinyl coming in June (preorder it here).  Below, you can stream the title track, which is one of the most beautiful and sincere pieces of music we've heard this year. From the wondrous, soft falsetto of Spankins to an entry of synths that are all at once magical and moving, "South Philadelphia" is a heart-rending secret. If you've ever driven through a city or past a place that's lit up and alive against a darkened, still night sky and wondered of the stories and happenings occurring in that midnight glow - this is your answer. The single is a story we're now privileged to know and hold tight to. Below you'll find the single and an interview that details the music, inspirations and the best answer to a Pop Quiz question ever.

The Grey Estates: How long have you been making music, and what drew you to writing and performing? Did you perform when you were younger, too? I played French Horn in middle school but I was bad at it.

Bootsy Spankins, P.I.: I got a guitar when I was 15, but I didn’t really start making music until years later. Performing in front of others can be frightening because you’re open to humiliation if you fail, and what’s worse than humiliation at that age? I grew a little more courageous and confident in college and just learned to embrace the thrill. My performances at open mics would consist of covers and comedic songs, so that if I sucked, at least I didn’t appear to be taking myself seriously. As my confidence grew, though, I started performing my original songs. The positive reaction to my own songs was what pushed me forward into refining my singing, songwriting, and arrangements.

Where did you learn to sing and play? What other artists and genres inspire you in your music making?

I’m a self-taught musician, with the exception of 8th grade chorus where we all had to sing songs from the Lion King soundtrack. There are fewer things more emasculating to a 14 year-old than to stand on stage with a clip-on tie and sing “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King”, especially when you’ve spent the last year discovering indie rock (during it’s golden age, no less). 

Even though I’m older now, I’m still inspired by many other artists. Off of the top of my head, Harry Nilsson and Bruce Springsteen are probably the musicians who I look up to the most. Both were (and are) true innovators without straying far from the pop song structure. I appreciate all genres, but I grew up on top-40 radio and MTV as a child in the 80s, and so no matter what I listen to, catchy melodies always seem to take precedence. Also, as an Ernest Hemingway fan, I admire his unadorned style of writing in which he was able to evoke deep emotions with very few words. Expressing what you want to say without repeatedly hitting anyone over the head is a true art, and I’m very interested in musicians who push the boundaries of music in a similar fashion.

What inspired these tracks and how long have you been working on them and writing? What's the writing and creative process like for you? Do you have a particular spot or place you like to write and brainstorm in?

The writing process, for me, can be a very long one. Lyrics don’t often come easy, as I find it hard to articulate exactly what I’m trying to say. To make things even harder on myself, I’ve started to include a lot of double entendres in my songs. “South Philadelphia” is full of them. I think that’s the Harry Nilsson/Randy Newman influence on me. Clever lyrics can give a song a second identity, and I think it’s fun to create something that a listener might take differently by the third or fourth time that they hear it. It’s just not easy for me to accomplish that, admittedly.

Almost everything that has come to me, melodically and lyrically, has been either in the shower or while I’m driving alone in my car. I brainstorm better in therapeutic environments than when I’m sitting down with my guitar and trying to write something. I’m too self-conscious.

What would the theme of this 2-track release be? What in particular are the tracks about and what do they represent for you? Also can we talk about how great the synths are in "South Philadelphia"? What was it like including those in the material? I saw the setup on Facebook and it is insane. 

I recorded these two songs knowing that they’d appear on vinyl. I’ve been collecting and listening to vinyl for about 17 years, and as everyone always says, there’s a special warmth to it. I have several new songs written, but these are the two that I chose to record because I felt that they were the best “vinyl” songs. Lyrically, they both touch on the stages of grief when dealt with a loss - denial and acceptance in particular. The bookends.

For the synthesizers, I spent two days recording with my friend Tom Lebeau in his South Philly home where he has a wild modular synth setup. Around that time, I was listening to a ton of Minnie Riperton, Billy Paul, and basically anything that Gamble & Huff produced - soul from the 70s that was synth-heavy. And so those were the types of tones that I was shooting for. I’d basically try to describe what sound I wanted, and Tom would work to come up with the tones. He’d be telling me about the technical stuff like oscillators and patches, and I’d put my fingers on my chin, nod, and try to hide the fact that I had no idea what he was talking about. I knew from the start that the synths would be the most crucial aspect of the recording, and so his help was invaluable.

I wanna ask about the artwork for this release. Does it play any significance into the music and what's the story behind it? 

The cover photograph was taken in Philadelphia at my favorite diner, Little Pete’s, by my friend Laura Ferrara. Sadly, the diner is closing for good at the end of May, and we took the photo knowing this. I went to college in Philly and lived a few blocks away, so if I needed to get my mind off of anything, that’s where I’d go (often by myself). I’m emotionally attached to it. If there is any significance to the songs, it’s that solitude is an emotional resource when you need it, but it’s frightening when you don’t.

How does this material if any differ from what you previously have worked on, and is there anything you've changed or learned about what you want for the direction of your music since you first started?

I’ve learned to trust myself a little more since my last album. A few years ago, I’d probably be afraid that these songs don’t sound urgent enough. I’d be afraid that the listener might not fully appreciate them because they wouldn’t want to go back and pay closer attention to the details. I wanted all of my songs to grab you immediately on first listen. But that’s an ill-conceived mentality. I don’t waste my time worry about something like that anymore.

What's next for you as far as musical releases and work? 

photo: Chris Loupos

photo: Chris Loupos

The two songs that I’m releasing were written for a larger album that I plan on recording called One Nation Under Medication. Right now, I’m trying to save up money to move forward with it. Recording can be very expensive, especially when the songs are intended to be fully arranged. But that’s the plan for now.

Pop Quiz

If you were to create the dream Bootsy Spankins, P.I. merch item, what would it be? I wanna make Grey Estates nail polish or lava lamps.

I was in the store the other day and saw that Guy Fieri has his own line of bag clips, like the things that you use to keep bags of potato chips shut. I don’t feel like anyone is really challenging him there, and I’d like to be the one to make him reassess his presence in the lucrative bag clip arena.

Since you have a track called "South Philadelphia," if you were gonna take us for the perfect day in Philly what would it include?

Tough question. There are so many different variables. If during the daytime on a weekend, I’d suggest checking out the Mütter Museum, which is a fun and creepy science museum full of medical oddities. For lunch, a cheesesteak at Little Pete’s before it closes for good (voted best cheesesteak in Philadelphia - 1981!). Assuming the weather is nice, a baseball game would be great because Citizen’s Bank Park is beautiful. I’m a big NY Mets fan, so if they’re in town, there’s a 99% chance I’d be there anyway. Dinner and drinks at Monk’s Cafe, and then after-hour rambunctiousness at a blue collar dive bar like Top’s, where I once had the high score on the Demolition Man pinball machine before the owner’s son unplugged it and reset the scores out of envy.

If you could duet or collaborate with any musician who would it be?

I didn’t even have to think about this answer. I would love to cowrite a song with Burt Bacharach and then perform a duet of it with Dionne Warwick. In my opinion, those two formed the greatest songwriter/performer combination in recorded music, and to be a part of the process would be a dream scenario. I have a slight obsession with that duo, and I definitely think that Bacharach & Warwick could beat Batman & Robin in a fight.

If you were curating a Bootsy Spankins, P.I. music festival what bands would be on it? 

If I were to curate my own festival, it would be a luxury event that takes place in the Bahamas. I’d have bands like Blink-182 and Major Lazer perform, and I’d offer a financially impressionable celebrity like Kendall Jenner $250k to promote it through social media. It would be an exclusive event for rich kids who are more attracted to the concept of attending an exclusive event for rich kids than the music itself. It would definitely be a success and would not, in any way, expose the comedic vulnerability and entitlement of young, wealthy consumers (should things go terribly wrong).

Say a restaurant is going to name a sandwich after you, what would be on the sandwich and what would it look like?

I’m a hot dog enthusiast, and so there’d be no greater honor than for a restaurant to name one after me. I’d suggest a standard Italian-style hot dog with a Schickhaus frank, peppers, onions, and fried potatoes in a pizza bread roll, but with cheeseballs from Steaks Unlimited in Seaside Heights, NJ added on top. Totally esoteric to anyone from the Jersey Shore where I grew up, but you’ll have to believe me, it would be a hot dog that you’d tell your grandkids about.

Give us a Bootsy Spankins, P.I. fun fact.

I do a really good impersonation of Willy Tanner, the father from ALF.

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