Ultimate Fakebook is back. 16 years since their last studio release, the band released their latest LP, The Preserving Machine, with new label Sonic Ritual Recordings on April 10, 2020.
Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Bill McShane and Eric Melin.
What was the moment you knew you were on to something?
There was this day where we had a long work lunch that involved a few glasses of wine. When I got back I picked up my guitar and wrote the main riffs and hooks to “Manhattan KS”, “After Hours at Melin’s”, “Fake ID”, and “This Unfrozen Girl” all in one sitting. The hooks and lyrics just flowed with no effort at all, and I realized right away … “oh, I think these are UFB songs” as opposed to some kind of solo project. Just getting myself into the mindset of writing for UFB opened the floodgates, and I ditched any idea of worrying about the songs not being any kind of new style or fit any current trend, in fact, I leaned hard into the kinds of melodies, tempos and drum fills that I knew were at the heart of what we did best. Just allowing myself to do that as a songwriter was surprisingly the key. Any time you bang out 3-4 songs with no effort, you know they are gonna be good ones. And right that afternoon, I knew the stuff that was bubbling to the surface was ready to come out, and I knew we could make a legit new record that wouldn’t be filler, or just “doing it just to do it”. As the songs kept coming throughout the demoing process, I felt more in the zone as a songwriter than I’d ever felt.
When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?
The first time I sang the chorus to “Manhattan KS” to myself I felt immediately it was a hit (the kind of song we consider a hit anyway!) Sometimes the simplest lyrics matched with the right chord progression just make magic. And just sitting down and writing something quickly without overthinking it – that has always hands down been the recipe for a hit song in my book. You get to the heart of what you want to be feeling from the song – and don’t get hung up on the techniques or musician type things that hardly anyone notices anyway. It’s almost like if you just put your focus on the big picture of what you are saying and how you want it to make the listener feel – once you nail that basic vibe you can fill in all the details later.
You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?
Wow, awesome question. I would pick Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices, I’d love the challenge of trying to push him back into the direction of the 1 minute super catchy pop masterpieces he started out doing (nothing against his later material but…it’s just something that would be amazing to me). Then John Farrar, who wrote almost all of Olivia Newton John’s big hits in the ’70s and ’80s. His melodies literally formed my musical brain – I’d love to try to come up with new epic pop hits with that level of melodic quality. And third I would pick Paul McCartney just to be in the room with him and see how his mind creates ideas. Who cares how good the songs would be, I just wanna see him in songwriting action!
You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?
The art of big hooks and clever wordplay isn’t really something that everyone picks up on, and think that’s what Bill does in spades. His songs zing and zang all over the place and never fail to surprise. Our strategy is to mask all of that pop goodness with spirited, energetic, sometimes bombastic playing so it comes across as fun and hopefully addictive for the people who “get it”! For those people, they’ll hear all kinds of little details in the dynamics and production that were both strategically thought out and/or lucky accidents. I’ve had people come up at shows and say “I love the record, but you guys are better live.” I think they are reacting to the onstage energy and crowd interaction (remember those? 😫 ) and I wish I could point out all the cool production ideas that went into the multi-layers of each song, but sometimes you just want to rock out!
Which 5 records would you bring with you for your stay on Mars?
KISS – Alive!
Big Star – #1 Record/Radio City (cheating I know – they are on the same CD)
Elliott Smith – XO
Cheap Trick – In Color
The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle
…although technically I’d just take my Big Star (Keep an Eye on the Sky), Cheap Trick (Sex, America, Cheap Trick), and Zombies (Zombie Heaven) box sets to make sure I had more tunes!