Anonymous Botch, named for the famous medieval figurative artist Unknown, is a swell collection of groovy pop goo from the guy who used to drum in a popular eighties cult band we've been asked not to mention. Anonymous Botch is his fourth solo album since leaving the, uh, that band. The third, Tenterhooks, is also available on the Bar/None label.
Based on a true story, Anonymous Botch explores the origins of mad cow disease, reeks vengeance on a deejay with a bad attitude, then discusses the legitimacy of a mother donating a kidney to her drugged-out daughter ("Mom please forgive me for screwing my innards up - give me your kidney and I won't drink anymore.") The latter, "Janet's New Kidney", sees Mars dueting with a real-life alternative rock goddess. We can't use her name here, but look for her big screen debut this Fall.
Recorded at Pine Box Studios, Anonymous Botch features a plethora of famous mystery guests, many of whose contractual obligations with other record labels prevent them from being credited here. (But do the initials D.P.O., S.R. or T.L. ring a bell?!) Chris Mars collaborates with a Grammy-winning songwriter and an Oscar-nominated composer, both whom share the distinction of having big gnarly agents who don't necessarily see the value in sheer artistic, and not necessarily lucrative, projects such as this one, and so have mandated that the names be withheld. That sure won't keep us from enjoying the tuneful results of these associations.
Mars, who like Henley and Collins before him made his initial mark as a drummer, forfeits the skins (a career first) to the biggest, hottest drummer this side of Keith Moon, but his band doesn't know he's on the record, and of course, it's not appropriate for them to find out by reading this, so we won't mention him here. But he rocks. Also featured on the aural gala is Chuck Whitney, a Minneapolis computer repairman and proprietor of P.C. Paramedics, who plays lead guitar on "The Weather". In the months since completing this project, even Mars has forgotten who all is on it. In fact, since mixed, he's not sure he's on it. Maybe that's why Anonymous Botch is so darn good- the sum of the parts, the absence of a central ego, the cool cover, the cool covers, the great players and the special joy of performing anonymously.
Chris Mars' alter-ego, Chris Mars, will exhibit 25 new works of art at Burning City Gallery in Los Angeles through October. The exhibition will then travel on to other cities around the country. The other Mars is also working on the development of a feature length film animation of his characters. Collaborators on this Mars project include David Lynch (Blue Velvet), Henry Sellick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and Neal Edelsten (Sub Station). Mars will develop, art direct and score the project. Expect production to begin in 1997.
GRATUITOUS DRUMMER JOKES (From the collection of Chris Mars) Please send Bar/None your favorite drummer jokes to add to Chris' collection.
Q: What is the last thing a drummer ever says to his band? A: "Hey guys... how 'bout we try one of my songs?
Chris Mars co-founded the Replacements when he was seventeen-years-old, and spent the next ten years pounding his drumset behind a band which produced some of the most influential sounds of the l980's. The Replacements made eight records and became one of the very few underground acts of the era to make it onto a major label. Chris wrote music throughout his tenure with the Replacements, co-authoring some of the songs responsible with launching the band's reputation.
Q: What do you call a drummer who just broke up with his girlfriend? A: Homeless
In l991 Mars became the first Replacement to go solo when he signed a real big deal with Smash. He made Horseshoes and Handgrenades in l992, and 75% Less Fat the following year -- writing, performing (with the exception of a few guest musicians), and producing every song on the albums. Mars parted company with Smash for artistic reasons in late l993, leaving him temporarily without a record label. He spent his time away from recording, painting, sculpting, and showing his works at two Los Angeles art galleries.
Q: How many drummers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: Just one, so long as a roadie gets the ladder, sets it up and puts the bulb in the socket for him.
In l994, Chris signed on with Bar/None. Chris wrote his own contract (three pages long, opposed to the thirty pager he signed at Smash), in which the East Coast company agreed to buy him a $20,000 in-home, sixteen-track digital studio -- effectively handing the former Replacement total artistic freedom. So while Bar None sweated over the wisdom of their investment, Chris tried to figure out how to plug the damn thing in. In the coming months Chris would perform, produce, engineer, mix, and master the record on his own. Mars says the best part of the deal was that he would never again have to worry about paying studio time or putting recordings on hold. "In a way it was frustrating to deal with the technical stuff, because sometimes I just wanted to play," he says. "Otherwise it was great. There was no one to argue with. I could put the mic where ever I wanted. In the studio there's always the clock, money's always ticking away. It was a good trade to takeover the technical stuff and give-up worrying about time."
Q: Hear the one about the drummer who graduated from high school? A: Me either.
"At first I understood what the volume knobs did and how to EQ the bass and treble. But beyond that it was a whole new ballgame," says Mars, who made up to five calls a day to music shop techies for help. That Chris had real freedom over his recording is obvious in the sheer diversity of styles and sounds on his first Bar/None release, Tenterhooks. 70's disco, jazz, "meat and potatoes rock", symphonic overture, "quazi 60's style punk," ballad, and rap sit side by side on this very eclectic pop album.
Johnny says to his mom, "I want to be a drummer when I grow up." Mom says, "But Johnny, you can't do both."
Did you hear the one about the guitarist who locked his keys in the car on the way to a gig? It took him two hours to get the drummer out.
On White Paddy Rap, Mars pokes fun at white musicians who imitate rap music and other Black music forms, to "make the music safe for white kids in the suburbs." Yo everybody say check/ Gosh darn it's naughty as heck/ White paddy rap is real keen/ Pat Boone is back in the scene/ 10-4 the cops are my pals/ You kids be nice or I'll tell/ Jeepers and fiddlesticks too/ White paddy rap is darn cool.
On Water Biscuits, Chris rips Middle America to a pounding disco beat. "If you're different I will stare/ I'm a fool for Tupperware/ I'm a fuzzy luke warm Fanny Farmer bank art square."
Q: What do you call a guy who hangs out with musicians? A: A drummer.
Once Mars "got over the technical hump" the recording gear became one of many new instruments for Mars to experiment with. Kettle drums, bells, strings, effected guitars, and ambient sounds such as barking dogs, a koo-koo clock, the neighbor's lawn mower, and the clicking of Mars' furnace appear throughout the album. "If you listen really close," says Mars, "you can even hear a cat's fart." Chris is joined on Tenterhooks by computer repairmen Chuck Whitney (lead guitar on three songs), and ad writer Doug deGrood (trumpet on New Day).
Q: What does the average drummer get on an IQ test? A: Drool
Q: How can you tell when a stage riser is level? A: The drool comes out of both sides of the drummer's mouth.
Take a talented musician, let him screw around for months with state of the art equipment, and the results could possibly be disastrous. Bar/None gave Chris Mars enough rope to hang himself and ended up on Tenterhooks.
With this album Chris launches himself as a popular songmaker, proving that one man alone can make a darn-fine album and never leave the house.