If there was any good thing to come out of Tower Records going under last year, it was a chance for music geeks like myself to take a chance on CD’s by bands we may not have even heard of before. There’s nothing like a good 70% off sale to get me in a spending mood and, while Tower still couldn’t give away those stacks of Poison’s Greatest Hits at any price, I dropped four bucks on a band called Slow Runner and walked out into the Vegas heat. The album was called “No Disassemble” and, in addition to being the last CD I’d ever buy at Tower Records, it ended up being the best four bucks I’d spent in a long time.
For the next several weeks that followed, anyone who was lucky enough to be a passenger in my car was subjected to a heavy dose of “No Disassemble” and, if the fingernail-shaped indentations on the dashboard are any indication, Slow Runner is great music to play while fending off crazy-ass L.A. drivers (of which I am one). “No Disassemble” grabbed me with its literate, self-effacing lyrics and twisting musical arrangements that succeeded quite effortlessly in constructing an elaborate world all its own where days just seem fly by a little more slowly.
Moving forward a couple years, the band that recorded “No Disassemble” for J Records is now a member of the indie set (but not for long, I surmise). Their new CD, “Shiv!”, is the first of two albums that hope to showcase the band’s irreverently esoteric pop skills.
I had a chance to interview the band’s singer/songwriter Michael Flynn, who, with multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaler, makes up the band Slow Runner.
The first version of “No Disassemble” I bought has the name “Michael Flynn” on it. What’s up with that?
The problem with band names is that when the band breaks up, you kind of lose all the work you did building up your name brand. this had happened to me a few times, so we (Josh Kaler and myself) decided to start playing under my name so that no matter who we were playing with, I’d get to keep the name brand momentum going.
By the time we self-released “No Disassemble” and toured, we realized that it didn’t make sense to do it that way, because when you see a name-name guy, you think “Michael Flynn = white singer/songwriter singing bland acoustic songs about girls = John Mayer wanna-be”, or something, and the music we were making was definitely more adventurous than that. Plus I never really enjoyed it being my name. I’m too introverted to be that guy. So we changed it before we re-released “No Disassemble”.
For the music nerds, would you explain the progression of Slow Runner from birth to major label deal, to no major label deal?
I went to music school in Boston, met Josh Kaler and started playing with him, made some noise within school and left with a headhunter deal with this really nice producer who swore he could get me a record deal. we did lots of cheesy demos that didn’t excite anybody, i was dejected and broke, so Kaler and I moved back to my native South Carolina to start a new band. We recorded a bunch of songs that felt like a rebellion against the previous demos and that became “No Disassemble.” We put that out and toured regionally, started getting label interest, did a bunch of showcases, and signed a small deal with J Records. They re-released our record and got us some nice licensing spots, but otherwise shat the bed. We did a bunch of demos for the next record that were too weird for them, and they dropped us. So now we’re self-releasing again and trying to figure out where we fit in in this new world where the new model for success for bands like us is still unclear.
With the songs taking on a more personal, harder edge, has the dynamic within Slow Runner changed at all from “No Disassemble” to “Shiv!”?
Well, “Shiv!” is actually just the first of two discs we’re releasing (the 2nd should come out around January). We kind of divided up all of these songs into the loud stuff and the quiet stuff. “Shiv!” is the loud one, but, really, it’s the same dynamic as on “No Disassemble” where the rockers and ballads coexist. By making two records we were able to go farther in both directions, so “Shiv!” rocks harder than anything we’ve ever done and record #2 is way more singer-songwriter-y. Both are chock-full of songs about my life, songs about relationships, and songs about the music business disguised as songs about relationships. it’s definitely more personal and I think a little more emotionally brave than the older stuff. I’m less insecure about what I’m saying and whether it’s cool or not.
What are your current Top 5 Desert Island Discs?
difficult to narrow it down cause it changes every day, so here are 6 just to spite you:
Badly Drawn Boy “Hour of Bewilderbeast”
The Notwist, “Neon Golden”
Joseph Arthur “come to where i’m from”
Ray Charles & Betty Carter, “Dedicated to You”
Jellyfish, “Spilt Milk”
What (or who) was the inspiration for your head-first dive into the shark-infested waters of rockerdom and what inspires you today to keep on keeping on?
I was sort of coerced into playing music by my lack of skill at anything else. Every job I’ve ever had, I’m like Hong Kong Phooey in mild-mannered janitor mode. I’m an oaf. Songwriting is the only thing I’ve ever done with any semblance of grace.
In a recent Slow Runner promo pic, you were wearing sandals. Was that a conscious decision meant to challenge current societal stereotypes akin to Bowie shaving his eyebrows back in the day, the by-product of an exclusive endorsement deal with Timberland footwear, or is that just how you roll?
First of all, they’re flip flops, not sandals, Darren. That’s an important distinction. guys who wear sandals cry a lot and eat a healthy diet. Guys who wear flip flops don’t give a fuck about their feet because they have better shit to concern themselves with. Kenny Loggins probably has a walk-in closet full of sandals. Pete Doherty has one pair of flip flops that he keeps taking off at parties and losing (Loggins is infinitely more talented than Doherty, of course, but that’s irrelevant for the purposes of this comparison). If you live in a hot beach town like Charleston, flip flops are a necessity. On the particular day those pictures were taken, I was told my feet wouldn’t be in the picture, so I kept my default footwear on because, yes, that’s how I roll. So I wasn’t trying to make a statement, but if I did it would be this: flip flops make the world a better place. If Israeli and Palestinian leaders met poolside wearing flip flops, how could they not work shit out? Flip flops are so informal that they suck all the pressure and bullshit right out of the room. Sandals can’t do that. They’ve been wearing sandals for thousands of years and look where it’s gotten us. That’s why your generalization of all open-toed footwear as sandals is mildly offensive. I await your apology.
Sorry, my bad. I do appreciate the clarification, though. So, is Slow Runner an “album band” in that each album is constructed in such a way as to be heard and enjoyed best in its entirety, or is it just about writing good songs and you’ll know you have an album when you have enough good songs?
I’d like to think we’re an album band, but to me that’s something that either happens on it’s own after all the songs are written and you stand back and say ‘hey, these are kind of connected’, or you try to make a more cohesive statement through song selection and track order. But, really, for us if that happens it’s a happy accident. I write postcards, I don’t write novels. I’m not thinking of other songs when I’m writing a new song. I admire the Radioheads of the world, just like I admire novelists, but ultimately I’m just a song guy, and I can’t pretend that the way we choose songs to be presented as a group was ever part of a master plan.
So, what’s next for Slow Runner?
Touring for “Shiv!”, finishing the next record, clinging to the frayed edges of the music business, continuing my community outreach work with dangerous zoo animals, pushing gateway drugs on little kids to bolster my street-cred resume, doing my sudoku, avoiding detection by ubiquitous government satellites, and trying to be a little more ‘Darren’ (Ed: aw shucks…I think) in all aspects of life.