INTERVIEW: Getting the Skinny on LARD DOG AND THE BAND OF SHY with illustrator/bandleader Steven Erdman

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It’s been a tough week for a lot of us right? Late nights at work, an endless spew of terrible news from Washington, and lots of added stress from the grind of life. Perhaps some of you were stuck in the horrible ice storm that chilled a big chunk of the US.  There has to be some way to relax and just enjoy a night of fun, right?

Definitely! And I think I have a good idea in mind for those of you who frequent the digital pages here at the BEAT. What’s this cocktail of fun you may be wondering about? I’m talking about the comedic hi-jinx and overall positive good time that is Lard Dog and the Band of Shy, a band that combines groovy tunes with a slapstick show that is perfect for people of all ages. Here’s a taste of the band in action:

But tonight will be something special. For the first time ever, Lard Dog and Co. will perform their show solely for an adult audience at the Peoples Improv Theater in New York City, a perfect activity for Beat readers to decompress and let loose!

Who is the brain behind this retinue of frivolity? The leader of the group, Steven Erdman aka Human Lard Dog, is also a fabulous (my words!) illustrator/designer whose oeuvre blends funky retro-future motifs with a broad cartoon-y aesthetic. But I’m not the only fan! Erdman is admired by such indie comix luminaries as Danny Hellman, Michael Kupperman, Sam Henderson, and Tony Millionaire. The BEAT sat down with Erdman recently about the stigma of being an “all-ages” band, artistic influences, and why you shouldn’t throw pretzels at the band!
Lard by Sam Henderson

 


AJ FROST: Hey! Thanks for taking the time to chat Steven. I had a really great time listening to Life’s A Real Dream from your alter-ego Human Lard Boy while doing research for this interview. Can we start with your musical inspirations? Which artists really inform not only your music, but the way you perform it before audiences?

STEVEN ERDMAN (HUMAN LARD BOY): Thanks AJ, that’s kind of you. When we perform live, I’d like to think I draw inspiration from the great Louis Prima and Keely Smith—in part musically, but even more so the way they interacted on stage. I’m the more far-out one and my sidekick, Honey Babe played by Kendy Gable, is more brainy. During the show, I actually compare her to the Agent 99 character from the 1960s TV show, Get Smart. The comedic element is an important thread in our show and I love comedians such as Jerry Lewis and Chris Farley for embracing total craziness and frivolity. But the real hook has always been to take the music seriously. I’ve been lucky to surround myself with incredibly talented musicians. When you put skilled musicians around a guy in yellow shorts and they take the character and music so seriously—it’s suddenly not quite what you thought it was going to be.  There are a lot of references to nostalgia for a bygone era including nods to James Brown (complete with the cape and crouching down on stage) and to ’50s space age orchestrated pop—namely Esquivel.  We have a new song called “Ode to Flatiron” and I tried to pull it off as if Esquivel were to do a marching band song in praise of the Flatiron building.

FROST: Ostensibly, the work of Lard Dog and the Band of Shy is “children’s music,” but I feel that’s a misnomer. It’s really fun and works on all levels. I hear elements of Tom Waits and Devo mixed in with the a dash of Pee Wee Herman for good measure. What do you think about this categorization of your music?

ERDMAN: It’s a terrible stigma! Face it, no one wants to be known as a kiddie band because generally speaking this genre of music tends to underestimate what a child can process—not just lyrically but musically too. I never played my kids “kid’s music” because I played them “real” music. So even I have that prejudice. I was recently at an adult radio station for a live session by James Hunter (an R&B artist that my wife and I manage) and, on the sly, left a copy of my Lard Dog record with the program director. Two days later I got an email raving about it and promising airplay and could I please send them more info about the band. When I shared our “all-ages” story, well, let’s just say I never heard from them again.

A faux 45 cover. Courtesy of Steven Erdman

That said, I’ve had more than one grown up confess to me that they listen to our CD even when driving without the kids in the car. And I too have recently discovered artists doing quality children’s music that I actually enjoy (and a new CD of standup comedy for kids by Billy Kelly is fantastic). For lack of a better line and not to sound defensive about it, I have to tell myself that the music is for anyone who digs it.  When I write songs, I’m most influenced by artists like Captain Beefheart, the B52s, The Bonzo Dog Band, or even Spike Jones! And lyrically, I’d put Johnny Mercer at the top of the list for his use of clever wordplay. If there’s a limiting factor to writing songs for all ages, it’s that I keep my lyrics clean. The lyrics might be totally absurd and about colanders or a 3-inch tall pie-maker, but they are clean. Though come to think of it, I have had people ask about some rather risqué double entendres, but well, no comment on those theories.

FROST: Besides being a musician and leading this revue of revelry for audiences of all ages, you’re also an artist & designer. I took a peek at the gallery on your website, where you have a fantastic, diverse collection of poster and album cover art, for your albums and albums that, lamentably, never were. They remind me of vintage record covers from the ‘60s, with a hint of Alexander Calder. Was this your intention? What informs your general design aesthetic?

Courtesy of Steven Erdman

ERDMAN: I’m a huge fan of 1930s and 1940s advertising and am always buying up old Montgomery Ward catalogs at junk stores and garage sales. I’m also a fan of artists like Joan Miro, Calder, and of course, the great cartoonists like William Steig, Abner Dean, and Virgil Partch.  I worked for 15 years as an architectural draftsman and am self-taught in drawing cartoon characters. But I think of myself more as an artist influenced by cartoonists rather than an actual cartoonist, which I’m simply not. I owe a lot to the Winsor Newton #2 brush and Higgins Black Magic Ink. The skill using the brush has transferred pretty well with the digital brush medium and has made using Flash a lot of fun. Doing the mock 45-covers has become a sort of tradition and I do one now for every new song.  One of these days I’d love to press some up but still make the covers look old and worn. (Someone taught me to use a tea bag to get that discolored aged look to the paper.)

Lard Dog and the Band of Shy

FROST: You count among your fans indie comics luminaries Danny Hellman, Michael Kupperman, Tony Millionaire, and Sam Henderson (among others!). Are you a big comics fan? And if so, which creators do you think most influenced your work?

ERDMAN: Back in the 1990s, I performed for adults on the Lower East Side and got my start as a guest act at a comics gathering curated by Danny Hellman at CBGBs Gallery. The cartoon crowd just sort of got my show and didn’t question it.  I met these guys and was immediately in awe of their talent. These days we sometimes interrupt our performance with a slide show featuring Sam Henderson’s “Scene But Not Heard” —his work cracks me up. All those guys left an imprint on me. Except Millionaire who was and is still mean to me and leaves me angry voicemail messages at 2am.

JUST JOKING!

Lard by Tony Millionaire

I love Millionaire, probably my favorite cartoonist of all time. I bartered for his drawing for They Might be Giants “Giants Jubilee” and it’s one of my most prized possessions. And I’m also a huge fan of old school cartoonists Bud Fisher, Don Martin, Chas Addams, Ernie Bushmiller—his work particularly for the oblique yet direct style of humor.

FROST: Tonight, Lard Dog and the Band of Shy is playing their first ADULTS-Only show—after your usual family-friendly sets, of course!—at the People’s Improv Theatre in New York. What can people expect from this show that they couldn’t find at your typical show?

ERDMAN: If I said absolutely nothing is different, would you still come? Maybe not.  But I will say that the show is what it is and even the toughest of adult critics will leave smiling and/or scratching their head but will for sure appreciate the musicianship. My drummer played with Glen Campbell. She’s amazing. They are all amazing and I’m lucky to have them: Kendy Gable (vocals), Jeremy Beck (keys), Pablo Kessel (guitar), Rosa Avila (drums), and Ben Willis (bass).

FROST: What’s this about a pretzel toss? People shouldn’t toss pretzels at the band, right?

ERDMAN: That’s a funny one because I have gone through this for decades now and yes, the audience should not throw pretzels at the band as they get pissed off. Nor should I throw pretzels at people’s heads—I got a complaint once from Andy Richter that I clocked him in the head. No joke.

FROST: Thanks for taking the time to chat!

ERDMAN: Cheers! I’m told your readers can get half-price tickets with this code: LateNightLardDog


For tickets, go here:  https://thepit-nyc.com/lard-dog/
Lard Dog and the Band of Shy
March 17th @ 11:30 PM
People’s Improv Theatre – The Striker 123 E. 24th St.

A second Adult’s-Only show will take place May 19th at 11:30.
Check out Facebook & Twitter for more info! 

Enjoy the musical LARDness!

 

1 COMMENT

  1. I LOVED this show! Brought the kids, but didn’t realize I would love it as much as they did. I can’t remember the last time I smiled for as long or laughed as hard as I did today. My face hurts. Thanks, Lard Dog, for making ME feel as happy and entertained as my kid today! Surprise balloons, a shower of cotton balls, random silliness, incredible music…AND they let you throw a bunch of ballpark-sized pretzels around the theater. This show is the next best thing. Take your kids and run to the next showing of Lard Dog! Proud to be a newly inducted family of Belopians!

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