Scruffy bachelors everywhere receive a bit of valued advice courtesy Billy Sugarfix and Katherine Simonsen on this charming, vaguely twee tune. The tender, archly theatrical style recalls Magnetic Fields, while the earnest yet whimsical tone invokes Jonathan Richman. “In the evening, sweep the cobwebs off the ceiling,” he sings. “Dust and mop and straighten up, and wash two special coffee cups.” It’s hard to argue with the solidity of his courting exhortations (unless of course one meets the rare woman into molting boxes of half-eaten pizza and a coffee table littered with empties.)
The track has more going for it than its clever nature: The arrangement bursts with warmth keyed to a hummable melody, and the piano line lends a regal quality to the ooh-ing backing vocals. The last reprise of the chorus is delivered with delicious (over)emphasis and amplified by the bass drum, a moment well-suited to Neil Diamond, or our local doppelganger, Jack Whitebread. A well-crafted song on every level, it’s one of the finest in Sugarfix’s immense catalog.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Tell me about the process of recording this new album, Summer Tempests.
BILLY SUGARFIX: It was recorded mainly in West Jefferson, N.C., at a place called Hummingbird Studios. That was where we did the basic tracksdrums, bass, guitar. The rest of it was done in Carrboro with a guy called Jesse Olley out of his home, but he records under the umbrella of Ultra Thin Riz.
How long did the whole process take?
Way too long. I started working on it in 2005.
What happened is I started working with two singers and just kinda got distracted. Honestly I started a whole new project out of it, and then once I got off and running with them, I started writing songs specifically for that, and just kind of let the record sit there for a while.
How old then is “Take A Shower”?
It would be three or four years old. But I haven’t been playing it actively. This is the first time any recording of it has ever been made public or anything like that.
Did you conceive of it with a female voice initially?
Yes. As a matter of fact, I specifically thought about Katherine Simonsen because I basically wanted it to sound like a music theatre piece, and that’s her background really. I’d worked with her before in that context. I wanted that kind ofI don’t know how to describe the inflection, but the sort of proper diction and precise crisp syllables, and the really spot-on pitches. So I definitely wanted it to have a musical theatre feel to it. That’s why I got her to do it.
What is it about male socialization that they need to be told such things?
I have a lot of acquaintances that are lonely guys. I don’t know why it is. I see them and hear them talking, and a lot of them are lonely and can’t understand why. They’re socially awkward to begin with, and I can’t instruct them in the fine art of conversation or anything like that, but I can tell them that they’re much more likely to meet their romantic goals if they stand up straight and have good personal hygiene and dress accordingly. We all love cut-off jeans and Slayer T-shirts, but it’s not necessarily conducive. Any romantic endeavor starts with a first impression. These days a lot of first impressions are online but for anyone who’s not doing it online, the first impression is the most important. They should follow my advice: Have good personal hygiene, dress well, and take time to clip their fingernails and tuck their shirt in. That increases your chances by at least 25%.
Have you considered an instructional video to accompany this?
[Laughs.] Because I’ve been around here so long and I know so many people, I thought about starting a professional wingman service in which I would go around to bars and parties with lonely guys and act obnoxious and talk them up.
Is this something Neil Diamond or possibly Jack Whitebread could sing? I’m thinking of the dramatic air of the second stanza.
I would be certainly honored if Neil Diamond were to sing it. As far as Jack Whitebread goes, it might be a good one for him to sing. The words might do him some good. But I will say a solid yes to Neil Diamond.
Are you a fan of Jonathan Richman? I sensed some of that character in the song.
Yes. It’s interesting. People who are our agem that’s usually the first reaction they have to the music, Jonathan Richman. And then people who are 10 years older than us always think the Monkees, and people that are ten years younger than us think the Magnetic Fields. It’s very consistent.
There’s an Evil Weiner album included with the physical copy of this album?
Just right now for people that pre-order it before the show. It’s mail order and anybody that lives around Carrboro or Chapel Hill. They need to come to the show, that’s where they’re going to get it. That’s the cheapest place to get it, quite honestly. But for folks that don’t live close by, I wanted to just give some sort of incentive to ordering the record. It’s working.
The anniversary of your online TV show, The Sugarfix Mix, is coming up.
The Sugarfix Mix doesn’t have a real clear mission. I really like archival footage and like to mess with that kind of stuff and edit that stuff. I collect old films myself. It’s kind of gone through several stages. I originally wanted to do short documentaries, but I did one about Ron Liberti, the poster guy [and singer for Pipe and Bringerer]. It just took so long to do. Then I would do these environmental kit things, called The Green Goon. I had this friend Brian Risk that dressed up like the Green Goon, and those things would just take four times as long as anything else I would do. So at this point it’s mainly music videos made with archival footage and footage that I shoot of unusual roadside attraction type places.
How much time and energy goes into this?
Well, at one point, it was my thing, probably at the beginning of 2009, and yet another thing that kept me from putting this record out. I got really into doing that for a while. I still enjoy doing it, but of course, at this point, I’m thinking of nothing else but the record. But as it turns out, this is a legitimate one-year anniversary. My first episode did air almost exactly a year ago.
Do you believe it’s important to maintain a certain hopeful innocence about the world?
In a word, yes. I like to stay up on current events. I like to know what’s happening, yet zealotry is never a good thing. Obsessive-ness is never a good thing. If you get too obsessed with politics or too obsessed with any of the wars we’re fighting or environmental activism, it kind of just ruins your outlook on the world. You end up not helping anyone, when your goal to begin with was to help out. So I do think the best way to go about things is to focus on what really drives you and what really makes you happy.
That’s what I see as innocence, not being too bogged down with what’s happening in the world politically. You know I’m so innocent I can’t even describe it. I can’t even define it. But yes, youthful innocence likeI’ve avoided growing up so far, and it’s really working for me. I’m much happier now than I’ve ever been in my life, and still feel like I’m so far from being a grown up.
Billy Sugarfix releases Summer Tempests Saturday, Sept. 12, at Cat’s Cradle with Schooner and Birds & Arrows at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $8.