Ira Marcks wanted to make an animated music video. So he called up his friends in a band who were recording an album and told them so. There were a couple of obstacles standing in his way. The biggest and most daunting was that while Marcks is a talented, revered and well- published illustrator, he wasn’t, at the time, a trained animator. The other obstacles were getting the band to sign on and then the fact that they didn’t have any budget to speak of.
“I knew the whole band since I’ve played music with half of them. I wanted to learn new software stuff and I always wanted to do animation,” explains Marcks. “I knew that Front Business was recording so I said, ‘Let me see if they have something.’ I’m always hesitant to do something for free but the value in this is that I’m going to teach myself Adobe.”
Front Biz frontman and guitarist Raurri Jennings recalls the initial conversation.
“It was St. Patrick’s Day and we had finished the album and Ira just emails me saying, ‘Let me visualize it,’ but with the stipulation of, ‘Let me do whatever I want.’ All the other guys in the band also had a stipulation—that it be vaguely psych and Ira was like, ‘I can do psych.’ I think I added, ‘hellscape, psychedelic hellscape,’” says Jennings.
Marcks set out to teach himself to use Adobe animation software. The end result is a cartoon version of Lydia Deets—Winona Ryder’s character in “Beetlejuice” strolling through suburbia seeing flashes of typical ‘50s Americana and a coterie of demented versions of ‘90s era Nickelodeon cartoon characters.
“What he did is perfect,” says Jennings. “All that stock footage he found, all of his corrupting demonic cartoons, it’s amazing.”
What Marcks did took him about 100 hours, by his estimate.
The song, “Little Mutants”—its lyrics and Marcks’ video—tells the story of a character beset by visions and having their perspective changed. It fits almost too neatly into the band’s larger oeuvre. As a band that bangs together the wild influences of the slamming funk of Parliament Funkadelic with soul, fuzz and art rock, they find themselves considering what it means to put out a proper album in the age of flickering attention spans and algorithm fueled playlists.
So far the video, single and album have been written about by psych/doom blog The Obelisk and music sites in France and Germany. All of them offer up different takes on what is striking and valuable about Front Biz.
Josh Potter, bassist for Front Biz, worked for some time as the music editor for Metroland and he admits he spent a lot of time thinking about how bands present themselves and how they reach people. But those rules have changed drastically since then.
Front Biz is a band that defies easy characterization. “We’re a lot more syncopated than a lot of rock bands so we wind up playing with funk bands, hip hop acts and at places like Super Dark as well,” says Potter. “It’s nice to be in that nether region. But the risk you run is if the algorithm doesn’t know where to put you, there’s this disadvantage. I’ve heard artists talk about this recently—you can’t write an 8-minute song anymore because with the range of styles that will occur in 8-minutes, the algorithm is not going to know where to put you. So people end up writing to the algorithm which is a product of our weird simulation time.”
Front Biz is not writing to the algorithm and as a result, when the album “Lunch Money” is released through local non-profit Five Kill Records, it will go out into the world without a large built-in fan base or even easy genre tags. The plan is to release a series of videos to keep eyes and ears on the album.
“Little Mutants” is right on point for the broken-simulation, negative attention times we live in with its abstract themes and nonsensical choruses.
“Raurri said the lyrics were just nonsense,” says Marcks. “I guess they were at an Animal Collective show and this was stream of consciousness about whatever was going on that night—lots of flip flops and sandals and things and if you listen you go, ‘Yeah OK, I can see this happening at an Animal Collective show,” says Marcks, matter of factly.
Jennings confirms that the song does indeed have to do with Animal Collective.
“So way back in the Metroland days, Josh Potter and I were music columnists; he was the editor. He got us tickets to see the world premiere of this movie Animal Collective did and we got to stay in this pretty schwank hotel. I kept a journal at the time. So in 2016 I was writing and I got stuck and then found what I wrote there—this sort of collage poem found and that’s where the first two choruses come from—”paper lantern in the shape of a bulldog” was this bulldog paper lantern in the lobby of this schwanky hotel. It’s all tongue in cheek.”
Marcks began with text video—a motion capture of him writing the lyrics of the song and then he began to introduce animation through the Lydia Deets character. “She’s like this goth observer with her camera taking in this Tim Burtonesque suburbia,” says Marcks. “I was playing with this Adobe program that lets you rig up your character to motion tracking and pin parts of your face to the body. So I synched her lips to the audio and all the body movement is me moving my head around.”
Deets is then struck by visions that Marcks says he hopes evokes that kind of thing kids would get from watching the hyper-trippy Nickelodeon cartoons of the 1990s like “Ren & Stimpy.”
Jennings and Potter are now playing Deets as they watch the reactions and reviews flow in ahead of the official album release on June 14. “It was awesome to see the song refracted through Ira’s lens and it’s been cool to see who reacts to the press about the album. “Apparently we’re big in Germany and big in France. Some blogs picked us up there. Our first big write up was in The Obelisk so it’s cool to think about, what is it from the metal head perspective that drew them to the song? For a doom metal blog to have their interest piqued, that is an awesome treat. Nobody forced them to pick it up.”
Front Biz will celebrate the release of “Lunch Box” on Five Kill Records, June 14 at Lost & Found in Albany with special guests The Age and DJ Trumastr.