Philly's carnival popsters Drink Up Buttercup not only survived nine shows at this year's SXSW, but the winsome, retro-leaning quartet finally release their debut album Born and Thrown on a Hook tomorrow, March 23. The band - Jim Harvey, Ben Money, Farzad Houshiarnejad and Mike Cammarata - recently dropped by The Alternate Side to chat with our own Alisa Ali and play "Doggy," "Gods and Gentlemen" and "Young Ladies" for us. They brought along their garbage can of odd instruments ... and a mannequin head.
Alisa Ali: You guys have your debut album Born and Thrown on a Hook coming out [this month], but you've been releasing some singles here and there.
Jim Harvey: Basically we started off as a band playing a lot of shows and people seemed to like it and kept offering us shows, so we never got a chance to record
an album. So whatever we could throw together to sell at our shows, is kind of why we made the singles.
Ben Money: We did it kind of backwards. A lot eople write and record songs and then practice and go out. But we made the songs as we were performing the songs, I think (laughs). We didn't even know how the songs were turning out and we were already playing shows. And that's what led us into, "let's record a track and try to sell it."
Jim: We actually finished recording our album last March.
Alisa: So what was the holdup?
Jim: We had to wait for the guy we wanted to mix it, Rusty Santos. He's really talented guy and [worked with] Animal Collective and Panda Bear. He couldn't do it until he was finished his other project that he was doing, the new Final Fantasy, and he had to wait until July. And then we had to wait because of all of the record label stuff.
Alisa: Red tape.
Jim: Exactly. [The album] wasn't even going to be released as early as it is but we cried.
Ben: Begged. Whined.
Alisa: How was the recording process? You guys seem to have boatloads of fun when you're playing live.
Jim: It kept going back and forth between lots of fun and extremely hard to take. There were some days, like when we did the song "Heavy Hand," it was probably one of the best days of our lives. We just played it over and over and had so much fun. And then there was another day when we when in and, well, I can't even pick, there were so many little things. I'd find myself shaking a collection of African animal toenails intp a microphone for, like, four hours trying to get this "shuka, shuka, shuka" sound right. And we just couldn't do it and it was like, "why?" I found myself shaking these toenails and thinking, "wow, if my mom knew what I was doing right now. I told her that I'm working."
Alisa: [Tell me about] "Doggy"
Ben: This song is actually important to all of us, Jim especially. It was something that Jim originally wrote that was an infatuous, made-up song. I don't even think there were words to the song when we first made it, there was just melodies and through our first tour it really hit us hard, that song, and the words came in one instant to Jim. And we just love it.
Jim: It's about how whenever you're comfortable in a relationship, one side of it, the other person is always questioning it. No one can ever be at the same place at once. Or if you can that's a perfect relationship, but that's hard to do.
Alisa: I first encountered you guys [last year] at SXSW and know you made quite a splash at CMJ. How did those two festivals affect you?
Ben: I think in all the festivals we had completely different ideas of what they were actually going to be than what they were. We were told that SXSW would be this golden land of input cables and beautiful amplifiers and it turned out to be this complete s**t show of people stepping on each other's equipment and going "well I'm playing this gig and I need to be here by 2:15." No one knows each other. [Everyone needs to] play a 15 minute show five minutes ago. It was fun in the same right, though, just being able to do that.
Jim: They're good places to collect press quotes.
Alisa: And what about CMJ?
Jim: CMJ is just easier because we're more familiar with New York. We play here more than we play in Philadelphia by far.
Ben: It doesn't have the same feeling of going to a mecca. New York feels more like a home base to us. We just played the Cake Shop and we love that. That whole Lower East Side and Williamsburg scene.
Alisa: I heard a funny press quote about you, someone wrote "fame yes, fortune not so much."
Ben: Yeah, that sucked.
Jim: That was around '08 ....
Mike Cammarata: We were on the cover of the New York Times!
Jim: Yeah, and it was like, these guys have no money. But I think [Jon Pareles] wrote a very similar article this year about CMJ in general. There's so much going on and it makes it a lot harder to make an impact because everyone is pushing each other out of the way for the same carrot. There's so many ways to get music for free now. We're being pressured to build up our social networking stuff. We're pretty good friends with Dr. Dog and I saw something on their website the other day about needing to get 20,000 Facebook fans and that they'll not release their new song until they get 20,000 Facebook fans. It's weird. That's, I guess, what's important? To Dr. Dog who has a huge fan base? It's interesting. Money, no. Facebook fans yes?
Ben: I know it's important. We keep getting emails telling us to do those things as opposed to writing a new song. Like, did you check your Twitter today? Did you tell people that this was happening? Do you have 10,000 Facebook friends? If not, you're not allowed to write a new song.
Jim: ["Gods and Gentlemen"] is about not having control over anything in your life.
Ben: It's just a young person's anthem of 'leave us alone.'
Alisa: You mentioned that you were performing before you started this band? Or day jobs?
Ben: Jim and Farzad worked with their pops at an Oriental rug store where they sold, distributed, cleaned and dealt with Oriental rugs. And Mike is still a baby, we all hate him, so the most he's ever done is rewind a VHS tape at a video store. I was a union carpenter for several years.
Alisa: You're on the road quite a bit, you've played with a lot of bands. Favorites?
Ben: Blood Warrior, Clues we really liked. As far as local bands, Wild Yaks. Those guys are really nuts and are just starting out. They're great. We played with Bishop Allen, Dr. Dog - they were great - Fiery Furnaces.
Jim: Fiery Furnaces play in different arrangements all of the time in each tour. And the particular arrangement for this tour - bass, drum and organ - was ridiculous. It sounded like Led Zeppelin with a keyboard rather than a guitar.
Alisa: What are some things you've learned being on the road so much?
Ben: Get AAA.
Alisa: You break down a lot.
Jim: You can't get club soda in Pennsylvania and New Jersey but anything south of that you can't. One funny thing we learned that people who work at Subway in the south think that every band is the same band.
Ben: ["Young Ladies"] is in the same key as ["Gods and Gentlemen"]. A song that is basically about the things people will do to get sex. It's going to be a single off of our album Born and Thrown on a Hook.
Alisa: Tell us each a little bit about yourselves ... or what defines you?
Jim: I drink Natural Lite and I don't even like the way good beer tastes anymore.
Ben: I have a closet addiction to the Nintendo Entertainment System. I can't stop playing it.
Mike: What defines me best are my bowling skills. My top score is 208, there were seven straight strikes in that game.
Ben: Very nice, Mike.
Farzad Houshiarnejad: I like to ... I don't know.
Jim: You like to play piano. You're actually the one musician in our band.
Farzad: Yeah, we'll [end] it at that.
Drink Up Buttercup Tour Dates:
3/22 – Birmingham AL – Bottletree *with We Are Scientists
3/23 – Nashville TN – 5 Spot *with We Are Scientists
3/25 – Charlottesville VA – Jefferson Theatre *with We Are Scientists
3/26 – Easton MD – Night Cat
3/27 – Washington DC – DC9
4/9 – Houghton MI – McArdle Theatre
4/11 – Columbus OH – The Basement
4/15 – Hoboken NJ – Maxwell’s
4/18 – Harrisonburg VA - Clementine Café
4/19 – Akron OH - Musica