What's the meaning behind the band's name: Stay Tuned? Does it have anything to be with your music covering tracks?
PHIL: It does indeed. It's a nod to the often overused phrase typically delivered just before going to a commercial break. Or as a hook during a commercial or informercial. "Stay tuned for some important information...", "Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of Columbo", etc.
WILL: I remember that the first name that popped into my head was, "As Seen On…" or something clunky of that nature. "Stay Tuned" popped up as an option and I think we both nodded that, yeah, that would work.
How did you guys get started with all this?
PHIL: It's origin goes all the way back to '98. I (Phil) was a double major at California Institute of the Arts - majoring in Music Composition for Multimedia and Jazz Piano Performance. I decided that for my graduation recital, I was going to do a full concert of jazz arrangements of classic T.V. themes. We performed a wide variety of tunes and styles including a free jazz interpretation of The Twilight Zone and a modal version of Charlie's Angels. My reasoning behind it was that some of the T.V. themes we all knew and grew up with were actually good songs. Most classic jazz standards that people are all too familiar with had their origins in popular music - at the time they were musicals and the like. So I saw no real difference between taking a popular music such as T.V. themes and adapting them to a jazz ensemble. The concert was fun to put together and was well received.
Flash forward to 2001 and I'm in my car driving up the 5 Freeway with my good friend, and future Stay Tuned bass player, Will Lanni in the passenger seat. We're planning on moving to Seattle, and are heading up to find an apartment. I had had more than enough of Los Angeles, having spent most of my formidable years there and given it every opportunity, and had decided to move to Seattle. Will and I had known each other since high school when we were in a garage band together called Assorted Nuts. We played primarily instrumental songs in bizarre time signatures (17/8, 15/8, etc. - anything to keep ourselves entertained) with only a single vocal song - a country song about inbreeding called The Imbred One - in our set rotation. We were in the mountains between Oregon and California and it was the middle of the night when a thought occurred to me. I woke Will up and explained to him my brilliant idea. We would create a rock band that performed original rock arrangements of T.V. themes. We wouldn't be a prototypical "cover" or "tribute" band in that we wouldn't try to emulate the original material but, rather, put our own spin on it. Will grumbled and fell back asleep. But the idea took hold.
Once we were fully settled into Seattle, we found a practice space and a web engineer named Don Davis who used to play drums, had a full kit, but hadn't played in a long time. We got together and just started cranking out arrangements. Pretty soon we had enough material for 2 full sets and were spreading the good word of T.V. themes.
WILL: I was sound asleep in the car on our drive to Seattle when Phil yells, "I GOT IT!" and I woke up in a panic, thinking he had been aiming for squirrels or something. He told me about his idea and hummed an approximation of 'Greatest American Hero' like it was a heavy metal song. I think that was the moment when I told him we could name the band "As Heard On TV" or… "Stay Tuned!"
THEN I grumbled and went back to sleep.
What's the message to transmit with your music??
PHIL: Ultimately, I hope that we're doing two things with our music:
1) Keeping alive what has effectively become a dying artform. T.V. themes as a songwriting platform have pretty much become a thing of the past. Most modern T.V. shows use existing pop material or a very forgettable instrumental theme. When I was growing up, every sitcom had a catchy song associated with it - Family Ties (Who can forget that Sha-na-na-naaaaa...), Perfect Strangers (Standin' tall....), Growing Pains (As long as we've got each other...), Silver Spoons (Together - we're gonna find our way...) - and even the reruns I saw as a kid had great themes. Some with lyrics, some instrumentals. Three's Company, Taxi, Barney Miller, Gilligan's Island, The Munsters, etc. It's great music. It just happens to be music that is 30 seconds long. You don't find the same sort of artistry in theme songs for T.V. shows nowadays. I think the most recent song we perform is King of the Hill and that's a great theme song. But it's more the exception and not the rule. So I hope, to some extent, that we're keeping some familiar songs from certainly my youth alive. And maybe bringing a bit of nostalgia to those meddling kids who are watching the shows on cable reruns.
2) Related to that, I think the nostalgia factor plays into the emotional connection we seem to make with people who see us perform or listen to our CDs. And that's been a great thing to see. There are a million Led Zeppelin tribute bands out there. And another million AC/DC tribute bands. Not everyone is a fan of Led Zeppelin. Not everyone is a fan of AC/DC. But almost everyone has watched television. I've seen guys who look like college football linebacker fratboys go crazy when we kick into our version of Silver Spoons, punk guys with mohawks and tattered leather jackets request The Munsters, and "Indie Rock" girls fawn over Growing Pains. With cable / satellite there's an ungodly amount of channels playing an ungodly amount of television nowadays - most of it bad. Quantity vs. quality. Not to mention the other mediums people have at their disposal like mind-blowing video games and all the media available over the web or now via mobile devices. But growing up - people of my generation and generations prior, you had only a small handful of channels and television had more cultural resonance. It wasn't that long ago, really, that families would sit around together and watch The Wonder Years or Star Trek. So I think when people hear the themes associated with those T.V. shows from their youth, we make a real connection with those people. While we definitely have fun doing what we do, we're not like "Weird" Al. We're not a comedy band. We have a genuine appreciation for the music we perform and I think our audiences get that.
WILL: Wait, what? We're not a comedy band? :P Whenever we're playing shows, the message I'm intending to transmit is, "HAVE FUN, DAMN YOU." Though we do enjoy the music we're creating, I think one of our band's primary purposes is to entertain the crap out of our audience, really leave them with a memorable, fun evening, and inspire high bar tabs for the venue we're playing. We sound pretty good sober, but we sound AWESOME after you've had a beer or two.
What's your method at the time of writing a song??
PHIL: Sometimes, I'll simply write up a basic chart of the song and we'll work through an arrangement in the studio - throw around ideas, jam on specific parts for a while, etc. - until it starts sounding good. Most of the time, however, one of us will come up with either a concept for the song or a riff / arrangement and bring the completed arrangement into the studio and work through it. Our version of Growing Pains (a ska rock style tune) and F-Troop (inspired by The Presidents of the United States - a pop-rock / pop-punk style arrangement), for example, I remember coming up with the riffs / arrangement in my head on a plane flight from Seattle to L.A. to visit my family. I scribbled down some notes so I wouldn't forget my ideas and then flushed out the arrangement when I got back to Seattle. Gilligan's Island - which combines the original theme with elements from Iron Maiden's Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Styx's Come Sail Away into one epic rock arrangement - was truly a collaborative effort amongst us. Will (bass) came up with the idea of trying to integrate Gilligan's Island with Rime of the Ancient Mariner so I sat down one day and started working out the arrangement as I had never listened to Iron Maiden before - Will is slightly older than me and has an older brother. So he grew up under the influence of 80's metal whereas I was the oldest in my family and, instead, grew up under the influence of 80's pop music and 60's - 70's classic rock. As I started merging Gilligan's Island with Rime of the Ancient Mariner, I saw an opportunity to work in Styx's Come Sail Away as an appropriate ending. When I brought the arrangement in we didn't know if we were going to be able to perform it for one - being a trio without any guitars makes it difficult to perform Iron Maiden - and we weren't sure it was going to work. But we worked at it and now it's one of our most popular arrangements and closes out our new album The Last T.V. Dinner
We try our best to pick material that we feel we can put a creative spin on. We wouldn't be happy just playing the themes "as-is". There are songs out there like Barney Miller or Taxi or Sanford and Son that are just great "as-is". Why would we want to do anything to them? We still might, someday, integrate them into our songlist but why mess with perfection?
WILL: I've noticed that we put a lot of emphasis into entertaining ourselves when we're playing our music. If our own songs don't feel fun to us, then something's wrong, and they stay off the set list. We've got a couple of tracks that have seen multiple revisions and still haven't quite worked. Greatest American Hero, for example; we just cannot make that song be entertaining to us in practice, and thus it hasn't made it out live or on a recording yet. On the other hand, WKRP In Cincinnati is a great example of a song we started playing early on (it may have been one of the first 5 songs we played as a band), that saw multiple arrangements and styles and finally made it not only into live sets but recorded as the opening track of The Last T.V. Dinner.
As Phil mentioned, we usually discuss songs we want to perform, and put them on a list of future songs to play. Then we start talking about styles to play them as, or other popular songs that we can infuse them with. Phil then writes up charts, and we start hammering them out in practice.
How would you define your music?
PHIL: "Epic rock". That's been the term I've always used. We pride ourselves on being loud and full sounding for "only" a trio. It's big. Someone did a piece on us at one point where they said something to the effect of, "... they're having fun without poking fun ..." and that's very fitting. What we do is fun. There's nothing better than hearing 1,200 people singing along to Cheers at a show. Big and fun.
WILL: A sound engineer named Dave Hageage once described Stay Tuned as "like sausage." I'm not sure what that meant, but I like to think that our music is tasty, as long as you don't think about what exactly is in it.
Who are your music influences??
PHIL: We really do listen to and integrate a diverse amount of musical styles and influences into our arrangements. Bands like The Presidents of the United States, Weezer, Phish, and Cake would certainly be more modern bands that have influenced our approach. I think you can also very easily see influences from more classic rock bands like Cheap Trick, Rush, Boston, Deep Purple, and The Ramones in our arrangements as well. Because our sound is defined, in many ways, by the keyboards - which are vintage overdriven electric pianos / keytars and Hammond B-3 - many people associate us with early 70's rock. I would say in terms of performance, The Presidents of the United States - whom I've seen a number of times up here in the NorthWest - and Cheap Trick are huge inspirations. Those two bands put on killer performances and everyone should go see them if given the chance.
WILL: My own musical influences include Radiohead, Red Hot Chile Peppers, Crosby Stills and Nash. And I don't think you could really hear any of that in any of Stay Tuned's songs, except for some of the slap bass stuff. When I first started singing backup vocals, I started paying more attention to classic rock singing arrangements like Crosby, Stills and Nash, Boston, Kansas. My bass playing in Stay Tuned is also more influenced by classic rock -- as Phil mentions, we've got a pretty full sound with the keyboard parts, which doesn't leave a lot of room for complex bass lines, or for bass lines that enter into higher ranges. So I really started paying attention to what some of the classic rock bass guys were doing to fill whatever remaining frequencies there were after guitars, keyboards and vocals.
What plans do you guys have for the future??
PHIL: We would like to do more touring and branch out beyond the West Coast. We're looking to do so in 2011. We spent much of 2010 working on our new album and plan on spending 2011 working on playing dates all over the country if we can.
WILL: I'd like to see a more wide-spread consumption of fruit infused waffles. Oh, wait, you meant Stay Tuned. I'd love to see Stay Tuned gain a little more attention. The music is great, the concept is fun, and we are really entertaining to watch. I'd love to tour around the country a bit more.
What has been the greatest day in the band?
PHIL: The day a lovely young lady took her top off for Airwolf. I'm not entirely sure that can be topped. Although performing in front of 1,200+ at The Showbox in Seattle is pretty outstanding.
WILL: Hahahahahaha oh yeah! I forgot about that girl! For me, the day we were featured on the tv show Evening Magazine.
What's the song or album you can't take out of your head (Stop listening)?
PHIL: Recently I've been listening to Medeski, Martin & Wood: Uninvisible and Bill Cosby & Quincy Jones: The Original Jam Sessions 1969. I like the MMW stuff generally. Being a keyboardist who plays vintage keyboards in a trio, I can totally relate and appreciate what they do.
WILL: Recently I have Local Natives' song "Wide Eyes" stuck in my head. They're a local band out of L.A., really fantastic.
What has been the funniest prank you guys have been or took part while on tour or after a show??
PHIL: I can't think of a singular event but when we've been on the road the conversations always go into highly inappropriate territory fairly quickly. In the car. At the hotel. At the gig. Our mothers are a common target. And I've always brought along bags of nuts from Trader Joes to snack on. So there is an onslaught of jokes about snacking on my nuts, my big sack of nuts, a handful of my nuts, etc. Good times.
WILL: Whenever we do a show on or around April Fools, we open up for ourselves as some other comedic tribute band. The first time we did it, we opened up for Portland's The Misfats as Barely Manilow: A Barry Manilow Experience and we performed Mandy. Later, we dressed up in doctor's scrubs and did a version of Jesse's Girl as the fictitious Rick Springfield tribute band Dr. Drake. Most recently we opened up for a local comedy night, and Phil had a stroke of genius for a fake tribute band: we were "AC/Richie" and we did a combined version of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" and Lionel Richie's "All Night Long." We had to do some serious shopping for Catholic School Boy shorts and funny hats. I'm lobbying for our next fake tribute to be Iron Money, and combine Iron Maiden's "Two Minutes to Midnight" and Eddie Money's "Two Tickets to Paradise."
If you guys were stranded in the middle of nowhere after a show or while on tour. The help is 65 miles away from where you guys are, ¿Who would you guys send to look for help? And if while the rest wait, there's no food and the only way to feed yourself is by eating each other, ¿Who would you eat first?
PHIL: To answer the last question first, I think I'd probably be the first person to be cooked and eaten. I have a nice layer of fat that would sear nicely. And, according to Emeril, fat equals flavor. So I'd be tasty. As far as who I'd send to look for help? Probably the drummer. In the big scheme of things, he's easier to replace by modern machinery than the rest of us.
WILL: I don't know if I could eat Phil. He'd be way too spicy, with the amount of Tabasco, spicy chili, and jalapeños that man eats. I'd probably be sent for help, as Phil is notorious for his lack of sense of direction (almost 10 years in Seattle and he still can't find his way to Greenlake from our studio in SoDo.) And, as Phil mentioned, the drummer is the most expendable, so we'd eat the drummer.
"How many drummers does it take to screw in a light-bulb? –None, they have machines that do that now."
What are your hobbies?
PHIL: This is my hobby :). I walk a lot. Love to walk, hate to drive. I am a big baseball fan in spite of the Mariners performance. I lead a fairly boring lifestyle if I can manage it.
WILL: I started an originals band called Altin Jimbiz last year. So between Stay Tuned and Altin Jimbiz, I'd say music borders between hobby and part time job. I'm also an artist, I draw and paint a bit. And I'm pretty good at playing darts.
What country you guys would love to play?
PHIL: Japan. I am convinced that we would be big in Japan. They seem to have very eclectic tastes and we're a pretty eclectic band. Seems like the perfect match.
WILL: New Jersey. At least, NJ seems like an exotic 'other' country. Australia. I'd love to play Australia. I think the Aborigines would totally get us.
With what bands you guys would love to share stage??
PHIL: The Presidents of the United States. Cheap Trick. Weezer. Phish. Those would probably be my top four. I feel like they share our approach to music. They have fun. And they - as well as their audience - would appreciate what we're doing. Plus I would love to meet those guys.
WILL: Honestly, anyone who would put up with our amazing B.O.
Are you guys OK, with the direction the band is moving so far?
PHIL: I think our goal is to get bigger. Play all over. We've accomplished a lot on our own and are really looking to partner up with a label or agency to help take us to the next level. So that's one of our primary goals over the next year is to work at playing more shows, in more cities, and spread the good word of television.
WILL: Yes, and my gut says that our immediate direction isn't too clear. Phil and I have a pretty good sense of what we want to have happen, and can envision where we want to be, but we're having difficulty getting there. We have some work cut out for us to keep on track. But as Phil mentions, playing more shows in more cities, and for larger audiences.
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