It's a family affair

Oct 7, 2009 at 12:00 am

It's a Friday night in Ferndale. The family is gathered around the table. There are glasses of wine, stacks of French fries, sandwiches being shared, coloring books and blankies at the ready, talk of pre-school and minivans. Except this night, the table happens to be at the Emory Bar. And the family is the core trio — Gene Corduroy, Nathaniel Burgundy IV and Bem — that is Computer Perfection, the pop outfit that's set to release its cinematic, baroque and dreamy debut full-length album, We Wish You Well on Your Way to Hell, this week. Corduroy and Bem, you see, are married. And Burgundy shares a house with the couple. Also joining us is Corduroy and Bem's pre-school aged daughter.

"She's in the band," deadpans Bem. "She knows all the lyrics to the songs and sings them to the tune of songs she's learning at school."

It should be said that these three curious, engaged aesthetes and artists can shift seamlessly from everyday domestic concerns to discussing Ray Bradbury, Russian cinema and designer textiles. They're a marvelously engaging crew and such aptitude verily shines through on the album.

If the principals' names ring familiar, it may be as members of another family — the curious assemblage of wondrous musical misfits that was Pas/Cal. As far as musical tribes go, there are few that can match the diaspora of that now-defunct baroque pop crew of maestros. Consider that members of that group are part of, or contribute to, scene-luminary outfits such as Zoos of Berlin, Hidden Ghost Balloon Ship and Johnny Headband and you've got a pretty solid set of descendents. Now you can add another branch on the ol' family tree — this one belonging to Computer Perfection. 

The story of Computer Perfection begins with a return. Several years ago, Corduroy and Bem had moved to New York City during one of Pas/Cal's many extended hiatuses. They lived there for a couple of years before returning to Michigan to start a family. Corduroy had been kicking around a few songs and sketches in demo form and he was eager to share them with his pal, Burgundy. Turns out that wasn't such a difficult task. When Corduroy and Bem bought a house in Ferndale, Burgundy happened to be looking for a place to live. Thus began a yearlong recording collaboration that found the trio working (whenever the fancy struck) on a batch of songs that mix light whimsy with grand, ambitious arrangements; psychedelic folk with synth-driven krautrock influences; literary snapshots with abstract lyricism. 

"It wasn't like we had to sit around waiting for a call to come to the studio," Corduroy smiles.

So what began as a couple demos evolved into an organic and loose-but-driven approach to making a bona fide album

"There were a few times that we considered just stopping and getting an EP out and then going from there," Corduroy says — echoing his former band's penchant for releasing EP after EP while perfecting its sole (gorgeous, ambitious, worthwhile) full-length for release just before Pas/Cal essentially ended.

As the new tracks started to take form — with the three resident band members contributing vocal and instrumental bits and pieces as time allowed — they eventually roped in Pas/Cal drummer LTD and mutual friend Monica Breen for some percussion and bass assists, respectively. (LTD has since moved to Chicago, with Aaron Quillan taking his place in the live lineup. Steve McCauley — also from Scarlet Oaks — joins the band on bass, further evolving the carefully crafted jams into a more organic and ever-fresh form.)

"At one point, we had around 22 songs," Burgundy says, "so we weren't short on material. We definitely had a goal of creating a cohesive album."

Bem recalls balancing the writing and recording process with an anecdote about harmonizing along with Burgundy and Corduroy while she was upstairs bathing their daughter, as Dad and Uncle Burgundy were downstairs working through new song parts. "Mommy, stop that!" she recalls being counseled by their toddler. 

The group's two songwriters are a portrait in contrasts. Although they are both trim and as sharp-witted as they are sharp-dressed, they respond to inquiries as differently as they create their music. Neither is anything close to taciturn, but Burgundy is the Chatty Cathy of the gang. And that makes sense, considering his approach to the lyrical contributions that ended up on We Wish You Well.

"I was writing these very direct ‘this is what's happening to me,' first-person lyrics — not like singer-songwriter or anything, but very direct and personal," Burgundy says. But when he and Corduroy started working together on the record, he got a kick in the pants, lyrically.

"Gene's approach is so totally different and I think I learned from that."

In contrast, Corduroy considers each question asked of him with a direct look and a couple-beat pause. His shaved head, angular face and grounded demeanor are a complement to Burgundy's velveteen gregariousness. He is, after all, the dude who came back to town with a handful of songs that became a record.

In the space between waking and dreaming, between hearing clearly and misinterpreting, between consumption and connection — these are the slippery interzones from which curious art often springs. And it's certainly a part of the play involved with Computer Perfection.

"I keep a text document open all day," says Corduroy, an architect by trade. "So, whenever I hear anyone say something interesting or even mishear a lyric from a song that's on or whatever, I can just type it in. I just love that editing, that moving one phrase close to another and seeing if it works."

When bands say that they're inspired by works outside the realm of music, it's often a vague and diffuse shorthand for moodiness or something inarticulate. Thankfully, Corduroy's perfectly articulate about how film and other works affect his process.

"Don't get me wrong, I love my life," he explains, "but I just don't know if it's interesting enough to inspire lyrics." So he imagines himself — and sometimes his bandmates — as participants in, for example, films by Tarkovsky or the stories of Ray Bradbury. He extrapolates how that context might make him and his friends react. 

When asked about the meaning behind the album's title, Corduroy and Burgundy stress that it's not meant as a jab at anyone but, rather, as a positive way of keeping the crazy shit that goes on outside their world at arm's length.

"We'll be sitting and watching, like, Fox News or something," Burgundy says, waving his hand dismissively, "and I'll say to Gene and Bem, ‘That is so messed-up, but, well, good luck with that!'" So out of ugliness often comes beauty and art. 

There's something charmingly insular about the idea of a group of mild-mannered but artistically driven friends praising with faint damnation the actions of demagogues and lunatics as they prepare to head down to the basement and conjure otherworldly pop music. 

In fact, it's a kind of perfection.

Computer Perfection's CD release party is Friday, Oct. 8, at the Pike Room, 1 S. Saginaw St., Pontiac; 248-858-9333. With White Hinterland and Angela's Clarinet Loop.

Chris Handyside writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]