Musician and composer Andy Paley:
A lot of hard work goes into making one of these monthly performances. Certain aspects of the process are like a well-oiled machine because we’ve been doing it so long, but every month there are new bits, songs, characters, etc which we have to incorporate so they fit in just right. This week’s podcast “The Piano Has Been Thinking” is our first big musical episode. Acker and Blacker and I have always talked about doing an episode like this where characters burst into song. So what you hear in this particular episode are some new songs, bits of music, and some songs you’ve heard in previous episodes – but you’ve never heard them like this before.
The Andy Paley Orchestra consists of a rotating cast of characters with some hard-core regulars.
At a typical show, we’ll have 4 musicians on the stage. We’re able to call that an orchestra without being disingenuous because most of the players play a number of instruments, therefore we’re able to add more depth and color to our music. I try to find musicians who can double, triple or quadruple on instruments.
For instance, Mike Bolger, one of our regulars, plays trumpet, melophone, tuba, accordion, organ and piano. He can even play the trumpet and the accordion at the same time. Mike Uhler joins us fairly regularly and plays bass, cello, melodica, guitar and trumpet. Two years ago Mike picked up the musical saw, which is exactly what it sounds like. The only difference between a musical saw and a regular saw is that the musical saw has no teeth and is played with a violin bow by bending the saw while you’re bowing it. As you bend it the notes get higher. Also you cannot cut a 2 x 4 with it. In the Thrilling Adventure Show, whenever you hear eerie sounding ethereal “oohs,” that’s not a Theremin, it’s either Mike Uhler playing the saw or Annie Savage in her highest register.
I play various keyboards, guitar, harmonica, castanets and autoharp in the show. I seem to always be there (unless I’m cruising the Bahamas or the Italian Rivera with SpongeBob & the Hi-Seas). Jonathan Dinerstein and Becky Ward are nearly always there, although they did miss a show to go on their honeymoon (selfish). Jonathan does the charts for the show, plays the piano and writes out the cue sheets so the musicians know where and what to play in the show. Becky is a brilliant violinist who also sings beautifully and doubles on glockenspiel, which comes up more than you might think.
Ben Jaffe who you may know as half of the power-pop, heart-throb duo Honeyhoney has been a fairly constant member of our ensemble. Ben is a great guy to have on hand because he’s a really solid drummer who also plays guitar and keyboards and sings. Jordan Katz plays trumpet and banjo and is one of our regulars. Other members include Jillinda Palmer, Brittney Westover, Jeff Lass, Charles Burns, James King (when he’s not on tour with Fitz and the Tantrums) and Scott Healey and Mark Pender of Conan O’Brien’s Basic Cable Band.
When Honeyhoney is on the road or friend Barre Duryea fills in on drums and percussion. Barre is also a great guy to have around when there’s a loose wire or a broken guitar string. He helps us put this podcast together too.
“Andy Paley Orchestra Fanfare” and “Buddies”
The first thing you hear in this week’s podcast (and in every podcast) is the “Andy Paley Orchestra Fanfare.” While Brian Stack introduces the show and the players, Mike Bolger and Mike Uhler play the horn lines, Ben Jaffe does a timpani roll and the rest of the band joins in. We segue into an instrumental version of “Buddies,” a song which longtime Thrilling Adventure fans will recognize from our earlier shows when it was sung as a duet by Annie and Hal.
“Red Planet Rodeo” and “Sparks Nevada”
The next instrumental music you hear is called “Red Planet Rodeo.” That’s me playing the tremolo (spaghetti western guitar) and Mike Uhler and Jordan Katz playing mariachi trumpets on the bridge. This segues into the “Sparks Nevada” theme which was written by Eban Schletter, featuring Marc Evan Jackson’s lead vocal and Annie Savage doing her best Theremin imitation.
During the next narration, we do a very slow, rubato version of “Red Planet Rodeo.” We use this theme a lot under the narration.
“Haunted Saloon Piano”
The first scene takes place in the saloon. It’s lucky for us that Largo’s piano is an old upright which happens to have a fairly rare attachment which is sometimes referred to as a mandolin bar. This is basically a strip of metal which can be lowered with a lever to rest across the strings, thus giving the piano a metallic, tinny, saloon-like sound. We use this whenever the action takes place in a saloon. That’s Jonathan Dinerstein playing.
“I Don’t Want No Trouble In My Place”
This song addresses the barkeep’s primary concern. The title is self explanatory. Josh Malina as our worry-wart barkeep sells the song beautifully. You can hear me playing harmonica and Drew Taubenfeld playing dobro guitar pretty clearly on this recording.
“Haaaaalp!” (Not to be confused with The Beatles song with a similar title)
It’s great to hear Craig Cackowski’s panic-stricken, scaredy-cat reading of this Thrilling Adventure Show classic.
John DiMaggio, Autumn Reeser, Ellin Hampton, David Fury, Grant Lee Phillips, and Emma Danoff take over the stage as Los Banditos Mutantes. Their presence is intimidating and their resonant pipes are enough to fill the theater with a sense of impending doom. You can almost see the goose bumps on the first few rows every time they walk on stage. Mike Uhler and Jordan “Fur Face” Katz are playing those mariachi trumpets and that’s Ben Jaffe on the castanets.
“I’m Gonna Kill You Someday”
Ben Acker called and said that he wanted to collaborate with me on a “big ballad” in the style of “Somewhere Out There.” I said, “Is it okay if I write something that I’m going to like?” This is typical of our collaborative process. The title he gave me was “I’m Gonna Kill You Someday” and it was to be a duet between Sparks and the one who’s gunning for him, Techs, sung as though it were on a split screen. When Acker came over a few days later, I already had the skeleton of the song done. After 2 or 3 hours we almost had the rest of it. Let me give you an illustration of why Ben Acker is a great collaborator: at one point, we were stuck on how to end the bridge. I asked “Is it too stupid to say ‘if killing you is right, then how can killing you be wrong?’” Ben said “Not only is it stupid, it’s sooo stupid that I’m putting it in right now.” This is why you want to write songs with Ben Acker. We had the song almost finished. But we still needed a two-syllable word ending with the long “a” sound for the opening of the song. One option: “Where are you hiding today?” (Boring.) Another option: “Where are you hiding, Jose?” (Not his name.) But we really couldn’t find the right word. “Where are you hiding, Hombre?” occurred to me at 3 in the morning. I emailed Blacker. He said, “That’s perfect.”
It’s really gratifying to hear the audience reaction on this recording. Whenever you get to hear Marc Evan Jackson singing as Sparks, it’s a treat, and J.K. Simmons, with his seasoned Broadway chops, really hits it out of the park.
“Written in the Stars”
“Written in the Stars” is a song I had partially written many years ago which was lying around collecting dust. Ben Blacker and Ben Acker wanted something romantic and sentimental for the show and I was reminded of this song. I always intended for it to be in the vein of “The Three Bells” which was sung by Jim Ed, Bonnie and Maxine Brown (The Browns), or “The Orphan’s Lament” which is an old country/folk song. I’m really proud of what the three of us came up with. Where else in 2012 are you going to hear lyrics like “though hoary snow and wind did blow / their hearts knew not the storm”? You can hear me on the autoharp and Mike Uhler on the church bells, Becky on the glockenspiel and Drew playing steel guitar on this sentimental ballad. Busy and Nathan do a super job putting this one across.
“Poor Me (Pour Me Another)”
This is another great Ben Acker title. We’ve written a few drinking songs together, most notably “Here’s To Us” for Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster to sing as Frank and Sadie Doyle. This is the first country drinking song we ever wrote. I was happy to get the word “botheration” into a song. In the original version, Annie Savage sang this all the way through with her sad, sweet country twang, but as scripts change and storylines shift, it was necessary to have this version split between 3 actors: Mark Gagliardi, Josh Malina and Annie Savage. (Annie Savage groupies can scour the internet looking for her version – I’m not sure it’s out there but it should be and someday it will be, I promise.) You can hear Becky on the fiddle and some pretty steel guitar by Drew.
“Cantinela Peligrosa Numero Dos”
Los Banditos Mutantes re-enter the scene for an encore of the ever-popular “Cantinela Peligrosa.”
“Getting Nowhere Fast”
In the 1970s, I wrote “Getting Nowhere Fast” for The Charmettes, a girl group of four teenagers from Roxbury, Massachusetts. I later worked on it with The Shangri-Las. Neither version was ever released. Ben Blacker and Ben Acker needed a romantic song for the show and when they described the emotion that they were trying to convey, I offered the title to them. So the three of us re-wrote my old song to be sung as a duet. Linda Cardellini and Marc Evan Jackson do a bang-up job in this rendition.
Broadway style medley reprise
Since this episode was like a Broadway show, Acker and Blacker asked me for a big overture/finale. Although I’m a fan of many songs from Broadway shows, I’ve never been a big fan of overtures or any medleys or, as they’re called now, mash-ups. I also was very worried about performing anything complicated. Broadway shows have weeks of rehearsal leading up to their performance. We only had time to do three rehearsals: two at my house and one at Largo on the day of the show, and not all of the actors could attend every rehearsal. Coward that I am, I handed the arrangement duties over to Jonathan Dinerstein who did a mind-blowingly great job, and even though I’m still not a fan of medleys, I can honestly say that I almost like the end result.
“Cantinela Peligrosa Numero Tres”
Los Banditos Mutantes are back yet again.
“Poor Me (Pour Me Another)”
“Poor Me (Pour Me Another)” comes up a couple more times. One version is sung by John Hodgman as the saloon piano dying. Hodgman breaks your heart in this touching death scene. The next and final version is by Annie as the saloon doors. I love how she milks it.
“Red Planet Rodeo” and “WorkJuice Anthem”
We play a little bit of “Red Planet Rodeo” which segues into an instrumental version of the “WorkJuice Anthem.”
I hope these notes have given you some insight into the creative process that we go through to write and perform this show.
I have a blast doing it!
Grant-Lee Phillips, David Fury, and John DiMaggio as Los Banditos Mutantes.
Josh Malina, Mark Gagliardi, Marc Evan Jackson, Linda Cardellini.