w/the Figgs, Sgt. Major, Jake Brennan
Tues April 27, Graceland, 9:30 pm, $7.
Sometimes issues need to be dealt with later in life, however guilt-inducing or difficult it may be to do so, so one can get on with one's own life. Which is why, when I heard the song "Charlie," a poignant track on the new Candy Butchers album Hang on Mike, I knew it had to be about Candy Butchers singer and songwriter Mike Viola's mother and her having been raised as an orphan, because my mother was also an orphan. "That's absolutely what that song meant to [say] and was written for myself, you know?" he says via cell phone from Chicago. "You try not to blame, but I came to a point where I had to deal with the fact that my mother may not have known how to be a mother, or a wife even," he explains of the song, noting that she had a hard life. ("Charlie close your weary eyes/it's time to get some rest/This is not a perfect world/but you have done your best/I love you/Get some rest.")
Though the young Viola's first wife passed of cancer, a song he deals with in "Painkillers" ("It's my way of thinking about immortality," he says), this is far from a sappy album. "The first song on the album is about my meeting my new wife," he says, and that song, "What to Do with Michael," clues the listener of these both sad and surprisingly upbeat songs about Audrey, someone he met nearly a decade ago, and then later hooked up with in New York and has been together with ever since. ("She even gets that boy to go to the gym/now if you don't think that's love/you must be cynical.")
On past Candy Butchers albums--1999's Falling into Place, 2002's Play with Your Head--Viola admits that he may have been trying to be clever or obscure with his lyrics, but Hang on Mike is a much more accessible record, bursting with pop and melody. "I think I just found there was a point in my life where I was hitting a wall, everything in my 20s was so down and ironic, not just with my art but with the way I saw life," he tells me philosophically. "But you get older." That's when the great pop songs seem to come out, I tell him, emphasizing my unfailing love of pop. His answer? "Well I guess I'm talking to the right person."
So is he a melody man or a lyric man--because great pop songs usually begin one way or the other. "It's a combination. Sometimes the most [simple] lyric can trigger something in you and the most thought-out lyric can never stand a chance." He believes that for popsters to feel strongly about whether the melody must come first or the lyrics is like "arguing over Paul or John. What's the point?"
Though Play with Your Head is influenced by post-Jam Paul Weller, Viola says that's not the only source for his material. "I listened to a Big Star cassette I found in my glove compartment and I tried to go for that sound," he says proudly. "I was [also] a huge Split Enz fan, so when they split up, and Neil Finn went on to form Crowded House, it was kind of a shock because that first album is so great." It's at this point that we get into a conversation about one of his favorite bands, Squeeze. "They are a heavy influence on me," he says emphatically, "and on this record I've decided to just be unabashed about pulling from my references. Like trying to write a Tom Waits song that breaks my heart. Or a Randy Newman song that did it to me. Squeeze hasn't [written a heartbreaker], so I want to do that."
Viola sings a few lines from "Labelled with Love" from Squeeze's East Side Story, conceding that it comes close to a song that breaks your heart. He also sings snippets of that band's great hangover songs, as well as "Slightly Drunk," off Cool for Cats. Somehow the subject then changes to Vespas, and that he is the proud owner of a 1980 Primavera 125. "They're just like lawnmowers," he says. Suddenly it's sound check and he ends the interview by making me promise to hang out at the show with him to talk about Squeeze and Vespas. I can't wait.