"It's like David Bowie in the '70s for me, every day."
Sean Parrott is joking — but that's what he does. The local stand-up comedian is not spending his days bedecked in sequins, snorting cocaine and pondering arachnids from other planets while John Lennon screams in the background. Well, he could be, but we'd prefer not to imagine him in a shiny unitard. That image could induce brain damage. What were we saying?
Oh yeah, Sean Parrott makes jokes. And music. But not the kind of joke-music you would expect from, say, a writers' round in Donelson or the Scientology open mic. Nope, Parrott makes music that's supposed to be funny. For the past year he's been cranking out a song a week, entirely self-recorded and self-produced, crossing boundaries of sound and genre in search of good gags and a creative challenge.
"I don't know how to get people to do things, so being in a band is confusing to me," Parrott tells the Scene. "I don't understand how people make it happen. I can't convince my friends to come over to my house just to watch movies, so I don't want to have to have people learn songs and stuff. There aren't many chords, really, but even the few get confusing."
While Parrott may downplay his skills as a musician — comedians aren't a group known for their healthy self-esteem — and the recordings, lovingly compiled on the new Songs About Sad Stuff and Snacks, may favor immediacy over fidelity, Parrott has a knack for the entertainingly absurd. Be it the splatter-prog ghost story of "Hon Choo" and its industrial-synth-pop sequel "Hon Choo Too (Hell)," the randy skewering of masturbatory Libertarian material on "Ron Paul's Balls!" or the lo-fi '80s R&B of "Misery," Songs About Sad Stuff and Snacks flies into far-flung corners of the music world and laughs in the face of cohesion.
"The hardest part was when I would feel like I had a song — and then when I started recording it — that I hated it, and it was the day I was supposed put it on the Internet," says Parrott. "So then I'd have to make something else happen, and those were usually the 30 punk-rock songs. Those aren't tough to bang out — just talk about how the government sucks and how pizza is cool."
Songs may ostensibly be a comedy record, but it's not a record of cheap parodies and easy jokes. There is a bizarre slow burn to the punch line in the Gregorian organ goth of "Attack of the Attacking Chipmunks!" and a strange poignancy to the pastoral whistling of "One State Two State Red State Blue State" and its pointed critique of our democratic system. It's occasionally hard to believe that Parrott isn't a serious songwriter: He's got an ear for hooks and a way with arranging that belies his claims of non-musicianship. But then he starts to sing about his cat and "middlefingerbanging."
Just like Bowie in the '70s.