It’s a rare discovery these days — an artist whose larger than life presentation isn’t an exaggeration of his everyday existence. Ladies and gentlemen, allow us to introduce Bill Cleere. Has he made some terrible career decisions? Sure. Has he experienced love and loss on an epic scale? Yes. Did he once dive out of the window of his ex-wife’s moving car to try to hook up with friends on their way to Benihana? Absolutely.
The absurdity, the grandiosity and the reality of Cleere’s experience lives and breathes in the tracks of this album, but that doesn’t mean he can’t rock like Jerry Lee Lewis (the Girl from NYC), give Sir Elton a run for his money on bar-room, honky-tonk piano action (Labor Day), or bust out a 70s-style AM-radio ballad for the ages to make Billy Joel jealous (Goodnight Moon).
Approaching the recording of these songs was tricky. Go too epic, and the production would actually diminish the power of the sentiment; go too indie and run the risk of committing Ben Folds-isms we don’t want to repeat. The “We” in this case is Cleere’s band and friends, collectively referred to as “The Marvellous Fellas.” Drummer Charlie Crabtree has been a part of the band for years, and bassist Khoi Huynh joined the project more recently after backing the likes of Chris Von Sneidern and John Wesley Harding.
Actually, both Crabtree and Huynh also hold down the rhythm section of San Francisco coed popsters The Corner Laughers and their psychedelic alter-ego Agony Aunts. With help from Karla Kane (also of the Corner Laughers and Agony Aunts on vocals and ukulele), producer Allen Clapp (of the Orange Peels, helping out on backing vocals, mellotron and percussion) and KC Bowman (Agony Aunts, Corner Laughers pitching in on guitar and backing vocals), the MFs needed a plan of action to suit the uniqueness of the material.
We’re kind of tired of tongue-in-cheek retreads being passed off as the next big thing, and we’ve maxed out our tolerance for the sound of over-processed, pitch-corrected, click-tracked over-producitons. So we tried to do the right thing with this album: record it live in the studio in a single, marathon session.
The core of the band did just that. Piano-based power trio Cleere, Crabtree and Huynh blazed through 10 songs in a long Labor Day end-of-summer recording session that captured the performances you hear on the album. Some vocals were captured live, some overdubbed later that night. An impromptu backing vocal session also ensued late that night, capturing the sleep-deprived and impossibly haunting sounds you hear on the final chorus of “Goodnight Moon.”
Keeping it real was the key. As a result, you might hear something rarely heard in modern rock: mistakes. Think of them as rare gems gifted to you by a band playing together, tearing it up, feeling the music in the moment.
It’s time to check your sarcasm at the door and leave your irony in that stale glass of chardonnay you poured back in 1995: William Cleere and the Marvellous Fellas have arrived.