Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives
Not As Bad As I’m Making It SoundBy Jacob Schwartz
MIT alums, Honest Bob, have released their first album after more than eight years as a band. The album itself has been a long time in the making -- the first recording session was in February of 1998. Most of the songs were standards in Honest Bob’s set back then, so long-time fans might be a little tired of them by now, but those fans should still appreciate hearing the studio version of these songs and will probably keep the album in heavy rotation longer than they expect.
Honest Bob are prolific writers (with more than 70 original songs). The band has debuted enough new songs since the inception of the album to easily fill two more albums with the same high-quality songs.
The CD, It’s Not As Bad As I’m Making It Sound, contains a fair sampling of Honest Bob styles. There are two “artist tribute” songs -- songs written in the style of a particular musician, with lyrics about that musician so as not to be a total rip-off -- one for Laurie Anderson and the other for Kim Deal (tracing her career from the Pixies, to the Breeders, and on). Despite Honest Bob being very clearly a “nerd rock” band -- in the same class as They Might Be Giants or Weird Al, although sans accordion -- there is only one song on the CD with even mildly explicitly nerdy lyrics (and one occurrence of the word “asymptotic” in another song). Honest Bob has plenty of nerdy songs in their arsenal, so I expect to see a better representation on the next album. There is no dearth of love songs on this album, though -- particularly unrequited love songs, an Honest Bob staple and a requirement for any nerd rock band. The best example, and very representative of Honest Bob, is “All of the Cool Girls,” which boldly asks “why all of the cool girls are gay.” It’s funny because it’s true.
The CD packaging is almost as fun as the music. The back cover features an excerpt from an index associating topics on the album to the tracks in which they appear: Kitchens -- Track 2. Lindbergh, Charles -- Track 4. Love, futility of due to fundamental incompatibilities of hair style -- Track 1. The liner notes include all the lyrics and a little humorous background on each song.
The album doesn’t include any covers, which you’re guaranteed to hear at least one of at an Honest Bob show. If you’re lucky, that will be their 50’s doo-wop version of Nine Inch Nail’s “Head Like a Hole.” Just brilliant. Typical Honest Bob covers include Frank Black’s “Thalassocracy” and HÜsker DÜ’s “Terms of Psychic Warfare,” although frequent attendance at Honest Bob shows is rewarded with rare treats like the theme to Diff’rent Strokes and Trio’s “Da Da Da” song (from the Volkswagon commercial).
Sadly underrepresented on this album are the “sludgy grungy” numbers (as the band has called them), which Honest Bob does so well. One grungy song did make it to the CD: “I Wish I Was Dead,” a love song, believe it or not. Honest Bob played at The Rat, an infamous punk dive in Boston, a month before it closed and in keeping with the venue, they put together a loud and grungy set which has been one of their best in recent memory. Honest Bob would make a brilliant punk band if they wanted to -- they’d have to work on the image, though.
The band is composed of four nerds -- did you expect anything less from an MIT band? You only have to look at the band photos on the album or see what they wear to their shows to convince yourself of this. The lead singer, Dan Schmidt, graduated from MIT in ’91 with a degree in Course 21M -- but he has a programming job, I swear! Greg Huang, who got his PhD in Course VI in ’99, took over from previous bass player and Course VI PhD, John Buck ’96, who left Honest Bob for the more glamorous life as a professor at UMass-Dartmouth. Doug Church, who didn’t finish his degree, plays guitar, and Bill Foster ’92 (also Course VI) plays drums.
The band’s history can be traced back to an East Campus 41st West band, Dr LÜst and the Chiefs of the European Space Agency (and you thought Honest Bob was a strange name). The band started performing covers, but decided to enter the MIT Battle of the Bands original division in 1990 just for kicks. Some of the songs that Dan wrote from this era have carried over to Honest Bob, including “I Wish I Dead.” Much of Dr. LÜst graduated in ’91, leaving Dan, John, and Doug to form a new band, with the addition of Bill on drums. Their first show was Battle of the Bands ’92, which they won, earning them the honor of opening for Violent Femmes at the Spring Weekend concert. Recently, Honest Bob has been playing every several months or so at TT The Bear’s. In ’97 and ’98, they opened for Moxy FrÜvous at MIT. At that show, Moxy heaped praise on the band -- look for them to play some more shows together.
The new album will be available May 20th at a CD Release party at the Cambridge Brewing Company restaurant. Starting on the 21st, fans can order the album online from Honest Bob’s website, <http://www.dfan.org/honestbob/>, where anyone can download two MP3’s from the album and read the lyrics to all 70+ songs.