CNQ: It sounds like you recorded something of a pandemic album just by virtue of that's what was going on at the time. (Six Cans of Olives) covers quarantine, maskless assholes, a vacation to the woods and to the beach, then ends with you back home keeping 6 ft social distance with pigeons wearing masks. Did the material happen organically over the course of the year or did you say "I think I want to record a pandemic album" after things settled down a bit? What did you use to play and record the album?
BOB KATZ (BK): It was really an organic process. The album started right at the beginning of the lockdown here in NYC. My spouse and I had just gotten back from my first-ever Caribbean vacation, where we had spotty internet and couldn’t really tell what was going on in the world. We arrived home to a city in panic, with people hoarding food and other critical supplies. I went to my local supermarket and found almost nothing left. I turned my head and saw a huge shelf of olive cans sitting there, and I started imagining what would happen if the only food that I could find left was olives. Suddenly the phrase “six cans of olives” hit me and the melody came into my head. I ran home with a jar of peanut butter, two loaves of bread (one of which I stuck in the freezer to preserve it just in case), and six cans of olives, got on my computer and started writing the song, Six Cans of Olives. After I recorded it, I started making a video to go with the release. By that time, we were being told to mask up but it was impossible to get a mask anywhere. So we were being encouraged to be creative and to make our own face masks. So in the video I reflected the insanity of that time by wearing insane useless homemade masks including underwear and finally, a jock strap on my face. Then I put out the song “Six Cans of Olives” as a single. It started to do pretty well and it made me realize that I could contribute to the COVID relief effort through my music. So I decided to put out a COVID-themed album. It also gave me a big project to work on to distract myself from the constant anxiety that marked the beginning of the pandemic. In working on the album, I became aware that as an introverted musician, I am uniquely sutied to cope with a lockdown and that in fact, I have coping skills that I could share with others. Hence came the song “Off the Grid”, which ends with the line “I was made for this shit!” The three-song cycle of folks fleeing to the country, then the beach, and then finally running back home came directly out of my envy and schadenfreude around what was going on in NYC during the lockdown. Rich people were fleeing the city for their vacation homes while the rest of us were stuck in our tiny apartments like rats in cages. But then I remembered that the rural vacation areas outside of NYC have really high rates of Lyme Disease tics so I started to imagine what would happen if all these rich folks were to come down with Lyme Disease in addition to COVID. And hence, the song, Corona n’ Lyme, which of course, is also a play on the popular beer named Corona, which is advertised to go really well with lime (it does)! Then I started to read about the strange phenomenon of Great White Sharks being spotted on the shores around NYC, particularly in the wealthy vacation beaches like the Hamptons. So of course, in my envy, I started to imagine these rich people getting eaten by sharks and hence the song, Corona n’ Shark! I recorded and produced the album using Logic Pro 9. I use an M-Audio 49 keyboard and I also plug in my Martin acoustic-electric guitar and my Rode condenser vocal mike.
CNQ: We felt the same way about quarantine, like we were made for it. Both the wife and I are lazy and, while not anti-social, we can go for long periods without social interaction and be just fine entertaining ourselves. I listened to your interview on Radio Kingston where you said you and your spouse were living separately through much of the pandemic and that was difficult for you. I hope it's easier to see each other these days.
BK:Conrad and I have had a bi-borough relationship for 22 years. He lives in Manhattan and I live in Brooklyn. We didn’t see each other for the first 4 months of the lockdown because Conrad is older than me and I was afraid of getting him sick. My neighborhood has done really badly and continues to do badly during the pandemic. Folks are not getting vaccinated and have not been wearing masks indoors, even during the height of the pandemic. Many people have died. When I saw Conrad in person for the first time in 4 months, I started to cry and I just couldn’t stop. Since then, we’ve gone back to spending weekends with eachother and it’s been such a relief.
CNQ: In that same interview you mentioned you are a Joni Mitchell fan. I'm a big fan of hers as well. My favorite album of hers is The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Do you have a favorite Mitchell album or song?
BK: OMG Joni Mitchell is my God! If I had a nickel for every time I answered a question with ‘as Joni Mitchell said…’, I would be a very wealthy person. I’m completely obsessed with all of her albums, including The Hissing of Summer Lawns (I own a vinyl copy), but I would have to say the album that I listen to most when I get down is that old standby, Blue. The song The Last Time I Saw Richard, moves me to no end.
CNQ: You mentioned a wide range of artists you listen to now -- what artists did you grow up listening to? What radio stations?
BK: I’m such a lyrics person, so the confessional singer-songwriters of the 70’s (e.g., Janis Ian, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Sandy Denny, Joni Mitchell, Richard and Linda Thompson, Paul Simon) drew me like a magnet. When I was 9, my older sister brought home a copy of Carly Simon’s album, We Have No Secrets, and it changed my life. When the song, The Carter Family, came on, I started crying and I played that song over and over again. Something about the music combined with the lyrics and the vocals was so powerful to me. That’s why my fantasy was always to be a singer-songwriter in the confessional folk rock vein, and I started out working with Pete Kennedy, from the great folk rock duo, The Kennedys. In fact, Pete produced my first album, When Good Mangos Go Bad, which I recorded under the artist name, Bob Katz. But even though the album was an underground success, particularly in the punk and even heavy metal circles (I was asked to be a regular on a radio show run by the band Twisted Sister), I was considered too raw for most of the folk rock set and I knew that this was not the genre for me. I was a genre-less cowboy for a while, running the most prominant singer-songwriter coffeehouse in NYC for over 6 years and even writing, producing, and performing a one-man Off-Broadway musical theater piece called Quasimango, The Lunchbox of Notre Dame. But a vocal injury sustained during the unamplified Quasimango piece led serendipidously to my experimenting with hip-hop and rap when I wrote and recorded the song, Caught in a Butt Sandwich. The song and particularly the accompanying video, became such an expected cult hit (> 100,000 views on Google+, etc.) that I was convinced to put out a hip-hop album entitled Caught in a Butt Sandwich, which also became a hit (year end top-ten lists, etc). I became aware of rap music at the age of 15, when I first heard the song, The Message, by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five on the radio. I was totally blown away and it showed me how powerful rap could be as a means of communicating truth in song. The crazy thing is it was not till later that year that I realized that my own sister was referenced in the lyrics of The Message, in the lines, “they pushed that girl in front of the train, took her to the doctor sewed her arm on again.” In a famous bit of NYC history, my sister, Renee Katz, a flutist who had just been admitted to the New England Conservatory of Music, was pushed in front of a subway train on her way to the High School of Music and Art. Her hand was severed and later reattached in one of the first microsurgery operations in history. I loved the song The Message, but it was traumatizing to hear my sister’s assault being referenced over and over again on the radio. I make reference to this bizarre situation in my song, The Good Old Days, which is the 2nd song on the Caught in a Butt Sandwich album. I actually believe that The Good Old Days is the best song that I’ve written thus far, although I also think that its rawness makes some people uncomfortable, I guess like most of my stuff!
CNQ: With things opening back up, do you have plans to play any live venues any time soon? (Note: this interview was conducted shortly before the Omnicron wave exploded in the States -- Matt)
BK: I’d love to do a tour, especially of Canada, where the album has been a particular success (e.g., it went to #2 on Canadian hip-hop chart), but I don’t think it’s going to happen for a while. Most of the places where I normally play haven’t opened up yet and I’m still very wary about taking off my mask indoors with folks I don’t know, particulary with the apparent infectiousness of the Omiron variant.
CNQ: The humor in your songs may make more sensitive listeners blanche, I would imagine, but from what I've heard you're never punching down. I also tend to work "blue" with my songwriting, but I'm always worried I may unintentionally offend someone, even tho my #1 rule is "don't punch down." Do you worry at all about offending people with raunchy or crass lyrics, and have you ever encountered someone at a live show who took offense at something you never would have thought would piss off anybody?
BK: Yes, this is such a big issue for me Matt! If I had a dime for every time I’ve been disinvited to a gig after I’ve been booked because of something someone heard on the internet, I’d be rich by now. One time in my folk rock days when I was performing a song I wrote called Kick in the Teeth, about being physically and emotionally abused by my father, I dropped an F-bomb and an entire row of the audience immediately walked out in mass! I could not believe it. One time, I asked the great singer-songwriter Cliff Eberhardt about my concern that I would hurt members of my family with my music and I’ll never forget his response. He looked me in the eye and he goes, “That’s a muse-killer, man!" So I’ve decided not to let the concern about offending some people stop me from speaking my truth. But I’m no high-minded purist, believe me. I always make an alternative radio-friendly version of my albums because I still want to get played!
CNQ: Can you talk more about your next project after Six Cans of Olives?
BK: I really have no idea what’s next, which is probably a good thing. I’ve written many songs that I’d like to record at some point, so I’ll probably just go back to my instruments and fool around. I’m actually toying with the idea of going back to a more stripped-down folk rock sound on my next album, but hey, you never know…
To purchase Six Cans of Olives, visit: http://www.themangfather.com