If there’s one thing predictable about Life in a Blender’s Don Rauf, it’s that he will always be unpredictable, and on the group’s latest album, We Already Have Birds That Sing, he remains true to form.
Simply put, where else can you find a song that name checks NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, one that tells the tale of a Japanese burlesque dancer, while still another is presented with the title “Frankenstein Cannot Be Stopped”?
“How many popular songs are out there that say ‘Edward Snowden’ in it right now?” asks Rauf with a laugh. “We’ll see how that flies ten years from now.”
Probably none, but that’s the type of witty wordplay and songwriting expected from Rauf, and when you wrap those lyrics around catchy and quirky pop, that’s, well, Life in a Blender. And I dare you to walk away from listening to these seven tracks without a) chanting GOOD ANSWER or b) Singing Mamanama over and over in your head.
Yeah, these folks aren’t your average band.
“I think our fans tend to be oddballs and eccentric a bit, so they appreciate that it’s more than just a bunch of songs,” said Rauf. “There’s usually a story behind each song, and it’s not just random lyrics. With “Good Answer,” it’s the story of ‘you better stick with what we tell you to say, and everything will be okay.’ To me, that song is a Pink Floyd, “The Wall” kind of thing. And I do feel that there’s a lot of story behind each song and a lot going into each one.”
Case in point, the tale behind the opening track “Tongue-Cut Sparrow” goes way beyond someone sitting in a bedroom whipping up some words for the three chords he thinks he invented.
“There’s this great Bushwick Book Club that’s in Brooklyn that our friend Susan Hwang runs, and it’s sort of become a thing where all these musicians have to write songs based on the written word,” said Rauf. “I was teamed up with this older Japanese writer Mitsu Sundvall, and she had this story about her cousin being a burlesque dancer in the 50s at this club where Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra used to go to. It was a big deal in San Francisco, the Forbidden City. And we sat down, me and Mitsu, and she told me the whole story. And it sounded like a simple story, but for her cousin it was her breaking out of her shell and finding her voice. And your assignment is that you have to take that story and make it into a song. And I thought we came up with a fun song out of it.
“Mitsu loved it,” he adds. “We’ve even got CBGB’s plumber playing sax on that.”
Rauf laughs, and it’s clear that despite over 25 years of Life in a Blender, he’s still loving what he does.
“We’re always excited to put something new out,” said Rauf, who splits his time these days between Seattle and Brooklyn. “I always feel like it’s a fresh new thing. We’re always trying to put out something different and get it out there. You put a lot of work into it, of course, and this time we recorded somewhere totally different from where we usually record, so it had this more organic, natural feel than ever before, and it was a really exciting recording session, so we were excited to get it out there.”
Recorded with Kenny Siegal at Old Soul Studios in Catskill, New York, the new album allowed Rauf and the band (Ken Meyer, Al Houghton, Mark Lerner, Dave Moody, and Rebecca Weiner Tompkins) to not only get a change of scenery, but to get close to their old stomping grounds as well.
“It flowed easily this time,” said Rauf. “It was like going to music camp with friends that you like. (Laughs) We went for this long, long weekend upstate to our friend’s studio, and we grew up in the Hudson Valley, so it had this great vibe to go back to where we started really. It was great to get a jolt that way.”
That jolt gets delivered right back to the fans, and whether you want to shout “Good Answer” during shows or dig into Rauf’s lyrics a little deeper, he’s fine with whatever listeners do, as long as they listen.
“We’ll take fans however we can,” he said. “But all along, we’ve had songs about things that are just a little off the beaten trail, and overall, I think the fans that come out dig in and get into the absurd, weird, fringe topics that we are tapping into.”