Interview With Tony Thaxton of the Bizarre Albums Podcast

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, March 24, 2020 06:55pm | Post a Comment


Tony Thaxton by Brian Keith Diaz
Tony Thaxton by Brian Keith Diaz

By Audra Wolfmann

If you're at all like me (and I have a strong suspicion that you, dear record collector, might be), then you enjoy a deep dive into the dark corners of music history AND you also love a good Novelty album. You grew up cherishing your Dr. Demento collections and World Wrestling Federation LP, but you also burned with questions about that Leonard Nimoy album your parents had next to the hi-fi in the living room. Well, there's a place for us and, of course, it's on the internet in the form of a podcast called Bizarre Albums. Hosted by drummer Tony Thaxton of Motion City Soundtrack, Bizarre Albums serves as a sort of VH1's Behind the Music for the novelties, oddities, and the just plain strange in the wide world of weird records. Since nothing could be farther up Amoeba's alley than celebrating the unexpected vinyl find, we tracked down Tony and asked him about his show and his own record collection.

Amoeba: What makes an album “Bizarre” by your standards?

Tony: Thank you for adding “by your standards”. People have started asking me if certain things qualify as Bizarre Albums Podcastbizarre like I am the authority or something. My point of view with it, and I kind of state this in the show’s intro, is it’s records that make you wonder how and why they even exist…if you were even aware that they existed. It’s usually albums released by actors, athletes, fictional characters, or sometimes they might be when certain bands or artists suddenly took a strange turn in direction. Often times, it’s when someone released an album, but that’s not the thing that people know them for. For example, I had a listener write to me complaining that Ed McMahon’s album wasn’t a bizarre album, it was just a guy who could actually sing somewhat alright covering Broadway show tunes. I would guess that 90% of the population, if not more, is completely unaware that Ed McMahon released an album of music, and even if they were aware, singing is not what you remember Ed McMahon for. So, that’s how I view it, personally.

Amoeba: What sparked the inspiration for you to create this podcast?

Tony: Even though my episodes are only 15-20 minutes long, I spend A LOT of time researching each album. One night before I had started the show, I was up late and found myself going down rabbit holes about strange albums and being shocked at some of the legit musicians and producers involved with so many of them. I would text my friends the weird little factoids I found. I had done some podcasts in the past and I'm also the on-air producer for the Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend podcast, so, I'm not a stranger to podcasts. So, I thought...I'm kind of spending a lot of my free time researching these weird records anyways, so maybe I could do something with that?

I'd always been fascinated by these weird records. Even as a kid, I may have actually owned an album or two that I've covered on the show (Bruce Willis anyone?). I was also obsessed with David Letterman from a weirdly young age and I used to love when he would do the "Dave's Record Collection" segment on his show. So, I think that was also an early inspiration. I had actually started trying to put together my first episode (The Wrestling Album)...figuring out exactly what I wanted to do and see if it would even work. I thought for sure there had to be a podcast already out there doing this, but I was surprised when I couldn't find any. Then one night, I watched the Bathtubs Over Broadway documentary on Netflix and I found it really inspiring, and was the final push I needed to just do it and get this out in the world.

Amoeba: You’ve covered some real curiosities on your show, from Dee Dee Ramone’s rap outing (Standing in the Spotlight, 1989) to Twisted Sister’s Christmas album (A Twisted Christmas, 2006) to the seminal Moog work Mother Earth's Plantasia (1976), and a whole lot in between! Which album have you researched for an episode that surprised you the most.

Tony: I think that it might be tie for me right now. Probably the weirdest/most fascinating ones to me were Jan and Dean Meet Batmanthe Lenny and The Squigtones album and then Jan and Dean Meet Batman. Though the show is a music show, it's almost more of a pop culture show, full of all kinds of weird trivia.

I had no idea Jan and Dean Meet Batman even existed. I just stumbled into it at a record store, so I grabbed it. I was aware of Jan and Dean, but I didn't know a ton about them. I found them fascinating, especially when it came to this album. It was after the 1966 Batman tv show became so popular, they wanted to capitalize on that. The album is a mix of songs and skits. For reasons that don't make sense to me, I never could find out why, they were given permission to write songs using the Batman charaters, but for the skits, they could not. And they didn't find this out until after they had recorded the whole thing. But they proceeded with it. They rerecorded the skits with new, original characters, but the songs are still about Batman. It doesn't really make sense when you put it all together. The record is called Jan and Dean Meet Batman, even has Batman and Robin on the cover, but...they don't ever meet Batman.

I'm kind of a comedy nerd so I loved the things I learned about Lenny and Squiggy. I already thought Michael McKean was one of the coolest people ever, and this really drove that home. Probably my favorite thing that I found for ANY album so far was that Christopher Guest actually played guitar on the album AS Nigel Tufnel. They even did an American Bandstand appearance with him on guitar. And this was still the '70s, several years before Spinal Tap.

Amoeba: Are there any albums you regret researching?

Tony: I wouldn't say REGRET, but some are hard to find a lot of information on because the records kind of came and went without a lot of notice. I try to make the episodes tell a story, so that we see how the record even came to be. So, sometimes I have to focus on the journey that got them there more than the actual album itself. Which, sometimes, leads to plenty of fun facts itself. And even if I find certain albums to be bad, it's important to me to not make fun of them and just tell their story, which I am genuinely fascinated by.

Amoeba: Which albums get the most feedback from listeners?

Tony: It's always surprising to me which ones get the most downloads/most reaction. I had a lot of people Chipmunk Punkrequesting I covered the Joe Pesci album, but once the episode came out, there wasn't a ton of feedback. Probably the one that gets mentioned to me the most is Chipmunk Punk. It's a mix of some people who had the album when they were kids or people that didn't know about the history of The Chipmunks and told me they found it really interesting. I did too, honestly!

Amoeba: Do the musicians or composers ever contact you?

Tony: I'm trying to reach out more to people involved with the albums. Sometimes they're hard to track down and often if it's a really old album, they've passed away. When I covered the Freddy Krueger album (Freddy's Greatest Hits, 1987), I got to chat with Kevin Kelly, the producer. He was a little skeptical at first...he admitted later that he was concerned I would just be someone criticizing the record. But once he learned that I just wanted to learn about the making of the album, he was all for it. Once the episode came out, he emailed me to say how much he enjoyed it and even copied a couple of other people who were on the album on the email, telling me I should speak to them. Also, after my Richard Simmons episode, the daughter of Craig Kampf, who played drums on the album, contacted me. She told me who she was and that her family, including her as a child, were all on the cover of the album! Someone who played on The Munsters album just contacted me as well. No idea how they even found it! It really delights me when it happens.

Amoeba: How do you find your bizarre albums?

Tony: It's a combination of a few things. Some of them I knew about already. Some of them have come from listener suggestions; I'm always excited to get those. They've tipped me off to some good stuff. But a lot of the time, I just dig at record stores! So many records have come from just stumbling into them, like what had happened with Jan and Dean Meet Batman.

Amoeba: I bet your time on the road touring with your band Motion City Soundtrack has led you to some interesting vinyl finds. What’s the weirdest record you’ve found while out on the road?

Tony: Admittedly, doing the digging is a bit of a newer thing for me. Like I said, I'd always been fascinated The Munstersby them, but wasn't necessarily buying them before. But I like to have a physical copy so that I get the full experience and can read all of the liner notes. When we were on tour this past January, every day when I woke up, I would immediately go and find some coffee and do a search to see if there were any record stores nearby. I definitely came home with a lot of records I wasn't aware of. I found Dallas Cowboys Christmas when I was in Seattle. Pretty happy about that one. And not to sound like I'm kissing too much ass here, but I had some great finds when I stopped by Amoeba Berkeley!

Amoeba: Do you remember the first album you ever bought?

Tony: I was also very into music at a very young age. The first album, well, cassette that I remember picking out on my own was Weird Al in 3-D. I was only like 6 years old, but I knew who he was and I wanted it, so my parents let me buy it. I liked music and I liked comedy, so, some things never change, I guess. And life is pretty insane sometimes. A couple of years ago, I actually got to play drums with Weird Al on a song for this variety show I was playing in the house band for. Sorry, I'll take any chance I can to tell that story. It was such a surreal moment.

Amoeba: Has Novelty or Comedy music had much influence on your musical life?

Tony: For sure! Like I said, Weird Al was always a big one for me. I remember discovering the Dr. Demento show by accident when I was a kid and tried to listen as often as I could. I was also super into The Monkees and The Muppets too. Then as I got older I loved Spinal Tap. I would love when The Simpsons would do songs in episodes. These days, I love comedy groups like The Lonely Island and The Sloppy Boys. Again, life is crazy sometimes. I was a fan of the comedy band Don't Stop or We'll Die. It's Paul Rust and Michael Cassady (from Comedy Bang Bang and the Netflix show, Love) and Harris Wittels. Really fun, silly, catchy songs. Unfortunately, Harris sadly passed away a few years ago. When they started to play shows again, they asked me to play with them. So, now I even get to be a small part of the comedy music world!

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