I first met Zeke Virant when I was living in the East Village after my first year of college. Virant was living nearby with a model who liked to cook biscuits and gravy. He would frequently pop over to my tiny sixth-floor walk up. We’d cram into the little bedroom I shared with a friend and play god knows what with a bass and 3 drums. Those were the days. Virant’s musical gifts were immediately apparent. He had an amazing ear for slinking bass lines and liked to play around with extended techniques (including, but not limited to playing the bass with a spoon). We only had a summer of musical interaction, but that was long enough for me to realize that I had encountered someone truly special.
Virant went on to study poetry and music at Bard college, a hotbed of young artistic activity along the Hudson. Under the tutelage of the formidable critic and composer Kyle Gann, among others, he developed some serious compositional chops, going on to write an absolutely killer opera (as he put it, “a chamber ensemble with chorus in a story-telling psychological thing opera” ) including the personae Peppermint Man, Shades McGlenn, and Shades’s band—The Wobbler (drums), The Doctor (guitar) and Taps Fahrenheit (bass). He also developed a killer work ethic. A friend once told me that Virant refused to party on a Friday night because he was reading about Mahler. “Why are you reading about Mahler,” my friend asked, “if you hate him so much?” “Because I hate him!” responded Mr. Virant.
The picture I’ve painted here might not match the accompanying musical material. In a way, however, the stylistic diversity (and sense of humor) on display here are an even further testament to Virant’s abilities. Take A-side “Baby, Don’t Cry,” a wonderful 50s-inflected ditty. Barely hanging together, admirably casual, it’s not unlike the booze-soaked tapes of Beck’s Mellow Gold or the psilocybin pastiche of Ween. Plus, you gotta love any song with enough vocal fuzz to make pipes sound like a synthesizer.
B-side “How Much Corn Can You Put Up Your Nose?” follows genre-hopping suit, this time venturing into the realm of kinky techno. The title is ridiculous, the lyrics are ridiculous (I bet you can guess them without even hearing the song), but the song avoids total silliness by virtue of its awesomeness. All in all, it’s a pretty inventive arrangement with crazy-sounding and hilarious acid synths. Outstanding!
Talking to Virant, I’m reminded of the avant-garde/pop, serious/kitsch dichotomies of Frank Zappa, a man who wrote songs about fellatio in Spanish and compositions conducted by Pierre Boulez in the same career. “I like to do a lot of different music, not styles (ain’t got none), but performance situations. Sometimes the garage-band rock band thing (The Triangle Goons), sometimes, sometimes I will dress up as an old burnout performer named Shades McGlenn and tell stories and sing songs. I was born in Georgia in the middle of nowhere, but I’ve been away from that long enough that it’s hard to claim I’m a “Southerner” in a musical sense. I mean, I like the Allman Brothers Band, but I sort of fucked that up by going to school, so of course, now I listen John Cage and Mozart a whole lot, too. I do a lot of writing because it’s supposed to be a whole lot of things working towards one goal. Prince and Jimmy Page are Prince and Led Zeppelin not because they just played guitar or wrote songs. Those motherfuckers put on makeup and dragon suits, spent years developing a personal style of recording their music and making a sound, AND they wrote and played the music to incorporate it all. So, what I’m trying to do is to try to figure out a way of incorporating poetry people would otherwise not read, with music people would not listen to, with a body that no one would desire, and work with it!”