Have An Okay Time With Claire And The Potatoes: The Songs | Easy Ear Training

Have An Okay Time With Claire and the PotatoesOrlando-based singer-songwriter Marc Sirdoreus is best known as Marc With a C, writing and performing catchy and distinctive indie pop music. His latest project sees him performing in a 4-piece band, Claire and the Potatoes, along with Leslie Rising, Guy Larmay and Jim Myers.

Their debut album, “Have An Okay Time With Claire and the Potatoes”, is due out next month. After hearing a pre-release version I was itching to interrogate him! About the song-writing process, collaborating with other musicians after a solo career, about the remarkable sound of the record and about how he trained his ears to the point of being able to create such excellent music.

To give you a taste of the album here’s the new video for one of its tracks, I Wanna Be Your Shadow:

Marc was kind enough to share plenty of details and insights into the creation of this album. Whether you’re a song-writer yourself, play in a band, want to develop your ear for recording, or are simply curious to know the process and challenges in creating an album, I know you’ll find this interesting and useful for your own musical development.

Here is the first of four excerpts from that conversation, focusing on the concept of the album and the song-writing behind it.

Q: As Marc With a C, you write these great idiosyncratic lyrics that often surprise the listeners with their vocabulary and turns of phrase. On Have An Okay Time With Claire and the Potatoes, was “Honey You” one that you wrote the lyrics for?

Marc: Yes, I wrote all of Honey You.

Q: I ask because the song features some strikingly modern lyrics – referring to Twitter and Foursquare, for example. Did you have a second thought about those references when you wrote it? Or do you go with what makes sense now and trust that it will work as well in, say, 30 years as it does now?

That’s a good question and it actually opens up a big can of worms.

When Leslie and I decided to work together and do original material… I am highly influenced by Brill Building songwriters – y’know, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Leiber and Stoller. And often they were writing songs for a 20 something girl to sing, while not actually relating to the experiences of 20 year old girls – as they were men! But what they did was effective. They sold en masse and women of those time heard it and went “I get it,” and they never gave a second thought to the fact that it was a man behind the veil writing those things. I wanted to try my hand at that sort of throwback sound because I love the feel of that time. But for 2014.

I didn’t really feel like anyone was doing that now. It took a lot of speaking to Leslie about her experiences, not very specific ones, but more experiences as a woman in general and things that she had noticed and I would interpret those into lyrics and then give them back to her for her to interpret vocally any way that she’d like to.

Q: That’s really interesting. Could you tell us more about that concept?

The impetus for Claire and The Potatoes as a concept is that there are two members of Claire and The Potatoes.

There is Claire, a confused 20-something girl who has the influences of, what we deal with here in America quite often are these 50s family values of “You must have a child by this age, you must be settled down by this age, you must graduate college by this age.” Meanwhile, in all of our hands is this device where we can zero in on everyone in the world technologically.

We can look at peoples’ profiles and instead of doing the courtship through Facebook or be it Ok Cupid, or Twitter, we can look at someone’s face and go, “They’re beautiful.” We can look at their likes and dislikes and go “Oh my god, I’m totally smitten!” And then they post something that you don’t agree with—maybe it’s political, maybe it’s something about gun rights—and then you’re like, “They’re yesterday’s news.” And that can happen in 30 seconds, where it used to happen over the course of many dates and weeks and months of gleaning information through interaction.

“You can fall in love 15 times a day and fall out of love 18… How are you supposed to make sense of that?”

I don’t know that internally and emotionally we have caught up with what technology has handed us, so I think that there is probably more confusion, especially being a single heterosexual woman in America, in 2013 and 2014 than ever before, and that’s what Honey You specifically was about. You can fall in love 15 times a day and fall out of love 18… How are you supposed to make sense of that? That’s the overall theme of the record.

The second member of Claire and The Potatoes is The Potatoes: the frustrated rock band, full of heterosexual males who cannot relate to what Claire is going through but are doing their best as the frustrated rock band to give her a pulse so that she may communicate it to the group.

Claire and The Potatoes is a fictitious band run by real people.

Claire and the Potatoes

The Real Claire and the Potatoes (photo by Jeff Douglas Photography)

Q: It definitely comes across in listening to the album that it is all coming from the voice of one character, one girl. That works really well. But I don’t think I had picked up on The Potatoes being a band which she had pulled together to support her. Not until the final track, anyway!

The idea there was that obviously at that point Claire has settled down and given and just given up and decided, “Whoever will have me can have me,” and now she’s saddled down with a child or a dog or whatever “Olivia” might be – and that is why she cannot go on tour.

But I like to imagine that The Potatoes themselves were just a bar band for karaoke and they had this timid lady come up and sing one night and all of a sudden she just kept showing up and they found themselves as a group. But really these three guys in the fictitious aspect of Claire and The Potatoes, I like to imagine they want to be a loud rock band and they’re kind of having to reign it in for the Claire character to communicate what she has to say to the crowd.

That’s in no way how the real members of the band run things, by any means! But that is how I like to imagine the story going. Of course, the audience will have their own interpretations and I welcome all of them because they’re all correct. Whatever you get out of this album is right.

Q: Clearly you have written the songs and brought them to the band and I wanted to understand more about how you go from that to the finished recording on the album.

Where does the bass line come from? How do you decide the beat the drummer’s going to use? In Claire and The Potatoes how does that discussion go? How do you get from concept to finished track?

Well, before we get too far I should say while it’s fair to say that I wrote about 75% of the album on my own, there are songs that actually came from Jim and Guy completely.

One is The Real Enemy where Jim had actually plunked out the barest piano notes because he’s not a piano player and sung it into his iPhone and sent me a recording of it and that song was really when we came into our own as a band, where we were taking it from something where there was barely any notes, there was barely anything happening, to figuring out how to flesh that out in the group, making eye contact with each other. Not really criticizing—but critiquing each others parts and suggesting other things.

Also, Guy was the impetus for the song Shot At Love and I think my only part in it was that there’s a part in the middle where it kicks down to just bass, drum and a bit of a guitar lead and I just wanted a little goose in the middle. Also, Empirical Arguments, Jim wrote the lyrics to and sent them to me and I wrote the song around his lyrics. I thought that was interesting because Empirical Arguments in a blind taste test could be mistaken for a Marc with A C song.

Q: You know, it’s funny – I specifically made a note on that track that they were very “Marc with A C” lyrics, so that’s really interesting to find out.

Yeah, Jim Myers actually wrote those lyrics and sometimes we give him the stink-eye for them because there’s not a lot of repetition and in the three-part harmony in the chorus there’s very little to signify what your next line is! So we’re always looking at each other going “What comes next?”

Jim wrote those lyrics and as soon as I looked at them I knew exactly the feel he was going for and it was like we had been writing together all of our lives.

But beyond those tracks really it was me recording a demo. In some cases those demos don’t sound terribly different to what made it onto the record but those cases are very few.

“What I had to do moving from being a predominantly solo act to playing with Claire and The Potatoes as a band was let go and remember that I trust these players as musicians, that I’m playing with them because I like what they do.”

In other cases, the band changed them in ways I never would have come up with on my own, but what I had to do moving from being a predominantly solo act to playing with Claire and The Potatoes as a band was let go and remember that I trust these players as musicians, that I’m playing with them because I like what they do.

So there’s not a lot of telling Jim “Ok, play with this feel.” Normally after Jim’s had some time to absorb the demo I’ll ask him, “What feel do you want to put on this?” In the case of Olivia Rules Everything Around Me he was like “I want to throw in this John Densmore thing here and then I think it would be really cool if Leslie played a vibra slap here.”

It’s mostly letting those players do what they do best. You get better results that way than being a dictator. Although when we hit a stumbling block I do feel that eyes are on me to decide… but I would call it almost 100% democratic.

Q: Almost 100% is probably more practical than 100%, right?

Right, you don’t want to be Billy Corgan, because look what happened.

Q: Once the debut album is released next month, what comes next for Claire and The Potatoes?

That’s a good question. I don’t know! There were a couple of songs that we worked on that weren’t necessarily ready when we were writing the songs for this album and I haven’t really discussed it with the group but I think we could make some neat singles out of those tunes. As they say in the South of the United States “God willing and the creek don’t rise.”

I think that would be an interesting take, but if we do anything further besides playing shows and continuing to have fun in the room together, if we make another record, another statement, I would prefer that we worked on it much like songs like Empirical Arguments and Real Enemy and Shot at Love where it was a collaborative effort because I think those are some of the songs that really define Claire and The Potatoes.

And importantly, we attribute all of the writing on the record to Claire and the Potatoes. It is not “Marc wrote this, Jim wrote this” because at the end of the day, even the most straight forward song like Honey You would not have sounded that way without the input of all of the members. I wrote the zygote of the song, Claire and the Potatoes made it the song you heard, and I’d like to see more of that in the future.

If we were talking about me writing the next step for the Claire character, I’m not terribly interested in that. I’ve think we’ve said what Claire needs to say and now Claire and The Potatoes should grow as a band—even fictitiously.

Have An Okay Time With Claire and the PotatoesStay tuned for the rest of this interview, where we’ll be discussing Marc’s transition from solo artist to playing in a band, the audio recording and mixing of the album, and how Marc learned to play guitar in the first place…

The new album will be released on July 15th 2014 but you can pre-order it now.

UPDATE: The album is now available!

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