Later this week, about a year after we first dreamed 'em up, The Final Hurrahs—the official band of a boys' clothing company we started with Matilda Jane, called The Good Ones Clothing Co.—will release their first full-length album. It's named Numéro One, contains 17 tracks and clocks in, appropriately enough, at just shy of 36 minutes.
This Dial post will be all about how proud I am of the whole damn thing, along with a bit of history, a few tangents and a book recommendation. It won't be short.
When we started The Good Ones, we wanted a story, a narrative—a way to weave a common thread through the entire line, every season, every year, round and round and round. We wanted this to be about more than just "cool clothes," even though "cool clothes" are fun to think about. It had to be much, much bigger than that, which seems fairly obvious when you think about the parents—Matilda Jane is changing lives every day with every single package they ship, and here at OLG we don't really mess about with projects that don't have several tons of substance to them. What we needed was an idea that would allow us to celebrate the nooks and crannies of childhood, of adventure, of the pure beauty of "make-believe," of exploring our country, of the world even…an idea that would let us write a (coloring) book, an idea that would let us create characters so that every kid out there would have one that was just for him, where he could look at the website and say, "Yeah, wow, that's just like me. I'm alright." And we wanted to be able to give as much of it away as we could—stickers, desktops, posters, videos, ringtones, picks, backstage passes and, heck, maybe even songs. What we needed…what we needed was a band.
So we made one up. They're The Final Hurrahs, and they hail from Bricktown, USA. There's four of 'em, Stuart on vox and lead guitar, Adrian on guitar and songwritin', Franklin on bass and Bullfrog on lead drums. They're joined by their bestest friend and biggest fan, Paulie.
We think you'll like these guys. Check out their Tour Blog to read all about their adventures. They've got a pretty good story; they share a part of it every week, and there are some fun little lessons on life for your little ones in there, too. Little moments where you can tap the brakes on that whole growing-up-too-fast thing.
Of course, we needed music. We thought about doing it in-house; perhaps at this point it's a little known fact, but I used to be in bands. One band was a ton of fun, and the other one was a ton of fun and, if I'm being completely honest, also pretty great. Here's the deal though: I'm no musician—I can't sing, and I just play chords and chord shapes on the guitar—but I always had song ideas, I lived for the "mythology" of bands, and I knew enough to surround myself with people who were really, really talented. And also fun to sweat with. (It's basically the same model we employ at One Lucky Guitar.) So I thought maybe we'd bang stuff out here at OLG, that perhaps this was finally my chance to make music again. You know, my old friend & partner Chris Dodds (who was in both of those bands I just mentioned) and I used to talk about getting a new thing together, we were new dads, and we wanted to get something together for the kids. There was lots of talk, just not lots of time, and as Tim Rogers sang in that song "Gray": I just don't think we'll ever get that other band together. And we didn't. So then I thought, Hey, maybe we'll ask all of these musicians we know around here and from here to do songs "as" this fictional band…just like the clothes and characters we were creating, the music could jump all over genre- and style-wise…we would start with locals and friends, like Church Shoes and Flamingo Nosebleed and Orange Opera, and then work our way out to folks like Marah and Eef Barzelay and Ike Reilly, and create a narrative where our band was "backing" those national artists. It seemed like a brilliant idea, and surely by 2013 we'd be doing songs with Wilco, right?
Ultimately, though, the more we thought about it, the more it felt like it should be one band—singular and focused.
Bit of a tangent, but there's this thing that very often happens to you as you get older—you start hanging out with kids. Maybe they're your own kids, maybe they're nieces and nephews or stepkids, maybe they're neighbor kids or friends' kids and you're babysitting. (It could happen.) And when these things happen, the music you hear bouncing around your life c-h-a-n-g-e-s. It used to be, you played only what you wanted, 25 hours a day. And suddenly…suddenly!!! And you think, Surely, there's something just like that music you love out there, only for kids. Right? Right? Please? Well, it's tough. You have to dig, and dig, and dig. And finally you find Dan Zanes and a few of his like-minded friends, and you realize there's an amazing difference between "children's music" and "family music"—"family music," this sliver of a genre that is as appealing to a five year-old as it is to a thirty-five year-old. And it's just a sliver, but—thank goodness! But then, but then, pop music enters the picture. And there's this tenuous place where those kids you're hanging out with, well, they start feeling like maybe they're too old for that kids' stuff, but oh, you know (YOU KNOW) they're not really ready for MTV's VMA Awards, now are they? Let us hope—indeed let us pray—that no, they are not. So here at the office we arrived at something of a mission statement for this whole idea, just a minor ambition really—we wanted to create a band that wasn't just going to play rock & roll, we wanted to create a band that was going to save it.
Back to the one band thing. Singular and focused, right? So, we approached Josh Hall. Josh is mainly known around these parts for his band Thunderhawk, but he veritably sweats songs, like Robert Pollard or Ryan Adams or Prince, and therefore has a whole bullpen of side projects so that all the songs can find homes. Killer Robots from Space. Black Label Summer. Vodka Hysteria. And oddly enough, all of the bands are just him, playing all the instruments. Anyway, Josh hangs out with kids every now and then, and he was into the idea, especially when I suggested it should all sound a bit like that one R-band (rhymes with "Thee Placemats"). My overarching plan was that I would get in the kitchen with the madman, and we would co-write all of the songs…but as the project progressed, I simply couldn't keep up. THE GUY EXHALES SONGS. And since Josh wrote most of this album, I can write the following paragraph without feeling bad about not being as humble as I used to hope I was:
This album—Numéro One—is a five-star classic, an all-time favorite, a put-it-on-repeat where's-the-Grammy fried-eggs-bacon-cheese-and-hashbrowns all-mixed-together masterpiece. What does it sound like? Well it sounds like everything you would dream an album by four dogs in a garage out in the 'burbs in a town called Bricktown would sound like, on a hot summer when they're looking to stretch out every day and never let 'em end, in between BMX rides and their first broken bones: seventeen songs of sloppy, swingin', occasionally twangy gorgeousness that is artistically engineered to be howled along with at the top of everyone in the car's lungs.
In other words, songs to play on guitars. (PS: Get those kids started NOW.)
I could go on and on about each song on the album, but here's just one for now: it's called "Don't Don't Don't Don't Don't (Let's Do!)" and it just rolls. The backstory is this: If you hang out with people who are watching kids, and you listen closely, you can pick up on all the things they're told not to do. You don't really even have to listen that closely! It's everywhere. Don't jump. Don't run. Don't yell. Don't be silly. Don't laugh. (It's not funny.) Don't move. Don't talk. Don't talk to me. Don't ask. And then a little while later, you're around someone with some kids who are a bit older, and you hear them talk about these kids who are a bit older and how they grew up so fast and don't act like kids anymore. And you wonder, was it because they were told, "Don't act like a kid"? So this song is about that. It's a song for what it's like when instead of telling kids "Don't!," you instead tell them "Let's do!" and those kids put the pedal to the metal, and then keep on pushing it through the floorboard, until the wheels fall off. Download the song here. And preview more songs, along with some fantastic videos, click here.
Back to the office. I read that book Delivering Happiness by the Zappos gang and one of the ideas we adopted from their culture was the ASK ANYTHING approach. Simply put, anyone in the entire organization can submit a question—anything—to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, and he answers it. We've been doing that on a monthly basis at OLG since the beginning of the year, and it's been terrific. Back in March, I was asked about OLG's financial stability, what with this rather significant startup suddenly in the house, crying ("Don't cry!") through the night for food (i.e. capital) and love (i.e. design & marketing). I answered openly, of course, but you have to get hired here to read the full response. But here's the most important part of it. The context is, at the time, we were about 1,200 hours into our work on The Good Ones. Here we go:
We must have no regrets. It occurred to me last weekend—and nearly took my breath away—that somewhere out there, there's a six-year old kid that is becoming obsessed with these characters and their songs, and there's a flicker in his soul, and in about 15 years, he's gonna be fronting a band, and some girl is gonna break his heart and that band will then make the best debut record since Is This It? by The Strokes. And in the band's Pitchfork interview, this singer is gonna talk about this shirt he got when he was a kid, with some dogs on it, a shirt that he never threw away, and never forgot, and how he then got their CD—a CD!—and how that's when he started picking around on a guitar and dreaming of maybe doing something that causes a serious rumble someday. And then on the band's SNL debut, you'll catch a glimpse of a tattoo of Adrian from The Final Hurrahs on his arm, and they'll sneak a bit of "Penny on the Tracks" into the bridge of their new hit song. And to me, that single idea is worth 1,200 more hours.
It still is.
After all, it's our latest last chance.
– Matt Kelley