Safe Boating Is No Accident's Leighton Peterson and Neil McCormack discuss their penchant for dark humor and absurdity

Categories: Interviews

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Lindsay Peck
Safe Boating Is No Accident celebrates the release of its new album, Isn't It Fun?, this Friday, September 3, at the hi-dive.
Safe Boating is No Accident is the musical/performance art project of Leighton Peterson and Neil McCormick, who both came to Colorado within the last several years. Forming Safe Boating about two years ago, Peterson and McCormick found a way to combine their love of old timey music with a modern sense of humor and a decidedly contemporary knack for creative performance pranks.

The music of Safe Boating Is No Accident -- named after one of the films of a fictitious movie director from David Foster Wallace's 1996 novel, Infinite Jest -- mixes the comedic with the deadly serious, all while adding a literary flourish, as it addresses the pecadilloes of being twenty-something caught between the putative wisdom of adulthood and the follies of youth. The songwriting is sophisticated with lyrics that are at once earthy and possessed of a Zen-like transcendence.

We had a chance to speak with Peterson and McCormick about the new album, Isn't It Fun?, their recent Denver Does Denver performances and their penchant for dark humor and absurdity.

Westword (Tom Murphy): The aesthetic of your music strikes me as a combination of Tin Pan Alley and the dry, sometimes bleak, if tongue-in-cheek, humor of XTC. Are there particular themes you explore on Isn't It Fun? What is the significance of the title?

Leighton Peterson: The title we took from "Boom Boom, Streak Streak," and the whole song happened after I came home from an electronic music festival, Sonic Bloom. I went up there to camp with friends and score some acid or something. I had a really bad trip and everything seemed like this big, awful spectacle, and everyone was dancing.

I had a really negative image of it -- it was like a drug-fueled spectacle where people were just spinning in circles to a beat, and it wasn't respectful of music or humanity. I came home and wrote that song and extrapolated that to how we approach even consuming media or participating in society. It's this big attempt at going through the motions.

Neil McCormick: Nearly every song on the album deals with decadence. It's a simultaneous love letter and hate mail to modern youth drug culture.

LP: It's not just anti-youth, drug culture. A lot of the songs are getting used to the fact that we have to be adults now. Having to enter the work force and how absurd it is to have to pay off awful student loans and have to work for an endless amount of time. I was caught in this kind of slave rut. I honestly have a cool job and have no real room to complain. But it's easy to get into a rut where you're working all the time to make an amount of money to exactly match all my bills. So I'm plugging away to just exist.

NM: It's unabashed in the twenty-something-ness of the subject matter.

LP: There are worse things -- I'm not worried about getting chopped by a machete today. By 2012, we'll see what happens.

Ww: "Satyr's Day Parade" has a suggestive title. What inspired that song and the lyric "Covered the entire spectrum of alright to okay"?

LP: I wrote the lyrics several years ago, probably a couple of years before I started this band. I think it was after a party or rave or something like that. That song is about decadence. Growing up, I had an idea what a decadent life might be like and the reality of it was unimpressive. It's just a bunch of people sitting on a couch and giving each other backrubs. It didn't really breed any kind of grand statement.

NM: The satyr is a Greek mythological creature hanging out with Dionysus in fields of wine.

LP: And going off and having sex constantly.

Ww: Who will you cover at Denver Does Denver and why? [interview done prior to Denver Does Denver 2010]

NM: We're doing Pee Pee. I had a brief stint as Pee Pee's bassist that was slightly ill-fated. I only did a few shows. After I crowd surfed naked during "The Dixie Cup" song, I got fired. I saw them at the UMS two years ago, and Leighton and I went to four or five more of their shows, and since I worked with Yuzo, I got the call to join Pee Pee. Doo is definitely a Denver personality.

LP: He's one of my favorite songwriters.

NM: The whole shtick of the show was "Rest in Peace, Doo Crowder." Like he's some Kurt Cobain figure, and we're going to wear black armbands, and we'll pour a shot out for Doo, and hopefully, he'll be there in the room watching the show.

LP: "It's as if he's here with us right now watching us play."

Ww: Why did you cover Pictureplane last year, and what challenges did doing that cover pose?

NM: That was the first Denver Does Denver, and no one had really done it before. We were interested in doing something totally unexpected.

LP: There were too many people doing karaoke versions of 3OH!3, kind of mocking it.

NM: We wanted to find an artist we really loved but who was a major stretch for what our band was understood as. I had just come off my UC Senior Assignment and had a band together more interested in tackling the bizarre. Travis Egedy's stuff is all weird, patched-in delays.

LP: It was really hard to decipher all the parts.

NM: The really interesting thing about Travis' music is how similar it is to the way we play things on guitar. What we play is idiomatic, the way that it feels on the guitar, or on upright bass or clarinet. The music Travis makes is idiomatic to weird, glitched-out ProTools and other programs. But it makes sense when you push a button, and it does these things.

And it's stuff that could never be performed live or conceptualized by musicians using only their hands. So transcribing that and playing it so that it's recognizable was an interesting challenge. We ended up having a horn player and drummer who were really into it. It was also a month of four rehearsals a week.

Ww: "When you come, it's like a snow day in my mind" from "Something Wicked" sounds like it could be either sarcastic or tender. What inspired that song?

LP: That whole song was inspired by a time I was waiting for a girl to show up at my place, and I had the idea of writing a quick ukulele song that was really dirty but with really clean lyrics.

NM: I think that duality of: "Is it filthy or is it a beautiful love song, is it both, or is it nothing?" -- it's everything at once.

LP: Love can be filthy. It should be filthy.

NM: I think that's a central thing to this band's aesthetic. We do a lot of performance art stuff that might seem hostile or disengaging of the audience. When we do the Stanley Kubrick scene from 2001 twice, we still love the audience. It's the scene where Dave Bowman shuts off Hal 9000, and Hal sings "Daisy."

LP: Neil was just playing the synth pad on his iPad Touch, I think, and I was the voice of Hal, and we broke out into "Daisy" on the ukulele.

NM: We play some shows that just crash and burn with that kind of stuff, because no one's engaged in it or interested in what we're doing. All it takes is three people in the front row that get it and care, and then everyone else will fall in line behind them. But if you can't grab those two or three people it doesn't work.

LP: We have one thing where we try to quiet the entire audience down, like when the entire bar is talking. We say, "We're serious musicians." And then they're like, "These guys are ridiculous." And then everyone screams, "Your cunt smells like a baby's coffin." It's from a Patton Oswalt joke. I think it's from his "Stella Dora Breakfast Treats" routine.

NM: Then we start the song right away.

LP: When we did that at the Garage one time, people got mad and continued their conversations even louder.

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