The first thing you notice is the pin-sharp grooves and right-in-the-fucking-pocket playing. This is the sort of wound-tight funk that Steely Dan did (still do) so well: brilliantly layered rhythm section with smart and sassy horns on top and close-harmony vocal to sweeten or curdle the mix, all tight as skin and sharp as sarcasm.
The next thing you notice is the lyrics. No ‘want your body on the dancefloor’ or ‘you light up my life’. No, the 12 songs on Suit & Tie’s new album Creep Season deal with the muck and grit between the neat folds of life – venereal disease, stalking (the title track), whoring, scoring, playing, straying, date-rape and anal sex. It is all quite dead-pan and it is all drop-dead hilarious.
Suit & Tie is, for all intents and purposes, songwriter and vocalist Mev Stuart – and anyone he can coerce or blackmail into doing his musical dirty work. Creep Season contains contributions from thirty-two of this town’s finest and most creative musicians. The bribes must be immense, yet the results are stunning.
Creep Season grew from a chance remark by his initial collaborator, keyboard player Jerry Craib while watching a Steely Dan documentary way way back in 2007 (“we could take the piss out of this”). Despite its eight-year gestation, it all sounds amazingly fresh and consistent.
Stuart’s songs come from his observations of life’s bright pageant, or at least the soiled fag-end of it. His vocal delivery is one of the reasons it all works so well – he inhabits his songs’ compromised characters with true dramatic relish and a wry eye on us all.
Prior to publishing this review, I asked Mev Stuart a half-dozen questions. He obviously didn’t like the tone of a couple of them, but he politely took the time to answer all six. I couldn’t stop laughing.
John Hardaker: The songs on Creep Season have taken since 2007 to complete – did you have the idea/vision right from the start, or did the project evolve as you went?
Mev Stuart: Jerry and I had the idea straight off the bat. It started off fairly benign with ‘Big Idiot’, a song about a guy who wears pleated slacks when he goes out with his mates, and who never picks up at parties because he’s an idiot. Once that song was done it just spurred us on to write more, because it was so much fun to write songs like that. There’s no risk when you’re just having a good time.
John Hardaker: You mention that the seed of the album was your original collaborator saying ‘let’s take the piss out of this’ while watching a doco on Steely Dan’s AJA album. Is it all piss-take or is there some real fan-boy love for the Dan there as well?
Mev Stuart: *boyish grin* LOVE Dan. I grew up with Dan. My dad Max started playing their tapes when I was about 15. My best mate gave me Gaucho and Aja on tape for my 21st birthday, and I ended up repairing that sucker about 5 times, because I would just play it constantly, and anywhere, in any filthy tape munching player I could get it into.
I always thought Fagen was joking about everything because of the way he sings, and when there’s 15 layers of joke-voice going on it kind of has an effect. Suit & Tie pays homage to that, and to them – without ever wanting to pretend it can be as good, and making that quite clear through the device of humour.
And about “my original collaborator”, Jerry – he’ll be back. He’s doing it and that’s that. He’s up to his ridiculous knees in it. Oh! Speaking on that, he once turned up for a session wearing those weird rubber toe-shoe things. I opened the front door, saw them, said, “Um..this is a shoes-off house Jerry… from now.. so..” He flatly refused to take them off.
John Hardaker: In fact, many of the tunes bring to mind Frank Zappa ‘taking the piss’ out of smooth bands of his day like Steely Dan on his albums such as ‘Sheik Yerbouti’. Is Zappa’s scatological humour an influence?
Mev Stuart: I still play Sheik Yerbouti. As teenagers we used to drive around in my mate’s Holden HR with it cranked, and yell out the windows at pedestrians, “RAMMIT!, RAMMIT!, RAMMIT!”, thinking they’d know what we were shouting about. But really, I have noticed that people are either highly amused or creeped out by the use of words like “finger” or “smell her pussy”, but whatever the reaction, it’s always accompanied by laughing – sometimes probably out of shame or embarrassment. Dropping a few choice gutter balls has no shame for me, I just want to make people laugh basically, and that’s a way.
John Hardaker: Why so many musicians?
Mev Stuart: *eye roll * Why the fuck not?
But seriously, since sound engineering has completely screwed my ability to enjoy a live band, I just go around pretending the gigs are all Suit & Tie auditions. Like, you know, “shit she’s really enjoying this, she’s in!”, or “Ooh… Nup. Look between his eyes, that’s the crack of earnest. Don’t want him.” Look, I just love the process of recording and producing, and the more people I can do it to, the better!
John Hardaker: You mention in the liner notes that the songs’ subject matter comes from your observations of others over time. Are any of your characters roughly of your own build, weight and height, or would that be telling?
Mev Stuart: It’s not about my body, John. Don’t be tasteless.
John Hardaker: Has the Biblical epic of making Creep Season taken it all out of you, or is there more to come? What next for Suit & Tie?
Mev Stuart: Half of half the songs on the next record are already written. We’re going to do it slightly differently this time round though. I cheated myself out of a few opportunities by getting too involved in production too early in the writing process. I want to very roughly sketch out the tunes but then choose the relevant musicians for each song and develop them together as a rhythm section. The minimum requisite 67 layers of overdubs -most importantly vocals – will still be done the Suit & Tie way, later – see, you don’t want musicians saying stuff like, “I’m NOT playing soprano sax on a song about bum licking”.
Suit & Tie has a long way to go. We haven’t finished musically, lyrically or conceptually yet. I’m primarily a song writer and producer; that job never ends, and I tend to think this record has been a learning process.. a toe in the water. There will definitely be more Suit & Tie.
For more information go to http://justmev.com/creepseason/
Creep Season is available at https://suittie.bandcamp.com/merch