Electric Grandmother Brings “Sitcom Core” to Washington DC

Posted on Oct 25, 2011

Electric Grandmother has relocated their home base to the District of Columbia. I wrote to Pete and Mary Alice to discuss the big move, Fugazi, Alphonso Ribiero and their next album.

The Electric Grandmother with Pauly Shore!

The Electric Grandmother with Pauly Shore!

David: You lived in Columbus for 10 years, why did you decide to move? Why D.C.?

Pete: We’ve both always had an affinity for D.C. We both have family here, and we both really like the area. We felt that EG had gone as far as it could in Columbus, and we were both itching for a change in general. We both agreed that D.C. would be a good hub for east coast touring, and a cool place to live in general. We’re both city-folk.

MA: We’d never intended to stay in Columbus forever and ended up staying a lot longer than we expected. Speaking for myself, Columbus came as quite a pleasant surprise to me, not being an Ohio native. The people, the culture, the pace and the food are just a few things that I grew to love and already miss terribly. It took an abrupt political shift with the potential to impact our livelihood to motivate us to finally leave. And I echo Pete in his assessment of the pull factors. I don’t think it’s completely sunk in yet that the White House is three miles down the street.

David: You just unleashed Sitcom Core on the nation’s capitol for the first time. How was it received?

Pete: It‘s been going really well so far! We’ve done two shows here, and though the crowds have been relatively small, the response has been great. It’s really exciting and refreshing to perform for new faces in new places. Pretty soon, we’ll be bigger than Fugazi.

MA: ^ Cute, isn’t he? I completely agree. After playing in front of an audience that was pretty consistently made up of friends and friends of friends for so long, it’s at once thrilling and scary and amazing to look back at brand new faces.

David: Can you describe “Sitcom-Core” for those who may not be familiar?

Pete: The genre “Sitcom-Core” was coined to describe the songs I wrote about the wonderfully absurd TV sitcoms that existed from approximately the early 1980s to the late 1990s. It takes a specific kind of sitcom to earn the distinction of “Core.” It can’t be too self-aware, there has to be elements of the absurd, and it can’t be too heavy-handed. To put it simply, Full House is the standard, whereas Roseanne is the opposite. That’s how it started, and I’ve always been thankful that it’s remained merely a term for what we do. You know, it’s a big responsibility to have your name attached to a movement. Just ask Ian Mackaye.

MA: What’s the over-under on Fugazi references in this discussion? It probably doesn’t matter what it is, I’ll put my money on the over.

David: Several years ago Pete, you and I have talked about the evolution of Sitcom Core. You said that you were moving away from the low-hanging fruit of 80 and 90’s family programming to explore more existential themes like “New Coke” and hipsters who talk like they are from England. How has your audience responded?

Pete: Mostly in a positive manner. I still love talking and laughing about those shows, but putting them to music was becoming an already beaten dead horse being beat again. Or at that’s how I felt. Especially when you’re doing what amounts to a musical-comedy production, if you don’t keep it fresh you’re history, both to the audience and yourself. “Sitcom-Core” has evolved to not just mean songs about wacky TV sitcoms, but of all things absurdly playful and nostalgic. It’s those things from the past that touch the happy area of your mind. People don’t take their memories that seriously, and I never understood why that is. Memories are sometimes all we have. There’s a Jonathan Richman song called “That Summer Feeling,” that comes as close as possible to what I’m trying to explain. Am I getting too serious here? Fuck.

MA: I think he’s understating the response, honestly. Audience response has followed the same natural progression as his writing. I think it’s fair to say that England Man and Car Phone are two of the most beloved EG songs, because a good song is a good song.

David: You have a seventh album in the works. When is the projected drop date? How is your writing/recording process different now than when you released “My Imaginary Audience” in 2003?

Pete: That shit’s probably gonna drop in Summer 2012, y’all. It depends on how things go between now and then. I have a lot of songs recorded, but we’re in no rush. We still need to record the Mary Alice backup vocals, and we’ve never done that before. I’m excited to hear the different dynamic of it all.

My recording process has definitely changed a lot since 2003. For one, I used an analog 4-track back then, and was always scared that I’d wear out the tapes on playback, so often times I’d record a song and then not hear it again for months. Now since I record digitally, I can playback, tweak, adjust, doctor, and whatever to my heart’s content. The songs are less lo-fi, and have a lot more muscle now than they used to. I switched from Casio-keyboard beats to drum machines. I upgraded my synth/keyboard sound. Like I told Mary Alice before, it became a matter of wanting to be “good” instead of just “weird.” And not just for me, for her too. We invested a lot of money into our LCD Projector in 2006, and she’s really stepped her projection-game since then.

MA: Aw, thanks! I want to quickly add here, that having heard most of the songs that will go on the new album (spoiler alert!), I think the writing style has evolved (again) and listeners will either be surprised by the thoughtfulness and introspective nature of the lyrics or placated by the fact that it’s a total party up in here.

David: Will Smith recently purchased a piece of the Philadelphia 76ers… do you think Alfonso Ribeiro has ruined his dance prodigy legacy and been overshadowed by playing the role of “spoiled rich-kid Carlton Banks” in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air from 1990 to 1996?

Pete: First of all, fuck Will Smith. He’s a Scientology-sympathizer. Him and his wife founded an elementary school that uses Scientology-based teaching methods. And he’s too chicken-shit to commit to the cult, because he maintains, “I am a Christian.” The “Fresh Prince” ruled, but Will Smith is a scuz bucket. I hope the 76ers like having their thetan levels audited.

MA: This from the man who once wrote: “Will Smith is one fine actor, I wish I could be his benefactor.” Scientology changes everything.

Pete: But anyway, regarding Alphonso Ribiero. I don’t think he ruined his dance prodigy legacy by playing Carlton, in fact, he’s probably only enhanced it since the advent of YouTube. Have you seen his “Breakin’ and Poppin’” commercial? That shit is hot. Remember when there was a rumor that he broke his neck while breakdancing with Michael Jackson? This was in the early-80’s, I’m not even sure he was on Silver Spoons yet. I was always proud that I identified him as “Alphonso” almost immediately after I saw him as “Carlton,” even though it had been several years and he was now grown up. I’ve always been pretty good at those type of TV cross-examinations.

MA: You know, I don’t think anyone becomes famous purely for being able to dance well anymore. Good dancers are pop stars too, and I think poor Alphonso is to square-headed and greasy-looking to have become a pop star. But what’s cool about him is that people remember Carlton primarily for the Carlton Dance, so he kind of got the best of both worlds, even if his remarkable dancing ability was on display in a wacky, spastic routine to the sounds of Tom Jones instead of impersonating Michael Jackson. Yes, I would say old Alphonso did pretty well for himself in the end.