That Goode Olde Rocke Ande Rolle
At Disneyland, once upon a time, every two hours in Tomorrowland out would drive a car, which doubled as a giant ghetto blaster, and some guys would pop out of it playing homemade space-age instruments while doing lots of robot dancing and robot voices. There were two other guys in that audience, watching, and they are now known as The Moog Cookbook. You may have heard their music on certain radio stations using it behind the news or promos, or have been lucky enough to stumble on your own copy.
“Trans-Star” was the name of Disneyland’s pop-hits transformed to computer-synth band, and is but one of several cultural wonders listed as “Moogspirations” for The Cookbook. Among others is an actual cookbook by Shirleigh Moog, wife of inventor Bob Moog, which featured recipes by Keith Emerson and John Cage.
Of course that list includes Wendy Carlos’ Switched On Bach and George Harrison’s Electronic Sounds, and a selection not so obvious to most, Neil Young’s 1983 all-synth album Trans. Reciprocally, they hear that Neil thinks quite highly of their first self-titled release, which included their version of his “Rockin’ In The Free World” as well as complete trans-moogrifications of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam songs among others. Half of Moog Cookbook (which one they’re not quite sure), Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. describes some other of the covered artists reactions. “So far Tom Petty, Neil, Soundgarden, and Weezer have liked our versions of their songs. Weezer liked our “Buddy Holly” so much they played it on stage while they took their bows. We got lots of fans from those Weezer shows.
“Other artists are also approaching us asking that we do renditions of their songs. We did a b-side for The Eels (“Novocaine For The Soul”) as well as one for The Foo Fighters (“Big Me”) which they also used in the intro to their video of “Monkey Wrench.” We’re eager to do more. I would love for Michael Stipe or Oasis to call us and ask us — that would be hilarious!”
Another reaction story is when the producer for Green Day was playing Moog Cookbook’s version of “Basket Case” loudly and the room was going nuts, until their singer returned horrified screaming ‘this is the worst day of my life — muzak has done a version of my song!’ When they explained to him that this was an all-synth band in spacesuits who liked his song he relaxed, ‘oh, cool.’ “
That debut album was done in Roger’s and Brian Kehew’s spare time. Both were avid collectors of old keyboards and vintage gear and Roger answered an ad Brian had placed to sell some. They got together and decided that since the flood and overflow of the Seattle guitar sound had worn thin, the time had come to make crazy goofy fun sounds with the synths again, and they hoped to bring them back before anyone else. So they fit it in for fun, Roger in his transition time between bands (from Jellyfish to Imperial Drag) and Brian between his engineering and production work (which included The Muffs).
Their first release received a very enthusiastic response, and wound up being used by a Berkeley professor in synthesizer instruction — that is — for how not to play the synth. Roger admits that’s something of a badge of honor, since Moog Cookbook breaks most of the rules just for fun. The double-edged sword is that Roger had hoped the instructor would “get it” since he was someone whose work and reputation Roger had respected for many years.
Breaking the rules and having fun works for Roger. “Moog Cookbook lets me show a completely different side of my personality which my other projects would not have allowed — this much comedy, camp, or sheer parody — which is great because that is definitely part of me. But it really seems the American public doesn’t like being confused, so you’re either a serious death rock band, or pure punk, or just comedy or whatever. But you cannot be Weird Al and Nine Inch Nails at the same time. That just doesn’t equate in people’s minds although it works fine in my friends’ and mine. But Beck has successfully fused some and people take him very seriously while everything he does is in jest. But he pulls it off with a straight face. So I’ve figured out how to do that for myself with Moog Cookbook.”
Apparently others are figuring it out also, like the many guests that show up on the new album Ye Olde Space Bande. Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo) provides a synth solo for “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” and Wayne Kramer (MC5), Charlotte Coffey (Go-Gos), Michael Penn, Lyle Workman (Jellyfish) all stepped into the lab. E (The Eels) even filled in with some “creepy voiceovers and segue bits.”
So we can see that the current music scene wants to fit into this Cookbook. But how does our Cookbook fit into the music scene right now? Sounds like another one for Roger. “Moog Cookbook is the most appropriate thing that I could do right now because I don’t understand any of the trends. I couldn’t’ve predicted a ska punk revival in a million years, especially after living through it twice before. The fact that bands from Orange County and San Diego area have brought it back again is mind-boggling to me, and it’s bigger this time than ever before, especially in the states. Plus the fact that punk came and went, made its noise but never really went away, I’m just so confused by everything. MTV is pushing dance music now because they’ve tired us out of the grunge thing by cramming that down our throats.
“So hopefully there’s those out there that just want to sing along and tap their foot to a nice melody. Once in a while there’s a kid who’s done his homework and dissected every Beatles’ record and comes out with some real melodic stuff. So the press accuses him of being retro unless he puts enough fuzzy guitar on it like Matthew Sweet, because then it’s more college-y. The so-called power-pop scene right now is a joke because there’s very few people writing melodies. I guess at the end of the day it’s all taste.
“What’s frighteningly in fashion right now is a naiveté on your instrument, not knowing how to play or having studied anything. In other words, the less you know the more chance there is that people think you’ll come up with something original, which is only true to an extent because, ultimately, if you don’t know history you’re doomed to repeat it.”
“Bands like Weezer, with nerds as rock stars, but with a strong sense of melody and songwriting, I look to them and think, well, there’s hope. People don’t want traditional rock stars anymore. You can’t come out and strut your stuff like Journey or REO Speedwagon or you’ll be shot.”
Well, you won’t need any weaponry if you get the chance to see Moog Cookbook, as they were preparing their live show at the time of this writing. Guaranteed that fun, spacesuits, and vintage old synths will abound, as they prove that the universal language of music has many dialects.
Roger does admit that this is his only project right now since Eric Dover left Imperial Drag in September. He still has the deal with Sony/Work and the rest of the band, but they’re looking for a lead singer and to start writing from the ground up, however, he also admits that the moog offers are streaming in and should keep the cookbookers busy stirring for quite a while.
And we can’t leave the list of moogspirations incomplete. There’s Giorgio Moroder (“Eurodisco-trash god”), Star Rock (a local San Francisco new wave synth band from the early 80s), Brigitte Bardot (for five “new-wave” videos she made in the late ’60s which “make Bjork look like a small-time no-talent!”), and of course, Buck Owens. Brian explains, “His Switched On Buck album was years ahead of it’s time. He was the second big Moog sale in the U.S. — he actually beat out The Monkees by buying a Moog before they did!” Apparently Buck has a huge barn full of all kinds of instruments, vintage guitars and classic keyboards, but he won’t let go of any of it. And that includes one of the first models of the Moog Modular, one that Roger in particular would like to get hold of for the next tour. C’mon Buck, be a sport! I guess I’ll have to let you know if he gets this message in my next interview with him.