I discovered the many talents of Leah Hayes one after the other, by accident or happenstance, or because I live in Brooklyn. Maybe it was witchery. But last Fall/late summer it began and hasn’t stopped. First, and I don’t recall how, I came across her band Scary Mansion. Contrary to my initial impression of the name, which immediately conjured the best time of my life at Disney’s Haunted Mansion, the band’s sound is a matured haunting. Beautiful but grave, Leah Hayes delivers stark vocals on the verge of breaking over organs, guitars, drums, in the room with the locked door down an impossibly long hall.
Not long after hearing Scary Mansion, atop a house show’s roof one night in Brooklyn, Leah Hayes appeared. In the dark all I could really see was her glasses. Having a mutual appreciation of appropriately sized spectacles we began to speak in the shadow of a colossal two-towered Cathedral that dwarfed everything around for several blocks. She struck me as incredibly well spoken and well adjusted.
Later that night I witnessed, in a sweaty candlelit living room, her transformation into something altogether different. And upon the wooden floor, with various gadgets strewn about, she knelt by a candle, wearing a mask and began to sing strange laments. The animated doll of a mastermind girl child. A skinny spell caster pouting out lewd stories set to spare drum beats and damaged melodies. This incarnation of Hayes is aptly called Bad Lobotomy.
A few weeks later, in a bookstore an odd graphic novel caught my eye. It was “Funeral of the Heart,” by Leah Hayes because she does illustration for a living (McSweeney’s, Punk Planet) and has two books published with Fantagraphics. She just returned from a Scary Mansion tour in Europe where she opened for Will Oldham and signed with the French label Talitres. The debut record is called “Every Joke is Half The Truth” already out on Zum records and a new one is in the works. Her twin sister sings with her at live shows. You can also hear her vocals on TV On the Radio’s album Return to Cookie Mountain.
As for Bad Lobotomy, Hayes has started her own label called, Bad Lobotomy Records, and a record is due out in June. Check the myspace and dig the song “Give Me A Twenty” too.
I’m sure there will be need to follow up on Hayes and her varied endeavors. One gets the feeling she keeps an apothecary cabinet of many drawers, some filed with wonder, others with horror. If she let’s you open one, what will you find?
“Combine,” Bad Lobotomy.
Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.
IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?
Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.
IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”
IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?
Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!
Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture.
IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?
Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.
Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places.
IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?
Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.
IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?
Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.
Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.
Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…
IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.
IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!
IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?
Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.
IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?
Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.
IFC: How would you describe Ivy?
Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.
IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?
Jenny: Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.
IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?
Jenny: How do you know they don’t?
IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?
Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”
IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?
Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.
See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.
Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.
We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.
Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).
In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?
From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.
Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.
And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.