Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Sweaty Lamarr. Together we discussed making music during the pandemic, their songwriting process, the New Jersey Turnpike, and so much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have you join them. How are you doing today?
Hi, Mustard! Thank you for the interview. Doing quite okay today. I’m currently working from home and cuddling one of my two cats, or as I call them both, “the chickens.” My tiny cat daughter Simone and I are deciding what movie to watch in the background: she’s pushing for some old French movie and is not amused that I want to watch Pauly Shore’s Son-in-Law again.
2. You started making music during the global pandemic. What words came to you at 3 AM? Do you still consider yourself cursed?
I consider myself more cursed than ever, because I am on a deliberate post-EP break from music while I try to get some prose writing done, and I feel constant, constant guilt over not having released anything since July, not being in the studio, not being Neil Diamond. My 3am brain blast came from a devolving and long, very ling and very storied, relationship I was unknowingly leaving behind. Many, many of my songs come from that person and that part of my life. I have and continue to look forward to writing about literally anything else.
3. What is your songwriting process?
Google Docs and voice memos. I’ll often have a lyric enter my head unbidden, then I pull over the car or whip open my voice memo app to email myself lyrics or sing a quick vocal melody. Then, I get those files together into my trusty little Google Doc and massage the lyrics until I feel I’m done, agonizing over every decision between an “a” or “the.” Sometimes I have the melody come to me along with the lyrics, most of the time really, but sometimes I have to construct a melody as the lyrics take some kind of structure. Then uh…then I find a producer/arranger type who can help me chord everything out, select a key, a tempo, etc. I always come with at least a sonic influence handy, usually a 5-6 song playlist I can send them. Sometimes that playlist evokes a mood or tone, and other songs included might be there to indicate the kind of guitar phrasing I want, or the way I’d like the drums mixed.
4. If you could collaborate with Bruce Springsteen on a song, what would the song be about?
My funny, dumb answer is the Saddle Brook Diner and my entirely, could-not-be-more-sincere answer is the Saddle Brook Diner.
5. Mustard has heard stories about the New Jersey turnpike. You are tasked to write a jingle to improve its image. How would this jingle sound? Is there anything actually wrong with the New Jersey turnpike?
There’s this one stretch of the turnpike that smells like skunk. And not just one skunk of a usual skunk size, no, but a Mothra-sized skunk that has sprayed the highway and everything you love and hold dear. I unfortunately live and have always lived somewhere along that stretch of skunk. I’d probably put my little publicity spin on this by having the jingle be sung by a cute little cartoon skunk who tells us that every time we don’t complain about the smell it makes them feel less self-conscious. There is really no other idea I have to market the barren, eau de LePew ass vibe of the New Jersey Turnpike, Mustard. I have tried my best.
6. In addition to writing music, you are also working on a novel. Who are some of your favorite writers? How do you balance songwriting and novel writing? Are there any commonalities between the two?
My favorite writers are just like…sad, horny women. Carrie Fisher, Melissa Broder, Sally Rooney. Your main character is a 26-year-old woman who should know better? It’s for me. I will be buying that book. Here is my money. Thank you. Writing prose, writing a novel, to me is much easier despite it being a longer process. And by easier, I mean easier to get the words out. I don’t have to worry about rhyming or about syllables; I just have to get my thoughts out, hopefully make what I write perceptive or informative or funny. Where songs are easier, for me, is that I think a listener can better suss out the theme or message of that song. I’m not a trained writer, so I feel that I have a lot of work to do in learning how to make a long work express a theme or moral motif of some kind. I’m giving myself some grace in, for now, treating the novel writing as just telling a story and seeing what themes I can develop later in the editing process. The commonalities are that I really need a lobotomy.
7. Last October you released your single ” I Have Always Been in Love With You.” that evoke Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. Could you share what it was like putting this single together?
“IHA” is still my favorite song I’ve released. You are spot-on about the similarity to Lucy Dacus: her guitarist Jacob Blizzard actually produced the song, and I reached out to him for that reason. Sometimes, a simple Instagram DM does the trick! We arranged the song from the lyrics I had written the day before we went into the studio (Headroom, in Philly) and then got to work for a couple of hours. Kyle Pulley, a great engineer, was incredibly supportive, and let me basically hide in the singing room so I could turn my back on everyone and try to shake my nerves. I got to sing into a mic Frances Quinlan had used for a Hop Along record, which was a massive honor. That song…yeah, still my favorite. Always will be.
8. Mustard tried to yell at Ryan Gosling before this interview. Unfortunately, his agent’s information is hard to obtain. When did you first listen to “Dead Man’s Bones?” Could you describe how you felt first listening to it?
Mustard, thank you very much for your noble attempt to reunite the Dead Men and their Bones. I love that damn album. I listened to it likely within the first month it came out, as I was very, very on top of new music then in a way I am not now. Also, I was constantly on Tumblr and therefore exposed to the “Tumblr aesthetic” of specific authors, television shows, social movements, etc. of which Ryan Gosling was a king. (For those reading, no, I never found out what “Homestuck” is and I think I’m better off.) Something that makes me love as opposed to just like media I’m consuming is a strong execution of tone and that album from start to finish has this beautiful, earthy, sinister tone whose rare bit of cheesiness feels deliberate.
9. “Abbey, I’m Sorry I Stole Your Man” is written from Jolene’s perspective. It tackles internalized misogyny. How did this idea come to you? Do you have any plans for any future sequel songs?
I’ve probably lied about this in previous interviews, but fuck it: I saw someone I know have an affair and the mistress take great liberties in trying to befriend his friends, even his girlfriend, while she was being his mistress! I wound up thinking, often, about the incredible gall this person had, and then trying to take a more generous view of what led them there. As I was writing this story, I realized that it was Jolene’s saga and set about constructing the story to fit Dolly’s song.
10. Earlier this year you released your EP “A Little Bit Cuntry, A Little Bit Rock N’ Roll.” which is the best of both worlds. When did you begin working on this project? How does it feel to have it out into the world?
I decided to make this specific EP in September of 2021 – I met with a new producer, Van Isaacson of Lovegrove Studios, and we got to talking about Nashville and the like. When Van asked which of the 40 or so songs I had lyrics to wallowing around in a Google Doc, and I panicked, and picked the first thing that came to my head after thinking of Nashville: “this Jolene sequel I kinda put together, I guess?” From there, I composed a couple of songs, one of which (a song inspired by the show Fleabag) didn’t make it, and selected a cover and got it all together. (Fun fact: I almost chose “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” instead, Kirsty MacColl’s version, to cover.)
11. Mustard has observed through your lyrics that human men are not that great. What do you think can be found for them to start taking accountability?
Therapy. Listening. Taking accountability for your own healing, and not letting your hurt hurt others. Remaining curious, asking questions, asking questions of the systems we have in place that don’t serve us. That onus is on us all.
12. If you could perform anywhere in New Jersey, where would it be and why?
In my dreams, Maxwell’s in Hoboken would still be open. I’ve seen Prawn perform there and Titus Andronicus and a number of friends’ bands, and it was a magic, storied place. I did get to write my name on the basement wall the weekend it closed thanks to Titus, and I’m happy that I at least got to pretend to be part of its musical legacy.
13. What is next for Sweaty Lamarr?
Great question! I’m taking a deliberate break from music for a few months, working on writing prose, but I have two full albums written out lyrically and ready to arrange. I am looking to find the right producer(s) and arrangers, so if anyone reading wants to throw their hat in the ring please be in touch!
14. Where can readers listen to your music?
I am on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, etc. and most importantly Bandcamp, at sweatylamarr.bandcamp.com!