Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with thePicassos. Together we discussed art, their creative process, communicating with the dead, and so much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have thePicassos joining them at Music Shelf. How is everyone doing?
Charles (lead vocals, guitar): Doing well! We are so glad to connect with Mustard as this is our first interview with a condiment!
Thorin (drums, accordion, banjo): I used to be more of a Ketchup kinda guy, but I once got involuntarily committed to a retirement home because I was confused about the difference between Ketchup and Catsup (it turns out they’re the same thing anyways). So I’ve been burned by condiments before, but I suppose I can give Mustard a chance.
Dan (bass): I’m doing A-1. I will say that, in my old age, I’ve learned to enjoy mustard.
Joe (keyboards): That is a loaded question. Loaded with mustard, no less.
Charles: A loaded, baked potato kinda question.
2. Mustard has observed that Picassco is a famous human painter. Did his work inspire your band name?
Charles: Pablo Picasso was indeed a famous painter! However we have commandeered the family name in concept only. Less of a tribute to the man in any way, but more our take on the lasting impressions of any number of historic artists. How they are only ever recognized for their work after they die.
But I think we all have our own interpretations?
3. How did you decide on the name thePicassos? Were you visiting an Art museum?
Dan: Well, the music itself is very abstract
Charles: Yes, like an ever-changing, living tapestry of sound. And again, thePicassos refers to the name of a dead artist, no more relevant than a name like “The Smiths” is relevant to a person named Smith.
4. Humans love origin stories. Can you recall when thePicassos first formed?
Charles: It started as a solo project around 2016 or so, but it was always envisioned as a full band. It took a couple years to find the missing pieces to the full picture.
5. Who (or what) influences thePicassos?
Thorin: There’s a bit of a variety there lol. As for me personally, both in my drumming and in my production style when I’m engineering the recording and mixing, I bring a pretty heavy Modest Mouse influence, particularly their first two albums (speaking of whom, their drummer died of cancer a few months ago; may he rest in peace). Charles and I also share a love for The Decemberists, and a mix of their Jenny Conlee and my mother influenced me to pick up the accordion (and their singer, Colin Meloy, previously played in a band, Tarkio, that motivated me to learn the banjo). My tastes vary widely from there, and I’m sure bits and pieces of other drummers’ influence find their way into my playing, but those are the biggest influences on what I bring to the table.
Joe: In terms of my keyboarding and just the general vibe of Charles and Dan also having a background in musical theatre, I would describe a lot of our stuff as “phantom-core”.
Charles: I guess, musically and visually, I personally draw from a lot of horror films and comic books as my main inspiration. Indeed, having a background in musical theatre has permeated our live performances.
Dan: I bring the sex appeal.
Thorin: Damn straight.
6. What is thePicassos creative process?
Thorin: With the rare exception that we do a cover or an old folk song or something, Charles writes all the songs and demos them for us. Then, we bring the whole band together and work out how to play the songs together, and that’s how we record; while there’s almost always plenty of overdubs layered on top, at the foundation of almost every song we’ve ever recorded together is us playing together in the same room. No metronome or anything, we just listen in and vibe off each other. On our more acoustic songs, Charles even usually does the lead vocals during the take rather than in overdubs.
Charles: That whole process is preceded by my writing process, which involves a lot of late nights in dark, candlelit rooms, to become a human Ouija board of sorts.
Joe: I think it’s interesting, kinda going back to the recording sessions, at least the ones I’ve been a part of (I just joined the band late in the recording process on our new album) that Charles and Thorin are very passionate about this band’s music, they both tend to have very strong opinions and ideas about how things should sound, the advantage of that being that they advocate for the music in such a way that really brings about a fantastic final product.
7. Your 2020 EP reminds listeners that they will die. When does death happen? How did death inspire this EP?
Thorin: Death happens at the end.
Joe: When you want to respawn.
Charles: Death happens when you least expect it; ergo the sentiment behind “remember you will die”, or memento mori. Much of my influence comes from my experience working in the death care industry at a cemetery, with constant reminders that nothing is promised.
8. What is an example of Smoke and Mirrors? Has anyone in the group experienced it first hand?
Thorin: Well, the song “Smoke & Mirrors” is about faking your own death and assuming a new identity (“I can make a living digging my own grave”). I’ve certainly contemplated faking my own death from time to time, but never gone through with it. Yet. But if we’re talking about the concept of smoke and mirrors, of being duped, conned, beguiled, or otherwise misled, I think we’ve all been there. I’ve even been on both ends of it; I used to work an unpleasant telemarketing job for a very large mortgage lender, and it was my job to smoke and mirrors the clientele, while simultaneously my employer was smoke and mirrors’ing me into thinking we weren’t harassing people. That was an interesting situation.
Dan: The real smoke and mirrors is that Charles and I are the same person.
Joe: And they show up in the same car.
Dan: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come up to me and ask “are you Charles?”
Charles: Not that I take offense to be mixed up with Dan or anything, but I do attempt a very distinct look that I feel is undercut by my misidentification, I put a lot of effort into my stage presence and my looks and inevitably it gets completely missed.
9. Some humans love scary stories. What are some of the band’s favorite scary stories?
“I once met a fellow named Enos
He wanted to show me h-“
Oh wait you said scary stories, not dirty limericks. Ummm. I got nothing.
Dan: I like a good slasher.
Joe: I don’t really have a scary story, but occasionally I get sleep paralysis and have someone in the room, and I gotta either laugh at it or just fall back asleep.
Charles: I can say I most notably am a childhood fan of the stories cultivated by Alvin Schwartz, as is evidenced by the title of our EP, “& Other Scary Stories”, as you’ve noticed. But we’re always collecting new tales!
10. Mustard wonders if it is true that you try to raise the dead at your live shows? Have you had any luck?
Thorin: It’s not raising the dead, but rather communicating with them. I believe we’re in constant communication with the dead, all of us; at least, those of us who are willing to pay attention are. I see a seance more as an offer to give the dead a chance to speak, rather than an attempt to summon them; they’re already there, omnipresently. But they speak in their own way. They may produce sensations in your body rather than speak or write actual words. They may arrange seeming coincidences. They may wake you at specific times of day, or infiltrate your dreams. If you listen closely, you will hear them, but listening doesn’t always happen with the ears.
Charles: We do indeed hold a seance during our performances, as we invite the audience to join hands and sing along with the incantations, “If the ones who’ve passed have words to say/Shout out your final resting place”. And in some instances, we have had.. unexplained phenomena occur, and hopefully the audience is left adequately haunted.
Dan: The twist ending is that Charles was a ghost the whole time.
Joe: I feel like, for a while, I was a ghost because I wasn’t in the band, but, spiritually speaking, I’ve been there.
11. How would you describe your live performances?
Thorin: Saucey. Full of condiments. (Which, again, I have uneasy feelings about due to the Ketchup/Catsup incident, but we’re making progress one day at a time.)
Joe: Our performances are invigorating. You’re immediately drawn in and we just hit the “go” button.
Charles: In a word: “adarkseance”.
Dan: We do indeed hold a seance during our performances, as we invite the audience to join hands and sing along with the incantations, “If the ones who’ve passed have words to say/Shout out your final resting place”. And in some instances, we have had.. unexplained phenomena occur, and hopefully the audience is left adequately haunted.
11. If thePicassos could raise anyone from the dead, who would it be and why?
Thorin: Well for me personally, one of my best friends died of cancer about six years ago, and I hadn’t seen him in person for about five years before that and we had been trying to make plans to visit when he passed. So I’d love to be able to raise him from the dead and see him one last time.
Charles: It would be my grandfather, who never got an opportunity to see my live performance, so for him to be able to see me play would mean a lot, as music was a big part of our relationship.
Joe: Paul McCartney.
Dan: Yeah, Paul McCartney.
Charles: Rest in peace.
12. What is next for thePicassos?
Thorin: Hopefully more accordion. And banjo.
Charles: Well, we’ve been working feverishly on our full-length album coming out on May 12, so that’ll be our main focus for a little while, and then obviously the many accompanying live seances yet to come.
Joe: To go from “Michigan’s haunted sounds for haunted people” to “America’s haunted sounds for haunted people”.
13. Where can readers listen to your music?
Thorin: Well, we have a website, thepicassosseance.com. If you wander around on there for long enough, you’re bound to run into streaming service and/or social media links eventually.
Charles: Wherever music is streamed.
Joe: If you use a Ouija board long enough, you might hear it.
Charles: Also if you hold your ear up to the right tombstone… at the stroke of midnight.