I recommend you check out No More Kings' self-titled debut album (Astonish Records), featuring hit single and You Tube sensation "Sweep the Leg." The album features smart and interesting pop culture odes that are never precious or cloying. Directed by Billy Zabka (who played Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid), the video reunites the cast of that movie to tell the villainous Johnny's side of the story. With references to Knight Rider and MC Hammer, The album is a fun nostalgia trip for children of the 80s, and it also makes you think by subverting familiar pop storylines a la metafiction. Pete Mitchell, lead singer of No More Kings, did a little Q & A with us Apes.
What inspired you to tell Johnny's side of the story in "Sweep the Leg"?
I've always been a fan of shifting perspectives. There's a great play/movie called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead that follows some minor characters from Hamlet as they intersect with Hamlet 's plot. I love starting a project with "what if?".
How did the "Sweep the Leg" video come together? Was it difficult to reunite the cast of the movie?
The video for "Sweep the Leg" was the craziest and coolest two days of my life.
The entire process, of course, took much longer than that. Once Billy Zabka got involved, the whole thing took on a life of its own. He was responsible for getting the cast back together. A lot of people were hesitant at first. The Karate Kid holds a pretty special and sacred place in their hearts.
The album has the humor of Weird Al or Barenaked Ladies but goes deeper. Can you talk about the use of humor in your music?
I grew up watching The Muppet Show, reruns of Laugh-In, Benny Hill, Monty Python...so it's only a matter of time before all that stuff seeps in. And while not every song is necessarily trying to be funny, I think each one is at least done with a wink.
Do you plan to continue reminiscing about the 80s in future albums? If so, what movie and TV subjects would you tackle?
Funny enough, I never planned on specifically tackling 80s subjects. It's just sort of where my inspiration came from. If I grew up in the 20s, I might've written an album about Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy. Having said that, I am cooking up a Johnny Five is Alive song from Short Circuit .
"About Schroeder" is my favorite song on the album. It's quite tender, surprising, and clever in its use of a familiar cartoon icon to explore deeper issues of loneliness and obsession. What inspired you to write it?
Thank you! This was another one of those "what if?" songs. I never really believed Lucy van Pelt was good for Schroeder. She was too self-centered to love him truly. And I always had a sneaking suspicion that Sally Brown understood his genius. Then I realized that they weren't real people, and that I was obsessing over cartoon characters. Two weeks of therapy later, and I was fine.
Do you worry that the heavy amount of kitschy pop culture references will lead people to dismiss your music as lightweight?
I did worry about that at first. And in fact, there are some people who do dismiss the album outright. But I'm hoping as time passes, maybe they will give it a second chance.
Is it difficult to get zombies to harmonize?
That is the best question I've ever been asked!! Yes, it was quite a nightmare. I was nervous to go into the recording booth with them, after what happened to the intern, so instead we hung a human brain on a stick and waved it around in front of them...it was messy, but I think the results on the album were worth it. Incidentally, we had the zombies track vocals for "About Schroeder" as well, but in the end we decided it didn't fit.
Who were your 80s musical idols and what current bands/artists do you listen to?
I was raised on good ol' classic rock with a healthy slice of Motown thrown in.
By the time I had a weekly allowance, I saved up to buy Thriller . That album created somewhat of a monster in me. Soon after that, I got into Billy Joel, Genesis and Boston.
These days, I'm into more experimental stuff, like Aphex Twin, Autechre, and Boards of Canada. I absolutely love Radiohead, Beck, and Bjork. I count down the days until new releases by them.
What's the meaning behind the band name?
It's from a Schoolhouse Rock song I loved as a kid. It was the one about the pilgrims coming over from England and starting the American colonies. I love the sort of American independent spirit that it captured.
How is the tour going so far, and what can fan expect from your live show?
The tour is going great! It's a lot of fun to travel to different cities and meet all these different bands. And now we're starting to get people who are coming to the shows specifically to see us, having seen the video. So it's getting more and more exciting for us.
In "Leaving Lilliput", Gulliver sympathizes with Gargamel, and "Sweep the Leg" lets Johnny tell his side of the story. Given that you share the name of Maverick, will Iceman be narrating a future song?
Nice! As long as Val Kilmer agrees to be in the video.