Ten or twelve years ago, lounge music was just a cheap laugh. But there was a revolution fomenting in all those swank martini glasses, and after grunge sandpapered the airwaves, America was ready to chill out a little bit. Enter the lounge-core movement, spearheaded by a band called Combustible Edison (and their definitive album I, Swinger), who accumulated scads of hipster credibility before breaking up in 1999. But Combustible Edison guitarist/songwriter the Millionaire—only the government and his mom call him Michael Cudahy—wasn't ready to cash in his chips yet. He still deejays and mixes martinis for the mellow revolution, he's working on reviving his Internet radio station Luxuria, and he'll be spinning at the Continental in Fullerton every Sunday this month.
OC Weekly: What was so great about the lounge revolution? And why did it disappear? Millionaire:Well, I had an ambivalence about the thing as a movement. When Combustible Edison started, we were propounding it as a movement to be sort of an anti-pop to American culture, sort of a yang to the grunge yin. And it didn't disappear, just as it didn't reappear when we got on the scene—it just got absorbed into different things. Beck appropriated a lot of that stuff in his Mutations album, which had a lot of Brazilian influences. Downtempo electronica became the modern equivalent to mood music. Even the last Combustible Edison record was going toward that direction—if we didn't break up. What lounge album started it all for you?
It keeps coming back to Martin Denny for me. I heard his Quiet Village record in 1984. A friend of mine had it because he heard that Throbbing Gristle was into it, but it was like going into another world.
What do you mean? How was it possible to make good music out of something so heavily pickled in irony?
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We never approached it ironically. I thought it was good music that was derided as corny or square. A lot of people missed the point on it because what is considered edgy is so codified. You can't have substance and soul without being aggressive. It's ridiculous. When lounge was being made, it was genuinely subversive. It was an escape. It was a vision of a place where you could let go, where there was no House Un-American Activities Committee breathing down your neck, where no one would call you a fag if you're walking around with your grass skirt and bare feet like a beachcomber.
So what are you listening to now that lounge is back underground?
A lot of 1970s funk. My favorite funk band is Soul Seven. It's instrumental funk. And I listen to Johnny Pate—he's an arranger and conductor who did orchestral funk and the soundtrack to Superfly. I also listen to a woman named Yvonne Fair who was briefly on James Brown's People label, and the Skull Snaps, a vocal group funkier than the Temptations. I've been really obsessing over Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian. They were the first really important guitar soloists in jazz. Guitar wasn't an important instrument in jazz until they played. They were fantastic—mindblowing!
Is deejaying at bars a letdown after Combustible Edison?
We opened for Bryan Ferry in 1994; we played in stadiums filled with 15,000 people—it was insane. But I have no aspirations to glory. I just want to make the room happy. I deejay mainly because I enjoy playing music I like. Even if they're not paying attention, if you can put a smile on someone's face, you may have improved the world a little bit.
The Millionaire spins at the Continental Room, 115 W. Santa Fe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-4529. Sun., 8 p.m. Free. 21+.
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