Idiot Glee is a 23-year-old Kentuckian named James Friley, a one-man-band who surrounds himself with multiple keyboards and effects and a looping device. The term idiot glee, though, is something of an affliction as described by Brian Eno in his essay "Into the Abyss." Friley phones during the homebound commute from his part-time job cashiering at a Cajun restaurant; he says he first heard about it during a YouTube interview from 1983.
"Somewhere towards the end, Eno just starts talking about, like, this sense of being overwhelmed with joy and excitement because you just had what you think is a significantly awesome idea. Maybe it's not, actually, but that feeling you get is idiot glee and I was like, I get that feeling all the time."
At least some of Friley's ideas, significantly awesome or not, led to Paddywhack, his first full-length CD. It is an echoey collection of pop-flavored songs best described as ethereal, de-boned, and adrift in a funhouse of sounds and textures. "I needed a contrast between what I was doing before I started Idiot Glee," he says, "which was loud-ass rock and roll." That would be his previous band, Bedtime, which he started when he was 16. "It [Bedtime] totally de-evolved into more of a Doors-Sonic Youth hybrid as I got older."
The UK Guardian called Paddywhack creepy. Is that what Friley was shooting for? "Not really. I thought that was funny because Bedtime was a lot creepier, and I kind of got away from that, I thought." Actually, Friley considers Idiot Glee post doo-wop. "I was just experimenting in the bedroom, you know, and once, I came up with a bunch of them," meaning songs that held the currency and shape of doo-wop. "I also listened to Al Green and Sam Cooke and a lot of soul dudes. I still like that stuff a lot. I guess that's what I was doing, trying to bring that sound back a little bit." And then, there's Brian Wilson.
Friley's affection for Pet Sounds has been well-documented. He listened to it a lot throughout '08 and '09. He also listened to the spawn of Pet Sounds, meaning bands inspired by the Beach Boys classic, which provided a moment of self-discovery. "I'd always been writing pop songs and stuff but I kinda just put them away in the back of my head, like, this is just too cheesy, I'm in a rock band. Whatever."
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But if there is a Beach Boys connection, then Paddywhack conjures the bleaker essence of Wilson, a songwriter who idealized sunny days and high times on the beach but in truth experienced painfully few of them. "I didn't realize that [Paddywhack's] kind of, lyrically kind of dark at times. I didn't pick up on that until I just kind of heard everything all together and I was like, maybe this album's kind of a bummer or something. I totally didn't mean to do that," he says, "but I guess that's just what happened."
After Friley told a gay joke to a reporter that in turn circumnavigated the globe via the music press it is tempting to cast him as a Mormon-Eagle Scout (he is both) who is trying to re-brand as a regular guy. Friley disagrees. "I don't think to myself, that's what I'm doing. I haven't really gone to church on Sunday in a while, just out of laziness," he says. "I'm still totally Mormon and I hold all the same beliefs. But I think that there's a difference between a Utah Mormon and like, a Kentucky boy Mormon. I'm not saying that Kentucky Mormons say gay condom jokes. I don't think they do that either. I may be a little more vile than the average guy. But you know, that's just how I am."
What's next after Paddywhack? "I've got a handful of new songs I'm not sure what to do with." He worries that the new material sounds too different. "I think it all still has [my] sound, 'cause I'll share these demos with people and I'll ask them, does this sound like Idiot Glee? Am I like, way too far off? Should I just start another band? And people say no, it still sounds like Idiot Glee. It sounds like the next step in Idiot Glee, just a little more upbeat this time."