Cryptic Cretins

Photo by Jack GouldGeoff Harrington is into some weird shit. Should you, while traveling through the tight-knit, talent-satur-ated Costa Mesa music scene, casually mention his name, you'll most likely hear all manner of urban legend attached to him—including the one involving a dog and peanut butter. You'll also hear that he's a genius, brilliant, part alien, psychotic, out in space, incredibly funny, a good father, stoned out of his mind, highly intelligent, like no one else you've met before, and the kind of guy whom “chicks dig.”

And if you spend time with him yourself?

You'll see a grown man who looks like a sweetly narcoleptic Schroeder when he plays the electric piano, who sways in time with the music and leans into the mic when he sings, which he does with his chin lifted and his eyes closed. You'll be surprised that he doesn't sway right off his bench, and you'll be surprised and relieved when he gets his body—which looks like he's dragging it through a vat of molasses—to the mic in time to sing his parts. In between songs, should his eyes open up all the way, and should he say something witty or intelligent or charming, you'll feel kinda like a sucker for thinking he was as out-of-it as he appeared because, quite apparently, he wasn't. But still, when you talk to him, you'll be tempted to reach over and take his pulse because he just talks so slowly. I mean slooooow. And spacy. And drawn-out. And airy. And sometimes not really saying much of anything at all.

Which is not unlike the music of his new band, Lomax Monk, whose beautiful songs are not merely songs but compositions—layered, haunting, dreamy, expertly crafted and which, lyrically, according to Harrington, don't really mean anything.

“We'll never print lyrics or post them or anything like that,” he says over an afternoon coffee at the Gypsy Den. “I don't know if any of the songs are a particular story from beginning to end that anyone's trying to tell. It's more just lyrical rhetoric, just foaming at the mouth, just words pouring out. Sometimes, line for line, nothing means anything.”

The album, Back on the Burnout, was recorded in bits and pieces over a year and a half at Costa Mesa studio the Distillery. Harrington was familiar with the space—five years before, when it was called Saturation Studios, Harrington himself owned, operated and engineered there, recording such bands as Rocket From the Crypt, Smile, Inch and Supernova, among others, before deciding he wasn't cut out for a studio engineer's existence. He handed the operation over to a friend “around the time my daughter was born. I just needed to get out of that warehouse and live in some sort of normal dwelling. I just didn't want to carry the weight of that studio.”

The initial tracks for Back on the Burnout were laid down by Harrington and drummer James Fletcher, both of whom had played in the now-defunct Film Star. After the rough songs were put onto a cassette, guitarist Matt May from the Neil Armstrong Band listened to the tape, came up with some guitar parts, and subsequently recorded those. Bassist Darren Morris (also from the Neil Armstrong Band) was the last to come onboard, recording his lines shortly before May and Harrington put down their vocals. “It's funny,” says Harrington. “We'd never all played in the same room together before the record was done.”

Of course, it's not like they were uncomfortable with one another, different members having played for the past 10 or so years in about 12 million various, incestuous, member-sharing bands. It gets confusing, and it gives me a headache, but here's a rough summary: May played in Afterschool Special. Morris played in Big Drill Car. Fletcher played (and still does) in the Women, in which Harrington also played for a time. May and Morris play in the Neil Armstrong Band, and Harrington joined them for a short time. Fletcher and Harrington played in Film Star, and May appears on Film Star's second album, Tranquil Eyes.

“That's the thing about stepping into a room and playing all together,” says Harrington. “We've been playing to-gether for years.”

And the prolific musicians already have another album nearly finished, which they hope to release by early fall. “We write a lot of music,” says May, which seems to be an understatement.

“For the Trying” is a song Harrington wrote for his wife, which contains the lines “Cat's got your tongue/I have told you/We'll be the last to laugh and wash this away/Weakness frown when you're around/ I speak to you as one . . . smile, thoughtful and proud about you and I as us and we . . .” He laughs while recounting the lyrics because he can't quite remember them, and he keeps changing them anyway. It's less about the lyrics for him than the music. “It was the last song I wrote for the record. It's really the most beautiful chordal structure of anything I've ever written. I was really happy with that particular song.”

May is equally cryptic about the songs he wrote for the album. “Just relationships, friendships, nothing specific,” he says.

But surely “Where Did You Go?” means something specific: “Where did you go, no one knows, why did you stay for so long?/When did we part, burnout, memory serves me wrong/Could empty lines on a dark highway get you through the night?/Could a truck stop parking lot be the end of the line?”

“Well, it was just me thinking about a friend who has a habit of disappearing and me worrying and being jealous at the same time,” says May a couple of nights later at band practice. And where does this friend go?

“You know, wherever. He'll call me from Olympia, and then he'll call me from Phoenix.”

Suddenly Harrington, adjusting something on his keyboard, perks up: “He's not following the Phish tour, is he?”

And this is how it is for Lomax Monk, flirting with that which is serious but then skating away in the nick of time.

You really can't blame them. It's quite possible that they've got the kind of heart-wrenching, tragic, destructive, life-altering shit in their past that they're not entirely comfortable putting into the hands of a stranger, let alone a journalist. So for now, we'll allow them that.

“Geoff's able to write some very, very incredible songs,” says Fletcher. “But at the same time, he's removed from it. He's involved, and yet outside it at the same time. It creates a cool—I don't know—a cool mystery to the songs, I think.”

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