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"I got lucky and managed to somehow, off the top of my head, pay off my house in a minute and 26 seconds."
GARAGE MECHANIC
An exclusive HITS dialogue with Liam Lynch by Roy Trakin
Unassuming Liam Lynch lives with his girlfriend and four cats in a San Fernando Valley house whose garage has been turned into three recording/art/editing/ production studios. It was here he created his surprise hit single "United States of Whatever," 90 seconds of aw-shucks slacker posturing punctuated with its two-beat punchline, "unnnh…whatever." The record was played first on the BBC in England, where it hit the Top 10 after being released, then crossed the ocean to Most Requested status on influential L.A. station KROQ and other PoMo outlets around the country.

The 32-year-old Akron, OH, native, who created the quirky MTV sock-puppet show Sifl and Olly, composed the music for the channel’s animated Clone High and directed award-winning videos for Foo Fighters and Tenacious D (for whom he’s now writing and directing a feature film), is a regular alterna-renaissance man. He also counts the two living ex-Beatles among his mentors—he studied songwriting one-on-one at the Liverpool Institute for the Recording Artists with founder Paul McCartney and had Ringo Starr record with him on his new album, Fake Songs (S-Curve/EMI). The disc includes not only "Whatever," but Lynch’s parody/ valentines to Bjork, David Bowie, Talking Heads and They Might Be Giants. Though he admits to being a novelty artist, the CD’s accompanying DVD shows a savvy, do-it-yourself multi-tasker who uses today’s technological toys, like digital cameras and Pro Tools, as the starting point for a post-modern, yet charmingly homemade, media melange. The man took some time out from puttering around the garage to get down with HITS’ own powerless tool, Roy "I Thought He Said His Name was Lunch" Trakin.

"United States of Whatever" is like a "Loser" for the 2000s.
That’s a good analogy. It’s definitely a funny song that was recorded on a four-track in my garage. It was a nice way of knocking on people’s doors. What it’s done for me is it’s made people wonder who did it. And then they start connecting the dots to other things I’ve done. It’s a big circle that has really opened people up to what I do.

How did Sifl and Olly come about?
I was living in Europe at the time and created it for MTV as these shorts which ran throughout the day between music videos. I did more than a 100 of those, then sent ‘em to MTV in the U.S., where it ended up as a daily half-hour series, which ran for three seasons and 80-some shows.

What’s the origin of "United States of Whatever"?
It was originally done for a comedy album I recorded three years ago in my garage, just me doing a spontaneous improv. I put it on Sifl and Olly and it got a huge reaction. And I thought, "I’ve got something with this song… I know it." After Silfy and Olly went off the air, I put the song on a CD sampler that was sent out to radio stations. It started getting played by the BBC in England, and the switchboard lit up like crazy. They asked if I was interested in licensing the song to put out as a single in the U.K. And it came in at #10 on the charts. That, of course, led to all sorts of industry leeches coming out of the woodwork. I got lucky and managed to somehow, off the top of my head, pay off my house in a minute and 26 seconds.

You don’t mind it being referred to as a "novelty" record?
No, but when people get the album, they realize I’m not a novelty. It’s a funny song. The CD comes with a DVD, and I think, when people see the video stuff, and get to hang out with me, it justifies the album. You see me in the studio with Ringo Starr, who plays drums on the record. They can see I’m a legitimate artist, having fun. It’s OK to not have a big faade or ego. Just make stuff at home that gets people to laugh, to have a good time.

What’s with you people from Akron? Your DIY aesthetic reminds me of DEVO.
A lot of good things happen in boring towns because people are bored and looking for ways out. Liverpool is a crummy town. I lived there for four years and I can understand why so many good artists come out of there, too. Detroit also. The greatest bands have come out of Detroit, like the White Stripes and Iggy Pop. Maybe it’s the water in Akron. It’s flammable from all the rubber. In fact, my dad worked for B.F. Goodrich.

What was it like studying with Paul McCartney?
He’s just a guy…who’s written some amazing songs and is a historical figure. But the truth is, he’s just a really nice guy with a very dry, funny sense of humor. The first thing out of Paul’s mouth was, "Nobody can tell you how to write a song." Some of the things I learned from him had nothing to do with music at all. People forget that there aren’t rules for creativity. That’s hard to deal with in an industry where the only rule is to do "whatever made money the last time." And that’s why things are so stagnant, and the Top 10 songs sound so alike.

"Whatever" is like nothing else you hear on the radio.
It’s the way the music industry used to be. Radio decided, "This is a funny song that makes us laugh, so we’re going to play it." When it’s you in a room making your stuff, you are the boss. Of course, the minute a copy of what you did goes out the door, it’s all lawyers and businessmen. So have fun while it lasts…

How did you hook up with Ringo?
He heard the song on the radio in England and called me at home. He had no idea I had lived in Liverpool or worked with Paul. It was a complete coincidence. The guitars on "Whatever" reminded him of the White Album. I literally got a phone call [in his best Liverpudlian accent], "This is Ringo calling from London… Thought I’d come and set up me drums in your bedroom." And I crapped in my pants. But we clicked. It was natural. He’s just a good person. He’s fun. The recording sessions are on the DVD. Ringo and Mark [Hudson] are kind of like my creative uncles. If I need anything, they’re there. They support my creativity and helped make the album happen.

Do you mind being called Gen Y’s answer to Weird Al Yankovic?
This isn’t taking an existing song and writing lyrics about food to it. It’s about saying, "I so understand and have listened to these artists, I can write a song that sounds like one of theirs." It’s fun to draw a caricature. It’s not any one of the particular artist’s songs; it’s all of their songs. They’re valentines. The truth is, there’s no thought involved. I just wondered what it was like to be David Bowie. Rather than write the deepest, coolest song that can convince everybody I’m in more pain than anyone. It’s me saying, "I can totally do a Bjork song." It’s about having fun, enjoying being a musician and using my skills in a creative way. People can rock out and laugh at the same time.

Your main message is, "Anybody can do it."
Totally. If I could do anything for anyone, it would be to give them confidence to create something. Have fun. There are so many kids in high school or younger for whom technology has always been a part of their lives. They’re used to its power and capabilities. You don’t have to get signed to a record company to make an album. You can put together a better studio in your house than the one that costs $5000 an hour. If you don’t have everything you need, use your ingenuity, and that will make the end result even more unique, which translates into your own personal style. It also gives you control over the final product. There’s a whole section of the DVD where I go to Home Depot and try to figure out how to make a robot.

You’re kind of the Martha Stewart of geeks. Any plans to tour?
I don’t think so. I don’t want applause. I want to be home making stuff. My applause is finishing a piece and going, "I did it!" I’d rather put out twice as many records than tour for a year. It’s a regimen that’s destructive.

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