Menomena’s Danny Seim makes a mix about moms
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In I Made You A Mixtape, we ask our favorite musicians, actors, writers, directors, or whatevers to strut their musical savvy: We pick a theme, they make us a mix.
The mixer: As a member of Menomena since its formation in 2000, Danny Seim has shared songwriting duties with Justin Harris and former bandmate Brent Knopf, who departed in 2011 to pursue his excellent side project Ramona Falls. Menomena’s new record, Moms, shows Seim and Harris are more than capable of carrying on by themselves, not only in the choice to eschew their signature DLR software for a more collaborative, tightly knit songwriting style, but also in the album’s lyrics, which reveal both Harris and Seim’s difficulties growing up with and without a mother. The A.V. Club asked Seim to make a mix of favorite songs for, about, or inspired by moms.
Danny Seim: Let’s start things off with the mother of all “mother” songs. Remember the video for this one? As far as I can tell, it’s all about Glenn Danzig wearing his own band T-shirt, standing on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—he’s a small guy; that star is actual-sized—before finger-painting in chicken blood on the stomach of some girl in a Van Halen bikini. Not too sure what this all has to do with the elderly Mrs. Danzig, but I’m sure she’s proud.
ABBA, “Does Your Mother Know”
DS: I was way too punk-rock to be into ABBA as a kid. ABBA represented everything cheesy and wrong about the decade I was born in. And by the late ’80s, I was busy doing everything I could to distance myself from that sort of aesthetic, by listening to nothing but Christian hair metal, of course. I finally heard “Does Your Mother Know?” for the first time somewhere around the turn of the millennium, and now ABBA is one of my favorite bands ever. I’m still a little creeped out by the pedophilic lyrical vibe of this song, but the perfect melody makes up for it.
The A.V. Club: What Christian hair-metal bands did you listen to?
DS: Oh man, Stryper of course. They were the first concert I ever attended. It was in Hawaii in the late ’80s, during their In God We Trust tour. My dad was holding my 10-year-old-hand the whole time, and we bonded by dodging Bibles together and checking out the beautiful drummer, who turned out to be a dude. Who knew?
Listening to Stryper was kind of my choice, but only because I was forbidden to listen to anything that wasn’t sold at the local “Showers Of Blessings” bookstore. It was either them or Amy Grant, and I made the obvious decision. It’s interesting to note that Amy Grant has since become one of my favorite artists, and Stryper is… well, Stryper is still Stryper.
AVC: So did this song make you a fan of ABBA? What clicked for you?
DS: Well, the song is amazing. So that’s a no-brainer. But I had to get over my ’90s, “It’s gotta be angry, loud, and sung by Ian MacKaye if I’m gonna like it” mentality in order to give ABBA a fair shake. I’m glad I did. Now I’d put their album The Visitors in my desert-island collection, for sure. It’s perfect from start to finish.
John Lennon, “Mother”
DS: This is the saddest song of all time. The lyrics are devastatingly poignant. The vocals give me chills, especially at the end when John screams his head off. It makes me want to cry and throw away every other record I own. Unfortunately, I can’t hear that gonging intro without thinking of AC/DC’s “Hells Bells,” which in turn makes me think of monster-truck rallies.
AVC: It’s eerie how similar in tone and rhythm the two intros are. Pity any child abandoned at an AC/DC concert.
DS: Did Girl Talk exist in the early ’80s? Maybe “Hells Bells” was the world’s first mash-up.
Roxy Music, “Mother Of Pearl”
DS: Speaking of weird intros, what is going on in this one? I always used to skip this song because the beginning made me picture Bryan Ferry trying in vain to suppress a premature ejaculation. It’s worth powering through, though, pun intended. After a couple minutes, the song completely changes course into a typically funky Roxy jam that pays off with one of the longest a capella outros of all time.
AVC: The lyrics in this one seem to be about maturing out of sleeping around and partying, and settling down with his “mother of pearl.” Some of the lyrics on Moms are about types of relationships other than motherhood. How does this song fit into the mix? Is it a great song with “mother” in the title or is it a song about drugs?
DS: I’d say 95 percent of Bryan Ferry’s lyrics are about sleeping around and partying, and maybe 2 percent of the Moms lyrics are. So I guess the only direct influence there is the overall funkiness. Justin and I would gladly be a funk band on the state-fair circuit if we could keep a straight face onstage. Also, I’m pretty sure all the songs on this list are about drugs.
Ozzy Osbourne, “Mama I’m Coming Home”
DS: In the ’80s there was a chubby, volatile kid named Eddie in my Christian grade school who used to say a lot of bad words and write “OZZY,” with lines through the middle of the “z”s, naturally on his knuckles. Actually, in the ’80s there was probably a chubby, volatile kid named Eddie in every grade school who said bad words and wrote OZZY on his knuckles. Eddie scared the crap out of me and, therefore, so did Ozzy. I would have slept a lot better if someone would’ve told me that Mr. Osbourne was merely a wacky dad on a TV show who wrote the occasional power ballad about his mother.
AVC: Plus, one of his biggest songs calls for peace and to “learn how to love and forget how to hate.” What’s more Christian than that?
DS: Yeah, totally! Well, there are a few things in life more Christian than that. I’m thinking Stryper, or maybe Mitt Romney.
The Pharcyde, “Ya Mama”
DS: The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde was the first of many ’90s rap CDs I paid Columbia House a penny for. It was also one of the first albums I kept hidden from my mother. I didn’t want her to worry about me after hearing, “Ya mama’s got a peg leg with a kickstand,” “Ya mama’s got a glass eye with a fish in it,” and of course, “Ya mama’s got an afro with a chin strap.”
AVC: “Yo mama” jokes seem so innocent now. And some of these lyrics—your best hope was they were too abstract for her to make out what was being said. Were you able to listen to the other rap CDs you bought?
DS: Eventually, yeah. But at the time, I had all of my other favorite rap albums—N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, Public Enemy’s Fear Of A Black Planet, Big Daddy Kane’s Taste Of Chocolate, Ice Cube’s Kill At Will—dubbed onto old Christian cassettes. You know how you could tape the little plastic squares down on the corners and then re-record anything you wanted? That was a revolutionary discovery for me.
LL Cool J, “Mama Said Knock You Out”
DS: There’s an important moment in LL’s 1991 MTV Unplugged performance when the band rips off their shirts and kicks into this song with a blast of testosterone. There’s a lot of muscle flexing, angry facial expressions, and headbanging going on. However, I don’t remember being intimidated by all the male bravado. I was too busy being transfixed by the white antiperspirant stalactite dingleberries in Cool James’ armpits. I had nightmares about these things slowly dragging across my face as I slept at night. Horrifying. I’ve never used solid white deodorant since.
AVC: It’s curious, with a song so aggressively threatening, that’s what you focus on. Did you have a phobia, or just a wild imagination?
DS: I don’t know what was going through my mind. Maybe I was worried about my own body having too much—or not enough—weird hair suddenly growing everywhere. And then there’s LL up there, flaunting it. Or maybe it was a mistake? I’ve spent a lot of time in life wondering what happened immediately after that performance. Did his manager pull him aside and say, “James, you freakin’ killed it up there. Really, the ladies freakin’ loved it… But next time, baby, skip the freakin’ antiperspirant. It’s harshin’ my freakin’ mellow, baby… harshin’ it!” I’d like to think so.
AVC: Did you have to watch MTV in secret?
DS: I definitely watched MTV in secret, along with that weird scrambled channel where you could sometimes see breasts, usually at car washes.
Three Dog Night, “Mama Told Me Not To Come”
DS: Before the Internet made it impossible to buy anything without researching it to death, I spent a lot of money in supermarket checkout lines on “best of” CDs by the band War, looking for this song. But, duh, it’s totally Three Dog Night, man. And that title is totally Freudian or something. Whoa, dude, gross-out.
AVC: Why were you convinced it was War? Did you buy any other “best of” albums in your search?
DS: You know, the whole groovy-bassline-with-the-stoned-dude-talking-over-it thing? Pretty sure I thought it was “Low Rider.” There was a period back there when I’d buy anything with a “Nice Price” sticker because I thought I was getting a better deal. Instead I got a bunch of Kenny Loggins albums.
Tracy Bonham, “Mother Mother”
DS: Portland got its first alternative radio station in the mid-’90s, and I got several different new favorite bands: Weezer, Green Day, and probably someone like The Offspring or Better Than Ezra. I heard this Tracy Bonham song a lot, too, and I think I developed a bit of a crush on her. I remember being scared by all the “EVERYTHING’S FIIIINE!” screaming and being concerned for Tracy’s safety when she threatened to “try a little tobacco.” I silently responded by praying for her and her mom.
The Knife, “We Share Our Mother’s Health”
DS: On one of the first European Menomena tours, Craig Thompson bought me a space-cake brownie in Amsterdam. “Eat this in the van tomorrow morning,” he told me. “It will wear off by the time you get to your next show.” Six hours and six back-to-back listens to the entirety of The Knife’s Silent Shout later, I was still seeing Jesus in the back of the van. Three hours after that, The Knife descended out of the ceiling above the stage while we were playing, dressed in bloodstained robes. The singer looked at me with huge cat eyes while I was drumming and whispered, “Keep the faith, my son” before disappearing in a green cloud of smoke. That’s about all I remember.
AVC: It seems that would distract from your performance. Were you able to finish the show?
DS: I think so. I had to YouTube it for proof, though.
DS: Craig was touring over there with us, painting huge intricate murals onstage behind us while we played. Those experiences are definitely career highlights of mine. At the end of each show, he’d rip the butcher paper off the wall, shred it and throw the little pieces into the crowd. The shows were amazing, especially when the audience noticed there was a band onstage.