It was a little more than a year ago when I first met up with Ant Man Bee (Bradley Robinson) and Fuzzy Logic (Michael "Bruzzie" Nassif), the two masterminds behind the local cartoon-character-based rock band the Fuzzy Stones. At that time, the guys, who frequent the Nauti Mermaid - a Warehouse District joint known for its good, affordable seafood - had just finished four songs and a couple of videos and put them on their website (thefuzzystones.com). They were working on an entire album's worth of catchy pop tunes that both adults and kids would like and had a concept for an animated TV show/Internet series they wanted to pitch to an outlet like Nickelodeon.
While they haven't given up on getting some kind of animated series out there, they've turned their focus to the recording studio. They've finally finished the album, which they'll celebrate with a CD-release party Monday at the Beachland Tavern (alas, they won't be performing in character). "I think the main thing was I realized that the one thing we should do is make a record," says Robinson over a seafood quesadilla and beers. "That's what we felt like we knew we could do. We knew how to do it."
"I had been saying that the whole time," interjects Nassif, in character as the sometimes obnoxious Fuzzy Logic.
"That's where the band came from," continues Robinson, who has two young daughters. "For me personally, it came from the fact that everything that was being marketed to my children as music sucked. I wanted to do something that I would like as much as the kids would. We created these characters and everything else, which is cool, but they're not essential to making this music. I felt like focusing on the music was what we had to do."
For the first batch of songs recorded, Robinson, who played in an indie-rock band when he lived in Boston, recruited some of his musical buddies from those days, including Clem Snide drummer Eric Paul and guitarist Pete Fitzpatrick, and Van Hunt keyboardist Douglas "Truth" Smith. They headed to a New Jersey studio to lay down the four tracks that were available as mp3s on their website. They range from the catchy power-pop number "Blue," which sounds like a cross between the Flaming Lips and the Beatles, to a stripped-down rendition of the White Stripes' "We're Going to Be Friends." In a short animated clip, they play "Blue" while psychedelic backgrounds swirl around them.
They didn't have the luxury of recording out of town with a series of guests for the additional tracks on the 11-song album.
"I didn't feel right asking all those people to give up their weekends to do it," says Robinson. "We just did it piecemeal."
The guys wrote some new songs and then got a motley crew of local musicians to play them. The result sounds surprisingly seamless. "[Cobra Verde bassist] Ed Sotelo plays on some stuff," says Robinson. "[Guided by Voices/Bob Pollard producer] Todd Tobias plays on some stuff. My friends who aren't really musicians play on some stuff. There's a wide range of people, probably about 20."
The album is held together by a funny intro (in which Ant Man Bee talks about "zeroing in on this groovy groove") and an even funnier interlude (where Fuzzy Logic talks about a "song that my dog wrote," as he and Ant Man Bee joke back and forth). On "Magic Prelude," they discuss their "own special magic." If it sounds like the guys might have taken a hit of something before recording, they maintain that no drugs were used in the making of the disc.
"There's an element of that," says Nassif when asked about the album's psychedelic qualities, "but [Robinson's] never even smoked pot before." "I'm totally straight," confesses Robinson. "But I think my mom may have been taking drugs when she was pregnant with me."
All kidding aside, one inspiration for the band was a U2 concert the guys witnessed a couple of years at Quicken Loans Arena, when it was called Gund Arena.
"I always appreciated them and had a couple of their records but wasn't ga-ga about [them]," says Robinson. "I liked them but kinda made fun of Bono. I had the worst seats at Gund Arena, and it was the best concert I ever saw. It was a totally empowering experience. I felt like we could do that in a subtle way for kids. It's not just for kids, but for the kid in a parent. It might even be more for the kid in the parent than the kid." Two Fuzzy Stones songs might appear on an upcoming National Geographic kids' show about the environment, which will feature artists like Jack Johnson singing tunes written by guest contributors. Plus, the guys still want to use the characters and cartoon concept online, although Robinson says "the idea of a TV show might be a pipe dream."
But they're committed to the project which they hope provides an antidote to the current crop of rockers making kids' music.
"We're trying to make music we like," says Robinson. "I heard an interview with Jack White on Charlie Rose, of all places. He came up with this whole duo, brother/sister thing, even though they were really married once, and used the white-and-red-striped concept as an excuse for a white guy to play the blues. He felt like he needed a gimmick as some white kid from the suburbs of Detroit."
Robinson says the Fuzzy Stones are his gimmick.
"I've always wanted to make music," he says. "I've made music, and some of it's OK and some of it's not. I felt like for me to make music at the age of fortysomething, I needed a gimmick. At the same time, I saw this incredible void in kids' music. I'm hoping this is a little broader than the stuff that's out there. And a lot of the people who are listening to it don't relate to it as kids' music at all. It's just this funny thing. And there's something about it that makes people feel good."
The Fuzzy Stones, The Afternoon Naps, 8 p.m. Monday, December 22, Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216.383.1124, Tickets: $5