Gordon and Tony Leventhal are the songwriters of The Mockers, a New York
by way of Virginia band who released one of the best CDs of the '90s entitled
Somewhere Between Mocksville and Harmony. On June 5, their long-awaited
followup, Living in the Holland Tunnel, is being released on their
own label, One Eye Open.
Mockers have been labeled power pop, but what they do and
are transcends that definition. They are a very intelligent
band with Dennis Miller/Leary-level senses of humor that just
happen to be influenced by all the great bands from The Beatles
to The Zombies to The Kinks to country to whatever is good.
It is a sincere pleasure to present an interview with guitarist
How long have you and Tony known each other?
SG: Tony and I, believe it or not, met as kids in Spain. Our families
had both moved from New York to escape the so-called rat race. His parents
owned the school we both went to, and we were in the same class in fourth
grade. We became good friends right away, spending our weekends listening
to our Beatles records and Tony's Groovy Greats and Happening
Hits K-Tel-esque collections.
It's been a long time since recordings. You did this one with two of the
best: Mitch Easter and Brad Jones. What was that like?
I have to say that on this record, I honestly think we were lucky to work
with the two of the best producers right now. There were times that I
was kind of blown away that we were recording with Mitch Easter, this
guy who I've admired for years, who has recorded some of my favorite records
of all time. I'd go into the back room, and the masters to Murmer
would be sitting on a shelf!
SG: The great thing about both Mitch and Brad is that they LOVE to come
up with new sounds and new ways or twisting the usual pop stuff around.
It was Brad's idea to come up with the breakdown in the bridge of "Pearly
Gates" when the whole thing comes to a stop except for the church organ,
harps, and a heavenly choir. I think it really made the song.
SG: Mitch has an amazing collection of amps, guitars, keyboards, you name
it. So Mitch would suggest, why don't we try the Chamberlin on this song,
or this guitar would be perfect for this one. We probably played 2 dozen
different guitars and amps on this CD, plus plenty of weird things like
clavioline, mando-guitar, tympani, you name it really. Mitch came up with
the idea, and ended up playing this amazing, hilariously cool fuzz-bass
solo on "Yes World". How many times have you heard that on a pop record?
SG: Mitch would really help us to not just jangle jangle all the time
(not there's anything wrong with that!), but to try to take it to another
You had worked with Gary Wade, the great engineer of your first CD. He
also did The Rooks' classic debut. What was Gary like and how did his
style differ from Brad and/or Mitch's style?
Gary was one of the nicest people I've ever known. The most patient in
the studio--I never saw him get upset or frustrated if things weren't
going well. He made you really comfortable in the studio. Actually, you
can hear Gary on our first CD, trying to get Tony to remember how to sing
"5 Minutes Before"! Gary was one of the best engineers EVER. He had a
16 track studio and he could wring more sound out of it than most guys
with 10 times the tracks.
I consider The Mockers Somewhere Between Mocksville and Harmony
a groundbreaking CD in that it was one of the first underground CDs in
what I like to refer to as the Fourth Wave of Power Pop. (First: Beatles
and Brit Invasion, garage and psychedelia; Second: early '70s, Big Star,
Badfinger, Raspberries; Third: late '70s, dBs, The Knack, The Pop, The
Beat, et al). To me, Mocksville, The Rooks debut, Chris von Sneidern's
Sight and Sound and the first Yellow Pills compilation CD started,
or more accurately, brought to the surface what was already there: a ton
of talented artists who play, sing and write power pop. Talk about the
early '90s time period when you made the Mocksville CD, the New
York scene and what inspired the band around the time of Mocksville.
Actually, the seeds of this for us go back even further than the early
'90's. Even though I hate to admit it, Tony and I started the band in
the mid to late 80's. We were definitely out of the mainstream, especially
since were based in Virginia at the time. Except for the garage scene,
or the occasional mod band, there were very few bands doing "pop" or 60's
oriented material. We both met Michael Mazzarella around '86 or '87, and
for all of us it was wow, we finally met someone else who "got it." We
used to have hours long conversations about the music scene, pop, plans
for the future. That's how we eventually met Dave Rave, Richard X., The
Gripweeds. We actually got to the point where we were going to start our
own label to release all of the great music we were all doing. We used
to say things like "we're not nuts--this is cool music!" No competition
involved, in fact we felt like we all complemented each other. This is
what was going on when the first Rooks CD was recorded, and after that
our first CD. It was a real community, and it was really exciting.
DF: Mocksville was given a great review in Billboard. Not bad for
a self-released indie band. I never think that reviews like that are luck.
If it's really good like Mocksville, you get press. If it's not,
even great publicists will fail. Do you agree? Talk
about that and
how you attempted to get publicity for the first CD.
Well, in a perfect world yeah, if it's good you'll get press, but unfortunately,
that's not always the case these days. I felt that we had a good record,
and I worked my butt off to get that CD into the hands of people that
I hoped would agree. I've always had this motto that "you never know"
and you've got nothing to lose. From there, let the music do the talking.
In the case of Billboard, I went through their year-end best of issue,
and I picked out the writers and reviewers that seemed to be pop friendly.
I sent each one of them a CD, with a tongue-in-cheek letter how they were
pop friendly people in a pop unfriendly world and that we have to stick
together! I never heard anything. Then, Dean, our lead guitarist called
me in December and said that one of the reviewers picked our CD as one
of the Top Ten of The Year! The only indie release in lists of major label
product. It was definitely my proudest accomplishment in the promoting
of The Mockers. As a result, they wrote a short article about us. That's
why I'll always say--you never know what can happen, so why not aim high?
DF: I've always felt that both yourself and Tony write very ironic, humorous
and literate lyrics. Where do you get inspiration? How important is lyric
writing to you? Describe a favorite lyric and where the inspiration came
SG: It's always nice when people notice the lyrics because I do think
they are really important. I think a great lyric can make a good song
into a great song, and there are a few songs that have nice melodies that
are dragged down by mediocre words.
My biggest influences in lyric writing, believe it or not, are show tunes,
Elvis Costello, and Mad Magazine! I was brought up on Mad--I think I started
reading it when I was 6 or 7, and I was permanently warped from then on.
I used to write song parodies like that guy Frank Jacobs from Mad--you
know, "to the tune of", etc. My mom played things like "Oklahoma" and
"West Side Story" all the time, which for me, have some of the best lyrics
of all time, along with great melodies, of course. Elvis Costello's "Armed
Forces" was the album that brought home for me how great smart-alecky
lyrics can be. I've always strived for that. My favorite review said we
had a "benevolent sarcasm" which I think is exactly right. It's not intentionally
mean-spirited, but we definitely get our licks in!
SG: One of my favorite lyrics is in "Here Come The Lackeys". I was really
proud of the lines "here come the lackeys, if you start catching on, they'll
invent some new Iraquis." The song was about how politicians are basically
bought and sold to the highest bidder, or the oil company of your choice.
A friend thought those lines dated the song when we recorded it in the
early 90's, but to me it's actually even more appropriate now. You gotta
keep 'em distracted.
Seth, you are a notorious practical joker. The end of Mocksville
has a Jerky Boys-style phone call that is hilarious. Do you have any other
phone call pranks in the archives? Talk about your favorite practical
Me?!?! Are you sure you're talking about the same Seth Gordon? Hmmm...I
guess the statute of limitations has run, so... Yes, I admit it, we have
quite the extensive collection of phone pranks, started WAY before those
Jerky guys made it so damn mainstream to be obnoxious. We (me and my partner
in crime, one Mike Laverdiere, who can be heard at the end of the first
disc, as well as on "Robin's Problem" in the new one) actually had a catalog
of phone pranks that we sold on cassette. We sold hundreds of copies actually.
That was where our label One Eye Open started and got its name. Bonus
points to anyone who recognizes the reference.
We have a phone prank we did to Mr. T in the archives, and appropriately,
one we did to a very deserving drummer in a well-known pop band! And that's
all I'm going to say!
I see growth musically on the new recording. There appears to be more
sophisticated instrumentation and a real attention to detail. Any particular
tracks that you feel like were taken to the next level because of unique
use of instruments at your disposal at Brad and Mitch's studio?
Like I said in the earlier question, Mitch has an amazing collection of
vintage gear. The Chamberlin was great on a lot of songs, especially the
strings and horns on "Funk #50" and for that really cool "Wichita Lineman"
sound on "Sheepwalking." Tony got to use Mitch's 6-string bass to get
that great "Pet Sounds" vibe. There's harpsichord, clavioline (the keyboard
in "Telstar"), hammond organ all over the place. All of these things helped
to give the album real texture.
You have great musical taste. Give me your five (5) essential CDs. I am
sure most of our readers will have these CDs, but, if not, describe why
our readers should have these recordings.
Thanks, I appreciate that. You know, I hate to be SO obvious, but these
really are some of my favorite albums of all time, and I doubt anyone
reading DOESN'T have all of these.
1. The Beatles--Revolver Not much that I can add!
The Kinks--Something Else/Village Green Preservation Society I
always have to lump these together because they both are so amazing. The
Kinks are my favorite band after The Beatles. Ray Davies is almost the
best of McCartney and Lennon in one songwriter. The tunefulness of Paul
and the lyricism of John.
3. The Zombies--Odessey and Oracle As good as any album EVER. I
listen to this album at least a few times a month.
4. Bob Dylan--Bringing It All Back Home/Highway 61 Revisited Cheating
again. I'm sorry, I don't want to hear the howls from the naysayers. You
tell me a more exciting moment in rock and roll than that first snare
blast in "Like A Rolling Stone".
5. Elvis Costello--Armed Forces See above. I had to pick at least
one album not from the '60's. Just great, great songs and some of the
best lyrics ever.
Of course you know, ask me again another day, and I'll come up with 5
or 50 different albums (East Side Story, Bookends, London Calling,
The Who Sell Out, Skylarking, Buffalo Springfield, ANY Teenage
Fanclub, Girlfriend, Bee Gees 1st, Pet Sounds, Radio City,
tons of old country and rock and roll, the list is endless).
Are there any artists that you feel right now are making groundbreaking
Well, I don't know if I'm out there looking for groundbreaking these days.
Groundbreaking these days I probably won't like! I just want to hear good
I really like Fountains of Wayne--weisenheimer lyrics set to perfect pop
SG: I think the Shazam are great, especially Godspeed.
SG: I've heard a few things from the new Pernice Brothers, and it's definitely
gonna be in my Top Ten this year.
SG: The Waxwings are also fantastic. Robbie Fulks writes some of the best
songs, period. That guy can twist a phrase like the best of 'em. I've
been listening to a lot of country influenced stuff lately. One guy that
nobody talks about is Paul Burch and his WPA Ballroom. Fantastic stuff,
like Dylan meets Buck Owens and Lefty Frizzell. The last Hang-Ups record
I also loved (Mitch Easter produced it). And courtesy of the MP3 world,
I've been listening lately to TONS of great old songs from the 20's and
30's. That'll teach you something about songwriting.
Will The Mockers be touring the US or Europe?
We're probably going to tour Spain and Italy in the fall. The new CD is
also coming out on a cool Italian label called Club De Musique, and they're
going to bring us over to tour. We're also talking with some Spanish labels,
so we'll go to Spain at the same time. I hope we can also do some shows
and some low key touring here in the US.
How can people obtain a copy of your new recording, Living in the Holland
Tunnel?, what is the price including shipping, and to whom
does one make out a check? Any other details?
We're selling it for thirteen (13) dollars (US Dollars), postpaid. Click
the banner below or go
to our website and you can buy it with a credit card.
the United States, you can send a check or money order for
thirteen (13) dollars (US Dollars) to the following address
made out to "One Eye Open" --
One Eye Open
PO Box 2581
Va. Beach, VA 23450-2581
two U.S. dollars shipping if you are shipping to Canada.
you are from outside the Continental U.S. and cannot pay with a credit
card, payment must be by international money order for seventeen ($17
= $13 plus $4 USD shipping) U.S. dollars.
would like to thank Seth Gordon for taking the time to do this interview.
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