From Orchid to Upright Citizens Brigade: Maneuvering Comedy in Metal and Punk
You might know the name Geoff Garlock from his time in Orchid, Panthers or the Year Is One, but you SHOULD know him because of his sense of humor. While creating subtly snarky song titles in his bands, Garlock has been honing his craft in comedy, joining with the Upright Citizens Brigade in 2002 and contributing to everything from MTV and Adult Swim to Saturday Night Live, and many stops in between. But all roads have led to today, and his new one-man show, Rock n Roll Will Never Die.
Rock n Roll Will Never Die is Garlock's take on the music festival, a one-man show that not only highlights some of the insane characters that you'll find at fests, but what happens when glory fades. The show plays tonight (March 30 at 7PM) at UCB Theatre in Chelsea, as well as the next two weeks. Tickets are on sale.
We cornered Garlock to talk about his new show, the intersection of music and comedy, and who he thinks nails it the best. Upworthy voice: The results MAY surprise you!
One of the things about you and your bands is that you've never been afraid of showing a comedic side to your music. How did this start? Especially considering that punk / metal is usually either so serious or goofy to the point of embarrassment, and pretty much nowhere in between?
I think a lot of that came from growing up in the [Connecticut] hardcore scene. I was a little guy, with glasses, and I always looked like a little boy. But I was surrounded by Hatebreed and 25 ta Life shows, and screamed in a hardcore band where I sounded like Paul Bearer from Sheer Terror, which was confusing to a lot of people. And don't get me wrong: I still love Hatebreed a lot. But I was never going to be a tough-guy hardcore dude. No matter how serious I acted. Not to mention, Jay [Green] and I from Orchid were both acting kids in high school, went to acting school our senior year, and always wanted to do comedy. So, we were in this in-between world of loving this really tough, angry music, but also knowing every word to every Kids in the Hall sketch. Sitting in our respective basements while flipping back and forth between SNL and Headbangers Ball every Saturday. And as we continued playing music and got older, I think we just started slowly merging those two worlds. Realizing that we were objectively funny and were in bands with funny guys, because you want to hang out with people who are actually funny. And all of a sudden, we were taking classes at UCB. So, we should probably just embrace it. Also, as you get older, you start to realize how stupid the self-seriousness of especially metal is. But it is also what is the best part about metal. Life is confusing.
How does RnRWND aim to show the comedy that lies beneath music?
The goal was to find comedy in the real human beings behind the music versus the artifice. Which sounds really lofty, but hey, why not shoot for the stars? I think coming from the DIY punk scene, the idea of a rock star was always so ridiculous. And as you keep playing music and touring around, you start to meet some of your heroes and realize that they are idiots just like the rest of us. So, under the umbrella of an overblown rock festival that has essentially blown itself up, I could point out some of the personalities I have met over the years and basically point out how they are monsters just like the rest of us. I really love characters who are confident assholes OR are suffering an existential crisis from every choice they have made in their lives. Which is basically music and musicians in a nutshell to me.
Who do you think that RnRWND appeals to?
My hope is that a lot of people would be into this. My real hope is that I made the characters speak to anyone who has ever questioned their path in life, especially a creative one. I had a student tell me that they really enjoyed the death metal character in the show, even though they knew nothing about death metal, but because they were a musical theater major and were now questioning that choice every day. Which, I guess, is the goal: making everyone sad about their life choices through me wearing wigs and doing characters. That being said, I think it also has enough in it for the music nerds to feel better than everyone surrounding them watching it. I try to be populist in the most obscure way possible.
Considering that comedy is somewhat of a convergence of entertainment and elements of sociology, what do you think is the biggest cliche with respect to music fans?
My gut reaction is to immediately go to people's version of metal fans, and it is that they are still a bunch of meatheads, and that it is basically Heavy Metal Parking Lot on repeat for the past 30 years. And granted, yes, that exists at certainly every show that I am at. But I think that can be said for the audience of an LCD Soundsystem or National (just picking two bands out of a hat) show. Most of those people are going to be meatheads and idiots. I think it is still a childlike reaction I have to people, thinking it is something I will eventually grow out of, but I think you can be a smart adult and still like non-boring music.
Considering your work in subcultures like punk and hardcore, did you have to dial back any of the jokes for wider appeal?
One-hundred percent. That is one of the reasons I brought on my director, Michael Hartney. Besides the fact that he is an amazing writer, actor and director, he doesn't know WHAT I am talking about when I talk about metal or music in general. So, he was a great insight into how many Morbid Angel jokes I could put into the show. The answer was none. Because my tendency in life is to go really deep-cut all the time and have people's eyes glaze over as I explain what New Age records are good and how they relate to Paysage D'Hiver. Even in my podcast, Worst Gig Ever, I had to constantly be reminded by my co-host Mike Pace to maybe make less dusty groove jokes about Constatine Sankathi 7"s. But I still have enough funeral doom jokes to make me happy, which feels like a triumph on the UCB stage.
Who do you think is a band that best tows the line between good music and a good sense of humor?
I feel like a lot of our friends did a great job with that, which is why we got along with them so well. Combatwoundedveteran and good buddy Chris Norris did such a good job with legitimately funny, snarky song titles and lyrics. So did Mark [McCoy] from Charles Bronson / Das Oath / Failures and Chris Bickle from In/Humanity and Guyana Punch Line. Ultimately, I think it's a tie between Jared [Warren] from Big Business / Karp and Sam McPheeters from Born Against / Men's Recovery Project / Wrangler Brutes. Jared has always been one of my favorite lyricists, and he really gets the comedy and rhythm of writing lyrics that don't feel like they are trying hard to be funny, but are because he is just a funny dude in real life. Not to mention one of the best bass players ever. Sam McPheeters is someone who I have never met, but always respected everything he does because it was, again, so smart and funny and, again, not trying hard. But also trying really hard, but I had no idea why. The Sam McPheeters / Catholic Church 5" record is one of the funniest things ever in music to me. Just him reading a Patrick Henry speech on an almost unplayable format of record dressed as Patrick Henry on the cover. I love it so much, and I still don't know why he would bother to do it. And I still love his writing. The Loom of Ruin is such a solid book. And Wrangler Brutes' press photo is amazingly funny to me, matched with a great hardcore record. All these people don't reek of trying to be funny. And as a sketch teacher, I know for a fact: You can't teach funny.
You're still involved in music, as you currently play in Low Estate with members of Sannhet and Made Out of Babies. What's going on with that record? Any details you can share?
We have recorded a new full-length. We are actually getting it mastered as we speak by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege right now, and the versions we have already gotten back are crushing. We are all really excited with everything we wrote and now [are] just trying to get someone interested enough to put it out. It's one of the heaviest records I have ever been involved in, which feels great to say as a 38-year-old man. We have a bunch of guest stars that I can't name just yet, but at least one made 16-year-old hardcore kid Garlock real excited he agreed to it. Hoping to see it out by the end of the year / beginning of the new year in some way or another.
When is Orchid going to play again? (Exact dates only here, please.)
I think we have a date set for March 30, 2037. We will all be almost 60, and we will only be playing "Destination: Blood!" 25 times in a row, but it's going to be the Silverstein cover version, so it will totally be worth the wait.