Jimmy Urine, Ravager of the Galaxy and Synthwave
Jimmy Urine, singer of Mindless Self Indulgence, is a hand grenade of music references, comic book knowledge, movie synopses — pretty much any imaginable combination of geekery — and he's ready to go off at any moment. It's totally fitting, then, that he's set to star in the upcoming maximal superhero / sci-fi extravaganza Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as the space criminal Half-Nut. In addition, he's also releasing a new compilation of solo material, The Secret Cinematic Sounds of Jimmy Urine. You can hear his full musical oeuvre in full effect — a glorious, whacked-out mess of chiptunes, classic synthwave and all types of electronic experimentation. The result is some of his prettiest, most sugary work to date, all imbued with undercurrents of attitude and unrestrained cool.
Check out the premiere of "Patty Hearst," pre-order the record and read our interview with Urine below.
You’ve got a movie coming out that’s probably going to be the best Marvel movie of the year: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Yeah! Guardians, man. I mean, the first one was amazing. It’s an honor, and the thing I gotta say is to thank James Gunn — motherfucker made me part of the Marvel Universe. I mean number one, I’m in Guardians and I’m part of the whole Guardians universe, but to be in a Marvel movie, you’re officially part of the Marvel Universe. Growing up, I read nothing but Marvel comics; growing up in New York, Marvel comics were far superior because they took place in my neighborhood. The Fantastic Four’s headquarters was the [Citigroup] headquarters on 53rd Street; Daredevil was hanging out in Hell’s Kitchen; Spider-Man could be zooming through your fucking neighborhood. So, Marvel comics to me were so real and I loved them; so, to be a part of the Marvel universe in any way is fucking amazing.
How did that come together? Did he just reach out to you?
Yeah, he reached out to me. We’re friends; he reached out to me and said, “Hey, we’ve got these parts for some of the Ravagers, and we want you to be a Ravager.” And I was like, “Fuck yeah,” and I kind of thought it was going to be a teeny little walk-on, but it turned out to be a whole significant bumper kind of person, a character actor kind of spot. Like, holy shit, this is great. And they filmed the whole thing in Atlanta, so I flew down there, and it was last year from January to June; [I] did a month of filming, maybe one scene in the background, one in the foreground, and working with a couple of guys going back and forth between [Los Angeles] and Atlanta, and it was great. A lot of the guys I knew anyway from hanging out with Gunn; it was like a real family there. You’d be walking around this huge intricate set, but then you’d see a buddy like, “Yo, what’s up, man? How’s it going?” [Laughs] And it wasn’t until I came back to L.A. and Captain America: Civil War had come out — my wife and I, we’d gone to the local theater, [caught] a matinee. And we went to the theater, and it was packed with kids in Iron Man and Captain America masks. Like, “Oh shit, I’m in a Marvel movie — this is no joke!” Now it’s crazy. I see the ads everywhere. I’ll go to get a sandwich, and on the chips it’ll be, “Guardians of the Galaxy!” all over my Doritos bag.
I think what I dig most about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is they’ll take a director like James Gunn — who has a past doing Troma films and stuff like Slither — and realize he’s a great director, and give him millions and millions of dollars for this huge film that has a lot of his voice in it.
Yeah, and I love that. Coming from the background of super crazy, cult, over-the-top shit — and even Mindless Self Indulgence is crazy over-the-top — you see those stories all over the place. Not just directors. Sometimes guys like Gunn and Taika Waititi, the guy doing the new Thor, who did What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. But you also see it in dudes like Danny Elfman, who came from Oingo Boingo, and not just Oingo Boingo but the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo — that shit is super fringe-y, super cult, super crazy. And now he’s Danny Elfman, whose soundracks are part of people’s lives forever — they got tattoos of Jack Skellington and shit. I think it’s really amazing; it speaks a lot to me. It’s inspiring seeing Gunn doing super cult stuff, then initially breaking through, and now really breaking through. Just because you’re super cult and fringe-y doesn’t mean you’re not good at your fucking job, and he is.
So, how did these new songs materialize for the record?
You know, I’m in a band that I love a lot and I love doing, which is Mindless Self Indulgence, and it’s really got no rules, and I can do whatever the fuck I want with it. And when it’s got time off — which, currently, we’re on hiatus and we’re chilling — the thing I end up liking to do and what I kind of grew up doing is anything with some kind of rules, and something that’s music-related and soundtrack-related. So, I started getting into composing, and I’ve been picked up for some people’s movies, TV shows, video games, that kind of thing. I like that because it has some rules, but it has cool rules. You’re trying to fit music to a scene, and then the director or client or whoever will come in and be like, “Ah, it’s a little too fast, it’s a little too dark,” and you go in and adjust it, change it up, which I have no problem doing. Plus, it’s totally different than what I already do. I mean, what am I going to do? My other band, the Left Rights, has even less rules than Mindless, and it’s much crazier.
I imagine when you’re in a big band like Linkin Park or Nickelback, you end up having a lot of rules on songwriting, which makes your side projects kind of weird or crazy. But my main band is fucking crazy, so I’m not going to do something crazier than my main band. So, it’s cool going back to doing what I did as a young kid. Being really into synthesizers and soundtracks, I never bought any rock records until I was in my teens. I’d only buy soundtracks. And the only reason was from movies like Heavy Metal, and I thought, “Oh, who’s Cheap Trick? What’s Black Sabbath?” And I would go buy the soundtrack. But everything was John Carpenter soundtracks, Tangerine Dream soundtracks, John Williams soundtracks, and I’d buy all these soundtracks, and I had all these synths from being a kid, so I’d try to do Escape From New York-style stuff. So, going back to pre-teen kind of stuff was a lot of fun. The compilation record, which it is, is a couple things I had already, or things that never released, something like that.
I’m curious — it seems as of late you see Carpenter’s influence make its way into newer acts like S U R V I V E or Zombi, a lot of the Holodeck Records stuff. What do you make of the recent surge in popularity from this?
It’s all kind of been underground for a while. I think what really broke it was Stranger Things. Because if I said in this interview, “Oh, Vangelis and Ryuichi Sakamoto from Yellow Magic Orchestra, John Carpenter,” there’s probably little kids that’d be [like], “What? What’s that?” And you say “Stranger Things,” and they’d go, “Oh, I get it!” Because that’s their key for that. That broke through so much for that band S U R V I V E, and I gotta say those guys are cool, because they do that shit real. Like when they play live, it’s like Tangerine Dream. You’ve got one guy doing the bass sounds, one guy doing the lead sounds, and that’s really commendable because it’s so easy to just not do that kind of thing. To me, that’s real, true electronic music. Today you say, “electronic music,” people think of EDM or Skrillex, which is modern dance music. [S U R V I V E] is what I think of electronic music, because at the time you had these synths and all these things you had to hook up. There’s famous stuff, Carpenter and Wendy Carlos, but yeah, it’s interesting to see it slightly break through. But to me it’s still a niche, like chiptunes. Like, that never broke through, but you still hear chiptunes’ influence come through in Katy Perry songs and shit, because people know what video games are, but they don’t know exactly what chiptunes are, or that the artists are using real fucking Nintendos and Game Boys to make their music.
These past couple of years, I’ve been a fan of the more soundtrack-y guys, but I feel like the first time I took notice and wondered if something was bubbling was It Follows, by that guy Disasterpeace.
Yeah, that guy did that video game Fez, and the guy from It Follows called him up to do the soundtrack. That guy’s talented as well, and he’s kind of chiptune-y, but for It Follows, he switched it up. I really dig that one, even though the S U R V I V E guys are very purist and try to make a sound because Stranger Things is trying to feel like a retro thing. [Disasterpeace] is kind of retro, but it doesn’t remind me of Carpenter. It’s got a weird video game sheen over it with the sounds he chooses, a lot of noise. Honestly, my favorite thing is The Knick, this 1800s period piece hospital drama, with this weird Carpenter score. That’s one of my favorite things to see, like sci-fi movies with classical scores, or when you see period pieces with synthesizer music. It stands out so much, because you’re in 1800s New York with all these different Moog synths and shit.
Listening to your record is interesting because, on certain songs, I feel like I can kind of trace the influences back to Carpenter, or like Deine Lakaien, Koji Kondo — all these different schools of the genre — but then totally fucked up and subverted in a weirdo sheen.
Yeah, totally. I gotta throw my flavas onto stuff. You never want to do an exact rip of stuff, but I’m definitely influenced by all that music, and a lot of stuff I was influenced by the shit I did as a kid. That track “Salome” I wrote in 1982. I found the old cassette tape and recreated it note for note. I mean, shit, there’s a goddamn Beethoven cover on there, Wendy Carlos-style. It’s cool because at the same time of John Carpenter soundtracks — and what you’d expect to see in horror films in the ’80s — at the same time, you’ve got a lot of erotic French and Italian movies where guys are playing synthesizers, but they’re playing them almost classically. So, you’ve got these weird, really pretty synth things, and I was trying to get that on “Lento Romantico.” But trying to get that kind of feeling, growing up, it’s all you’d see at like 2AM on HBO were these weird French Italian films, and all the music was super synthy and really cool. Those guys went to town. Even though it was a French erotic film, they went balls to the wall. They hired some guy that probably did orchestras in the ’60s, like, “What ees thees synthesizer?!” I mean, synthesizers weren’t just owned by John Carpenter in the ’80s; they were owned by a variety of musicians. Videodrome is a great example of weird shit, decades ahead of glitchy chiptunes stuff. It’s pretty fresh.
What becomes your inspiration when you write an instrumental track?
Melody. I’m a big fan of melody, even in Mindless. The difference between that and this is, in Mindless, it’s all about deconstruction. I try to approach Mindless like a Picasso thing, ’cause if I wanted to write a straight hip-hop song, I’d do that; or an EDM song, whatever. So, in Mindless I’d write these very poppy melodies with punk lyrics, smash every genre together and speed up every phase a little bit, so it’s going at breakneck speeds when it gets to the live phase. We keep the songs real punk and short, like, “1-2-3, here’s the chorus, now you’re done.” And so, that’s why the Mindless stuff is weirdly catchy. People hear it once, like, “What’s this noise?” And then the second or third time, [they're] like, “I can’t get this shit out of my head.” But with the instrumental stuff, I can focus completely on the melody, because there’s no singing or message you’re trying to get across — you’re trying to accompany a movie or a video game or something that you’re doing a score for, and I love melody.
It’s the thing I feel is missing from a lot of soundtracks these days. Somewhere in the ’90s, they decided the soundtrack was going to be just trying to get an effect. You’d get these huge drums and sounds, and now it’s like, can you sing the Chris Nolan Batman theme? It’s all just crashing drums, or droney synths that are supposed to make you uncomfortable in a horror film. In the ’70s and ’80s, you had John Williams. I mean, you can sing the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme right now, you can sing Jaws, fucking Harry Potter now even. And anyone who was trying to emulate that, no matter how small it was, [it] needed a lead melody. Even the fucking Carpenter stuff has a ton of melody, and I miss that. I mean fuck it, if I get called for the job and the job is just droning synths, here’s 10 grand, fuck yeah, I’ll do it. But if you want my opinion, I’ll say, “Hey, let’s do something that’s memorable as well going scene one to scene two.” People don’t want things to pop any more, and that’s fine — we’re a decade or two into non-popping music in soundtracks, and I think it’s time for a change.
On this record, there are all these different beautiful moments that I don’t think you’d hear immediately in an MSI record.
Oh yeah. In my arrangements I’m always trying to give you a bunch of different bits. I’m never trying to be the guy that’s like, “Here’s the verse, a bass line, someone talking over it.” I want it to all be chorus, chorus, chorus, chorus. And that definitely translates into an instrumental piece, a Mindless song, a theme song, whatever. I’ll make it as hooky as I can get it. To me, hooks don’t necessarily mean pop. I think a ton of punk stuff is hooky. Metal, too. It’s really just about getting that idea across, to get it in people’s heads. If you have it in your head, you want it to be in other people’s heads.
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