New Bern, NC – INTRO - Just in time for production of your Halloween party mix tape, Asheville's Mad Tea Party has released its second Halloween-flavored EP. George Olsen got up with the duo and has this.
Halloween isn't technically a holiday. It's more an excuse for kids to dress up and receive bags full of stuff their parents would typically try to keep them away from and for adults to act like kids. Jason Krekel of Asheville's Mad Tea Party isn't concerned about official holiday designations.
(Jason) "It's our favorite holiday, not necessarily for Ami for the horror aspect but for the fun of it."
Spend any time listening to Mad Tea Party and you'd know anything fun would be a draw for them. They're what you might term an expandable two-man band Jason playing guitar and drums at the same time with Ami Worthen on ukulele with a gloriously loose sound that, for whatever reason, every time I hear I think of old time MGM musicals where Mickey Rooney or Judy Garland suddenly exclaims "hey, let's put on a show!" So the fact they're drawn to Halloween so much a night when so many people dress up to put on their own little show isn't that surprising. What is surprising is that the jumping off point for their first Halloween EP last year came, not from Jason who said he grew up on horror comics and films, but from Ami, who'll tell you she doesn't watch horror films.
(Ami) "For the last record the song Zombie Boogie I came up with the melody and kind of the chorus but I had never seen a zombie movie so I had to ask Jason, tell me about zombies because I didn't really know what they did. It's definitely a vision of Jason's I'm helping to manifest."
Despite that lack of horror movie background, Ami delivers a tour-de-force free-style rap if you will complete with blood-curdling screams as the ing nue encountering her first zombie.
(Jason) "It was always no, let's do it again. Let's do another take. Another. That's it. (Ami) We recorded the Zombie Boogie at our house and we were a little worried about what the neighbors thought."
If Ami's Zombie Boogie got them underway in the Halloween music business, it's Jason who would be the heart & soul or perhaps guts and ghoul behind the projects, 2009's Zombie Boogie EP and this year's Rock & Roll Ghoul. Last year's disc was split evenly between originals and covers and Rock & Roll Ghoul features three originals plus a cover of the Hollywood Flames' "Frankenstein's Den." Jason talks in near historical detail when looking back at a genre which apparently goes much deeper than just Bobby "Boris" Picket and the Cryptkickers "Monster Mash."
(Jason) "You have no idea. You start mining that territory and you're going to come up with some real gems because there are tons of Halloween tunes that were staples of most every band in the 50s and 60s. I think in that period it really peaked, but back in the 50s and 60s a lot of the pop acts, the doo wop acts, rock and roll acts, would always do a novelty Halloween song for that time of year, and even Chuck Berry did Downbound Train about a train going to Hell and that song came from a history of hellbound train songs that come from the old time music tradition, the blues tradition. You look at Robert Johnson Hellhounds on my Tail it's been, the horror theme has been a fairly consistent staple of early songwriters, I would say."
In addition to mining a large back-log of somewhat forgotten Halloween music, Jason uses a large back-log of classic horror films for the occasional inspiration. The new EP contains a tribute to the Vincent Price character Dr. Phibes which Price played in two films 1971's The Abominable Dr. Phibes and 1972's Dr. Phibes Rises Again.
"That song I had the music for a long time but the words, I woke up in the middle of the night, I'd just seen that movie and Dr. Phibes Returns which was the sequel and I just started writing and it came right out. I'd never really done a tribute to a movie persona but I thought it was pretty apt. I do love the old stuff. I love the Italian and the Spanish horror movies too. I love raw when it comes to music and when it comes to movies too."
For his original songs, Jason also mines some personal demons, if you will.
(Jason) "I guess Rock and Roll Ghoul was birthed from a lot of our bad musical experiences with critics of all sorts I don't mean just writers. You can have critics of all sorts. People who make it hard for the artist who aren't artists, and there's even a line in there where you're touring with a band and there's a line in there about the opening act that plays too long and drains all your crowd, so really the Rock and Roll Ghoul is a broad title for anyone who makes it hard on the artist, I guess."
The Rock and Roll Ghoul EP is the 2nd in two years for Mad Tea Party. Is this the start of a lifetime trend, with the group emulating those 50s and 60s acts that used to come up with a new novelty every year? The streak might end in 2011 Jason says their recording time may be taken up with work on a possible full-length CD which would be their fifth since 2004. But given Jason's predilections, a 3rd offering of Halloween tracks seems a near certainty at some point in the frightful future.
10:38 "I was a monster kid. My dad was a musician and we knew one of the first guys in town to have a VCR a beta back in the day, and we used to once a month we'd go over there and he'd sit me down in front of the tube and turn me on to Mighty Joe Young, King Kong, Creature of the Black Lagoon, all those great flicks from the 1950s and it just kind of blew my mind. Since then I think I've been chasing that creature throughout my life and my career."
Jason Krekel and Ami Worthen are Mad Tea Party. Their new self-released Halloween EP is Rock and Roll Ghoul. I'm George Olsen.