Michael Grace Jr. of the band, My Favorite
interviewed by Philip Teir, Finland
Describe My Favorite with three words.
Substitute cult heroes.
What do you do in the days?
Teach art, read the sport pages, take long walks around a sculpture garden, eat burritos, write, talk on my cell phone, philosophize, window shop, survive.
What do you do in the nights?
Varies greatly. Sit in cafes, see my friends, sit in bars, battle depression, rehearse, play shows, go dancing (not often), teach art, write, play the keyboard, answer e-mail interviews, draw, talk on the phone, watch baseball, make love.
What is the best thing about being a member of My Favorite?
Being around the other members.
What is pop?
The sound your bubble makes when it bursts.
What is rock?
Something that hurts when it is thrown at you.
What is love?
Forgiveness, optimism, devotion, redemption, justice. Believing things that are difficult to believe. Taking all sorts of chances on yourself and others.
Joan Of Arc, Jacque Derrida, Bret Easton Ellis.
George Bush (too easy), Rupert Murdoch, Paris Hilton.
What is your favorite lyric of the ones you've written?
This could change tomorrow...hmmm.... "your darkness is brighter, you are inevitable" from "The Happiest Days Of My Life" new song on "The Happiest Days Of Our Lives." But since you haven't heard that one yet I'll give you another "I was an architect, she was an actress. I drew the Eiffel Tower on her dress so we could see the world" from "Burning Hearts".
If you were a film, what film would it be?
I would splice together Fellini's "8 1/2" & "La Dolce Vita" with Godard's "Alphaville" and "My Life To Live", creating one 8 hour black & white monstrosity. I would need an extra large bag of popcorn.
In Finland it can be difficult to find your records. Is it o.k. to download?
Not the whole record please...I worked hard on the artwork. Use mail order...I'll throw in a badge or two.
When and why did you become fascinated by the legend of Joan of Arc?
When I was a small catholic boy, say age 10, I was really interested in saints, and my mother and grandmother were particularly fond of Saint Jude, and Saint Francis. I had these small pictures of them on a velvet string around my bedpost growing up. They would also tell me that I was very special because my name was Michael, and Michael was the saint who defended the gates of heaven. Well as a teenager I jettisoned everything traditional from my youth in the name of marxist miserablism. And it was pretty self fulfilling, as I ended up poor and...ummm... miserable. So over the last few years I have re-investigated some of the things in my youth which seemed almost magical. Walking in the woods, wiffle-ball, and dour stained-glass catholicism. So I read a bit about saints. They just make great symbols and metaphors for suffering and inspiration and revelation... all the things my kind live for. The Joan of Arc interest specifically began because of a lecture by a radio psychologist called "The Joan of Arc Complex." Then I read this contemporary critical theory book which focused on the meaning of Joan's body, her flesh, which I found really moving. Lastly I went to Paris, full of this beautiful, timeless aching, and I never wanted to leave. I also visited Rouen, the town where she was put to death, and met up with her ghost. Now Joan and I are kind of chums. We'll take walks together, or browse through Benetton. She's very concerned about the state of music...actually the way things are going, she's pretty much my steady on a Friday night.
Concept-albums are unheard of these days, let alone concept-trilogies how did you decide to make three EP's with Joan of Arc as a connecting theme?
Honestly, I'm not sure I remember. I was really quite out my head when we started them, and I think I just need a theme to anchor me to the something, otherwise I think may have drifed out to sea inside a rain-flooded mind...waving to Ian Curtis as I clung to some floating debris.
The trilogy describes, often quite painfully, problems with becoming an adult, or just the hardness of being a teenager... There is a lot of social outsider-feeling to the songs... Are the words your own, like "loneliness is pornography to them, to us it's an art"? Are these words that fit your own personality, or some former you?
I'd like to think they fit a "former me", but there will always be at least the imprint, the impression of the dark ages upon me. But I did claw and kick my way out the other side. If you've gone to all this trouble to interview me, chances are you understand what the songs are about...what they feel like. But the short answer is that eveything in the songs are inside of me and vice-versa...my salvation came in realizing that they are not ALL that is inside of me.
You are a very poetic band, often romanticising even, does this have something to do with the generation you are singing about - that teenagers tend to be very melodramatic and romantic?
I'm not sure I know how to answer this question. I think the poetic nature of the band comes from the fact that I relate to poetry and storytelling more than rock n' roll. Rock n' roll and I merely tolerate each other. I think it's beneathe me, and it thinks I'm a wimp. But we need each other so...it's kind of like an American "Buddy Cop" movie from the 80s. We team up with reservations. I do think adolescence has stretched out beyond the teenage years, like a virus you can't shake. We are now teenagers until the end. I think the melodrama, comes from my taste for camp. The heartache is just so much more palatable if we at least let it play out on a grander stage, with some decent costumes and a violin or two in the pit. I don't know why I find my and my friends lives so beautiful and terrifying. I guess I figure if I don't, who will?
I know that you teach art for a living, is this inspiring - lyrically? I mean do you see lots of teenagers every day (who seem out of touch with the world)?
Honestly, I enjoy it, but it's a stretch to call it a living. Actually not many of my students remind me much of myself, but there is always one or two holding the torch. But I'm pretty incognito at work. It's "O.K. let's draw the still life...ummm...please turn off your cell phones"
A movie that I found very touching and inspiring during the last year was Richard Kellys "Donnie Darko" - would it be wrong to say that My Favorite is in some ways a musical equivalent, also in the sense that Donnie Darko has the 80's thing going?
Well my brother is quite fond of it!! Actually, I really loved it too. I quite like the parallel. I think the 80s as a twilight zone, a timeless "aesthetic setting" is really powerful. That has always been my attraction to invoking "new wave", for lack of a better term. I think the most fundamental theme we share is the psychological as metaphysical and vice-versa. How the lines blur between madness and divinty. And that brings us right back to Joan of Arc. I would actually be quite interested in seeing a critical breakdown of relevant connection points between Donnie Darko and our recordings about Joan of Arko. Can you have it published by Christmas?
You mentioned that your other heroes were Bret Easton Ellis and Jaques Derrida - can these both influences be traced in your songwriting as well?
Oh my, did I really? The answer to your question is yes. There are a couple MF songs which liberally borrow from Mr. Ellis. I think he is a spectacularly bad writer, who more importantly is an amazing artist. He's troubled...but he cares. As far a Derrida, I think I was being cute. I mean I can't possibily be allowed to play music in a band if I dare discuss French post-structualism. I mean I would smack me. Can't we discuss all the wild drug parties we have backstage? Yeah I didn't think you would believe that. May I have some more perogi please?
You're going to release a Joan of Arc compilation now, two CDs? Will it include new songs?
Yes! Four brand new songs, two radical remixes I did myself, and a bonus disc of remixes done by other misguided souls. A lengthy message from Joan herself, and 10 polaroids in a pear tree.
I know that you are fans of Belle & Sebastian, you even have a song named after them, St Sebastian - do your feel that My Favorite has some sort of lyrical or cultural connection with the band?
I think you are referring to "The Radiation" with the "it's Sebastian who broke his vows" line. That line is a bit of a double entendre indicting both Saint Sebastian and the glum guy from Scotland. But honestly I am a big fan. Stuart is a great songwriter, and I do relate to him on some level. We are both about the same age, and I think we both lived through the death of a kind of 80s dream, and carry on despite the demoralizing nature of making art the end of/beginning of the century. I respect his seriouness, and willingness to be pretty. But I think B & S is kind of like a melancholy commune, and MF is more like a haunted internment camp... which probably explains why our ferocity is matched only by our obscurity.
What do you chose: utopia or dystopia?
If we choose that, then we never choose again. What would we struggle against? How would we become what we are? Give me a chair in a cafe, on a street, in a city during the age to which I belong. I'll live like the gang before me did...singing, and fighting, and searching for love. I can't design the universe around me, and nor would I ever want to. I only want my life to live.