I’m going to try something a little different.
I’m continually trying to get people hooked on new music. Whether it be an artist they’ve never heard before, a new record from one their favorite artists, or a new artist in an entirely different genre than they’re accustomed to, I’m constantly feeding a certain group of people new music. I do this because I find great satisfaction in helping people discover something they love. Even if they don’t love it, it’s a great conversation starter.
Because my verbal and physical reach only extend so far, I’m going to try sending my message through the internet. Over these next few weeks (hopefully once a week) I’m going to try and introduce you (whoever you may be) to a new artist that I love. Maybe you’ve heard of them, maybe you haven’t. Either way, I’m going to walk through my discovery process of that specific artist while also giving you a brief background of the band and hopefully a preview of a few of my favorite tracks.
Add one part Modest Mouse, two parts Califone, a smidge of Beck’s One Foot in the Grave and maybe a pinch of Bone Machine-era Tom Waits and you have the recipe for Sharpen Your Teeth. It’s an immediately endearing album with rich lyrical imagery and quirky instrumentation.
The story behind this band is a bit strange and confusing which almost makes me love this record even more.
As the story goes, a man named Edgar Graham (aka Ugly Casanova) approached Isaac Brock (of Modest Mouse) backstage at a show and “impressed himself” upon Isaac and the rest of the Modest Mouse crew. After recognizing some talent within the noticeably strange Ugly Casanova, Brock agreed to let him open for Modest Mouse on a few tour dates in ‘98. When the tour ended, Isaac Brock supposedly convinced Ugly Casanova to let them record some of his songs as demos.
This where the story gets strange.
Ugly Casanova agreed to record these demos, but immediately upon the completion of them, he disappeared. His mental health had been questioned long before any of this was in full swing and this seemed like typical behavior.
After Casanova had disappeared, Brock called upon Tim Rutili, founder of Red Red Meat and Califone, John Orth (of Holopaw) and others to help flesh out the sounds of Ugly Casanova in a studio in Oregon. The album, produced by Brian Deck, finally came together, still with no word from Casanova.
Rumors have circulated that Isaac Brock created Ugly Casanova and that it was never a real person. I’ve searched long and hard but can’t seem to find a consistent story anywhere.
However, rumor also has it that Ugly Casanova sent a package to Sub Pop records (the label that eventually released Sharpen You Teeth) with requests “that alternated between raving demands for destruction of (the demo tapes), and meek pleas for recognition.”
To this day, Edgar Graham has yet to resurface.
I’m sure that was utterly confusing but the strangeness of the story perfectly coincides with the strangeness and obscurity of the record. If you’re interested, you can try and dissect the story for yourself:
I “discovered” this band after watching 180 Degrees South, a documentary film that was recommended to me by a good friend.
Inspired by pioneering outdoorsman Yvon Chouinard’s freewheeling 1968 van trip to Patagonia, South America, a band of bliss-seeking surfer-mountaineers sets out — in 2007, by boat — to remake the journey in this adventure documentary. Jeff Johnson and his buddies hug the coast, stopping at the Galapagos Islands and Easter Island before arriving in Patagonia — a region that’s still breathtaking but is now besieged by environmental threats.
This documentary is littered with Ugly Casanova tracks and creates a mood that has a perfect blend of adventure and inspiration. These tracks, while obscure and ambient at times, couldn’t have been placed more perfectly. Every little detail in each of the songs helps highlight a beautiful richness inside the movie. You almost feel like you’re traveling alongside Johnson. To me, that is exactly what a movie soundtrack should do.
I recognized Brock’s vocals immediately but noticed it was a tad different than anything else Modest Mouse had done as a group. After “Music by Ugly Casanova” came across the screen, I ran to my computer and downloaded the album.
If you can get past the strange parts of this record, I really think you’ll fall in love with it. Whoever Ugly Casanova may be, this record is undoubtedly filled with his personality. It’s quirky, it’s strange, it’s ambient, but it all comes together to bring everything full circle. We may never know who the real Ugly Casanova is in the flesh, but after indulging myself in this record, I feel like I know him.
If you’re a Califone, Modest Mouse or Tom Waits fan, you’ll certainly dig this record. Be sure to watch 180 Degrees South as well.
Here are a couple of my favorite tracks: