More people need to know about Matt Farley. Why? Well. That’s hard to explain. And part of the reason his work is so great is that it defies easy explanation. Or is the appeal that it conforms to every explanation? I mean, Farley’s songs are good because they’re really clever and catchy. But he also has hundreds of songs where he’s just saying a word over and over again, or spelling a name, or singing about what he had for breakfast that morning. Oh, I guess I might as well explain who this guy is.
Matt Farley is a guy in his mid-30s living in Northeastern Massachusetts. He runs an entertainment company called Motern Media that manages about 70 bands that together have recorded just over 16,000 songs. The thing is, he also plays in all of the bands and sings in all of the bands and is the only person in all of them. Motern Media is Matt Farley.
Now here’s where things get a little slippery. Fine, this guy has recorded 16,000 songs—what are they about? The basics: Matt plays keyboard and sings. He writes all kinds of songs, in every different sense. Some are improvised, some are tightly written; some are silly songs where he just says a word or a name over and over, some are observational and witty, some are serious love ballads; most of them are singer/songwriter piano songs that evoke Randy Newman or Elton John, but a lot of them are different instruments (still played through a keyboard.) He has a solid, strong singing voice, although it does have a decidedly goofy tone. Then again, that might be because so much of the time I’ve heard him singing it’s been about French toast or the movie Garden State or dingleberries. But I digress. If you’d like to hear for yourself, the official Motern Media website has a link to a 14-hour Spotify playlist to get you started. I’m sorry it’s so short, those are just the greatest hits.
Click on it? Great. You’re now listening to a song called “Poop Into A Wormhole” by a band called The Toilet Bowl Cleaners. The Toilet Bowl Cleaners are maybe the most popular Motern Media band, but the first band I heard was the Family Party Song Singers. A few months ago, I was listening to old episodes of a podcast called The Bone Zone, hosted by two LA comedians, Brendan Walsh and Randy Liedke. It was Mick Jagger’s birthday, and while goofing around on Spotify they stumbled across a song called “Happy Birthday, Mick Jagger.” Whoa, pretty cool, right? It turned out that band, The Family Party Song Singers, had songs for all kinds of different celebrities. But wait, there’s also another band that sings about birthdays, The Best Birthday Song Band Ever. And they seem to have the same singer. And if you dig a little deeper, they seem to be competing with each other, like two coffee shops on the same block. And if you dig even DEEPER, you discover The Toilet Bowl Cleaners.
One of Matt's many songs about poop. This one really hits home.
I think the song that made them finally call him was a TBC song about what happens in a football game if the quarterback has to take a poop. Does the game stop? Does he just run off the field? That’s a quality comedy song right there, my friend. So during the ensuing phone call, Farley started to explain Motern Media and they kept listening to more and more songs. Until one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on the internet happened: they discovered that Matt Farley had recorded a song about the host of the podcast. They didn’t even know who each other were, but Farley is so prolific that one of his bands (Papa Razzi and the Photogs, the band that does songs about famous people) had already written and recorded a song about them. He has songs about everything. I mean, search your name—he almost certainly has a song about it.
But back to The Toilet Bowl Cleaners. In case you haven’t noticed yet, Motern Media’s bands are kind of classified by subject: the Hungry Food Band does songs about food, The Singing Film Critic does songs about films, The Toilet Bowl Cleaners do poop songs. One could say the TBC are kind of a microcosm for the project as a whole, in that it does seem silly or even easy at first—anyone can do songs about poop in the same way you might say anyone can just record tons of songs. But he does it in a genuinely impressive way: each Toilet Bowl Cleaners song has a strong idea, the lyrics are clever, the music is distinct and catchy, and there are like 200 of them (The Toilet Bowl Cleaners have—I think—11 albums to date). In the same way that, yes, recording 16,000 nonsense songs is not in itself an impressive creative feat. But when they are as thought out as Motern Media’s bands are, classified into birthday songs, poop songs, celebrity songs, songs about musicians, film songs, name songs, the list goes on—all with a distinct idea behind them, or at least some inspiration to distinguish them from the others. Well that’s pretty impressive.
Take, for example, the lyrics from this song, “Citizen Kane” by The Singing Film Critic off the album “64 Movie Review Songs”:
When you’re ranking films, leave a spot at first
For Orson Welles’ attack of William Randolph Hearst
It’s called Citizen Kane and it is quite great
I give it eight stars, out of eight
Largely ignored upon initial release
Now it is considered a masterpiece
Orson Welles, we’re so proud of ya
For practically reinventing cinema
With all of the money, and all of the fame
That came with the name of Charles Foster Kane
The very last word that was floating in his head
Was simply the name of his childhood sled
Rosebud, the sled was Rosebud
Rosebud, yeah the sled was called Rosebud
Rosebud, Rosebud, Rosebud
Citizen Kane was quite unique
For shots of a ceiling and focus quite deep
A fascinating story that makes you feel
And a recreation of those old newsreels
The story structure, it involves
A news reporter with a mystery to solve
He talks to one Kane acquaintance after the other
And slowly all of the layers are uncovered
16,000 of those. He also makes feature-length movies.
One of the great things about Motern Media is you never run out of things to learn about it. There are levels and levels of enjoyment. For example, the two birthday song bands that compete with each other. Also, at one point of their development, Papa Razzi & the Photogs (the band that sings songs about celebrities, if you recall) notice that The Toilet Bowl Cleaners are becoming this breakout success, so they start making songs about them. The latest top story in the Motern Media world is that The Toilet Bowl Cleaners got tired of being pigeonholed and have released an album of love songs. Apparently Motern Media disagreed with this new artistic direction, because this album, “Mature Love Songs” was released through rival record label Singing Animal Lover Music.
This is a song about Ellen Degeneres, sure why not.
I called Matt the other day (his phone number is on his website and in many of his songs) to ask him about this controversy, but we never got around to it. Almost immediately we started talking about my hometown, his dayjob, podcasts, lots of stuff. At one point he lamented that being successful as this kind of niche, outsider artist musician might be a lot easier if you’re more of an extreme personality, or if you have mental issues. Like if he was crashing planes a la Daniel Johnston or was an eccentric loner like Henry Darger, it might make for a better story. As it happens, he’s a totally normal guy with a wife and baby who can hold down a job (he works at a group home for teenagers) and doesn’t drink or do any drugs. I couldn’t help but think is kind of an angle in itself, the “totally normal wacky song guy.” But if that’s true, he says, then so be it. It’s not calculated, but he certainly doesn’t oppose it—the more people listening, the better!
A song about people who look like their dogs. Observational songwriting at its finest.
At one point, he offhandedly described what he does as a kind of “epic joke.” Not “epic joke” in the popular internet ergot of “epic bacon ftw” epic, but in a huge scale, macro-commitment, life’s work, all-eggs-in-one-basket kind of epic. Which I love because even the songs that aren’t good are imbued with this kind of meaning just in that they’re part of this larger thing that itself is insane and hilarious. I asked Matt if he was worried at all that he’d have to scale back his aggressive accessibility. He laughed and explained that the phone calls aren’t that bad. He usually gets a few every day, and they’re almost always just people giggling and then hanging up. But his theory is that if it ever gets to be a problem, well then he’ll be successful enough that he can afford a new phone number. He told me that whenever he sees a phone number in a TV show or movie, he always calls it, just in case. Which is telling, because I’ve thought of doing that, yes, but he actually does it. Every time. He kind of throws that in there as an aside, as though “oh of course, everyone calls all the numbers they see in movies.” This kind of sums up the curiosity and wide-eyed optimism that underscores the whole Epic Joke—what would happen if someone just made a song about everything and made them available to everyone with as much transparency as possible? Well, we’re finding out, now, aren’t we?
Eddie Brawley is on Twitter and has written 16,000 tweets about poop - @ebrawley
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