Photo via Dana Lyn's Official Site
When actor Vincent D’Onofrio first started jotting down random thoughts on his phone, he never would have expected that it would turn into anything beyond random stories that allowed him to pass time. However, when he performed in the off-Broadway play Clive in 2012, he and composer Dana Lyn collectively agreed to turn these rambling thoughts into an album. Unlike his previous forays into music, which includes a stint as George Geronimo Gerkie, a self-described, “country-western thing,” this album dives into the exciting world of spoken-word punk. World, meet Slim Bone Head Volt.
D’Onofrio’s constantly writing in his phone. A recent composition includes “Men Are Sweet Too (How I Overcame Being Homophobic and Fell in Love With All My Guy Friends)” which he wrote while waiting to pick up his son from school surrounded by other parents. “They probably thought I was on social media,” he jokes.
Catching up with the duo after their first rehearsal with their band a few days before they play a show in New York City, we caught up with the actor best known as Gomer Pyle from Full Metal Jacket, the alien dude from Men in Black, and Det. Robert Goren from Law & Order: Criminal Intent and the composer to hear how what started off as a gag evolved into a full-length album.
Noisey: How much preparation went into organizing the session beforehand so that it only took ten hours to record it?
Dana Lyn: How long did each of those texts did it take you to write?
Vincent D’Onofrio: A couple of minutes. Basically what would happen is that I would deliver these things that I wrote on my phone while waiting in line for things. Dana would come back a couple of days later telling me she had music for them and she’d be working on another one. When she had them all composed and arranged, we’d go into the studio.
DL: There were no rehearsals.
So it was a free-flowing, freeform process?
DL: The thing is that I would say maybe 60 percent of the stuff is charted out and we have music written in sections triggered by something that happened in the text. Sometimes there’s moments where we improvise. Everyone is very flexible in terms of off book. It’s freeform but there’s actual music arrangements that have been made.
Were the lyrics literally written while you were waiting in line for coffee or at a deli counter?
VDO: For real and there was no editing or anything like that. Sometimes the punctuation was pretty wild, so Dana or I would correct it or someone would actually do it. But there was never a conscious effort of this coming together of words and music. She just kind of does her thing and I’m doing my thing. She corrects me and we just kind of do it.
How did this idea come together?
VDO: So I started writing texts during the play as a morale booster just for fun. A guy named Brooks Ashmanskas would read them out loud and they became a thing and people really liked them. Eventually by the end of the play, Dana asked if we could put these texts to music and I said "Yeah, of course!” whatever she wanted to do. I still write them on the fly. We just did more in rehearsal. I was standing when I wrote them all on my new iPhone 6 Plus.
These are stream-of-conscious things you do when you’re bored instead of say going on social media or wasting time on your phone?
VDO: Yes. You should try it.
DL: Most people go onto social media on their iPhone 6s.
VDO: There’s so much weird shit to say that I can’t help but not. Even as we’re talking right now, there’s weird shit to say.
Where did you draw these inspirations and characters from? What’s the fascination with Manchester, which is the title in two songs?
VDO: Manchester just bursted out of me when I was writing that particular text. It spewed out of me, like a young child coughing up his first pablum.
Dana, what did you think when you first heard of these texts and how did the genesis of turning this into an album come to be?
DL: I also like to draw, so at first I was thinking “Oh, closing night is coming up and I should get people a present and maybe I’ll draw people a comic from one of these journals.” Then I realized that would take too much fucking time. So I didn’t do it. Then I thought I could make one into a song. I figured if I could do that, I could get someone to come into the studio, I’m not just going to do one song that’s like having one jellybean. It was also kind of hard to choose one, so I chose 13 or 14 to cover all the bases. Then we did it again with 13 or 14 more, so we actually have another record at least. But making records isn’t free.
But if people buy it, then it will pay for itself.
DL: I’m doing my best for people to not stream this record. I don’t want it on Spotify or any of those things, because all my other stuff is on Spotify and it’s just pathetic what I get at the end of each month. Then no one buys the actual record and that’s why I put so much into the artwork because you’ll be really missing out if you don’t buy the actual thing. It’s the type of album art that you should probably go to one of the weed states and smoke pot legally, be stoned and look at it for a long time.
VDO: The most important thing about this thing that they’re we’re doing calling this spoken word stuff is that we never called it anything so they called it that. You have to imagine that it came from just two people—Dana and myself—wanting to take this thing that we thought was cool and kind of funny and somehow, someway people connect to them. How they do and why they do, I don’t really care, but I know they do enjoy the fact that they do. To wonder where it’s going to go, how we’re going to make money on it, what format its going to go in is going way too far beyond what the root of this is. I think the root of it is initial life of Dana and I coming together and doing this thing that is KICKASS and watch it on-stage. I sit there and read these intense things to this intense music and people will be whooping and hooting in the audience.
DL: It’s a fun art project.
VDO: Here, I’m going to talk to you like it’s not me. So there’s this guy, he’s 55 and super, super successful (Laughs). But on the side, he keeps these journals and this gorgeous hot woman named Dana Lyn and they come on-stage and put on this concert and are just kind of themselves. It’s really, really cool… and that’s it! Alright, this is now breaching any time where anyone would spend talking about themselves without it becoming damaging, so it’s time to go.
Daniel Kohn is on Twitter.