Wednesday, March 8

The Bostonians #9 : Ben from "B for Brontosaurus"

Ben is one of the organizers of the Tribute to Jonathan Richman (see poster in previous post).

His band is named "B for Brontosaurus". He is an impeccable Jonathan fan and has agreed to answer some questions I had ready for him.

- First, how did this Jonathan tribute project start ? why Jonathan ?

Well, there isn't a story per se. I love Jonathan Richman, and I found that a lot of the musicians I was meeting in Boston do, too. We wouldhave done it sooner, but when I first approached Tony at PA's Lounge about it, he said it would have to wait, as there was to be a They Might Be Giants tribute, which we also played in. Several of those bands are back for this show. I organized it with my friend Lou, who plays in Shana's Mango, and all the bands pitched in with posters and equipment and everything.

-What does Jonathan Richman represent for bands like yours ?

I can speak for myself at least, and say that I love Jonathan's music, and his shows, because he has found a way to say what he wants to and have a sense of humor without being jokey, and to be sincere without being pretentious. Lyrically, I draw much more from bands like They Might Be Giants and the Magnetic Fields and the Unicorns, but the other thing that I really take from Jonathan is the way that he uses well-established musical tropes, and gives them new life – particularly the "rock and roll" era work. I love his use of back-up
vocals, and really, that he wants his music to be fun. Not everyone remembers that.

-How would you rate Jonathan's influence on the local music scene ?

Well, the Boston music scene is pretty big, and there is a whole lot going on here. I think there are bands here who, whether they know it or not (and mostly I think they do), draw off of the earliest work he did with the Modern Lovers – that kind of snotty (Jonathan's owndescription – see "Monologue about Bermuda"), one or two or threechord punk rock kind of thing. The bands around town that I really love – Ponies in the Surf, Tiger Saw, Pants Yell!, the Specific Heats, the Smittens, Jason Anderson – in those bands, and in ours, I see the influence of his sweeter, friendlier tunes – Ice Cream Man, Hospital,
Springtime in New York, Roller Coaster By the Sea
. Of course, his
influence is just really pervasive in indie pop music, and like the
Velvet Underground, you are probably influenced by him even if you don't know it.

Joanna, Abe and Ben - B for Brontosaurus - at the Middle East ...

- Your band is named "B for Brontosaurus", any relation with " I'm a
little dinosaur" ? What kind of music do you play ? Your influences ?

Our drummer Abe and I were in a band before this called the Dino-Whores, which came out of some potty-mouth freestyling Abe did at an early rehearsal (I think he was talking about my mom). That band played "I'm a Little Dinosaur" as does B4B from time to time. I don't recall where the chicken and the egg were on that. This new band does not have as much of a pervasive dinosaur theme. During a drinking Scrabble game that Joanna, the bassist, and I were playing once, the word "brontosaurus" was magically, partially, spelled out on the board
before us.

I guess you could say that we play indie pop, generally. But we approach songwriting with a mixtape aesthetic in mind – most of our songs don't sound a whole lot like each other. The minimal instrumentation (drums, guitar, bass or keyboard), and that all of us sing are the things which unify the sound. Both of those things are very much Jonathan's influence. But it also comes from bands like the Unicorns, Beat Happening, the Moldy Peaches. Unlike some of those bands, we play pretty tightly, or at least we try. You can hear some
songs at Hopefully we'll have an album in the next few months, too.

- On this tribute night which Jonathan songs are you going to cover ?
Are they included in your regular set-list or are you going to perform
them especially for that event ?

Little Dinosaur is our only regular Jonathan cover, although we also did New England for my hometown's bicentennial this summer. For this set, we have added a keyboard player and two saxophonists, and we are playing a rock and roll type of set: Abominable Snowman, Fender Stratocaster, My Love is a Flower, Roller Coaster by the Sea, and Lydia. Lots of great back-up vocals, and we wrote sax lines for every song. We probably won't play them again, because they won't be that great without the other musicians.
We are calling ourselves U for Ultrasaurus at this show, as we have doubled in size.

- Could you tell us about the other bands involved in the tribute ...

The other bands are all bands we've played with, some at the TMBG tribute, and some at regular shows. We're pretty good friends with some of them, and others we've just spoken with briefly. You can get links to all of their websites from Here's the list:
The Shrinking Islands, Anushka Pop, B for Brontosaurus, Spoilsport, The Specific Heats, The Rabbit Family Girls' Choir, John O'Hara, The
Hyphens, Shana's Mango, The Double Stops, Tony the Bookie
(the fellow
who books at PA's, which is quickly becoming an little musical mecca in town).

- Have you seen Jonathan live ? when ?

I first got into Jonathan in the spring of '03, when I was abroad in London. Some Americans I knew were staying there, too, and they were determined to get me into him. I was supposed to take a trip to Stonehenge early one morning, but they kept me at their flat listening to Jonathan records until all hours of the night, and I missed it. Later that spring, shortly after the war started in fact, they took me to see him. I've seen him once more in Providence, and actually managed to miss both of his shows in Boston since I've lived here. Seeing him play live makes me feel happy to be alive in a way that few things do, and I miss it. I will see him next time!

- What is your favourite period in Jonathan's career, and your
favourite record ?

You may have guessed by now that I love the "rock and roll" era, with Asa and Leroy and D. Sharpe backing him up. I am ashamed to admit that I only own compilation records, but I suppose that if I weren't so lame, "Rock and Roll with the Modern Lovers" might be the favorite.

- The Modern Lovers induced what became in the 80's the Boston rock
scene, considered to this day as some classic golden age especially in
Europe, with bands like the Real Kids, DMZ, Lyres, the Classic Ruins
and many others... Do you think that today this could start again with
bands of your generation which have common influences, Jonathan being
one of them ?

I'll admit that I don't know really anything about Boston 80's rock music. I talked before about where I see Jonathan's influence among my peers here. I think that there are things going on in Boston, particularly but not exclusively in terms of indie pop, that are really worth taking note of. Oh, I should refer readers to the Boston indie pop board, run by Mat of the Specific Heats. It's at, and a good place to learn about some of the great music in these parts.

- any anecdote related to Jonathan ?

I haven't yet made any friendships based exclusively around Jonathan, but whenever I find a new person who also loves his music, we have a special little bond right there.

I guess this makes a perfect ending. It's a pity, and I am sure Bob will agree with me on that point, that you missed Stonehenge. Do not forget to inform us when your album is out and have "a nice party in the USA" on Friday night.