Checking in: Memphis Pencils

The Memphis Pencils were the first band we ever profiled on the Flyer.

In fact, when we last talked to the Pencils in January of 2008 (whoa), Dan Coody was the mayor of Fayetteville, “W” was president, there was no Smoke & Barrel Tavern, and a few people were still logging in to their MySpace pages.

In other words, it was high time we tracked them down for an update.

The Pencils have been busy over the last two years. They made the trip to New York to play CMJ in 2008. They’ve done some regional touring.

They’ve been through a couple of lineup changes, with new members reinterpreting their smart, densely layered pop songs beautifully with each iteration of the lineup. A melody line played on a guitar or a banjo by a previous member might be replaced by a clarinet or a keyboard by one of the new guys, but the core melodies that make up the structure of the well-crafted songs always remains intact.

The Pencils have grown leaps and bounds as performers over the past few years through the experience and confidence gained by playing so often. The stage during their live shows is still littered with a music store’s worth of instruments strewn about, picked up, traded and discarded by various members over the course of the set while they climb around on amps, bass drums, and each other’s shoulders, picking up odd instruments along the way, and singing a few notes of harmony when they pass a microphone on stage.

At least, that’s how it feels from the audience’s perspective (it’s awesome).

Yup. A lot has changed since January 2008, but what hasn’t changed is that the Memphis Pencils are still quirky, creative, interesting, weird, mustachioed, musical, and sometimes, partially nude. Fayetteville is lucky to have them.

We caught up with them recently, and they were nice enough to answer some more questions for us.

Fayetteville Flyer: What have you been listening to lately?
MP: First of all, thanks for allowing the Mempen Conglomerate to speak publicly again in order to clear its name, and moreover, for doing such a great job covering such a great city.

With that said, we have been on a steady diet of “Graceland” by Paul Simon, a sprinkling of Frank Zappa, and death metal dessert.

FF: You guys got a couple new pencils recently. Tell us a bit about the new lineup.
MP: Joel and Boudreaux Paul are the newest additions. Boudreaux plays floor tom, keys, and sings harmonies, while Joel, his twin brother, plays guitar, accordion, glockenspiel, keys, and clarinet and sings. They’re not identical twins like Jim and Gary, but they definitely get the job done. We’ve had a lot of lineup variations, but each of us agrees that this is the best. By the way, in case there’s any ambiguity still swimming around out there in the rumor pool, Jim is still in the band.

FF: Last time I saw you, everyone was wearing jumpsuits. Or pajamas. How awesome is that?
MP: When given a choice between super sexxxy and still sexy but with two fewer x’s, my parts choose super sexxxy every time. How awesome, you ask? Quite.

And the technical term is “onesies.”

You guys also had several new songs last time I saw you. Any plans to record them?
MP: The hope of recording is as specific as the actual plans are vague. It will happen someday. How does summer sound?

What are some new Fayetteville bands that we should check out?
MP: Well, you should definitely check out Messy Sparkles, Boudreaux’s band. I don’t think you’d consider him “new,” or at least we wouldn’t, but he’s still rill good. Where’s Lawrence is definitely worth checking out. They’re not really new, but I can’t think of a more epic local band. And then recently we saw Tyrannosaurus Chicken at Smoke & Barrel. They may not be new either, but they are unconditionally righteous.

What is your favorite place to play in town?
MP: Going by the numbers alone, we’ll have to say Smoke & Barrel. But when it’s all said and done, and we answer with our hearts, the answer has got to be Smoke & Barrel. Luh dat place.

How do you perceive the “scene” in Fayetteville?
MP: The “scene,” from what we’ve “seen” is alive and kicking. Kickin’. Alive and kickin’. Plenty of venues, some of them good, two consistently radical house venues, lots of good local bands, lots of good touring bands. I think two real breakthroughs were when Neil Lord of Ameroplace started booking touring bands for Smoke & Barrel and Laura Mackey of the Sang House started giving guarantees to touring bands. We’ve had some tasty sounds around here lately. And Spring Break! Holy cow! Did you see how many awesome bands came through on their ways to and from South By Southwest?! It was craaaaazy!

So yeah, the scene is healthy. Robust even.

The caliber of bands that the house venues in town are pulling are incredible lately. Do you think that is out of preference, or necessity because there isn’t a dedicated traditional venue that will book them?
MP: Well, a lot of touring bands do play at Smoke & Barrel instead of a house thanks to our pal, Neil Lord. I think the reason so many great bands are playing at Sang House now is that they’re getting cash guarantees. So the shows aren’t always free now, but you’re definitely getting your few dollars’ worth.

What’s next for you guys?
MP: Boudreaux and Marty played a set in Chicago during Spring Break and got a really great response, so we’ll probably be trying to hit up that market more. But for the most part, we’ll be working on new material, and for a long time. We’ve got an eleven minute medley to finish, along with the rest of the songs that will appear on the next album. So much work! Are you jazzed? We are!