The 50 States Project, or: Why I can never show my face in Chicopee, MA

This quarantine situation has somehow both stifled my will to do anything and also jump-started a long-dormant creativity. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed, some days I do the best work I’ve done in over a decade. LA comedian Rama Vallury and I have found ourselves in a songwriting partnership that went back to his days as half of the comedy duo George & Vallury, writing songs for their sketch comedy shows at the Second City.

He said we ought to participate in the new 50 States Project. See, back in the ’90s, Sufjan Stevens started a project to release an album for every state in the Union, but never got past the second album, Illinois. So another Los Angeles comedy boffin, Joey Clift, proposed a reboot. He began gathering original songs about every state. Rama had one written about Butte, MT. He sent me a rough demo, and I began arranging it. Rama sang lead and played banjo and acoustic, I played piano, organ, and percussion, and sang backup. We conscripted the talented and hardworking cats Jere Mendelsohn to play acoustic and reso-phonic guitars, and Dan Wessels, a fellow Second City music director, to play bass. We called ourselves King Oaf and the Quarantines. This was the result.

With this tune nearly in the bag, inspiration struck for a second one. I suggested it be about a town I’ve had a strange affinity for since college—Chicopee, MA. I think I just liked the name. So Rama went to work penning a tongue-in-cheek, backhanded ode to the small Western Mass city. He sent me a chorus melody idea, and I ran with it from there. I got out the Bass Station, turned on the Rhodes’s stereo tremolo, loaded up Keyscape, and really put my weight on it. Rama, in his eminence as a voice actor and coach, got me to break out of my stilted singing habits and have some fun with the vocals. The result sounds like Dr. John and Dr. Teeth share a medical practice with Randy Newman as a patient. We’re calling it New England Fisherman Soul. Furthermore, when my folks first heard it, they sent it to a local family friend who hails from Chicopee. It being the Vineyard, we’ve got connections to all over the place. This friend, loving the song, said he wanted to send it to the mayor’s office. Gulp. After all, it’s not exactly a paean to the place. I had visions of an official edict coming down, prohibiting Rama and I from ever entering the city again. He did also say he wanted to review the lyrics before doing so, so I can’t say whether it’s made it to the Hon. John L. Vieau’s desk and the two of us have been banned from the city yet, but there you go. It could be like when The Kinks got banned from playing in the US in the mid ’60s. It’ll only up our cred.

Stay tuned for the full release of the 50 States Project in the coming weeks. And please stay safe.

Author: Bunny Butler

I'm the last of the good old-fashioned steam-powered trains.