LYRIC LEAK: SHINY AROUND THE EDGES

Interview by Harlin Anderson, Photo by Stanton Stephens  

 photo by Stanton Stephens 

photo by Stanton Stephens 

We recently sat down with urban planning expert and general man-about-town, Michael Seman, to discuss his band, Shiny Around the Edges, specifically their haunting song, Robinwood Must Burn. Between finishing his doctoral studies, contributing to The Atlantic: Cities, and his work at the Center for Economic Development and Research, Seman is a very busy man, so we were understandably thrilled at the chance to chat with him about one of Denton’s most unsettling rock songs.


This song has a decidedly mysterious, sinister feel to it. Are we dealing with something supernatural – or some vile charlatan?

The song is somewhat based on a short story one of my classmates wrote while I was participating in fiction workshops at UCLA. She was the wife of a Japanese businessmen who was “stationed” in Los Angeles while working his way up the ladder in Japan. She perfectly captured living in Palos Verdes – a wealthy enclave of Los Angeles that in some ways never left the mid-60’s – and playing bridge with her “friends,” who were the wives of other businessmen in the same situation. The wives operated on a very strict, sometimes brutal social hierarchy. The story was a pitch-perfect rendering of what happens when a microcosm of forced friendships meets ambition, manipulation, and free time. If you are a fiction writer, it was one of those rare times in a workshop when everyone just sits there and basically tells the writer, do whatever it takes to keep writing… you’ve pretty much got it figured out. Unfortunately, she left the class shortly thereafter because her husband was transferred back to Japan. I somehow lost the story in moving and have no idea whatever happened in her life after that. The song is part of a cycle I wrote concerning Denton, which is mostly on our album Denton’s Dreaming. When we first moved here, we were living in a horrible house on Robinwood that we rented sight unseen. Not the best place to be sorting though the experience of moving from Los Angeles to Denton, which is a fairly stark transition. I was having… and still do… very vivid dreams of Los Angeles – the “presence” in the song. I often thought about that story and the ocean, surfing, the canyons, the hills, the lush vegetation that enveloped our neighborhood, etc… while at the same time making really great new friends in Denton. The song is a direct product of that time.

We’re fascinated by the stanza: “spoon bending, afternoon, sub atomic, landslide lips.” It feels very Soviet Union. What can you tell us about it? 

You are correct about the USSR influence. That line references espionage and research into mind control techniques and ESP during the cold war, all of which is now detailed in a new documentary focusing on Uri Geller; bridge is often played in the afternoon; and some may find another’s lips the start of a landslide they can’t see or quite escape.

“Robinwood Must Burn” is so full of vivid imagery, it begs the question: What makes a great song – inescapable imagery or a good story?

Ideally… both. For example, I’ve listened to Neil Young’s “Thrasher” for years enjoying the imagery until Sean Kirkpatrick of Nervous Curtains pointed out to me that the song is a scathing critique of Neil’s time spent in CSN&Y; now I appreciate it on two levels. One of my all-time favorite songs is “Midnight” by Ice-T. It tells the story of a car chase through the streets of Los Angeles with a thick geographic specificity that envelops the listener as if watching it on the screen. All songs operate on multiple levels, it is just in how or if the writer chooses to reveal those levels.

With an ever evolving – and exceptionally talented – lineup, how does Shiny go about the process of crafting songs to fit each new album?

The songwriting process has generally remained the same in every permutation of the band. Jen or I will bring a song to practice pretty much fully formed structurally and then the others will find their place in it. Why this has worked for so many years is that A) we only involve friends whose artistic vision we are already fans of, and B) the caliber of those artists is so incredibly high that we implicitly trust the choices they will make and give them absolute freedom to do so – wise advice from Brave Combo’s Jeffrey Barnes. We have played with saxophonist Mike Forbes the longest and he is not only a great player but helps with arranging as well. You can hear his influence on The Night is a Disco compared to Holy Roller, which explored a different direction courtesy of Ed and Josh who went on to join Neon Indian and Justin from Geistheistler and Notes from Underground.

How do you get into the mindset to write something so damn eeire? It’s so unlike the personalities that make up Shiny.

It never occurs to me that things I write are eerie or dark until someone mentions it. For example, the song, “Queen of Sonoma,” also from Denton’s Dreaming has the line, “Drain my glass… insects in my hair.” More than once someone has remarked how unsettling that is, but if you’ve spent any time in places like Minnesota or Pennsylvania where there are these really annoying little black flies that are like big, aggressive gnats, you’ll know that in the summer time at dusk it is not uncommon to have insects in your hair after a friendly croquet match and a round of cocktails.


Robinwood Must Burn 

One who burns petals
Up on the cliffs
With the women
Year of the Ram

Sign language 
Covered by the waves
Whispered warnings
Setting in the sun

There is a presence here

Spoon bending
Afternoon
Sub atomic 
Landslide lips

One who burns petals
Up on the cliffs
With the women
Year of the Ram

There is a presence here

Liar liar liar

Liar liar liar

 

 

We hope every Dentonite should get the chance to share a cold beverage with Michael Seman at some point and converse on an array of topics ranging from New Balance shoes and classic hip hop to college football and the wonders of bright orange pants. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, or wind down a night after a mind-blowing Shiny Around the Edges show. If you haven’t experienced either, your social life may need an adjustment. 

 


Harlin Anderson is the underground BBQ champion of Denton, Texas. When he's not digging through crates of vinyl at Recycled Books or Mad World Records, he can be found manning the smoker on the back patio at Dan's Silver Leaf - or wherever there are hungry musicians. His lives with his wife, Ashley, and their three furry children: Earl, Jake, and Nanette the Pocket Beagle. He prefers to stay comfortably within the Denton city limits at all times.