CALLING your band Crazy Penis is neither big nor clever. The group’s new album, however, is both.
Crazy Penis is such a fantastic name for a band. Like many people, I was sold by the time I’d seen the cover of their debut album, which featured a poorly photocopied photograph of the group in yellow bear costumes. Even before I’d heard the music.
Packed full of big, bottom-heavy funky house numbers, there was also a strong element of live instrumentation – Chris Todd is an accomplished guitarist, while Jim Baron has been playing the trombone since childhood – to complement the usual sequenced rhythms. They made waves.
Todd and Baron met at university in Nottingham and had already released a couple of well-received singles before recording their debut album for Paperecordings.
Originally named Loca Pinga – they’d seen the name on an old seven-inch single a mate had lying around his house – their friend and label boss Elliot Eastwick found out what the phrase meant in English and persuaded them to go with the translation. Thus are legends born.
“At that stage, me and Chris were okay with it because we’d chosen it in the first place,” muses Baron in Manchester city centre watering hole Cord. “But then you get to the obvious thing about telling your mum ..”
So how do you go about telling your mum you’re in a band called Crazy Penis?
Very carefully, it seems. Baron’s says that his mum didn’t speak to him for about three weeks afterwards, “but since then she’d been absolutely fine.”
“For me, it wasn’t so much my mum,” says Danielle Moore, who started singing for Crazy Penis last year. “My mum just went, oh right, yeah. Well, what could she say? I mean, she couldn’t say nice, could she? She thought it was quite funny. My dad was the same.
“It was more people like the doctors,” she drawls in one of the broadest Lancashire accents you’re likely to hear this side of Wigan Pier. “You’ve just had half your clothes off in front of them and they’re like, so what are you doing now Danielle? I’m in a band. So they go, Oooh, what’s the name of your band? I’ll look out for you ..”
“And US immigration as well,” adds Baron ruefully. “They say to you, oh yeah, you’re in a band? Whaddya called? What are we called? Um, Crazy Penis. Do you want me to take my trousers off now?”
Moore, evidently a pub raconteur par excellence, launches into a mini kitchen-sink drama about the time she told her grandmother that she’d got a single coming out.
“Right, what’s the name of your band? she says. Let me write it down and I’ll go and buy it. I’m like, no, no, no, no, I’ll send you a copy. So she goes, No, I’m going to add to your sales. What are you called?”
Moore says CrazyPenis under her breath, as fast as she can.
“And my nanna’s there, Sorry love? So my sister shouts to her, CRAY-ZEE PEEN-NIS! You know, willies! And I see this look of horror on my nanna’s face as if to say, Surely, surely you could have come up with a better name than that?”
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” says Baron. “But I think once people have seen us live, the name kind of fades into the background you know. It becomes just a name.”
“I mean, it’s a legitimate biological term for Christ’s sake!” he adds. And he’s absolutely right. Apart from the ‘crazy’ bit.
The likeable, down-to-earth pair have just returned from a short tour of Australia and New Zealand, with Moore singing, Baron DJing and combinations of the two. They and the rest of the band are about to embark on a series of dates to promote their second album, The Wicked Is Music, which is out at the end of this month.
Unlike their largely instrumental debut, which was put together by Baron and Todd with a little help from bassist Tim Davies, the new album is the product of a fully-fledged six-piece (Moore, Todd, Baron and Davies, plus percussionist Mav and drummer Matt Klose), complete with real songs performed by a real singer.
“It’s a bit different to the way we did the first one,” says Baron. “That was me and Chris staying in our bedrooms, getting stoned and finding samples.”
“But that’s the natural way to go, isn’t it?” argues Moore. “Doing gigs and then doing a single, then doing more gigs and then an album. It seems like a natural progression. That first album, you did that on your own, isolated, and then everything happened afterwards.”
What started as a studio project has evolved into something much more interesting.
Baron puts it in a nutshell:
“You listen to a War single, or any Stevie Wonder record you want, and you always end up thinking to yourself, why don’t people make records like this anymore? Why don’t they? I mean, it’s not as if there’s not enough melody out there to cover it.”
“People don’t attack the idea of making music in the same way they once did,” he laments. “The computer is their main tool, which is fine if that’s what you’re into, but nobody ever tries to create an ensemble – a band.”
Crazy Penis are definitely an ensemble. Despite being scattered all over the North and the Midlands, they meet up – not as regularly as they’d like but regularly enough – hang out, jam, rehearse, do the usual band stuff. One of the stand-out tracks of the new album and a forthcoming single, the languidly seductive Give It Up, was put together in a day, specifically to be included in the band’s already formidable live set.
They are now a cohesive whole rather than two geezers holed up in smoky bedroom studios, and impressive though their first album was, The Wicked Is Music is in another league entirely.
It’s a lot more relaxed than its dope-infused predecessor, and has less of an eye on the dancefloor, while Moore’s vocals lift the band to the next level on tracks like last year’s celebratory single You Started Something and the smouldering Keep On.
It all adds up to The Wicked Is Music being just a bit more sophisticated, a little more grown-up, than anything they’ve done before.
“We’ve seen it with our parents,” says Moore. “Jim’s mum compared me to Jane McDonald!”
“But from my mum, that’s a compliment,” he laughs.
“I pissed myself,” giggles Moore, “but it was just perfect ..”
[This interview was first published in the Big Issue in the North in May 2002]