You may not recognize Eef Barzelay's name, but you might recognize his former band's name, Clem Snide.
And even if you don't recognize that, you'll recognize Barzelay's distinctive voice and rock stylings: One of Clem Snide's songs, "Moment in the Sun," was used as the theme to that TV show Ed--you know, the one about the guy and the girl and the bowling alley. Barzelay also did the scoring for a terribly underappreciated, Sundance Film Festival-award-winning 2007 film called Rocket Science, about a stuttering kid who joins the debate team--all for the love of a girl.
If none of this rings a bell, then let me introduce you to Eef Barzelay, musician, songwriter, film-scorer and by far one of the most intelligent and original songwriters around. As the frontman for Clem Snide, Barzelay masterminded albums like 2001's The Ghost of Fashion. Just looking at the song titles gives you some idea of Barzelay's fascinating pop sensibility (and sense of humor): "Ancient Chinese Secret Blues," "Joan Jett of Arc," "The Junky Jews" and "Evil Vs. Good" are just a few.
But in 2006, the group formerly known as Clem Snide hit murky waters, and their raft crumbled to pieces. Since then, Barzelay's gone solo, and his recent release, Lose Big, shows that he doesn't need to hide behind a clever Naked Lunch-culled band name anymore.
"I came up with that name when I was 19," said Barzelay over the phone from his home in Nashville. "So it definitely felt like I was holding on to something I probably should have let go of by now."
Because, as Barzelay explained, all Clem Snide records were really documents of particular moments in Barzelay's creative life--Eef Barzelay records at their core. Going solo is really nothing new for Barzelay. Recording under his own name is really just a way for Barzelay to lay Clem Snide to rest, and start fresh.
"I think the decision to finally put the name to rest was more psychological and symbolic," said Barzelay. "I just really wanted to start over, to wipe the slate clean for myself, because it definitely felt like it had ended. There was this very palpable sense of ending, of overness." He may have lost big with the end of Clem Snide, but what's been gained is far more complex and enduring. Lose Big has all of those elements that made Clem Snide records crackle with clever intensity, but the cleverness is more mature, thoughtful and earnest. "I can't find comfort in the fact that it could be worse," sings Barzelay on "Could Be Worse," and on "How Dare They," Barzelay's voice gets a little crazy as he sings, "How dare they crash the party in your mind." "Apocalyptic Friend" is an ironic love song to fundamentalist zealots ("I only want to hold you in my arms and whisper, 'It's all right'"), and the earnest melody of "Make Another Tree" makes Barzelay's request to "break me Lord, and with the pieces, make another tree" an even more powerful metaphor. The seriousness of Lose Big makes Barzelay's signature lyrical hooks sink in even deeper. Lose Big was recorded during the summer of 2006, when Barzelay was offered the opportunity to use his friend Ben Folds' studio. At the time, Barzelay didn't know that the record would be released under his own name--he didn't even how or where it would be released.
"The thing about Lose Big is that I wrote it and recorded it in such a crazy, fantastic, short period of time, this whirlwind of manic, desperate creativity that overtook me two summers ago, right on the heels of me becoming aware that things were not working out so good for me in the music biz and having a family and house and all that shit," said Barzelay. "It just sort of exploded out of my brain."
And as the spawn of Barzelay's brain, Lose Big is more introspective, more personal, more Eef, less snide. It teems with emotional turmoil, sadness and manic desperation--and is all the better for it.