My friend once licked JG Thirlwell. Just grabbed his arm at a concert one time, and had a taste.
“What did it taste like?” was about all I could think to ask.
“Hair and sweat. You’d have loved it.”
Damn. People do some funny things when it comes to the Foetus man.
Another friend – not the one with the FOETUS number plate on his car – once caught the train to Thirlwell’s Brooklyn home (before the area went posh), and was crazy enough to take the 10 minute walk from the station past several burning cars. “Glad you made it,” JGT remarked, unlocking the three padlocks on his six-inch thick metal door. “The last three people who attempted that walk in the previous week got mugged.”
People do some crazy, dumb-assed s*** for JG Thirlwell. I’d been out of the writing game for nine years when I was struck by the sudden, insatiable need to blog about the guy. I spent 10 weeks researching an article that didn’t leave me much the wiser, but at least I found out that a) he’s really nice, b) my somewhat elastic sanity has its uses, and c) I have some really f***ing stupid ideas sometimes.
None of that holds a candle to animator Jackson Publick, though. His friend lent him the Steroid Maximus album Quilombo, and by track 4, Hank and Dean Venture had popped “fully formed before [his] eyes and started running in time to the beat.” Inspired by the Foetus side-project, Publick drafted a script for The Venture Bros in under a week. It took a further two years to get Adult Swim to back it and then convince Thirlwell to score the series, which at that point was well into production. The rest is … well into season 4 at last count.
It’s quite interesting that the release is titled The Venture Bros. The Music of JG Thirlwell.
He’s not really one for using his own name: JG Thirlwell has used 19 aliases on his 40-plus recordings. Although there’s a fair amount of crossover between each, the Foetus and Manorexia and Steroid Maximus projects have very distinctive spheres. The Venture Bros score brings it all together in an instrumental melting pot that’s probably closer to Steroid Maximus overall, but has a subtly different flavour to them all.
If you’ve heard the new Foetus album, HIDE, then the Ennio Morricone influence won’t come as any sort of surprise, and you can almost hear the pops and crackles of ageing movie soundtracks – though the production is lush and precise. The music of JG Thirlwell is rich and orchestral, with piano being the go-to instrument (where Manorexia has of late favoured the violin). It’s difficult to place the sound in any given genre or period, since it all seems to be mixed in – 60s Spaghetti Westerns, 70s car chase funk, even drum ‘n’ bass and breakbeats, which sound weirdly contemporary since they’re not just being spun off the Methods of Mayhem CD.
If Foetus seems to languish in frustration and Manorexia’s mood is deeply reflective and contemplative, the one emotion in the Venture Bros soundtrack is one of sheer joy. There’s a lightness and playfulness and absolute enjoyment of music that surpasses even the cheerful bounce of Steroid Maximus. That’s not to say it lacks light and shade – it is, after all, a soundtrack album and designed to articulate the full range of emotions conveyed on the screen.
It’s just that if JG Thirlwell has inspired some strange behaviour from others, then perhaps the context of a cartoon has brought out something from Thirlwell that wasn’t so obvious before. There was always a sense of playing with music, as opposed to merely playing it, but the Venture Bros score has a particular exuberance that’s frankly delightful.