I first heard Librarians With Hickeys on the Big Stir Singles comps, and was very impressed, especially with “Black Velvet Dress” and “Alex.” The former is a very happy song about starting over, and the latter is sad. We'll read more about it in the interview--looking beneath the surface reveals that all isn't what it seems.
Their album, Long Overdue, was well worth the wait. Mike Crooker, lead guitarist and vocalist, and Ray Carmen, rhythm guitarist and vocalist, were kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
Andrea Weiss: How did the band form?
Mike: All four of us have played in bands together over the years, just never all four of us in the same band at the same time, until 2016. We started off playing a couple of shows a year, mainly outdoor shows at the library Ray works at in Akron, playing songs from our back catalog.
Eventually that led us to writing new songs. In late 2018 we released “Until There Was You” b/w “And Then She's Gone”. Christina Bulbenko at Big Stir Records heard it, and then they ended up releasing “Black Velvet Dress” b/w “Alex” in July 2019. That led to Long Overdue.
AW: What are your influences?
Mike: You can get a pretty good Venn Diagram of our influences via the cover songs we play live: The Monkees, The Kinks, The Dukes of Stratosphear, Syd-era Pink Floyd, Guided By Voices, Pylon, Echo & The Bunnymen, Manfred Mann, Pere Ubu, Gutterball, 20/20, and The Banana Splits (“I Enjoy Being A Boy” is the b-side to our “That Time Is Now” single).
AW: For those who don’t know about the Akron scene beyond Devo and Chrissie Hynde, what’s it like?
Mike: The Akron/Kent scene ebbs and flows. In the 70s/80s it was hopping;The Waitresses, Tin Huey, Rubber City Rebels all had major label deals. There was Dink in the mid-90s, The Black Keys in the early 00s.
The best thing currently is the local Triple-A station (The Summit / WAPS) plays local music at least once an hour during regular hours. There's a ton of up and coming bands that are very cool.
On the downside there's definitely less venues to play. The DIY/house shows have grown, but those venues can be somewhat transient. Many of us head up to Cleveland, but that's had some downturns, before the pandemic, as well.
AW: “Alex” seems to be about someone suffering a lot, and is a great song. What’s it about?
Mike: It was based on an overheard phone conversation between my next-door neighbor, who I never actually met, who was yelling at his mother so loudly that the entire apartment building must have heard him. There was such rage and sense of desperation in his voice, it really shook me up. So I channeled that into a song, filling in some of the details, but the chorus was my hope that things turned out better for him in the long run.
AW: I like your mellow music and not so mellow lyrics. How did that contrast come about?
Mike: Sure, you have that in “Alex,” and in songs like “Black Velvet Dress” you've got this peppy upbeat tune bouncing along and then the first couplet kicks in...
“I heard you were giving a funeral today / Mourning the death of another morning alone”
I like it from a songwriting standpoint that there's a lyric/music juxtaposition, and I think it’s one of the reasons that “Black Velvet Dress” did so well for us on the radio. It subverts expectations, but you can still sing along at the top of your voice with the chorus!
Ray: Mike mentioned The Monkees earlier. ”Last Train To Clarksville” is another example of lyric/music juxtaposition. It’s basically about a guy spending the night with his girlfriend before he gets sent off to boot camp. And yet, it’s very catchy, and has a killer opening guitar riff. Even Don Jamieson from VH1’s That Metal Showlikes it!
AW: Many of your songs seem to be about empowering women to be themselves, which is wonderful. Would you call yourselves, or your characters, feminist?
Ray: I think so. The lyrics for “That Time Is Now” were inspired by Maxine Waters reclaiming her time during a House Financial Services Committee meeting. Plus, I think the idea of taking charge of your life and being true to yourself is something hopefully everyone can relate to.
Mike: I think that many of the women that inhabit the songs, as in “And Then She's Gone” and “Black Velvet Dress,” are like that too. They're in charge of their life and happiness (or lack thereof), and are making their own choices.
AW:Did the pandemic make you change your plans for the album?
Mike: Surprisingly, no. Big Stir had already scheduled the release of Long Overdue for August 2020, and our last show was scheduled in early February with the idea we'd finish the album by spring. Then... it all went to hell. We used the time as productively as we could, and spent a great deal of March through June working on the mixes, alternating with curling up on the couch in a fetal position. The only change has been how we can promote/sell it without playing live. Merch sales and touring income are the life-blood for a performing band, and all musicians are hurting, as are the venues. I don't know when we'll be back on stage again.
Ray: And if/when we do get back to playing live, we may still have to wear masks, in which case people might mistake us for the band Clinic. At least until we start playing.
Mike: Or they might think it's an actual pop-up clinic, and we're there to dispense medicine or shots. At least until we start playing.
AW: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in music?
Mike: It's hard giving advice as there's been so many twists, turns and WTF moments in my career to make a Spinal Tap sequel. You have to be really prepared when your shot comes, because they don't come around too many times. Make sure it's what you really want to do. The four of us are lifers, so we have no choice at this point. ;)
Ray: That’s right. We’ve all been playing music for many years, and we are living proof that if you hang in there long enough, something will happen.
Mike: And if not, don't wait around for it to take that first step." Make it happen. Take that first step.”