RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
For decades, the Austin Lounge Lizards have been trying to keep their town weird. Armed with an alt country sound - sort of - and precise harmonies, they've been spoofing politics, religion and romance for as long as most Austinites can remember. Now, they're releasing their first studio album in seven years. It's called "Home and Deranged."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO BIG TO FAIL")
AUSTIN LOUNGE LIZARDS: (Singing) I want to be too big to fail. I want to steal and not go to jail. I lost in Vegas. Will somebody bail me out? If I could lie like those guys in New York or have a buddy in Congress who would send me some work, I'd be in a skybox popping a cork right now.
MARTIN: The Lounge Lizards was actually founded in New Jersey by a couple of Princeton men back in the mid-1970s. Hank Card and Conrad Deisler eventually made their way to what is now Texas' musical center, where Tom Pittman rounded out the group. Personnel have changed a bit over the years but Card and Deisler remain. And they join us now from member station KUT in, of course, Austin, Texas. Hey, guys.
HANK CARD: Hey.
CONRAD DEISLER: Hi.
MARTIN: Hey. Thanks for being with us.
DEISLER: Our pleasure.
MARTIN: So, this latest album, "Home and Deranged," has a little bit of attitude, maybe a kind of snarkiness a little bit to it, if I could say? Let's listen to your takedown of a fellow musician in the opening track on this CD, which is called "Enough about Me."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ENOUGH ABOUT ME")
LIZARDS: (Singing) Stage lights come off, I'm out here all alone. My words are crying at you, like a stranger on the phone. I stand before you naked, stripped absolutely bare. What is everybody looking at? It's not polite to stare. Enough about me. I'm tired of talking about myself. What do you think of me? I need to hear from someone else. Did you get my songs? Do you like my new CD? Why can't anybody say enough about me?
MARTIN: Anyone special in mind when you wrote this?
CARD: No, not really. It's just sort of an accumulation of singer-songwriters and a little bit of ourselves I suppose.
DEISLER: I think we were thinking about the song and topic and just the one-liners for several years. But then Hank and I both happened to read an article about Shawn Colvin that's in the newspaper.
MARTIN: Shawn Colvin, who I love.
DEISLER: Yeah. Oh, I do too. She's great. But a lot of the article was about the turmoil in her life and it was sort angst-ridden. That sort of put us in the frame of mind.
MARTIN: So, you guys don't like one kind of musical game. You like to mix up your genres a little bit. And there is this really interesting ballad on this album: "Spelunking with Joe King Carrasco."
DEISLER: That's one of our ten-year projects.
CARD: More like 20.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPELUNKING WITH JOE KING CARRASCO")
LIZARDS: (Singing) And then he goes Bustamante, I was running from the law, one, a guy that people know as Joe I thought I saw. And whoever (unintelligible) music gathered on the radio. Now as addled idled outcasts, we met down in Mexico. We killed a few Coronas at the old Ansurra Bar(ph). He reached up and caught (unintelligible) me. He threw it pretty far. It flew into a cave nearby and that was all it took. Manana, let's round some of us up and take a look. Spelunking with Joe King Carrasco in the caves of Bustamante...
MARTIN: So, the lyrics go on. Let me quote some, if I may: "There were dissolute aristocrats, dipsomanic diplomats, executives from Texaco, Martians from New Mexico, Poncho Villa, Ambrose Bierce, Brando in his bandoleers." You even managed to squeeze in Leon Trotsky, Gilgamesh and the Honeymooners. How does this happen for you? How does this - you're just - the two of you just get together and you just kind drink some beers and see what comes out? I mean, what...
CARD: Pretty much.
DEISLER: That song is actually based on a thing that really happened to Hank, and I'll let you start.
CARD: Well, sort of yeah.
MARTIN: Do tell.
CARD: That was a long time ago - 30 years maybe. My then-wife, my ex-wife and I were in Bustamante, Mexico and we were just there because it was a cool place. And we ran into Joe King Carrasco, the nuevo evo(ph) musician. And he was telling us about these caves. And he's a pretty manic guy. And so...
MARTIN: So, this is a real guy. For people who don't know, Joe King Carrasco...
DEISLER: Well, he's a real guy, yeah.
CARD: And he was a big figure in the Austin punk movement. Anyway, he was pretty manic. So, we went down and we went spelunking with him. And it seemed like a topic for a song that, literally, took us at least 20 years to write the thing. So, that's a lot of beer.
DEISLER: The perfect thing is they are conducted to the underground by this very personable host and, well, it seems it's just a step from there to imagine all the other guests that could be coming. And we're sort of specializing in foreigners who came to their grief in Mexico.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
LIZARDS: (Singing) Humphrey (Unintelligible) our sponsor, he (unintelligible) and his horse. Gringo honeymooners drinking beer from giant schooners. Leon Trotsky and (unintelligible) wearing matching wire (unintelligible). Gilgamesh and (unintelligible) doo, drinking pop and Pikachu (unintelligible) and Orpheus and Morpheus, of course.
DEISLER: Well, by the end of the list, we got much more general.
CARD: We kind of ran out of ideas toward the end. So, we tacked in (unintelligible).
MARTIN: I mean, but why does it take 20 years to write a song? That's not usual, right?
DEISLER: I don't know. It's sort of like a trunk song. Irving Berlin always had his trunk songs, songs, ideas that he liked but he just couldn't quite finish. He put them in a trunk. And every now you'd open your trunk and go through it and say, oh, there that is.
MARTIN: So, it does sound like the two of you and the rest of the group, you're having fun at this. I imagine you wouldn't keep doing it if it wasn't fun.
DEISLER: We are.
CARD: Yeah. For the most part. I mean, not ever second but...
DEISLER: We always said the one reason for the longevity of the Austin Lounge Lizards was there're just separate hotel rooms.
CARD: But that's good.
MARTIN: Hank, you team up with fiddle player Darcy Deville in a really touching - shall we say - tribute to the Transportation Security Administration. It's called "Thank You for Touching Me There." Let's take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THANK YOU FOR TOUCHING ME THERE")
LIZARDS: (Singing) Thank you for touching me there, thank you for touching me where, I felt things of which I had not been aware. Thank you for touching me there. And thank you for touching me there. Thank you for showing you care. Thank you for breaching my barrier. Thank you for touching me there.
MARTIN: Ah, that is silly. That is...
CARD: We did it to be beautiful. I'm disappointed. But OK.
MARTIN: I mean, I'm moved. I'm also moved. You think this tune might help speed you through security at the airport perhaps?
CARD: Or something.
MARTIN: Or maybe you don't want to be sped through. It sounds like you're, you know, enjoying taking your time, maybe.
CARD: I am just looking forward to hearing it on the PA system in the Austin Airport where they play local music. I just don't want to be standing in line at that moment.
MARTIN: So, it's been a while between studio sessions for you guys - seven years, as we mentioned. Your music is, though, fairly topical. I mean, do you need just the right news story to kind of come along and inspire songs for you?
CARD: The political ones, yes. One reason it's taking so long, I think, is we're sort of on the left so we do better during a Republican administration. We have more to write about.
DEISLER: Even our topical songs, we try to write songs that have extended shelf life. The Capitol Steps are about what was today's headline today, I think. Sometimes you can compare us to The Capitol Steps, but we're really different in that we wanted to write a song that will be funny even if the issue's not on the front page. General enough and it says enough about human nature as well.
MARTIN: Well, you finish off the album kind of where it starts off - skewering the music industry with a song called...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WOULD YOU LIKE TO START A BAND?")
LIZARDS: (Singing) Would you like to start a band? We could have a lot of fun. We could climb into a van, drive toward the rising sun. We could drive around the country...
MARTIN: I wonder is there something that you know now that you would tell your younger selves when you were out starting - starting a band? You guys did it right? Like, when you look back, you think, yeah, we had our head on our shoulders. We didn't expect too much. It worked out.
DEISLER: Well, we certainly did not have our heads on our shoulders. I'm sure of that much. And maybe that's a good thing.
CARD: You know, that's a really good question. I've never been asked that question before about what would we tell our younger selves. I just don't know the answer. I think it's worked out pretty well but I would not attribute it to any sort of, you know, wisdom or commonsense on our part, but...
DEISLER: I say if you love it that much that you're going to do it anyway, then good luck to you, 'cause it might take off.
MARTIN: Well, Hank Card and Conrad Deisler. They are two founding members of the Austin Lounge Lizards. We spoke to them from Austin, Texas. Their new CD is called "Home and Deranged." Hey, you two, it's been a pleasure. Thanks so much for taking the time.
DEISLER: Well, thank you. It's been a pleasure.