In late 2019, Kurt Wagner was experimenting with something new, something that would eventually reveal itself as Lambchop's Showtunes. By taking simple guitar tracks and converting them into MIDI piano tracks, "Suddenly I discovered I could 'play' the piano," he says. "It was a revelation that from those conversions, I was able to manipulate each note and add, subtract, arrange the chords and melody into a form that didn't have any of the limitations I had with my previous methods of writing with a guitar."
Removing these limitations led to a surprising new sound, something akin to show tunes but with edges sanded down and viewed through Kurt's own specific lens. "In general, it's a genre I was none too fond of," he admits, "with the exceptions of a few Great American Songbook
-type of stuff or some of the works of artists like Tom Waits or early Randy Newman
or even Gershwin
. I'd always wanted to make songs with a similar feel, but my skills were limited until now."
"Now that the door reopened up, I realized that anything is possible given time and space to do it," Kurt says. This led to the addition of one more key player, an effortlessly natural fit and one that for many will feel overdue. For the first time, longtime friend and collaborator James McNew
of Yo La Tengo
joins on upright bass. "For as long as I've known him, James McNew
has been a like-minded artist and one who I've dreamed of working with," Kurt says. "This seemed like the right fit for what he does, and he graciously agreed to be part of this creation. For many years, I've longed for what an upright bass could add to our sound. Now with that, this work was complete."