It's not every day you encounter a band as inventive, educational and hilarious as Electric Needle Room. The brainchild of middle school history teacher Matt Beat and percussionist Steven Beat, Electric Needle Room is Overland Parks's answer to They Might Be Giants, "Weird" Al Yankovic, School House Rock and Daniel Johnston. In this edition of Listen Local, Beat discusses writing a song apiece for each and every one of the U.S. Presidents, his disdain for his own lyrics and how he keeps the creativity going.
Describe your writing process. How do you manage to stay so prolific with a full-time (7th grade) teaching job?
Usually the melody or hook come first. Fortunately, I usually record the melody or hook into my phone, as they often come to me at random times. The lyrics come later, sometimes years later. Lyrics have always been a bit more challenging for me to write, but I never have a shortage of stuff I want to write about. Lately, with teaching and parenting and all my other jobs, songwriting has taken a backseat, but I still sit down and write whenever I get a chance. I just have to make time, just like with anything else.
You’ve managed to write and record a song about each of the U.S. Presidents (though we’re still waiting for Obama’s). Which was the hardest to write? Easiest?
The hardest to write was the Franklin Roosevelt song. Obviously, he had a long tenure, so trying to cram his accomplishments and the highlights of his Presidency into a few minutes was challenging. Plus, I felt a lot of pressure to get it right because he is one of the most popular Presidents in history. One song that came out easily was the Grover Cleveland one. He is one of my favorite Presidents, and the lyrics came quickly. I had that one done in a day.
What, if anything, do you struggle with creatively and how do you break through that struggle?
Time. I wish I had more time to be creative. Honestly, I see how artists stop creating- they just stopping making the time. We live busy lives, and the real world (not the old reality show- the real real world) can really bring you down. Sometimes, you have to sit down and force yourself to get started, especially if you've been out of the game for awhile. Once you get going though, you remember why you loved your art and wonder what took you so long to get back to it.
Your songs contain a lot of humor and positivity with a healthy dose of self-deprecation, melodies and hooks. Who or what do you look toward for inspiration?
Everything except the usual stuff songwriters write about. I try not to write songs about love or relationships because there are literally hundreds of thousands of those songs. Instead, I write songs about flossing, valet parking, Wikipedia, Twitter, long nose hairs, eating organic food, Oprah Winfrey, the difference between primary and secondary sources, and tomatoes. I'm currently writing a song about my love of Clif Bars.
If you look deeply at most song lyrics, they are absolutely horrible. Embarrassingly horrible. I figured, if lyrics are already so bad, I might as well sing about Clif Bars.
Describe your recording process. Where and how do you record your music?
Recording is my main passion- that's where I feel I can be the most creative and innovative. I record my music in my basement using Logic Pro on my computer. I play all the instruments and sing all the parts and then mix them down together. Sometimes I'm completely a one-man band, but often I will email my mix to my brother, who currently lives in Wichita, to add percussion to them. We have a pretty good system. Occasionally I will record with my friend Ryan Hubener up in the Northland. He has a nice studio in his house that I highly recommend to other local musicians.
The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuzinick
It's one of the only history books that doesn't look at history through the rose-colored glasses that are caused by extreme nationalism. The American government made mistakes, and it's important to acknowledge and learn from those mistakes instead of repeat them again and again.
Why Don't Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham
I recommend this book for every teacher and parent.
The Truman Show (1999)
My favorite film of all time.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
An underrated film about getting out of your comfort zone and actively living your life, not passively as most of us tend to do.
Paracosm by Washed Out
One of my top five albums of all time.
Pershing by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
They are possibly my favorite band, and they are from Springfield, Missouri, so that is a bonus.