For two full decades now, Earwig frontman Lizard McGee has been one of a few voices in the Columbus, OH underground music scene that has managed to maintain his dedication to and fervor for crafting good, solid indie rock without falling victim to emerging trends or throwing in the towel altogether.  We’ve been a fan of the band almost that long with our first introduction to the band being 1994’s Mayfeeder.  With a fantastic new full-length, Earwig’s 4th studio album Gibson Under Mountain, under his belt, Earwig are stronger and more confident sounding than ever.  We caught up with McGee recently, and naturally we had two decades worth of questions to ask him.  Here are the results of that conversation.

You Indie: During Earwig’s early days you garnered attention from Capitol and 4AD. Did you ever have an official relationship with either label? If not, why not?

Lizard McGee: When Earwig first started we made a cassette with 5 songs called Dead Slow Hoot. I did a little research and sent cassette’s out to A&R people at labels that I liked. Warner Brothers, 4AD, Capitol. It was different time then. I actually got personalized letters back from almost every label that I sent music to encouraging me to send more. I had a couple of volleys back and forth with Capital and Warner Brothers, but nothing ever manifested into a record deal. Maybe I just didn’t know really what I was doing. I remember, I was actually in the bath tub when the phone rang with a cross-Atlantic phone call from Ivo Watts-Russell (head of 4AD). I don’t remember much about what we chatted about in our brief conversation. But I told him how much I liked the Breeders record and he said he liked the Earwig tape and to send more music when I had it. I had a few more contacts with an A&R guy from 4AD, but it also ended up going nowhere. It seemed very easy for me to get the attention of these big labels. Maybe I was hesitant about taking it to the next level because I was so enthusiastically DIY, or maybe I just didn’t know how to make it happen. Maybe Earwig needed a lawyer or a manager or something. We were offered a deal in the mid 1990’s by a guy that worked at Warners but I think we “negotiated” it into the ground and killed it.
 

Earwig Outside

Earwig Outside

You Indie: In 1994 or 95 Entertainment Weekly did a huge feature on Columbus music with Lizard Family Music as the focal point. How did that come about?


Lizard McGee: We got a call from the writer at EW that they would be in town with a photographer and wanted to talk to us. LFM was really happening then and we were making a splash. Anyway Records was making a name for themselves nationally and we’d been starting to get some write-ups and attention as well as part of an up-and-coming “Columbus Scene”. This was all still on the coattails of all of the media attention to the “Seattle Scene” and the search for the next Nirvana. The blurb and the accompanying photo of the LFM gang spread out on two pages. It was very cool and my brother didn’t know we were in it and picked it up at an airport in Canada. It seemed like we were a little bit famous or something.
 
You Indie: Did you experience backlash as a result of that article? Do you think Columbus has emerged as the break-out scene in America?

Lizard McGee: There was no backlash. But we did start getting a lot of attention from various A&R at major labels and eventually signed a production deal with some big-wigs in NYC. It all served really to divert our (my) focus towards getting a deal instead of concentrating on writing/recording songs and being a kick-ass band. I kept waiting for responses from label goons and it really made us take a lot longer to put out our next record than we should have. I think that Columbus did emerge as a break out scene…sort of. There were a handful of great bands that came from that period and there was a small bit of attention. Nothing really stuck though. It doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good. Just not commercially popular. A lot like now, some bands, labels and scenes are really happening in Columbus. But it’s all underground. Not a lot of mainstream attention. Maybe that’s a good thing?
 

Earwig On A Couch

Earwig On A Couch

You Indie: If I remember correctly, you spent some years in California. How did that culture differ from the music culture you spent years cultivating in Ohio?

Lizard McGee: I moved to California in 1999 and decided to spend more energy making industry contacts and trying to land a record deal for Earwig. I did make several good connections but the downside was that I was left without a functioning band. I landed a job at a recording studio in the Bay Area and found a great drummer to record with. We also played a bunch of shows as a duo. I started to get a taste of what the “music business” was like. They’re much more interested in the Deal and what’s hot right now. They don’t necessarily care if it’s good as long as it’s popular. In the Midwest, there seemed to be more integrity and an active DIY scene. All that being said, I’m still interested in the music business, where it’s going and what’s coming next.
 
You Indie: What prompted your return to Ohio?

Lizard McGee: Ultimately, I knew that I wanted to live in Ohio. I came back to southern Ohio and bought a house in the woods with my family. It’s MUCH more affordable here than in California. Although I loved living in California, I was home-sick. And mostly, I missed having a real, functioning band. So I moved back with the intention of getting Earwig rolling again.
 
You Indie: What other musicians currently round out the Earwig trio and where did you meet those guys?

Lizard McGee: Right now, I have the extreme good fortune of playing with a set of brothers. George Hondroulis (drums) and Costa Hondroulis (bass) round out the rhythm section and backbone for Earwig. They are deeply connected musically and we’re all excited about the new songs we’re making. It’s a good time for us.
 
You Indie: Are you the primary songwriter for Earwig?

Lizard McGee: Yes. Generally, I write songs at home, on my own. And then I bring them in mostly finished and we flesh out the arrangements as a group. Things change from there and the band has as much input as they want to change things up, add parts or whatever.
 

Earwig

Earwig

You Indie: What topics are the most frequent catalysts for your songwriting? How has your songwriting changed over the last two decades?

Lizard McGee: Most recently, with our new album Gibson Under Mountain, all of the songs have had their start in dreams. This isn’t the case for all of my songs, but I’ve always had some songs come to me that way. “Dinosaur Song“ off of Mayfeeder was written from a dream. “Used Kids”, the hit from our last album, was basically a literal re-telling of a fever dream I’d had. I woke up and wrote it down then set it to 3 chords. Boom…a song. I’d noticed recently that I was hiving more and more songs and ideas coming through dreams. I take some weird medications and my dreams have gotten very vibrant and strange with long, involved story lines. More so than usual. So I saved back those songs and put all of the dream inspired songs on one album. Even the name “Gibson Under Mountain” was dictated to me in a dream. Basically the dream said “Name Your Album Gibson Under Mountain”. So I did. It seemed a fitting title for an album made up of songs that also came from dreams.
 
You Indie: Where did the idea to release a completely acoustic version of your new album come from? Are there things you wish you could do over since the album was recorded in one session?

Lizard McGee: Before we began recording the overdubs, the producer suggested that we sit down and record a simple version of each song so that he could hear them and get a very direct idea of what each song was about. I played an acoustic guitar and sang into one microphone. Each of the songs was done in one take, maybe with a false start or two. I think that these are good representations of what the songs are, without too much embellishment. They’re simple versions. It wasn’t until later that I had the idea to release these simple acoustic versions too and let them stand alone as an album. I’m happy with them. I think that, along with the full album versions, they give you a good understanding of these songs.
 
You Indie: How does Gibson Under A Mountain differ from previous Earwig output?
Were you honored to be number 8 in Columbus Alive’s Top 100 Columbus bands?

Lizard McGee: Gibson Under Mountain is, I think, our most highly produced album. For better or for worse, it’s the record we spent the most money recording and mixing. It also took the longest to finish. I purposefully saved some of the best songs we had to put on this album and it stands up well. It holds it’s own against our last album as well as ‘Perfect Past Tense” which is often regarded as our best record. It was very cool that “Perfect Past Tense” was recognized and included in a critics “Best Of” list of the top 100 Columbus bands/albums. I thought that was great. There were a lot of other fantastic bands and albums included. So to be that highly regarded is nice. Naturally though, I just want to top it and make an album that is even better. That’s what I was working to achieve with “Gibson Under Mountain”.
 
You Indie: Do you have an strong opinions about the shitgaze scene that has been garnering so much attention in music press as of late? Do you see that style as a natural result of the lo-fi music culture that has been so popular in Ohio?

Lizard McGee: I’m not that well informed about the “shitgaze” scene. I read the local message boards and know a little bit about it and I’ve heard some of the bands. I’m familiar with CDR (the Columbus record label) and what they do. Lo-fi has been around for a long time now. Coming from a recording background and having recorded a lot of bands and Earwig music on 4 track and on an 8 track in my garage, I appreciate that sound and have strong feelings about it. I do think that some of the stuff I’ve heard is overly poorly recorded. It’s so easy now to make good recordings. So sometimes I hear it and think it’s a reflection of people that care more about the aesthetic than the music. They seem to be just be hiding behind the dirt and fuzz. But then again, I love dirt and fuzz. It’s great for bands to have the access to do it themselves and that always pricks up my ears. Mostly, I’m just happy that they’re having success in their own scene and getting attention when and where they can.
 
You Indie: Who are your favorite bands in Athens/Columbus/Ohio-in-general right now and what particular aspects of those bands challenge you as a songwriter?

Lizard McGee: There’s a young band from Athens, Ohio called Mindfish that we play with a lot. I dig them. They’re very prolific, which keeps me on my toes as far as knowing that I need to always be writing more. I am a victim of copetitive inspiration. I like the Kyle Sowashes from Columbus. And I’ve always been a big fan of a band called Thistle, from Cincinnati.
 
You Indie: Your next big show this year is a benefit for Andyman. Can you tell me a little bit about that? What are your best memories of him?

Lizard McGee: Andyman had such a big personality. He was always warm and had a way of making you feel like you had been best buddies with him forever. I really only knew him a little bit, but I held him in high regard. He was pivotal in opening doors for bands in the Columbus scene and called me personally to let me know when they added our song “Used Kids’ to their regular rotation play-list. That song went on to become our most widely known tune in no small part due to it’s success on the airwaves of CD101. Andyman introduced us when we played CD101 Day at the LC. This was a huge event and we played in front of about four thousand people. We were not treated like a “local band”. We had our own dressing room and were treated like an important national band. It was great. It seems fitting to me that we’ll play that same stage again in a benefit for and celebration of Andyman.
 
You Indie: Earwig has been around almost 20 years now. Is there an end in sight?

Lizard McGee: If there’s an end, I don’t see it. Most people either quit making music, or at least break up the band and start over with a new name. Neither of those option ever made any sense to me. As long as I keep writing songs, they’ll be Earwig songs.
 
You Indie: What are Earwig’s plans for 2011?

Lizard McGee: We’ve got a new EP that will be out in early 2011 called “North High Alumni”. It’s just 4 songs but that cleans out the closet and I need to write more new songs for Earwig. I have a room with all of my gear in it at home. It’s a wreck and I can’t seem to get anything done. I’m trying to put it in order so that I’ll have a good space to write in. We have a few new songs with Earwig now. But I really want to write the definitive Earwig album. I was trying to do that with Gibson Under Mountain. But I think I can do better.

Earwig will play Wednesday, November 24 at the Lifestyles Community Pavilion in Columbus, OH.  The bill also includes Willie Phoenix, X-Rated Cowboys, Watershed, The Toll, and a Howlin’ Maggie reunion.  A portion of the proceeds from the sale of tickets will go to the Andy “Andyman” Davis Memorial Fund.

Visit Lizard at Earwig’s Official Website, http://www.lizardfamily.com, or check out his blog at http://www.nightcusser.blogspot.com. They also have a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Earwig-the-band/114788551870178 and a Bandcamp profile at http://www.earwig.bandcamp.com.