Music Monday: Internet Famous, Vol. 6–An Interview with Paul and Storm
Howdy! Are y’all ready for another Music Monday: Internet Famous? Me, too! (And it’s in a similar format as last time because I like it better.) This one may have to hold you for a while, though, because there aren’t anymore interviews planned for the foreseeable future. However, fear not–this is only a season finale of sorts, not a full cancellation. I will go out and hunt the wild and mighty internet celebrity again soon, but for now let us focus on the present. For this edition of Music Monday: Internet Famous, we’ve got a couple of special guests. Though you may not recognize Mr. Storm DiCostanza and Mr. Paul Sabourin by themselves, you’re probably quite familiar with the comedy music duo which they make up. I’m talking, of course, about none other than…
Paul and Storm! Paul and Storm make up a nerdy singing/song-writing duo whose music covers subject material from nuns to pirates to pixelated frogs to, uh…that guy who wrote about the throne game whachamawhosit, and everything in between. They’ve performed on the Bob and Tom radio show, at various PAXes, in various countries, and with various other nerd celebrities such as Jonathan Coulton and Wil Wheaton. Currently they’re super excited about their newest project, a YouTube web series called LearningTown. They’re so excited, in fact, that a good portion of our interview ended up being about their latest project that debuts January 15.
Wait–January 15? That’s tomorrow! Alright, better get on with it, then:
Nukezilla (NZ): [Pretend you’re talking to someone who has never heard of you guys before. How would you describe yourselves?]
Paul (PS): You want to take that one, Storm?
Storm (SD): Oh, sure. Paul and Storm–we are a music comedy duo. We do mostly original songs–a lot of them are geeky in nature–and we appear throughout the internet, occasionally on TV, and [LearningTown] is our first actual scripted production.
NZ: [So tell me a little bit about LearningTown. I watched the trailer and it seems very...Paul and Storm.]
PS: [Laughs] That’s a good way of putting it. The short version is we play a comedy music duo named Paul and Storm–which is quite a stretch–who end up taking over [an] old-timey kids’ show after the original host dies, even though they’ve never done it before and they’re really terrible at it. And they go about recruiting others to help them who are equally not good at it.
PS: And then ten episodes of hilarity ensues.
NZ: [So how did you guys get involved in this, uh, children’s show for adults?]
SD: We’ve been friends with Kim Evey and Felicia Day of Geek and Sundry for a while and it had always been a ‘hey, we should do something with you guys, it be great to put you guys in some sort of YouTube production’, and then when Geek and Sundry actually came along–this was a few years ago we had this discussion–it was the perfect opportunity. And we brought in Josh Cagan, a friend of ours who is a terrific comedy screen writer, and it just clicked.
NZ: [So what can we kind of expect from this new show?]
PS: The episodes come out weekly on Tuesdays starting January 15, they’re roughly six to eight minutes each depending, and it’s a musical, so every episode at least one original Paul and Storm song new to series–we didn’t bring in any of our existing repertoire–which are music video style where they’re related to and comment on the action but it’s not necessarily, like, a sung-through musical where all the songs are just, you know, explaining what’s going on in the plot. But they’re always related in some way, and to varying degrees, but also sort of incorporating some more fun elements of different music video styles and different song styles.
SD: Yeah, Les Mis it ain’t.
PS: Yeah. [Laughs] And the way we’ve been describing it is it’s a kids’ show but it’s not for kids. So, you know, it’s not like it’s filthy, but it is definitely not a kids’ show. That said, kids will probably love it because it is, among many other things, incredibly silly.
SD: But if you’re a kid listening or reading this, you shouldn’t watch it. Very bad.
PS: Yeah, you absolutely shouldn’t watch it.
SD: Absolutely do not watch this.
PS: You would only look cooler to your friends if you watched this show.
NZ: [You said that there was going to be at least one original song per episode. Are you guys planning on putting out a CD with all the new songs on it?]
PS: Yeah, on the day each show goes online, the songs will be available for purchase from iTunes and Amazon and from our website and such, and once the entire season is out we’ll compile them all into a single CD that we will probably get physically manufactured as well. But you’ll be able to access the songs as soon as they’re available.
NZ: [Now, how long have you guys been making music together as Paul and Storm or Da Vinci’s Notebook?]
SD: Between the two of them we’re coming up on…I guess it’s been 18 years?
NZ: [Was there anything before that?]
SD: Not together.
PS: Yeah, I went to grad school and Storm went to undergrad at University of Maryland and he was in an a capella group there and I had been in an a capella group in my undergrad. So I actually auditioned for their group and briefly met Storm and one of the other guys who ended up being in Da Vinci’s Notebook, and I ended up blowing them off because I thought they were too nerdy. Although, I gave them the excuse–which was a valid excuse–that I was also going to be having too much work to do in grad school.
SD: You’re a liar. You never did a lick of work in grad school.
PS: No, I never did. I was the laziest grad student there was. And frankly, I was just as nerdy as those guys, I just didn’t want to sit around in a room with the same nerds again like I had in college for four years. I probably should have done it in hindsite–they were a really good [a capella] group and it was a lot of fun–but no, I had to wait another two, two and a half years before finally getting in a group with Storm.
NZ: [So how did you both get involved with Da Vinci's Notebook?]
SD: Well, we all–Paul and I and a couple other guys–joined originally another group that was just, like, a doo-wop group put together by this bass singer, and that group folded after a summer. And the four of us just decided to keep ourselves together and then after a year or two we started doing original music, and then Da Vinci’s ended up going full time after getting a bunch of really great breaks.
NZ: [And how did you go from Da Vinci’s Notebook to Paul and Storm?]
PS: Da Vinci’s Notebook stopped performing around 2003, early 2004. It was just one of those, you know, we’d been in the band for almost ten years and those things that happen to bands, and we realized we should break up amicably at that time rather than break up really, really, uh…what’s the verb form of animosity? [Laughs]
SD: Uglily and expensively.
PS: Yeah. We just realized, if we wanted to stay friends with each other that we should stop performing as a group–you know, as it goes with a lot of bands. But Storm and I didn’t want to go get real jobs or grow up, so we figured…and we had done much of the song writing for Da Vinci’s Notebook as well. We had very comparable and complimentary upbringings.
SD: Overlapping sensibilities.
PS: Yeah, exactly. So, we really got along well and enjoyed writing with each other so we thought, ‘well let’s see if we can do this as a duo,’ and turns out we could. Lucky for us.
NZ: [What’s your favorite part about making music and performing for geeks and nerds the world over?]
SD: It’s sort of its own reward. Like, for us, even though LearningTown is a scripted series on YouTube, that’s a new thing for us. That it’s so great to be in front of a crowd and just have fun with them. And the geek/nerd world, it’s a changing thing, so what was fun for people three years ago is different than today and it’s going to be different tomorrow, so it’s always being engaged in that which is so great.
PS: Right. And it’s not like it’s exclusive to a nerd-type audience–plus, what’s defining a nerd is becoming broader and broader umbrella every week–but that said, we have found that, as a general rule, performing for nerdier audiences, they’re more enthusiastic without being obnoxious. Like, they’re very excited to be there, they’re very excited to part of a show, they’re really responsive and just a pleasure to perform for. And, you know, as a performer, I have always loved the immediate feedback nature of live performance. Like, it’s great to create a thing and go out and perform it and immediately find out whether the audience is enjoying it as opposed to, you know, writing a book or making a web series for example, where it involves weeks or months of work and then you have to sit around and wait for it to eventually get in front of people. So, the immediate feedback nature of it and just the incredible positive response that we get…. ‘They feed my soul!’ he said in a sort of Oprah Winfrey cliché style.
NZ: [Have you guys ever had any immediate negative feedback?]
SD: Oh sure. We’ve been performing for long enough that yeah, you run into people who don’t like what you do and, uh…the worst I think was—this was with Di Vinci’s Notebook—we had a guy who actually attempted to punch one of our band mates.
NZ: [Oh my goodness! Like during the show?]
PS: The guy was drunk. Yeah, he came wandering up to stage and was like, ‘Am gunna pun choo!’
SD: And we thought he was joking, but no, then he proceeded to attempt to punch him. Fortunately there was security there. But that’s an extreme example. Usually the negative feedback comes in the form of a groan or someone giving you a non-smiley look, and actually we like crowds…well, I can’t speak for Paul, but I like the challenge of that person that’s in the front row with their arms crossed and getting them by the end of the day show and really turning them around.
PS: Yep. We’ve had this discussion a lot with performer friends of ours–‘Most recently, I think, with Jonathan Coulton,’ he said, dropping a name–but it seems to be inherent in a lot…especially with comedians but performers in general, where you will get 100 wonderful, positive, effusive comments about how much somebody enjoys what you’re doing and what a great time they had at the show, and then you’ll get one negative comment or you’ll see that one person out there not enjoying [themselves] and you just sort of can’t stop–
[Loud music is suddenly heard on Storm’s end of the line]
PS: Watching the [LearningTown] trailer, are you?
SD: Well, we’re talking about feedback and it’s funny. [Laughs] Like, we’re not going to have a problem at all with feedback on YouTube, I’m sure.
NZ: [Yeah, everyone is always really nice and very positive on there…]
PS: And they’re friendly and they’re smart and they have constructive valuable comments…
NZ: [And never call you names or anything like that…]
[A distant constant banging begins on Paul’s end of the line]
PS: But anyway, yeah so it’s that one person that you haven’t won over is the one that will always sort of…
[A dog grumbles loudly on Paul’s end of the line]
PS: My dogs are yelling at me because they expect to be fed right now. [To dogs] Tough nerts, dogs! You gotta wait!
NZ: [Is that a dog tail I hear banging on something?]
PS: That’s actually two–one dog is growling and one dog, yes, is wagging his tail repeatedly into the trashcan looking up at me expectantly. So the rest of this interview is going to have a beat to it.
NZ: [So, I’ve seen some of your live performances and it seems like whenever you guys are performing live, it’s almost like you’re making the crowd perform for you. Like, you’re getting that much enjoyment out of the crowd. Is there any truth to that?]
SD: Yeah. That’s why we have puppets in LearningTown, because we’re so accustomed to having puppets in the audience.
NZ: [I see. So, all of nerd culture are your puppets?]
PS: Exactly. We are the Puppet Masters. [Laughs]
NZ: [So how do you feel with that kind of power?]
SD: Oh, it’s intoxicating. Absolutely intoxicating.
PS: Of course, with great power comes great responsibility.
SD: …Which we abuse at every turn.
NZ: [So you guys do a lot of collaborative projects. You have LearningTown with some of your friends at Geek and Sundry, you’ve also done tours with Jonathan Coulton for instance. What’s been your favorite collaboration so far,either with other nerd celebrities or other people in general?]
SD: Well, I’ve got to say that LearningTown has been a bunch of them. I got…can we say it, Paul? Can we even…I guess it’s in the trailer. We don’t have to get into specifics…
SD: We’ve become friends with Weird Al Yankovic over the years and he very graciously agreed to do a thing for LearningTown.
PS: Yeah, he gives us a nice cameo appearance.
SD: And we had so much fun, in part because it was just so much fun because of who he is and what he does. Like, to ask him to do what we asked him to do was like, ‘Alright, let’s just have fun,’ and just the fact that he’s been such an influence and inspiration for so many years.
NZ: [So you have Weird Al Yankovic as a guest on LearningTown. In the trailer there was also somebody who looked a lot like Bill Nye. Is he a guest?]
PS: No, we don’t know Bill, actually, although we would love to. I know who you’re talking about, uh…oh gosh, I’m a terrible person. I can’t remember that actor’s name who plays the older version of Learning Larry, the previous host of the show, who was wonderful. He was only on set for one day, but…I know he’s friends with Kim Evey and Greg Benson from some of their performing days, and he was wonderful. But no, he is not Bill Nye, nor is he any sort of science guy.
NZ: [Are there any other guest appearances that you’re allowed to talk about?]
PS: Sure. James Urbaniak, who is probably best known as the voice of Dr. Venture in Venture Brothers, plays a recurring character. He’s actually described in the script as ‘Slugworth Network Executive’, who makes a few appearances and who just delighted us every single time he came up to bat. It’s sort of the cliché of interviews about movies, but it was genuinely tough to not laugh during every take he was doing with us. There’s a number of ruined takes from him just being wonderful and creepy and unexpected that we just couldn’t hold it in.
SD: Maurissa Tancharoen plays the old-school version of Princess Wanda, who–well, you’ll learn about her. But Maurissa Tancharoen is best known for Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. She and her husband Jed did the music for it and she appears in it and also they wrote on Spartacus and their big thing is that they are writing the new Avengers series for FOX.
PS: Yeah, they’re writing and producing Shield.
SD: And we were so glad that she was able to come in and take part. And Greg Benson of Mediocre Films YouTube channel. He both appears [in] and directed one of the episodes and he appears as the old version of Learning Larry and is just utterly hysterical in that seemingly nice-guy way. Possibly a spoiler there.
PS: Yeah. It’s funny, as we’ve been seeing edits of the episodes come in while we’re working on the music and scoring, Storm and I keep saying how we’re the least-interesting characters on the show. And I don’t think it’s because we’re inherently not interesting so much as we just have managed somehow to surround ourselves with all these great wacky characters on the show. Oh, also we should mention Mike Phirman is one of the other sort of featured players. I guess we’d call him a supporting character. He’s not quite a lead but he’s in pretty much every show.
SD: I’d call him a ‘principle,’ sure.
PS: Yeah, ‘principle character’. That’s the word I was looking for. He plays Teddy, who is sort of a Paul and Storm super fan who ends up coming to work on the show and does some of the puppetry, and he’s just sort of this wonderful ball of naïve enthusiasm running through the entire show. And we were so excited, like, we wrote the part with him and only him in mind and luckily he was able to do it, which is a good thing, and he just absolutely came through.
SD: And we’re all taking bets on when Bresha Webb, who plays the fourth principal character Cookie Tuesdays, when she becomes a big huge star. Hopefully it’ll be because of LearningTown.
NZ: [So did you guys do all of the writing for LearningTown?]
PS: Josh Cagan really was the head writer. He did the lion’s share of writing, although the three of us all sort of sat around a table and broke the story and Josh would come up with drafts of scripts and we would work with them together. But he was genuinely the head writer, although Storm and I each wrote an episode further in the series. And then Storm and I did all the music, all the music and lyrics. Josh helped out here and there on some of the lyrics and such as well, but that’s mostly how it broke down. It’s one of those where it all sort of gets thrown into the wash and things get mixed up here and there but as a general rule that’s how it was distributed.
NZ: [Do you guys have anything else you’d like to add, either about LearningTown or anything else?]
PS: Well as a separate side plug, we’re also very excited we’re doing JoCo Cruise Crazy 3 in February, the third Jonathan Coulton fan cruise which just keeps getting larger and more fun every year. We’re very much looking forward to that.
SD: But mostly, please, we just want everyone to watch [LearningTown] and certainly it’s important, if you like it, to make your voice heard. You know, share it and like it and just spread it because we want to do season 2.
PS: Yeah, you know, this is a whole new world to us, the whole YouTube thing. You know, it’s that weird combination of excited and scared and not really sure remotely what to expect, but mostly we’re just really looking forward to seeing what people think about the show because we absolutely enjoyed making it and we are thrilled with how it’s turned out.
SD: In fact, here’s what we’re going to say: if everyone does their job and watches it, shares it, enjoys it, and get season 2, Paul and I are both going to treat our respective pets to the most incredible treats and toys that they have ever had in their lives.
PS: Is that an incentive? [Laughs]
SD: Yes it is, because people love animals.
PS: People do love animals.
NZ: [One last question: I’m a big Spotify user but there’s only two Paul and Storm songs on Spotify. Any hope of seeing more Paul and Storm on Spotify anytime soon?]
PS: Yes, that’s something I’ve been meaning to do, because those two songs are distributed through a different system than all of our previous stuff is. I have to check with our distributor and see if they can automatically get our stuff on Spotify or if we have to handle that, but that’s something we’ve been meaning to fix for some time. I mean, truth told, not that’s all about money but when you get a play on Spotify, it’s some ridiculous amount like 1/300,000 of a cent or something like that. So, from a financial perspective it hasn’t exactly been lighting a fire under our chair. That said, so many people are using it we just have to get ourselves in front of it because, again, you know, technology changes so fast you’ve got to keep on top of it or you become the old guy who doesn’t know what channel Netflix is on.
SD: …What channel is Netflix on?
PS: [Laughs] It’s on channel X.
SD: Oh, okay. I like channel X.
NZ: [Do you guys have any closing comments or words of wisdom?]
PS: Watch the show [Learningtown], drink your milk.
SD: Yep. And if a frozen food package says to not defrost it before you put it in the oven, you’d better listen.
Editorial, Column, Music Monday Tags: a capella, Bob and Tom, Bresha Webb, comedians, Da Vinci's Notebook, Dogs, Felicia Day, Frogger, Game of Thrones, geek and sundry, Greg Benson, James Urbaniak, JoCo, Josh Cagan, kids, Kim Evey, LearningTown, Maurissa Tancharoen, Mike Phirman, nerds, nuns, Paul And Storm, pirates, puppets, Spotify, Weird Al Yankovic, Wil Wheaton, youtube