Shimmy-2005 Release date: Feb 12, 2021
Paul Leary issued his debut solo album The History Of Dogs in 1991. And now, thirty years later he’s releasing the follow up Born Stupid. Thirty years may seem like an oddly excessive length of time between albums, but that’s apropos, as nearly all the highlights of Leary’s legendary career have been odd and excessive.
Leary is best known as guitarist/vocalist for the infamous psychedelic noise rock band Butthole Surfers. The Butthole Surfers’ aggressively surrealist recordings and live shows have become mythology in the world of underground music. The headline of a 2016 profile in Vice magazine summed this legacy up neatly, stating the “Butthole Surfers Were the Epitome of Every Hell-Raising Rock 'n' Roll Legend You Ever Heard.”
Beyond the group’s extreme persona, Leary was creating seriously brilliant music with the Butthole Surfers. The significance of that work can be measured in the far-reaching scope of the band’s influence. It’s widely known that Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was an ardent admirer. Comedic iconoclast Eric Andre has acknowledged being inspired by the group. Pillars of arena rock like U2, and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones can also be added to this list — and both have collaborated with Leary in various capacities.
Much of the subversive creative spirit that fueled the Butthole Surfers’ best work can be found inside the grooves of Leary’s charmingly twisted new album. Musically, Born Stupid largely steps away from the atomic punk energy and fuzzed-out metal riffing that defined the Butthole Surfers’ sound. Instead, Leary has crafted an equally compelling soundscape filled with carnival sideshow calliopes, spaghetti western guitar motifs, and off-kilter German beer hall waltzes. But where the Butthole Surfers’ work was often squarely focused on the manipulation of sounds and textures, Born Stupid is heavily rooted in the craft of song, and the record’s finely structured musical landscapes work to support the stories being sung.
The connection between Born Stupid and vintage Butthole Surfers’ music is not just stylistic. Longtime fans of Leary’s work will be pleased by the presence of a couple radically reworked interpretations of Butthole Surfers-era material, including a giddily demented singalong version of the "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave.”
According to Leary, there was no grand vision behind the conception of Born Stupid. “I wasn’t planning on making another album, but over the years songs kept popping into my head. So I figured I might as well record them.” Leary has seized a ripe cultural moment to send this music out to the world, as Born Stupid speaks effectively to the damaged state of contemporary U.S. culture. There’s no better example than the album’s title track, a perfect anthem for the modern American age. “With so much strife and peril in this world I’d like to help make things better. But, instead, I had to be born stupid,” Leary croons in a warped country drawl, evoking the voice of Lee Hazlewood as sung through a cancer kazoo. Throughout the album Leary is joined by drummer Josh Freese, known for his work with a range of artists, including The Vandals, Guns N’ Roses, and Devo.
It’s important to note that Born Stupid will be the first release on the newly relaunched incarnation of Shimmy-Disc, the influential independent record label founded by producer/musician and underground music impresario Kramer in 1987. Kramer revived Shimmy-Disc for his 2020 tenure as Joyful Noise Recordings’ Artist in Residence. Leary and Kramer have enjoyed a long collaborative relationship. “I’ve known Kramer since the early 1980’s when he was playing for Shockabilly,” Leary shared. “I was a big fan and we met when Shockabilly played in Austin, Texas. Then later on the Butthole Surfers were without a bass player, and Kramer offered to play bass for us on a European tour. We’ve been friends ever since.”
Leary’s Born Stupid is a fitting project for Shimmy-Disc’s reboot, the album shares the label’s dark sense of humor, and irreverent approach to experimental music. So perhaps it’s not surprising that Kramer (who also mastered the LP) is effusive in his praise for the project.
“Paul Leary’s first solo LP in thirty years is the first release on my 21st century Shimmy-Disc label, which had to begin with a big bang,” Kramer explained. “But I think that what we have here is far more than just a bang. It’s more like a shot heard 'round the world, I reckon. Deafening in its genius. An entire universe of sound and song, simultaneously poignant and pugnacious, fearlessly culled from over forty intrepid years of infinitely mind-bending stupidity. Born Stupid is so inspiring it makes me want to quit music right now, quit while I’m ahead. It can't possibly get any better than this. Too late now, though. I already bought a new turntable. Looks like I’m in 'til the bitter end. Thanks a lot, Paul. I owe you one.”