"I feel like creative people with a motor, you just do it, you don’t even really decide whether or not you have the time, you just make the time one way or another." Jeff Burandt – Americans UK
Jeffrey Burandt, of the acclaimed Sci-fi outfit Americans UK, discusses his most recent release: “Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad,” a graphic novel with an accompanying digital soundtrack.
With illustrations by Dennis Culver and coloring by Ramon Villalobos, the release chronicles the adventures of cyborg animals, punk rock teenagers and the quest of an all- girl rock band. The busy Americans UK front man discusses comics, music and his particular approach to writing a graphic novel.
PopWrapped: When and how is Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad being released?
Jeffrey Burandt: The first digital issue comes out tomorrow (May 12) on Comixology from Oni Press, the book will come out weekly for 6-weeks in chapters digitally, and then on June 24th the original graphic novel will be in stores and on bookshelves. What we did is, me and Peter Boiko, who is the original keyboardist, we made a soundtrack by and about the fictional band to be released as the digital chapters come out.
PW: What is Odd Schnozz all about?
JB: Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad tells the story of these girls, or mostly girls in a punk band in Plano, Texas who discover they have ties to this shady secret organization. The elevator pitch is Josie and the Pussy Cats meets X-files. It’s as though their band is writing songs about their adventures after the fact. Americans UK have one song on that EP – Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad.
PW: What’s the general structure of the work and how will your fans approach it?
JB: So kind of like a standard comic book, there’ll be about 20-25 pages a chapter. And the songs kind of march along with that, with that release in mind, such that, if you haven’t gotten to Chapter 3 yet, you might not understand why there’s a song called “We are the Rap Bots”, with us rapping with robotic sound effects added to our voices. Or, there’s definitely some spoilers buried in the songs themselves if you were able to listen to them all at once at first.
PW: How do you go about your writing process?
JB: In most cases it starts with me, but not every one. I do think some of my favorite songs someone else has brought to me because it’s unique for me and I get to play in a different way. But usually, I come upon an idea, and the melody and lyrics will at best come without a lot of thought, at worst I have to count out syllables, especially for the punkier songs, and kind of fill in the blanks of what words might fit. It usually comes off quite naturally - if something isn’t quite working it usually just falls away or gets discarded.
PW: Who are some of your favorite fiction writers? Do they inform your creative process?
JB: I love Philip K. Dick. I’m a big fan of Dostoevsky, Nabokov and the Russian lineage of writers who kind of blend absurdism and existentialism to create great narratives. I love Borges, I love the idea of, especially in Borges, the idea of fake artifacts where the whole premise of the story is that he’s found an artifact from this imaginary place, which kind of falls into the Odd Schnozz album in that we’re pretending that this band within the book made this album.
PW: Are there any artifacts that are pivotal to the Odd Schnozz narrative?
JB: I don’t know about artifacts, they do play on each other. If you’re someone who actually listens to the songs digitally as they come out and then get to the end of the book you’ll notice that when there are band performances in the comic, that the lyrics to the songs are actually the lyrics that are singing in their word balloons, and so yeah, lyrics and then the recording itself is an artifact.
PW: Is it hard to marry emotionally-charged song lyrics with the narrative elements of your music?
JB: It’s become really important to me; I do want to tell a strong narrative story with a lot of the songs, where there is a beginning, middle and end, sometimes there’s a twist, and that assumes a lot of interaction with the listeners. I don’t know if our listeners necessarily sit there and go “Oh, I got the full story,” but that’s what I try to put into it. But then there are songs like Rocktronic, or on our new EP "Writing Back in Time"; there’s just kind of a loose theme and that sort of strong narrative structure isn’t there at all and those can be easier sometimes.
PW: What are some of your musical influences?
JB: Definitely Devo. The New York punk and post-punk scene was a huge part of our earlier career. We really dove into Devo and you can hear some Nine Inch Nails and industrial music in our work. Bowie is huge for me; sometimes I try to sing like him too, with varying success. I’ve been listening to a lot of St. Vincent and to a lot of that Run the Jewels record in the last few months. I made a great Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad playlist (from one of the fictional band members to another) that has all these female-led punk and power pop songs on it that I really love, that we’re going to release on Spotify; it has bands like PJ Harvey and Bikini Kill, and rockin’ chicks like that.
PW: Do you still write?
JB: I stayed out of publishing because I saw a lot of my peers go into publishing and they didn’t seem to have the time to make art because they’re so busy editing books or what have you - writing for the man. I write by hand a lot. I write on the subway everyday as I come in. And that’s probably my favorite part. I work in an office all day so the last thing I want to do is be on a computer typing it up all day. It’s interesting right now, for about 2 years I got up every morning at 5:30 so I could write before going into work and I generated so much content and it’s just now being sort of released. While I’m working too much now at the day job, I’m spending all of my time seeing the fruits of my labor emerge and marketing it. It is kind of a time challenge, and so much of any creative person’s life now is sitting there uploading images or re-describing the same thing, because it has to go on seven different portals to be released everywhere. So too much time gets devoted to that mechanical stuff. I feel like creative people with a motor, you just do it, you don’t even really decide, whether or not you have the time, you just make the time one way or another.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with, Jeffrey; and good luck!