“Apparently, NYPD frowns on two husky, bearded dudes in their thirties hanging out at the playground. Matter of fact, I think it’s illegal if you don’t have kids with you,” Tim Harrington said to me as we walked down the street from his Williamsburg studio.
They should make an exception for Harrington, perhaps best known as the bouncing ball of energy and lead singer of Brooklyn indie rock group Les Savy Fav. A proud father of two young boys and writer of more than a few web series, including the recent Song of the Wild, which he worked on with David Cross and that sees Harrington sporting tongue-in-cheek black metal regalia.
At his studio, he excitedly shows me the modular synthesizer component he’s designing, some artwork he will have in an upcoming exhibition, and perhaps most intriguing, his new children’s book, This Little Piggy, which was just put out by Balzer + Bray, a subsidiary of Harper Collins.
Fearing jail, we settled on the most childlike yet still appropriate place for an interview: the Momofuku Milk Bar, where we shared alcoholic milkshakes in lieu of bomb popsicles at the monkey bars, and discussed his new book and what’s up with Les Savy Fav.
How did this book come together? I’ve worked a lot doing professional design; I went to art school and have always done lots of writing as the lead singer of Les Savy Fav. Then I had my two sons and I did a lot of making up stories for them. There’s lots of different and fun things I would do with my kids and this one seemed funny and obvious. So one night, I just started drawing it.
How was writing this different for you than writing for the band? With the band, we’re on our own label and that’s in large part because we don’t want anyone messing with us. The joke is now that I’m with Harper Collins, a major label for books. But it’s not at all what I imagined; I had this big company phobia. If they wanted to change this little thing or change the cover, I’d get all uptight. I would say, “This is my thing, don’t tell me what to do,” and they’d always just say, “OK, we were just honestly asking. No biggie, you’re the artist.” I was so ready for them to say, “We love it, but what if it was about fingers instead?”
Do you feel like a sellout being on a major label? The book has wider distribution than Les Savy Fav. That’s what’s awesome, because there’s no credibility issues with kids’ books. It’s just purely great. Musically, I’m always crippled by answering to my heroes. Teenage me would think a major label for music would be lame, but when it’s a kids’ book, it’s more adorable.
So did the story come together as you were writing? The story was mostly improvised with my kids. It came from actually doing the Three Little Pigs game with them, and they would say, “Other foot.” And I was like “Yeah, you’re right, what about the other foot? It’s complete bologna, it’s a ripoff. I can’t believe this book didn’t already exist. How old is the toe game? Nobody was like “What about the other little piggies?” I went through my kids toes’ for 20 minutes with different ideas for piggies. This little piggy had a band; this one had a spaceship. I think what I like to do with the band and with kids’ stuff is really similar—this is just age-appropriate.
The first time I saw your band play, you were running around in your underwear like a madman, but with this jubilant, playful energy. When we were first playing in Europe, there was an article in Germany that called me the PG GG Allin. I’ve always been into really extreme performance artists and the thing I’ve never been comfortable with is scary terror energy, which is not something I ever try to communicate with the band. What about just really letting loose in an innocent, kiddish, fun way? It’s weird how many performers might be categorized in the same department as Les Savy Fav in one way, but are scary.
Are you working on writing another children’s book? When I recorded the song for this book, I actually recorded almost an album worth of kids’ songs. One of the books might be based on one of those songs. I’m working on it and it has something to do with bodies, but I’m still developing it.
Are your kids are a huge part of your inspiration? I’ve always really admired kid energy. There’s a lack of pretension with kids. I love to undo pretension. It’s one of the defining parts of the band, too, working really hard on new songs and getting on stage and immediately undermining the entire thing. Coldplay is the exact opposite—the Pink Floyd syndrome, how important and puffed up can you make this stupid thing. Kids just don’t get that; it’s “Is this awesome or fun, or not?” The posturing part isn’t there with them.
So you’ve been writing more kids’ songs; any chance of seeing a Les Savy Fav children’s album? I don’t know. I recorded a bunch of solo stuff and haven’t quite decided what to do with it. I’ve written a bunch recently with my kids. I have this dream of putting out a dishwasher-safe 7-inch record, a thick, 180-gram record that kids could eat peanut butter off of and be washed. I have a bunch more songs, but I hate kids’ singers for the most part. I would probably have to listen to them a lot more to think about them being heard by the whole world. The one I did for the book is basically as cutesy as it can get. I’m doing book readings and probably will bring along my guitar and play at least the song from my book and maybe a few others. If that feels cool or good, we’ll see.
I have been asked by people to play birthday parties. I want to do it so badly, but always say no. Show up at your friend’s place and go bananas for kids—that sounds amazing, but I just can’t do it.
Tim Harrington’s ‘This Little Piggy’ (32 pp, Balzer + Bray) is available now.