Rob Potylo’s ‘Worried’ is fast, funny, catchy, touching, full of hope — and online
You can buy Rob Potylo’s new album on cdbaby.com and soon, he says, on iTunes and other online stores.
This is a giant step. Only a week ago the man who once recorded as Robby Roadsteamer — berserk Roadsteamer of the Sweatpant Boners, impenetrably dark sunglasses, fright wig, foul mouth and frequent performances — was admiring how the mildly demented Daniel Johnston put out an album: Play guitar and warble songs into a Walkman in his room, hand the cassette to someone on the street and go back inside to record it all over again. Repeat. Repeat.
Potylo has no label, and sitting over duck and fried dough in a Chinese restaurant, expressed no interest in formally releasing his album or performing in clubs such as the nearby Middle East to inspire people to buy it. He just wanted to burn copies, make black-and-white copies of the playlist, tape them to a CD case and hand them out. (Each comes with a baseball card. He’s selling the better ones from his collection for income. A Ted Williams went for $1,600.)
“I don’t have $1,000 to spend right now,” he said. “The best way for this to be put out is maybe just to hand it to people. It is a very vulnerable work, considering it is no longer under Roberto Roadsteamer, and maybe the best way to slide into doing this new crazy persona I have — Rob Potylo — is giving it to the people closest to me, having them get a feel.”
“It’s really opened up the budget,” he said.
Surely. But it’s good that he’s using that budget to put the album online, as he said he might despite all the Johnston talk. The album, “Worried All the Time I’ll Make Mistakes,” went up Wednesday and is worth finding and buying.
Fast-moving and eclectic
What’s it like? One person hand-delivered a copy describes the album as “heartbreakingly beautiful.” But before reading a subjective paragraph or two of someone trying to describe it, which is almost as pointless as trying to describe someone’s kisses or cooking, it’s important to remember online stores such as cdbaby.com offer previews and sell songs for only 99 cents. Listen for yourself. The songs also can be heard as snippets of soundtrack on the reality sitcom “Quiet Desperation,” available on YouTube or at quietd.com. (“A Line of Traffic,” the album’s opener, is on the 16th episode, “Further from the Shore” is on the 15th, “KFC” appeared all the way back on the second episode, and so on.)
About half the recordings are basically Potylo sitting in his room, Johnston-like, with his guitar, and the others were recorded with a full band in the studio. Even after a few good takes of a track, Potylo said, he might still take another crack at it back in his room — and choose the lo-fi version for the album. In one case, on a song called “A Wall,” listeners get to hear some of each.
The album moves fast. The longest of the 17 tracks is only three minutes long. It’s easy to say, well, that’s as long as the songs are, but Potylo writes simple, catchy tunes, and it’s harder to be so accepting of the brevity when you’re really enjoying a track — especially the full-band versions, which can really rock. When “Til They Sound the Alarms” starts to fade out, you feel a little, uh, Robbed. Too short, man.
And while “A Line of Traffic” is a perfect pop gem at 2:29 and “Robi Tussin” an utterly intriguing short story at 1:53, even Potylo jokes on the album about the length of “When We Hang Out.” “Well, that could have gone on another two minutes and been gold, but I guess the band quit,” he says as the song fades to a play time of 2:12.
It’s also eclectic. Potylo may be channeling Johnston a bit, but he’s also still got a touch of the Springsteen in him, meaning even his douchiest fans will want the epic “No Delay” for their iPods. (And the rootsy types will want “KFC,” and the literary set will want that “Robi Tussin,” no joke, and put it on endless repeat to hear Potylo’s voice slither exquisitely from line to creepy line.)
Potylo can’t help but be funny. That “heartbreakingly beautiful” stuff sneaks in between and around and even in the jokes, when he reveals himself as just a guy in a room with a guitar, the one who takes his art so seriously he’d rather release an acoustic version of a song than the one that rocks, and when he decides to be a little ridiculous, and when he does both at once.
Back to his room
It’s not an album designed to take Potylo to the top of the charts, on a nationwide tour or even to The Paradise, but Potylo is the one who designed it that way. It’s even a surprise that he’s advertising its presence on cdbaby.com.
So “Worried All the Time I’ll Make Mistakes” might meet the same fate as Roadsteamer’s albums. When Potylo does his self-deprecating comedy onstage, the meager download history of those albums is mentioned fairly frequently.
If he once got his hopes up about record labels and sales — and in his 14-album career as Roadsteamer, Super Time Pilot and Rob Potylo he has had reason to think, as he puts it, that “Gilligan’s going to get off the island” — he’s not bothering to do it this time.
“I’d rather just play it in my room right now, to be honest. It’s not a case of not getting my hopes up, because I’m more hopeful than ever,” he said. “I’m hopeful for amazing adventures. I guess when most people hear an artist say they’re more hopeful than ever, it’s more, ‘Oh, I believe success is right around the corner.’ I believe success is a fickle bitch who doesn’t want to go out with anybody like me because she wants attractive dudes with nice hairlines who, you know, can hold their own at parties. For me, she’s constantly testing me to just get me to create more.”
He’s obliging, of course, turning up the frequency of “Quiet Desperation” episodes and staying in his Allston apartment to write and play more songs when a more traditional, commercial artist would be holding a CD release party.
To Potylo, this is what “hopeful” means: “I really dig where ‘Quiet D’ is going,” he said, “and I’m thoroughly happy with this album.”
“Worried All the Time I’ll Make Mistakes” was recorded with James Towlson, Mora Precarious, Jason Cornwell, Rob Gonnella and Ethan Dussault.