In the concept albums you will play as lullabies for your progeny, you can count nerdcore Brooklyn artist’s MC Frontalot’s Question Bedtime in the same go-to-bin that counts epic full-length Iliad-esque titles like Delton 3030, Liquid Swords, and Madvillainy. Real name Damian Hess, bedside stories, tales, and verses are accompanied by a few talented friends, like Kid Koala, Busdriver, Open Mike Eagle Jean Grae, Sole, John Roderick, The Protomen, MC Chris, Parry Gripp, Kyle Kinane, Paul F. Tompkins, and a few other surprises. Joined by an all-star cast, comedy and jovial modern day fairy tales are delivered with moxie, and a panache suitable for all ages, and audiences in listening attendance.
Question Bedtime takes that storybook approach through a variety of zany adventurous in between conversational sketches with guest stars. Old Goldilocks tales are updated with the help of Jean Grae on “Gold Locks”, monstrous daybreak outings come to life on “Mornings Come and Go” (feat. Marian Call), and dreamland dramas ensue on “Start Over”. Frontalot addresses nightmare fears with contributions from Kid Koala and The Protomen, things that go bump upstairs get cameos on “Devil in the Attic” (feat. mc chris), and it concludes with the odd and ogrish closer, “Wakjakaga” (feat. Parry Gripp). The over-active imagination of MC Frontalot keeps the delivery playful to sculpt collaborative creative connections like the bounce and clap of “Much Chubbier” featuring the always excellent Open Mike Eagle, “Chisel Down” with Busdriver, to the humorous “Bedtime” interlude humor segments that present colloquial conversations with folks like Kyle Kinane, P.F. Tompkins, Negin Farsad, and Lisa Delarios. For the family in need of a fresh tape with parental approval with minimal advisories and warning labels; Frontalot and friends answer your pleas with a clever collection of brainy, fantastical nonsense. Damian joins us for an interview round, after this following exclusive album stream:
How did an all-ages appropriate narrative about updating the bedtime story and lullaby first begin?
I must have had it in my head for a long time. It ties into how I learned to read, I think. My mom worked and went to school, so I spent all day in a United Way preschool from an early age, and in the afternoon there was a half-hour “naptime” which was optionally for napping or listening to the preschool’s director read from the Narnia books. By the time I got out of there, I’d heard the seven books all the way through several times, plus I made my mom read them to me at night, so I was always two places in the cycle at once. By the end of kindergarten, I had cobbled together enough skills to read them for myself, which was only possible because I already knew the stories so well.
I remember around fourth and fifth grades, when I spent a lot of time in the middle school library at lunch. There were fairy tale books, old ones, that I got really into. Some of them were familiar or had familiar elements, but most of them were these weird, secret-seeming folk tales from who knows where. I’ve been thinking about that period a lot as people ask me to talk about the album. I don’t know if this is a record for kids, but it’s the perfect album for one kid (me, when I was eleven, in 1985).
Why do you feel the lyrical language of lullabies is still more relevant than ever in current times?
I am not sure how something can still be more relevant than it ever was? Are you asking if I feel that lullabies bend space and time? If so, then yes! The current times and the olden times find glorious intersection with a certain kind of rhythmic verse, which must be heard to be appreciated and must be read to be understood. Maybe there’s a mirror in these stories that moved over the course of centuries from oral tradition to classic written editions.
So the big question that I’m sure everyone is asking: how was it recording with the likes of heroes like Open Mike Eagle, Kid Koala, Busdriver, Jean Grae, Sole, John Roderick, The Protomen, MC Chris, Parry Gripp, Kyle Kinane, Paul F. Tompkins, etc?
Most of those collaborations were conducted over email and dropbox, which is a strange, silent way to make music together, but I’ve been doing it this way for a long time and I’m used to it. I probably prefer it. If I were in a room composing or recording with Busdriver or Kid Koala, it would pull into severe contrast the breezy intensity of their talents and the laborious borderline-adequacy of mine.
The skit tracks were done face-to-face, though. Those were pretty fun! I envy professional comics and have always fantasized about being one, so sitting down with them and improvising is a huge treat for me. We’ll do half an hour or fifty minutes of whatever comes to mind, and then I’ll edit it down to make it sound like I’m anywhere near as funny as the people I’m sitting with. The power of audio editing is never given quite enough props.
Collaborative behind the scenes stories you can share?
Kyle Kinane’s discussion of challenging the concept of bedtime itself is where I got the album title.
Busdriver chose “The Stonecutter”—it was the only story on the album that I didn’t get from my own list. I’d never heard of it before. But when I read it, I loved it and very much wanted to adapt it with him. The western versions of it, such as “The Fisherman’s Wife”, are not as interesting: they usually have an escalation of aspirations and granted wishes that tips eventually over some kind of arrogance or greed threshold, at which point all benefits are rescinded. “The Stonecutter” illustrates the idea instead as a logical cycle, presenting desire itself as this kind of never-ending affliction, the solution for which might be abandonment instead of moderation.
What is the best advice you can give to emcees, producers, and writers who are trying to pen the perfect bedtime story?
I think the best bedtime stories do not actually put you to sleep. They make you want to stay up and hear more.
20 Fort Wayne, Indiana at Tiger Room at CS3
21 Chicago, Illinois at Subterranean
25 Denver, Colorado TBD
26 Salt Lake City, Utah at The Stateroom
01 Seattle, Washington at El Corazon
02 Portland, Oregon at Dante’s
04 San Francisco, California at Brick & Mortar
07 Phoenix, Arizona TBD
09 Dallas, Texas at Three Links
10 Austin, Texas TBD
11 Houston, Texas TBD
12 Baton Rouge, Louisiana at Northgate Tavern
13 New Orleans, Louisiana at Beatnik
14 Atlanta, Georgia at Center Stage
16 Charlotte, North Carolina TBD
17 Raleigh, North Carolina at King’s Barcade
18 Baltimore, Maryland TBD
19 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at North Star Bar
Sept. 20—TBD—New York, New York