Strange 70s soft rock remembered
interview by Rabia
Michael Farneti's debut album, Good Morning Kisses, was self-recorded in South Florida in 1976 and released as a private press. It's a subtly eerie listen today--the sun-bleached sound of a young alt-crooner with everything to prove, finding his voice in lo-fi pop. Every track over the busy half-hour runtime brings new surprises and eccentricities, from disco ("In the Jungle," "New York Mugger") to bluegrass ("In Love Again") and a lot of spooky, fairly unclassifiable pop in between ("ESP Switch," "Nineteenth Summer"). You could call it Florida's unsung answer to the early Scott Walker albums, maybe with shades of the naivete of '70s-era Brian Wilson. Then it all wraps up with a beautiful ballad, "The River," and we never hear from him again. The album languished in obscurity for many years until a chance discovery at a yard sale by record collector Paul Major in the early 2000s, which eventually led to a reissue by Companion Records in 2011.
Where did all this music come from, and why was it never followed up? Who is Michael Farneti? The Companion Records website offered little more information than some dreamlike old photos of a smiling young man growing up in Florida long ago--windsurfing, walking along a beach, standing in a field, playing guitar next to a child behind a drum kit, and sitting with a woman in front of a Christmas tree. This only deepened the mystique, and Google had little else to tell me. Despite the album's newfound millennial following, seemingly nobody had written about him in any detail, and he had no social media presence. Digging a little deeper, I eventually found a YouTube account that seemed to indicate he'd been playing at parties in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the early 2010s.
Now, forty-five years after Good Morning Kisses, here is Michael Farneti in his first-ever interview.
PSF: Firstly, I've gotta ask about "New York Mugger." Is this a disco song about a guy who is rejected by a woman and, as a result, loses his mind and starts mugging people on the streets? And is that a kazoo solo?
MF: Yeah, that's what it's about. I wanted to empathize and try to understand possibly where a mugger had come from, what had led them to be like that. I guess a lot of the rejection and sexual frustration of that time in my life came out in the music. I was chasing women a lot back then. It's one thing to be rejected, but it's another thing when there is outright unnecessary cruelty. It's not a great feeling when that happens. "So remember, little honey, the next time you are mean / You're inserting a dime into the mugger machine." I'm a bit more enlightened when it comes to rejection these days, but I think there's some truth in that line, some truth to the idea that unnecessary cruelty transfers into some aberrant psychological behavior. It's also a satire, like the joke about the New York mugger who says, "The hours are short, and I get to meet a lot of interesting people." I don't know if anybody ever understood that from an outside point of view. And yeah, I don't know how to play the saxophone, so that was a kazoo.
PSF: What was your musical background before Good Morning Kisses?
MF: Well, I taught myself to play guitar around 12 or 13 years old and piano a couple years after. In high school I played viola and a baritone in the orchestra--like a small tuba, or a big trumpet. Then I majored in music theory and composition in college. So I had a little bit of experience with brass and strings. I wasn't very good, but I could do it a little bit. In the late '60s/early '70s, the evolutionary development of electronic equipment was moving forward as multitrack recording was just beginning. Four-tracks at first. I think the Beatles' first album was recorded on a four-track. And then right around that general timeframe, the eight-track came out using 1-inch tape.
I had a few bands in high school, but I wasn't good at being the leader of a band. I was the one that knew the most about the music, so I was the one who would have to be kind of guiding everything. But I did not have the people skills for doing that, or the people that I was with were the wrong people, or something, whatever. I came out of it thinking that I'd like to become a one-man-band.
I got a job playing in a country & western bar for the summer, playing guitar and singing by myself. It wasn't really suited for what I wanted to do, but working there every night was good experience. I worked my way through college by playing music at night. There was a guitar player in Palm Beach that I really admired named Pete Dollard. He was a purist. He just played guitar and sang. He was really, really talented. Eventually Pete left, and I was able to get the job at the Loggia Lounge on Worth Avenue.
Then at some point, somewhere, wherever I was playing, I was talking to some guy, and he was talking about how he had bought bass pedals and a drum machine, and it sounded to some degree like a band. Bass, drums, guitar, and singing. And so I went from the philosophy of being a purist and having nothing artificial to having everything artificial that was available at the time. That was my chance to be a one-man-band--and I took it.
With the money I earned as a one-man-band playing parties in Palm Beach, I bought a two-track Ampex, an eight-track Ampex (professional tape recorders), and a mixer. I think it was like $6,000 for the eight-track, quite a bit of money for me in the '70s. Then I had a warehouse--my dad had an ad agency, so he just rented half the space, and I rented the other half and worked on the acoustics, figured out the mathematics for that.
PSF: I noticed there's a theremin on "Nineteenth Summer" and a lot of different synthesizers. I was wondering about the equipment you were using, and if there was a band or if it was all you. There are no credits with the album, I don't think, other than one person on percussion.
MF: Most of what you hear is me. My brother Dan did the drums. He was only about twelve at the time. That's him in the photo on the Companion Records site. My sisters and mother did some of the background vocals, the ooh's and ahh's. A friend of mine, Ira Smith, played the banjo on "In Love Again," and my Dad was on "Come to Europe." I'd just take from whatever I had that was around.
The rest was me, multitracked. I played the violin and trumpet--multitracked the violins maybe six times, then condensed that into one track, and passed that off as a string section. I played the trumpet on "Come to Europe," then doubled that up trying to get it to sound a little better. All this was an experiment, but I figured I'd learn by doing and then maybe do another album.
PSF: I had no idea your brother Dan was a child when he did all the drumming for this album. He sounds incredible. Who were your influences, going into this project?
MF: The people I really admired were Jim Morrison and Burt Bacharach. That's kind of a very strange combination. I really liked Burt Bacharach's melodies and chord changes, and Jim Morrison's vocals. His song choices and lyrics I thought were just great. In my opinion, he's the greatest singer of the 20th century.
PSF: That makes a lot of sense. I think the point at which the album starts to take the first of many interesting turns is the song "ESP Switch," opening with the line "You better turn your ESP switch on." Where did that come from? ESP (extra-sensory perception) is something you don't hear much about anymore.
MF: That song was a self-reminder to feel, to pay attention to the sensual radar that exists in the world. To remind myself to take action. If you see something that has some sort of possibility of turning into something, you should act on it. Keep your ESP switch on. Be aware. Chase the women. I'm sure I missed lots of opportunities by not paying attention and by being shy and not taking action. Sometimes something happens that you never thought would. Other times you realize what could have happened, but it's too late. In 2014, that song was used in a movie called Welcome to Me.
PSF: So it's about being in tune with your intuition. What about "In the Jungle"? Again, one of the strangest songs on the record. Sounds like something they could have played at Studio 54. Where did that come from?
MF: Well, there were several houses on Jungle Road, Palm Beach, where I played a lot of parties. For one of these parties I wrote "In the Jungle." It wasn't meant to be a great song, just something to play at those shows. My brother was a really talented drummer--on that particular song, he came up with something really special. Then there's the melody, which years later I realized I'd borrowed from one of Tchaikovsky's symphonies. All these different things came together, and it all started with those parties down on Jungle Road.
PSF: How about the title track, "Good Morning Kisses"? It's so sweet and sincere.
MF: The lyrics came from memories of my childhood. I was the first child, and my parents hadn't been married that long, maybe four or five years. I caught the tail end of the honeymoon phase of their relationship. In the morning when my dad would go to work, my mom and I would go to the front door and kiss him goodbye. To be a kid in the presence of that kind of thing--I can't describe the feeling of security that it creates. None of my other siblings felt it, because time passed and my parents no longer had that feeling for each other anymore. I wanted to try to capture that feeling a little bit. When I was writing it, the lyric was indicating that some parts would be 3⁄4 time and some would be 4/4 time and I thought that would greatly reduce any chances of marketability, but it seemed to be in the same category as "Candy Man" by Sammy Davis Jr., so I thought there might be some possibility. That's where that came from.
PSF: And then you wrap the album up with "The River." This is a special song. It's the one that especially seems to have made an impact on people.
MF: That's yet another song that came from rejection and sexual frustration. When you're attracted to someone you want to believe that they're also attracted to you, but it's not always the case. And when someone doesn't reciprocate an attraction--well, like I said, I'm more enlightened about it now but not so much back then. "The River" in particular was about the feeling of being rejected by someone who is attracted to you, but can't act on it because of social convention or religious beliefs or something like that. That's really a very sad loss of life. So that's how it began: "Some people get in a dither / Trying to hold back the river." That's kinda where that came from, and it just evolved from there.
PSF: I was wondering what your life was like while this was being recorded. From those photos that the label put up, you look like you're having a great time.
MF: Well, I was fortunate to grow up down the road from the ocean, so I spent all of high school surfing and making music. Around the time I was doing the album, I got into hang-gliding. I was also dating a girl at the time, the one in the Christmas tree photograph. She was a stewardess, a model, and an RN. She later died in a traffic accident. But between the hang-gliding, the surfing, and seeing her--yeah, I was having a pretty good time. (laughs) Then later on, I got into windsurfing, kite boards, and paragliding. I've always been a wind sports addict. I had a lot of fun.
PSF: How was the album received at the time?
MF: There wasn't really much feedback at all. I just made the album and played it for a few people. I tried to get some airplay on radio stations in Jacksonville. They didn't want to play it. They said the recording wasn't good enough. It's true that it's not that well-recorded. Of course, the technology I used to record it was pretty primitive, even for the '70s. Also, from a critical point of view, there's lyrics that could have been better, there's musical things that could have been better. There's a lot of things that made it unlike most music you'd hear commercially on the radio. My brother told me it wasn't hard rock enough--he wanted to hear fuzztone guitars, as a lot of people did back then. So yeah, I put it out there, and basically not much came back. That was it. Although feedback is nice, the experience of making it was what was important to me.
PSF: And you also had a song called "Loose Women" in 1983, on the K-102 compilation album. Was that a local radio hit? Was it ever released as a single or anything?
MF: No, I just entered that in a battle of the bands contest run by that radio station at this bar. I didn't win. In any event, that rock 'n' roll sound the other bands had was much more attractive to that group of people at that time, much more than my pop/soft rock sound.
PSF: Did you keep making music after that?
MF: Well, I did actually do another album in the '80s, called Looking for a Goddess. It was a little more along the lines of a demo. I made some cassettes and shopped them around Nashville, but nothing came of it. A Christian music company offered to hire me, but I didn't want to do that. That might have been a way that I could have weaseled my way into the music business, but whatever, I didn't do it. I wanted to get back to Florida and go windsurfing. Later I found a copy when my mother passed away, while we were cleaning out the house. I had it digitally transferred. It needs work. I'd like to do that as a project. I've got a lot of projects going. Maybe I'll get to it, maybe I won't.
PSF: How much time passed before you heard about Good Morning Kisses again?
MF: In the early 2000s, Paul Major called me up and said that he had found it at a garage sale and really liked it. I asked him to make a recording of it and email it to me, because I didn't even have a way to play it anymore since I'd lost my copy at some point over the years. He did that for me, then eventually the people at Companion Records got in touch with me to reissue the album. Johan Kugelburg included the Good Morning Kisses album in his book about self-recorded music, Enjoy the Experience. I don't know how you came across it, though. You said something about an algorithm?
PSF: Yeah, the Spotify algorithm. It's interesting to me that all the things that worked against the album at one time also made it perfect for a post-Y2K revival. Nobody really listens to hard rock anymore, "lo-fi production" has become cool, irony is out, sincerity and poptimism is in, and the machinations of the music industry are irrelevant because everyone's now self-releasing like you did. And apparently the algorithm likes you, too. All things you couldn't possibly have predicted in 1976. The algorithm now knows me so well I'm honestly starting to consider it a sort of spiritual entity. Which leads me to my last question: are you a spiritual person? I hear a spiritual undertone through a lot of your work.
MF: Well, at that time, very early on, I was really into positive thinking and the power of the subconscious mind. Then when I was about 30, I became a vegan. I took a spiritual path for a while. I ended up eating 100% raw food and being celibate for five-and-a-half years, and I lived in a tent at the top of a mountain in Costa Rica for about six months.
Can I ask you something? How do you know about this following I supposedly have? I don't know of any following. Every once in a while I see a certain amount of people have watched a YouTube video or something.
PSF: Well, for a start, just Googling your name and seeing what comes up, punching it into Twitter, reading YouTube comments, things like that. There's plenty of tweets about you, people all over the world who have mentioned enjoying the album, getting something personal out of it. I mean, just looking at your artist page on Spotify, "The River" has 55,000 plays.
PSF: Yeah. I mean, some people have millions, but 55,000 is definitely a lot of people. Two different acts have covered "The River," one of them in the Netherlands. It also says on Spotify that you have 10,000 listeners a month.
MF: Holy crow! I had no idea that it had expanded like that. The last time I saw something--I don't know, it was maybe 1,500 views. That's a lot for me. That's huge.
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