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Flight of the Conchords. Yeah those guys. Feel free to discuss them here! Garfunkling!
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poptartgirl
 Post subject: Filter Magazine article
PostPosted: Mon Sep 15, 2008 5:28 pm 
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http://filter-mag.com/index.php?id=17112&c=2

Inside Jokes From Outsiders: The Immigrant Songs of Flight of the Conchords
by Patrick Strange, photos by Michael Muller | 09.03.2008

When Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie arrived at their favorite hometown video store in Wellington, New Zealand, earlier this year, the straight-faced musical comedy duo found it difficult to hide the feeling that something was terribly wrong. The longtime friends—known the world over as Flight of the Conchords—had arrived for an in-store performance supporting the first season DVD release of their hit HBO series, but what was supposed to have been a small gathering of store clerks and neighborhood friends had quickly turned into an unwelcome free-for-all. As Clement and McKenzie stepped from their car with acoustic guitars in hand, they were met by a throng of screaming fans and prying news reporters. Making a quick break for the door while slowing to answer the occasional journalist, it became abundantly clear that for this pair of wide-eyed Kiwis, the age of innocence was over.

Only a week before the video store fracas—an event that saw more than 300 people clamoring for position in a space meant for only 30—Clement and McKenzie returned from the United States to their native New Zealand with the 2008 Grammy for Best Comedy Album, thus becoming the first non-North American artists to win the illustrious award. In capturing top honors for their EP, The Distant Future, Flight of the Conchords joined the ranks of such American comedic legends as Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, George Carlin and Eddie Murphy—all the while playing to the beat of their own drum; or in this case, to the sound of indie-influenced, genre-specific pop melodies. Though the award undoubtedly contributed to the band’s over-zealous hometown reception, the pair seems to approach accolades and fame in the same casual manner as it does its humor. “I didn’t even know there was an award for comedy,” says Clement, laughing. “We’d been up for things before, but we would never win them. We’re the perennial runners-up.” And when confronted with their new celebrity status, Clement quips, “I don’t know too much about stardom, but what has increased is my annoyed-dom. I know that.”

Although both are quick to point out that the characters they play on stage and television are nothing more than fictional personas, it’s difficult to divorce the quirky, dry sensibilities of the Bret and Jemaine of make-believe from the Bret and Jemaine of real life. When McKenzie explains how he’s been playing a corpse on a friend’s low-budget horror flick, it’s with the same good nature that his imaginary television character would announce his new job as a human billboard selling hot dogs on the streets of New York. And when Clement complains about the chaotic scene at the video store, it sounds strikingly similar to his stage character’s stories of snagging a quickie in between laundry loads and sorting the recyclables. In fact, Clement and McKenzie do the we’re-funny-but-don’t-realize-it bit so well, that you actually believe them when they say they’re surprised that people treat them like stars. No matter if it’s a case of method acting gone awry or just classic delusion, what is certain is that the two men are undeniably endearing. And perhaps it’s just this that hints at the reason for their Stateside popularity—here are two lovable foreigners who seem to be just as naïve as us Americans really are.

But before they were co-creators of a hit television show or pulling fast ones on Yanks with deadpan deliveries and off-kilter jokes, Clement and McKenzie were just another couple of buddies at Victoria University of Wellington; a college known just as much for its views of the South Pacific Ocean as it is for its academic programs. First meeting in drama class where they performed whimsical songs about male-body image and media obsessions, they soon became your typical college roommates, scrimping daily for the monthly rent and passing time with unchecked self-amusement. With little money and lots of restless energy, Clement and McKenzie would spend nights reaping the spoils of their education, hosting impromptu jam sessions and throwing co-ed get-togethers of varying success. In fact, the origin of Flight of the Conchords mostly owes itself to the very spirit of collegiate pursuit; that is, if goofing off with guitars and dreaming up surreal song lyrics can be considered academic.

Wanting to improve their skills because they were the “worst guitar players in class,” the pair promptly began to hold practice at home. “We were trying to learn other people’s songs,” says Clement, “but found them to be too difficult to remember. So, we decided to make up our own.” “It was a happy accident,” McKenzie adds. “I think at first we wanted to be a proper band, but all of our songs were just too kooky.”

Regardless of method or intention, Clement and McKenzie were soon building a repertoire of playfully twisted songs chock-full of one-liners. Meeting together in their small, sparse Wellington flat furnished with thrift store couches and cheap movie posters—one very much like the apartment that appears in the HBO series—the two friends started to awkwardly manufacture the earliest Conchords tunes. However, depending on exactly who and when you might ask, designating the very first Flight of the Conchords creation is something of a chimera. Though both members have offered up several tunes which might warrant the coveted first-song status—including the ode to French pop and Parisian cuisine, “Foux du Fafa,” and a wayward song about people lost at sea who are then forced to eat each other for survival—on this day, McKenzie posits that the original song came in the form of rock and roll. “Our first song had only one chord and then a bridge of a second chord,” says McKenzie. “Then, it went straight back to the first chord. It was called ‘Rock Beat.’” For now, his answer must suffice, but whether or not the song actually exists or if this is just another way in which McKenzie can poke fun at himself and at the rock genre in general is anybody’s guess…deadpanning is very much a deadly business.

It didn’t take long until Clement and McKenzie moved beyond the two-chord song structure into slightly more varied musical stylings. Like the circumstances that brought the two together in drama class (a gathering that also included part-time Conchord collaborator and full-time director, Taika Cohen), how they became a bona fide musical comedy band is also one of chance opportunity. The pair had a college friend who booked a comedy night for a local Wellington club—the friend needed an opening act; the Conchords needed a gig. And through a shotgun marriage of supply and demand, a comedy legacy was born.

“Looking back, I think we could have become a really weird indie band just as much as a comedy band,” McKenzie says. “It’s just that we started playing comedy venues. If we would have been playing hipster dive bars, I think we would have become some really bizarre rock band…like Ween.”

The twist of fate proved to be a lucky one. Soon, Flight of the Conchords was playing more and more shows in locations not only in New Zealand, but in North America and Britain as well. Dark barrooms and cribbage halls turned into outdoor festivals and two-night stands. What was previously a handful of two-chord ditties turned into a bucketful of smart, cleverly-executed comedy routines about topics as varied as an Albanian-hating racist dragon, killer robots from a post-apocalyptic future, and of course, a space-bound David Bowie. After releasing their debut album in 2002, the Conchords were eventually tapped by BBC for an episodic radio program showcasing the duo’s songs, which were bolstered by sketch comedy co-written by the two New Zealanders and Da Ali-G Show director, James Bobin. Soon, Clement and McKenzie were traversing radio waves and invading living rooms, but by the time most of us finally took notice, the Conchords were already well in flight.

Last summer’s award-winning The Distant Future was not so much a fluke by a couple of outsiders making good in America as it was the culmination of years of honing guitar skills and perfecting comedic timing. The six-track EP is a sampling of the duo’s take on bended musical genres and dry lyrical witticisms. And depending on the tune, Flight of the Conchords plays mad-scientist with the likes of Pet Shop Boys, Hall and Oates, and Barry White—sowing new Oates for the yuppie crowd and bringing Barry’s great big ego down to suburban size. Unlike other musical comedy groups, the Conchords seem to have a knack for keeping listeners interested for more than just one go-round; a testament to their ability to channel by-gone pop stars and then turn them on their ears. But the partners are quick to note that they are not capitalizing at the expense of those who came before, but are actually paying tribute. “We started with this joke that we were a folk parody band,” says Clement, “but it was only a joke. Most of our songs aren’t really parodies at all; they’re just familiar songs with funny ideas. We’re really paying homage.”

McKenzie seconds the notion. Musically trained and an accomplished instrumentalist in his own right, McKenzie is no stranger to the live circuit or to melodic execution. Roughly at the same time when the Conchords first started gigging, he joined the New Zealand reggae-funk eight-piece, The Black Seeds. Playing keyboards, McKenzie and the group reached the peak of popularity in New Zealand, eventually dishing out two platinum records and becoming one of the hottest party bands this side of Ibiza. McKenzie’s involvement in The Black Seeds is more than notable, considering how the band’s image and success run contrary to what he and Clement mean to portray with Flight of the Conchords. On the one hand, McKenzie is a proven musician tested on a road filled with young groupies and college Rastafarians, and on the other, an actor-musician assuming the role of an unknown amateur. And the irony has not been lost on McKenzie. Before exiting The Black Seeds in order to focus on Flight of the Conchords, he had plenty of time to consider all types of music and musicians—no matter if they were funny or not.

“A lot of musicians are probably funnier to hang out with than comedians are,” McKenzie says. “Musicians think of me as a comedian and comedians think of me as a musician, but I think we’re different than a lot of music comedians. Rather than ridiculing a genre, we have a lot of respect for it. We’re not trying to take the piss out of Bowie; we’re just real big fans.”

The band’s approach to songwriting is best exemplified through a story that Clement tells about a Conchords show several years ago. McKenzie and Clement were booked to perform during a folk night at a small club in rural New Zealand. When the pair entered the bar, they discovered a room filled with some serious folkies; singer-songwriters who took the acoustic craft—and lovelorn lyrics—very much to heart. While they awaited their turn, the Wellington duo casually listened to a series of performers bemoaning life’s more lamentable aspects until one singer captured Clement’s undivided attention. Dressed in leather and khakis and projecting a voice more folk than Guthrie’s, the vocalist commanded the stage.

“He had this song which was very tender,” recalls Clement. “At the beginning of it, there was a list of all these things that he would do for this woman—like how he would die for her. It was all very sweet, but there was something about how serious he was that made it seem too innocent for a man his age. It made it very funny to me.”

After returning home late that night, Clement and McKenzie started to pen “If You’re Into It,” a love song that features a devotee not only willing to “hang around” with the object of his affection, but also buy her a couple of drinks, get naked for her, and depending on if she’s into it, set up a ménage à trois with her roommate. “I started with that idea—putting an unrealistic song in a somewhat more realistic context,” Clement says. “So I just had my character sing a dirty line in response to the pretty things the other person is singing. It’s the best kind of male-male duet I can think of.”

Skeptical humor interlaced with tried-and-true guitar riffs is a successful combination for the Conchords. And when HBO asked them in 2005 to appear on its comedy showcase, One Night Stand, and then later solicited from them a pilot for a potential primetime show, the once under-the-radar jokesters suddenly had the credentials of well-seasoned entertainers. Both fans and company execs alike gave praise to the projects, and by 2006, Clement and McKenzie were already working on what would become their calling card to most American audiences: the widely popular and unabashedly hip HBO series, Flight of the Conchords.

The premise for the television series is simple: Two New Zealanders, also named Bret and Jemaine, move to New York City in order to break into the music biz with their band called (you guessed it) Flight of the Conchords, while also trying their luck with oftentimes disinterested and unimpressed American women. The episodes stick closely to this basic tenet, effectually revealing two extremely lovable yet naïve foreigners as they confront big city dangers such as muggings, sexually aggressive women, con-men, substandard housing, rude concert-goers and high cost of living, to name only a few. Anchored by original songs intermittingly performed—or rather lip-synched—by Clement and McKenzie throughout the episodes, the television show is a refined, super-charged version of the Conchords’ live stage show complete with all the dramatic pauses, turns of phrases and dry counterattacks one could ever wish for. Though uncomplicated, the humor is intelligent, constantly playing with American cultural expectations and misinterpretations of the world beyond the borders. But Clement and McKenzie would never describe their comedy in such stuffy terms. To them, the show is drawn from, though not a documentation of, their own personal experiences—from the cramped apartments to the five-person audiences to the vintage shirts they wore when they “didn’t have the money to buy new ones.” And thus, the outsider/insider, real/unreal, deadpan/dead-honest tightrope dance continues.

“The show is based on us 10 years ago when we were starving,” says McKenzie. “And no one still can ever understand us. A number of times, Jemaine would phone up one of those computerized taxi services—the ones where you have to say your address to a computer—and even it wouldn’t understand him. We had to start using American accents just to get cabs.”

The show also achieves hilarity due to its very talented and funny supporting cast, which provides countless opportunities for Clement and McKenzie to not only prove their acting skills but their unwavering willingness to make jokes at their own expense. Prominently featuring fellow New Zealand comic Rhys Darby as the Conchords’ inept band manager and Kristen Schaal as the band’s stalkishly obsessive and side-splitting lone fan, Flight of the Conchords is seemingly littered with characters from the New Zealanders’ past. In fact, Schaal’s character, “Mel,” is the conglomerate of more than one female admirer who has crossed the boundaries of decency and tact. As the remarkable tale goes, it all started when McKenzie was cast as an extra in Peter Jackson’s first hobbit epic, The Fellowship of the Ring. Picked to appear as an elf because he was “tall and thin,” McKenzie was placed in the background—clad in a felt robe, long wig and pointy ears—for nothing more than several seconds. However, the scene was enough to spawn an online cult phenomenon as female fans from different points of the globe created websites honoring McKenzie’s handsome pixie looks. “A group really latched on to my ‘elf’ appearance,” he says. “It was our first introduction to intense fans and it was magnified because they were obsessed over something as small as me being in the background of a shot. It was amusing, yet a highly surreal experience for me.”

And thus, the obsession grew. Soon, Clement and McKenzie were playing gigs to not only regular music comedy fans, but card-carrying members of Tolkien Societies across Middle-earth. Periodically, groups of Frodo-loving aficionados would approach them before and after shows, showering them with flatteries and getting just a little too close for comfort. If one innuendo-spouting compulsive fan is scary enough, just imagine a whole roomful of marauding Mels. “Sometimes people would come to the show and start shaking and all that stuff,” says Clement, smiling, “which I must say is totally unreasonable. You feel like you’re inflicting harm on these poor people, but you’re just a normal person… We based Mel’s character on these types of situations.”

As if the creation of such an entertaining character as Mel isn’t worth a few awkward moments backstage, McKenzie soon became the envy of wannabe-sprites everywhere. While visiting Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival, McKenzie was actually invited to a luncheon held by the local Tolkien Society—an event he not only attended but where he also agreed to wear standard-issue prosthetic elf ears. Catching wind of the frenzy surrounding his character in the first film, which wasn’t even cited in its credits, the powers that be gave McKenzie a follow-up role in the final film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy—and this time, the elf had game. “During the part where the elves were escaping through the forest, I tell Liv Tyler, who plays Arwen, to hurry up,” says McKenzie. “But, she wasn’t even there on set—I was talking to a ladder in front of a green screen. I guess she’s just a very busy person.”

You don’t have to be the princess of Aerosmith to maintain a demanding schedule. Already diligently working on the second season of the HBO series, the band is releasing yet another album of funny-pop hits this spring. Not even a year following their EP, Clement and McKenzie return with a self-titled album of 14 songs that all made cameos during the first season of the show. While the latest installment contains three tracks that appeared on the previous record, all the songs are expertly refined versions of those that graced the television show in all their quirky grandeur. Produced by Mickey Petralia, who helped fashion Beck’s vibrant, light-hearted opus Midnight Vultures, and nurtured by the folks at major-indie label, Sub Pop, the latest record offers a fresh approach to musical comedy by delivering high production value and eclectic instrumentation. The new tunes are not only good for a chuckle, but for a serious listen as well. Tromping over genres and anecdotal humor with ease, Flight of the Conchords is everything you ever hoped for in a musical comedy album, but until now, always dismissed as the impossible. “We strived desperately to make the recordings successful,” McKenzie says. “Earlier there was more attention to the comedy, but in the studio, a lot of time went into trying to play things well.”

Making a comedy album that takes its music seriously is a considerable risk. Due to the effort to create a record that is much more than just an extended prank, absent from the LP are live recordings and the laughter that accompanies them. Without audible cues, such as the building mirth that follows a well-played joke or the applause of a pacified crowd, the listener is left alone to decide for him or herself what is funny or not. While surely expecting to encounter a fair share of jeers from Conchords-purists and dedicated fans of the live show, Clement and McKenzie seem to have taken into account the slippery slope of being funny and musically talented. Where one would usually hear the requisite whoops and hollers of audience members during the album’s 10-plus songs, instead they’re skillful retro melodies that are perfect counterpoints to the lyrics. In fact, Flight of the Conchords’ playful yet clever composition reminds us that when all is said and done, music itself can often be the funniest thing of all.

Considering the tremendous creative output from Clement and McKenzie in recent years, it’s difficult to imagine something they can’t do. Besides writing television shows and hit albums, McKenzie continues to work on several side projects while Clement is steadily making waves on the silver screen, starring in Taika Cohen’s 2007 indie misfit-comedy Eagle vs Shark and the upcoming Gentlemen Broncos, directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite). “But I love making music,” Clement explains. “When I don’t have my guitar, I miss it. It’s the way I can do what I want, using my own approach and my own way of thinking.”

And so Flight of the Conchords presses on, working its way through hometown welcoming parties and courting international crowds that just can’t resist that unassuming Kiwi charm. With the second season of their television series around the corner, a new album hitting the streets, and whatever else they have hidden up their very long sleeves, the two wonders from Wellington better get used to entering places full of uninvited guests—or at the very least, better equipped at feigning modest surprise when encountering large crowds. But the prospect of fame has never really frightened the Conchords; only the idea of not continuingly moving forward. “We once did a show where everyone was singing along to ‘Albi the Racist Dragon,’” McKenzie says. “I kept flashing forward 30 years and seeing me and Jemaine—all grey haired and wrinkled—playing a song about a dragon to a bunch of old people singing in unison. It was absolutely terrifying.”

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claire
 Post subject: Re: Filter Magazine article
PostPosted: Mon Sep 15, 2008 7:53 pm 
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great article, thanks, that last quote from bret is hysterical, lol..

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dangerous person
 Post subject: Re: Filter Magazine article
PostPosted: Mon Sep 15, 2008 7:59 pm 
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That's a great read, thanks poptartgirl

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Deirdre
 Post subject: Re: Filter Magazine article
PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 3:16 am 
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Well done! Thanks for posting it.


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poptartgirl
 Post subject: Re: Filter Magazine article
PostPosted: Tue Oct 28, 2008 10:18 pm 
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New Filter Magazine article/interview :

http://www.filter-mag.com/index.php?id=17535&c=2

Flight of the Conchords: Birds of Vintage Leather
by Patrick Strange, photo by Michael Muller | 10.02.2008

Over the past couple of years, Flight of the Conchords has been flying circles around comedians and musicians alike when it comes to making catchy, side-splitting tunes and drop-dead funny jokes. With a new full-length album dropping this spring via Sub Pop and the second season of their hit HBO television series touching down this fall, the Wellington duo has the whole world looking up to the skies. Still, not only are Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie known for their distinct Kiwi musical-comedy, but also for their distinguishable—and very cool—style of fashion as seen on T.V. (from sweatshirts covered with kittens to the “classic rock and roll move” of leather suits). Many birds may be known for their songs, but only a few are revered for their plumage. The Guide caught up with Clement and McKenzie for an impromptu discussion about the joys of playing dress-up, living out of suitcases and the hair-raising genius of Battlestar Galactica.

Your characters on television have very distinct clothing—the urban-vintage-hipster style of dress. Were the costumes intentional, or just how you arrived on set for the first day of shooting?
Jemaine Clement: I guess it’s more like what we used to dress like before we could afford new clothes. Both of us have been trying to avoid dressing like the show’s characters, even though they dress like how we dressed before. [laughs] Does this make any sense?

I think so. Are you self-conscious about making sure that people don’t conflate your characters’ appearance with the “real” you?
Clement: People seem to be concerned about it more now that we’re on T.V. They’re worried about how we look; it’s strange. Man, we went to a party at New Year’s last year and when we got home, we had all these messages on MySpace. I got so many comments about how I wore sneakers with trousers. People were really being critical. It was ridiculous. I mean, we had hundreds of them.
Bret McKenzie: Me and Jemaine; we live out of suitcases. We travel all the time and it’s funny that we now have to not only live out of suitcases, but have to dress very snappily since we’re on television.

It seems people want to think of you as your characters—it must get frustrating to always have to impress…
Clement: Well, I have quite a few things that I wore on the show hanging in my bedroom closet. Sometimes, depending on what we got, I would just keep a piece of clothing or the whole costume. We dressed how we dressed. It’s sort of a different connotation in New Zealand. In Wellington, a lot of people dress like that because it’s cheaper. And sure, it’s cool. I love ’60s, ’70s and ’80s clothes. I think they’re great—partly because I grew up with all that and even in the ’80s, when people were wearing shoulder pads and skinny ties, I used to watch television and love the stuff they were wearing on those old programs. Even though I didn’t have the spiky hair, I used to love the hair in Battlestar Galactica.

Is it fun to play dress-up even if it’s still technically considered “work”?
Clement: One of the coolest things we got to do on the show—even though it gets boring after an hour or so—is go down with the costume woman to the vintage stores and choose anything we want. And even though we only got to keep some of it, it was like one of those competitions where people run through a supermarket and stuff their trolley with everything they can keep.
McKenzie: Besides the clothes, another great thing about doing the show is getting to make the instrumental music. No one really appreciates that it’s our music, but that’s a really fun part. Just to get to make instrumental tunes—even though we should probably give that job to someone else [laughs]—is one of the more fun things to do because everything else is so stressful.
Clement: You know in the beginning of the show, the “Cha—cha-cha-cha-cha—cha”? That’s ours.
McKenzie: So that’s two cool things: wearing clothes and making music.

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Deirdre
 Post subject: Re: Filter Magazine article
PostPosted: Tue Oct 28, 2008 10:43 pm 
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Thanks. :D


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H....
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2008 7:42 am 
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I want to hug them more than ever now.

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dangerous person
 Post subject: Re: Filter Magazine article
PostPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2008 9:50 am 
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It looks like Jemaine's more concerned about clothes than Bret from this, and Bret's more concerned with making music. What I'm saying of course is that Jemaine is shallow and Bret is deep. :wink: :wink: :wink:

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Amanda
 Post subject: Re: Filter Magazine article
PostPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2008 10:42 am 
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Excuse me DP but I respectfully disagree there.. Jemaine's just pointing out how other people are concerned about His clothes and how ridiculous does he think that is. I love how down to earth this two are..it just makes me love them even more :yawinkle:

PS. Thnx for the articles!

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indigo_jones
 Post subject: Re: Filter Magazine article
PostPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2008 1:27 pm 
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Thanks poptart!

Poor guys! All that fuss over their clothing!

Oddly enough, it makes me happy to know that they write the instrumental music of the show. I figured they did, but you never can be sure.

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H....
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dangerous person wrote:
It looks like Jemaine's more concerned about clothes than Bret from this, and Bret's more concerned with making music. What I'm saying of course is that Jemaine is shallow and Bret is deep. :wink: :wink: :wink:



:shock:

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WomanInThePark
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 11:46 pm 
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dangerous person wrote:
It looks like Jemaine's more concerned about clothes than Bret from this, and Bret's more concerned with making music. What I'm saying of course is that Jemaine is shallow and Bret is deep. :wink: :wink: :wink:

Hear, hear! :D

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LauraK
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PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2009 4:17 pm 
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Loved these, still playing catch-up...lots of good-to-know info in there. :)

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