‘Movie Star Handsome’ is the sort of album that once you get going, you aren’t going to stop. The guitar never disappoints, pacing every track from All The Real Girls, while not forcing the lyrics to play catchup, blending both into a smooth flow of Americana. (If you like their sound, here is their BandCamp)
The Seattle-based band has a seasoned sound that would fit in at any Nashville honky tonk, big city venue, massive festive, or a backyard barbecue.
Yes, lead singer/songwriter Peter Donovan took the name for the band from a 2003 movie written and directed by David Gordon Green. He is joined by drummer Matt Millen; Zander Nevitt on lead guitar; and Evan West on bass.
Donovan spent some time to provide a track by track of the album for readers of American Songwriter.
Rob Me Blind – I wrote a song on the last ATRG record called “The Day We Finally Burn” about an outlaw couple that’s come to the end of the line. They’re hiding out somewhere, the authorities are closing in, and they have one last night to reflect on all the things they’ve done and say goodbye to each other.
After I finished it, I found myself thinking about those two characters a lot, wondering what they had been up to before they got caught. The song I wrote found them at rock bottom, but they were so in love with each other, I figured there must have been some better times.
So, when I started writing the new album, I decided I owed it to them to write a prequel, which became “Rob Me Blind” – a song about being so in love with someone, you’ll do anything for them, even if it’s illegal. The good old days.
Shows What I Knew – I usually tell people this one is about joining a cult, which is half true. I was reading a book about Jim Jones and The People’s Temple, which was the initial inspiration. But I think the song is also about faith in general. I was raised very Catholic, and even though I left the church after Confirmation, I’ve remained fascinated with religion.
In this song, the narrator remembers a time when their faith was strong – they were a fervent disciple. But over time, things changed, and now they no longer believe.
I think this mirrors my own experience with faith. Religion initially made sense to me growing up, but for whatever reason, I eventually hit a point where I thought, “this might not be for me.”
Could’ve Told Me Then – A while ago, I was living in Los Angeles, and my partner and I were fed up with the hustle and bustle of the big city, so we decided to move to Maine.
We packed up everything we could fit into a ’96 Buick and drove out east. The road trip was a blast, but after we arrived at our new home, the relationship quickly fell apart.
The hotel referenced in the song is The Weatherford Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the ranch referenced is the Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo, Texas.
Movie Star Handsome – This song is about that handsome friend you’ve low key been in love with forever.
Wolves – Often, when I’m writing, I’ll improvise some temporary lyrics while I work out a melody idea. Usually, these words are terrible and replaced later, but once in a blue moon, there’s a keeper or two. This song was one of those situations where some of the fill-in lyrics were worth keeping.
It’s a song about anxiety and feeling out of place amid uncertain times. The original demo was a long, rambling mess with endless verses, but our producer Eric Corson pushed me to streamline things, which I think really brought the song into focus.
We tried a few different approaches as far as the instrumentation goes for this one and ultimately decided to put the full band version on the record. I was always partial to the piano mix, and I’m glad it’s finally out in the world.
Empty Glass of Ice – You just got dumped, and you’re feeling pretty sad, so you decide to take a walk after dinner. Somehow, you find yourself outside your favorite bar. You know you shouldn’t, but you think, “Hey, I’ll just have a few…”
Next thing you know, it’s last call, the band is packing up, and the entire bar is watching you alone on the dance floor, clinging to your empty glass of ice. (Unfortunately based on actual events.)
Hometown Hero – A friend of mine’s elderly mother passed away a while back, and while he was going through her things, he found a box of old letters hidden in the back of a closet. Surprisingly, the letters weren’t from his father, though. They were from another man, a name he’d never heard of, and they detailed an intense, torrid love affair. My friend never had any clue about his mom’s double life.
The narrator in this song leads a double life too. Their secret is at risk of exposure, and they appeal to a friend for a favor – find the hidden suitcase at my house and destroy the letters inside. Please, just do this one thing for me.
Brother Brian – This one was inspired by a bizarre armed robbery that unfolded in Erie, Pennsylvania, in August 2003. A pizza delivery man walked into a bank with a metal collar locked around his neck. Attached to the collar were two pipe bombs and two kitchen timers.
The man handed a note to the teller that demanded $250,000. It also said that if the money wasn’t handed over, the bomb would explode. They had 15 minutes.
After leaving the bank, the man was surrounded by police, who held him at gunpoint. The bomb squad was called in, but they were too late – the collar bomb exploded, killing the pizza delivery man. The whole incident was broadcast live on television.
That’s only the beginning of the story, which manages to get even more unbelievable. I don’t want to ruin the ending, but check out the documentary Evil Genius on Netflix if you’re curious.
Do Your Worst – This is about falling in love with a vampire. Aside from the companionship and affection, a relationship with a vampire offers another appealing perk – immortality.
Of course, by the time the song’s bridge rolls around, things have gone totally awry for the couple. Captured, then chained to a tree by a vengeful mob, the lovers await a certain death as sunrise approaches.
I was listening to a lot of early Beach Boys at the time I wrote this, which was the inspiration for the doo-wop vibe.
Your Favorite Songs – This is a love song inspired by a tale from Greek mythology that describes the creation of the universe. According to the story, the world started as nothingness, then out of that empty space came two characters – the Sky and the Earth.
These two eventually meet and fall in love, embarking on a whirlwind love affair that leads to the formation of life as we know it.
I tried to imagine what that romance would have been like. When you first fall in love with someone, it can feel like you’re the only two people in the world. These two were literally the only two people in the world.
At first, it must have been magical, but as eternity marches on, I wonder if monotony becomes a factor? I bet they have their ups and downs like any relationship does over time, but to their credit, they’ve managed to keep it together so far.