Comedy and music go hand in hand like French fries and milkshakes. It’s a great combination that can only be enjoyed by certain people. Artists like Weird Al, Richard Cheese and The Lonely Island aren’t enjoyed by everyone. And, let’s face it, neither are Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande, or Sara Bareilles. No matter how much you like one, someone else is bound to have unbridled dislike of them.
Eliot Glazer is a writer with musical ambitions. He’s got the talent to match. This multifaceted comedian was once an aspiring opera singer until he decided that his plan encompassed much more than just singing music. He creates it and recreates it. Now he performs Haunting Renditions – a live show that takes your favorite pop songs and turns them into beautiful pieces of music. I got a chance to ask him a few questions on that process and even got his true thoughts on my favorite pop singer, Kesha.
It’s a live show. And you turn these pop songs into great, beautiful, orchestral band pieces. Why did you start doing that?
Eliot Glazer: Initially, I went to college for classical singing to sing opera. When I realized, I didn’t want to do that, I pivoted to doing comedy. Ultimately, as I was doing different forms of comedy like stand up, improv, sketches, storytelling, I found this thing that could help me stand out. It was musical comedy of parody songs. I wanted to combine my musicianship with my comedy in a way that felt different. Haunting Renditions gave me the ability to take my musicianship and combine it with my interest in music and my interest in musical criticism and figure out a weird, experimental format in which to channel all that energy.
My friend Zach and I started it as a web series for ourselves. We grew up together and are always collaborating on stuff. We made this series for ourselves and ultimately decided to try it as a live show. Ever since we did that, it’s gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. Now we do it on both coasts and festivals. And then I’ll do it in small shows as well.
Did it initially start as something like you doing Britney Spears and Katy Perry music? Or was it just from the get go something else?
Eliot Glazer: It was always pop music. I’ve always been a music fan and read criticism. I’ve always sort of been fascinated with pop music; how it’s so malleable and how it reflects the time we’re in, our age or it reflects certain points of our lives. It’s filled so many roles in a way that I don’t know if TV or movies quite do or even books. Music is so subjective.
For me, I’ve always been obsessed with certain types of music. For me, the idea of pop music being this really low brow, disposable format – particularly songs that are “bad” – that’s always [fantastic] to me. This is a way to repackage that for other people to cross their heads or for other people to stop and think about it in a way that they haven’t before. Especially when they might know all the lyrics but never think about them. That’s just a moment of delight for them. For both of us.
That’s kind of a relief. I watched the one you did with Kesha’s songs in a medley. I was thinking “he better not hate Kesha!” because Kesha’s great!
Eliot Glazer: The truth of the matter is that these artists…aren’t not great. But they’re doing something that is so…unique. Kesha is a weird reflection of 2010. She was post-Gaga and pre-Adele in a way. I don’t know. They way that people fall into place in the cultural fabric of the time in pop music is just so interesting to me. Kesha is female. Kesha’s music is, like, pure trash. I think she would probably agree to that. It still has this inherent value. So it’s really fun to be able to take a different approach to her music. We orchestrated one of the songs to sound like a military funeral march. That is fun and weird and a blast to do on stage.
For a monthly show, it’s well produced. You’ve got the background singers and people with instruments joining you on stage. I know you don’t write the songs – obviously – but what is the process for finding the right tone of a piece?
Eliot Glazer: My friend Mike Fram, he’s a music teacher turned principal, he arranges all of the music and is the band leader. He was the director of the acapella group in my college. We’ve always had the same absurd tastes and sense of humor. When it comes to arranging these songs, we just work together to find what would be the funniest juxtaposition to apply to a song that everybody already knows or forgot about; that just fell out of the periphery of their memory.
When it comes to rearranging the music, we just try to find the most interesting and funny way to juxtapose it or to re-contextualize it. That also means taking the approach and turning it into a ballad. It’s not always a ballad. When you make a song into a ballad, it comes inherently melodramatic. Giving a sense of seriousness to these songs that really isn’t there to begin with is what drives us to rearrange the music.
I know you said you don’t do parodies but, on Weird Al’s albums he does these polka medleys where he just sings the songs but in a medley with these other songs. Would you ever want to team up with him or anyone else in the pop music world to sing some of their songs?
Eliot Glazer: Yeah. That’d be super fun. Musicians have a sense of humor about themselves. I think that really lends well to the collaborative process and I’d be open to that for sure.
Here’s my last question: Who are you listening to right now?
Eliot Glazer: Good question. Right now, I’m listening to Rag'n'Bone Man – he has a really powerful voice and indefinable sound. I really like this group called King, it’s three women who do a sort of R&B fusion type of sound. I think they were discovered by Prince or he showed support for them. They show a unique, lush sound that makes their whole album cohesive in a world where everyone is trying singles. I actually really like JoJo. She’s this former pop star, as a kid. She reinvented herself in a really mature way. Her music is really thoughtful and aside from that, her voice is so powerful and has so much heft to it that it’s just a real delight to listen to her music.
BONUS Christmas Haunting Renditions!