P.S. Mueller 

Cartoonist, musician

Madison, Wisconsin-based cartoonist P.S. Meuller is well known to readers of the Indy's Backside for his sparse, wry and almost zen-like cartoons. But it turns out that Mueller's trademark wobbly lines, goofball facial expressions and befuddled characters are only a small part of the artist's creative rsum.

For ten years or so, he's been the radio voice of The Onion, the satirical newsweekly, which syndicates its broadcast antics to just about every market except Colorado Springs. He picked up that gig after producing satellite-syndicated radio comedy skits with a team of performers in the 1970s and '80s.

Now Mueller has taken his pen to yet another medium: writing lyrics for a Madison band called Honor Among Thieves, which just released a CD of 12 songs that came straight out of the cartoonist's twisted brainstem.

The collaboration started with guitarist and vocalist Andy Ewen, who took the tunes to the rest of the band, which soon proposed the idea of a whole CD of Mueller's lyrics. Mueller is a long-time friend of Ewen, and bassist and singer Doug DeRosa, but he's been a fan of their band for some time. And for good reason. There is some excellent guitar playing and arranging from Ewen, as well as some great violin and cello work from Randy Hoecherl, among other highlights.

As you might guess, much of what makes up Mueller's cartooning -- the sort of spontaneous feel of a scribble combined with well-honed wordplay -- can be heard on the CD, titled The Blue God and available via Honor Among Thieves, POB 3174, Madison, WI 53704.

I've been hearing little P.S. Muellerisms in the lyrics. Things that could be kernels of cartoons. How is the process similar and different between drawing cartoons and writing songs? They are very similar in that I try to have what you would call a focused unfocus when I'm working. In terms of any type of creative philosophy, I would go back to people like John Cage and Marcel Duchamp and Brian Eno in terms of keeping your ears open for interesting mistakes.

Often things just kind of present themselves by chance and [I] kind of have a weather eye out for what might be of interest. Often when I start out to draw a cartoon I have no idea what I'm going to end up doing. At that point, I just sort of roll my eyes back in my head and have a small convulsion and the answer is delivered from the void.

From the Blue God, no doubt. There are elements that are actually quite autobiographical and then there are elements that come from the darkest parts of my own world view. "Train Song" is my take on the human infrastructure of capitalism and all the invisible people who make the shiny thing we call America work. And there's a song on there called "Kicking and Screaming," which is pretty much a rumination on an event that I witnessed when I was a teenager at a local carnival at a park in Deerfield, Illinois. This guy was beating on his girlfriend and this guy walked up and tried to put a stop to it and this guy like beat him to a pulp. And then she laughed at him and then they both wandered off.

She laughed at the guy who tried to save her? Yeah, and went off arm in arm with the bully. And I thought what would this guy's point of view be today? Looking back on that night where he got beat to a pulp for trying to do the right thing. Some other songs are kind of a free association wordplay kind of thing. Plus there's a lot of silliness in there too. I admit it, I'm a silly guy.

I was going to use the word free association with your songs because the songs don't have an overwrought, linear narrative to them. Things kind of come in and out from the blue. And like your cartoons, some have a sort of Zen koan type of feel. In terms of the economy required to pare down the image, cartoons and poetry are not that different to me. The one thing I learned in college that they taught me over and over was the importance of economy with language. With the cartoons I try to put the minimal amount in terms of detail. The [lyric] compositional process is similar to me.


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