Ted Leo + the Pharmacists will release their next album, “Living With the Living,” March 20 as the first in a new deal with Touch & Go. Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty produced the 15-track set, which was put to tape at Longview Farms Studios in Massachusetts.
“In addition to him being an old friend of mine, he’s so fun to work with,” Leo tells Billboard.com of Canty. “He has great ideas in terms of getting you out of your comfort zone. But he’s a real amazing facilitator, engineering-wise, of the goofiest ideas. He’s up for anything.”
“Living With the Living” is another high-energy blast of politically minded rock, at times recalling the Clash, the Kinks, Elvis Costello and Thin Lizzy. The set charges out of the gate with the frenetic “The Sons of Cain,” the stick-in-the-brain riff of “Who Do You Love?” and “A Bottle of Buckie,” a wistful soldier’s tale enhanced by a flute solo. “Bomb.Repeat.Bomb” is inspired by U.S. covert military maneuvers in Guatemala in the 1950s, while “The Unwanted Things” delves headfirst into dub.
Most of the songs were tested out live prior to the Pharmacists hitting the studio, but for whatever reason, Leo needed more time to nudge them toward completion. “It definitely used to be the case that playing the stuff out quite a bit really got it nice and tight, and we could go in the studio and crank out the basic tracks in two days,” he says. “This one, the stuff we’d been playing was still half-baked in my head. There are a couple of songs I didn’t actually finish until we got into the studio.”
Leo also experimented with a variety of potential track lists that did not include all 15 songs that wound up making the final cut. “I felt like there were a lot of songs that could be grouped together as a more simple, focused, wham-bam kind of record,” he says. “But I actually really wanted to express a little more of the depth and breadth of what we try to do, or enjoy doing.”
By the same token, Leo warns that fans expecting overt political commentary on the Bush administration or the Iraq War may be out of luck. “With [2004’s] ‘Shake the Sheets,’ I think I did get backed into a corner with people expecting things,” he says. “For me, that record is more didactic than I’ve been about a lot of things. It was actually criticized in some corners for not giving people the explicit, screamy statements they wanted at that time. I think sometimes people do actually expect it a little too much.”
Having been on the road relentlessly in the past two years, Leo is looking forward to taking it easy before touring resumes again near the new album’s release date. The Pharmacists will then head to Europe and play some late summer festivals, with shows already on tap through the spring of 2008.
“I need to sleep a lot,” he says with a laugh. “I already cancelled a U.K. trip in February, because once the album is released, it is right back onto the hamster wheel.”
Here is the track list for “Living With the Living”:
“Fourth World War”
“The Sons of Cain”
“Who Do You Love?”
“A Bottle of Buckie”
“La Costa Brava’
“Annunciation Day/Born on Christmas Day”
“The Unwanted Things”
“The Lost Brigade”
“The World Stops Turning”
“Some Beginner’s Mind”
“The Toro and the Toreador”