Two Men. Eight Strings. Those are the base ingredients in a party when we’re discussing Andy Bean and Fuller Condon, aka the Two Man Gentlemen Band. Of course, they would agree that some libations, reefer, and prescription drugs might help things along as well. Having the sharp-witted retro-swing duo in our studios was the most unique Music Playground session to date. The women wore mustaches, the men sported bow ties with t-shirts, and everyone sipped cocktails as sun went down in Soho.
The musicianship between these two gents blended with their fever-pitched comedic timing is what makes them a truly special band. If their act was made up of all hilarious lyrics and banter, it might be easy to write them off as a gimmick, but everyone learned first hand during the show that Andy and Fuller are technically incredible at their respective four-stringed instruments. This wasn’t always the case they will tell you. The Two Man Gentlemen Band remembers their years of busking in Central Park fondly. The result of playing for tips six days a week is a highly polished and downright raucously fun live act.
Since our taping the band has been quite busy. Andy writes and produces all music for a new Disney Channel cartoon from the creator of The Powerpuff Girls called Wander Over Yonder and The Gents performed the theme song. They have a new album coming out this summer called Enthusiastic Attempts at Hot Swing & String Band Favorites.
We had a chance to sit down with them after their Music Playground performance to ask a few questions.
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How did you two gentlemen meet?
Andy Bean: We met at an audition for a band. We both passed which was great. I was in grad school at the time.
What did you go to grad school for?
AB: Mathematics…I’m a master of mathematics.
AB: Eh, I wasn’t in long enough to specialize. I’m a general master. I know ALL the numbers and the order that they come in…You want to see that the square root of two is irrational? You guys got a chalkboard? Let do this! (Laughs)
So you met at an audition for a rock band?
AB: Yeah, it was college rock…which sounds cooler in retrospect, I feel like. It makes it sound like we were in The Fugs or something, but it was like ‘98/‘99 at Columbia.
You guys lived in New York City until you recently moved to LA and South Carolina. What has that meant for the band?
AB: It’s just been more flying. I mean we just can’t go “Hey, let’s do this last minute gig.” But, that’s not really what we are about right now anyway. We’re playing more proper ticketed shows.
What were your gigs like in the past?
AB: We started doing this street performing in Central Park. That was our exclusive ambition. During the summer, the first time we did it hardcore, we were out there like six days a week. We did that full time for about two years and then we took it on the road.
Did you make some good scratch?
Fuller Condon: Eh, not really (laughs).
Did you guys have to get a permit to perform or anything?
AB: No, to play acoustic anywhere in the city is perfectly legal. The problem is, us, unamplified, is very quiet. So that was an issue, but then we took it on the road and the act sort of developed itself. It’s not like we made characters for ourselves. It’s just our personalities.
On-stage banter is a big part of your show.
AB: Yeah. I’d say it’s 90% improvised. The other 10% is just sort of thematic funny stuff that we’ve talked about before.
It’s an interesting dichotomy because you guys are extremely funny, but you’re also technically very good at your instruments.
AB: Thank you. When we started, actually, we weren’t. Truly. Four years ago there were no instrumental solos of any kind except for kazoo solos and it was leaning a little too heavy on being cheeky, as they called it when we went to Britain, which is not a great act.
As far as comedy and music goes, have they ever gotten in the way of one another?
AB: I think we’ve actually recently found an appropriate balance. If we do a short show, which is like forty minutes, we’re going to lean on the fast, memorable, funny stuff. But most nights we’re playing two sets and we spread it out so there’ll be more songs. I wouldn’t call them serious songs, but not funny either, with more emphasis on the music. But it did require us getting better at music before we could do that. We couldn’t play, say, a comedy club.
FC: It’s a musical act with a comedy bonus.
AB: For critics, anything funny related to music instantly turns them off. They’ll be like, “That can’t be!” But, if you went to a Louis Armstrong show, in addition to being the most beautiful music ever, it was also funny. He was funny. Even seeing Wilco a lot, Jeff Tweedy’s funny. That’s part of the thing. We don’t get too hung up on it. We like to think of ourselves in this way. We don’t think we should be the only music you ever listen to. We’re like a musical pastry. Have a fully balanced life of music.
FC: If you eat musical pastries all day you’ll get fat.
So, your last album Two at a Time was recorded in a completely analog fashion. Nowhere along the process was there a digital component, correct?
AB: That’s exactly correct. We eventually put it on CD as well so that was the only digital step. The recording AND the packaging were done sans-computer. Even the CD packaging was. For us it meant we didn’t have any options. There a few screw-ups in the mix because they’re mixing on the fly, like straight to the tape. And if we had had the option to go back and fix it we might have. The only option was to go and do a full take.
So, it was mixed in real time?
AB: Yeah, the guy was mixing in real time. On one of the tunes, “Panama City Beach”, one of the ones we played for you guys tonight, on the album there’s a knob crackle where he turns up the bass for the bass solo.
Tell us about the unusual instruments you guys play.
AB: I started with Dixieland banjo, I still play that a bit. It’s a four-string banjo that’s strummed rather than finger picked. For a long time, Gibson made these four-string guitars called tenor guitars. They were for banjo players who were switching over to guitar and I was like “Hey that’s me!” Compared to six-string guitars they’re available fairly cheaply.
So it’s the same tuning as a banjo?
AB: Yeah, I tune it like a plectrum banjo, so it’s CGBD. Gibson made them stock for forty years or so.
FC: And I play the four-string bass.
AB: We each have four strings.
FC: That seems fair.