My response to Get Set Go’s second album, Ordinary World, was immediate and passionate. I quickly dubbed it “My New Best Friend”, and though I secretly believed that it was created just for me, I set out to spread the good word to my friends.
Their response was equally immediate and passionate. “Are you okay?” they would ask with furrowed brow and a comforting hand rested on my shoulder. “Do you want to talk?”
This turns out to be pretty much the same response that singer/guitarist Mike TV received from his label when he sent them his demos. Soaring, often jaunty melodies snuggle up with a backing viola to tell the story of a particularly rough period in Mike TV’s life. The obvious darkness of songs like “Die Motherfucker Die” and “My Wasted Life” belie a humor that oscillates between wry, ironic, and macabre, creating a sort of emo for grown-ups with a hearty dose of sangfroid.
I met with Mike TV, a.k.a. Michael Torres, at a mixing studio in Santa Monica where he was finishing up his third record. Throughout our conversation he spoke with a cheery enthusiasm totally at odds with my preconceived image of a man who sings of his desire to commit mass murder. His wide grin never retreated as he wildly gestured through his points with the bulky forearms of a musician, video game fanatic, junkie, chronic masturbator, or some combination thereof.
Now 33, Mike TV grew up in the sandy expanse of southeastern California and participated in the Palm Desert generator music scene that spawned Queens of the Stone Age. Through happenstance, he was able to charm a television executive into an internship in Los Angeles that eventually culminated in a post as a development executive at Universal Cartoon Studios. With pockets full of cash, he eventually bowed out of the television industry because “it ended up getting so political and so crazy at the end that I just did not want to do it anymore.”
With his sights set on more creative pursuits, he helped to create a music scene in Highland Park, an un-trendy neighborhood nestled between downtown LA and South Pasadena. He teamed up with a friend from the desert, Pat Flores, a.k.a. Dr. Modo, and started creating and distributing mix tapes under revolving pseudonyms. The most successful of the tapes left him stuck with the Mike TV moniker, named after Mike Teavee of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The former TV exec’s namesake had a lust for television that prompted the Oompa Loompas in Ronald Dahl’s classic novel to caution parents: “Or better still just don’t install / The most idiotic thing of all.”
With Flores and a few other friends from Highland Park, Mike TV created Vermicious K, named for the invading Vermicious Knids of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. “We initially thought that we’ll be on some little tiny record label and we’ll tour around and be a little tiny band,” he says. However, the label that eventually signed Vermicious K—TSR Records, a label best know for a few ‘80s dance hits like “So Many Men, So Little Time”—“really thought that we had a lot of commercial radio appeal.” At the label’s insistence, the band’s name was changed to Get Set Go.
However, the dough devoted to its first album, So You’ve Ruined Your Life, was not enough to secure Get Set Go as an indie darling. As the group became “significantly demoralized” but the unlikelihood of success, Mike TV’s band mates moved on to new groups and family life, while he, in the great tradition of the E! True Hollywood Story, sank into addiction and depression.
While Mike TV was indulging his “everything habit”, Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy, got hold of a copy of So You’ve Ruined Your Life and decided to feature several songs on the air and give them a track on the show’s soundtrack along side Tegan and Sara, Postal Service, and Rilo Kiley. When Rhimes requested more songs, Mike TV “cobbled together maybe 25 acoustic demos” and garnered a request for a full-studio version of “Sleep”, a song inadvertently predisposed to being perfect for a show about restless surgical interns.
Confident that the licensing fees for Grey’s Anatomy would cover the cost of recording a new album, Mike TV nevertheless figured he should mention it to his label, but included the addendum, “no hard feelings if you guys don’t want to be involved”. TSR reminded him of his contractual obligations and was duly encouraged to send them his demos. Despite Mike TV’s questionable mental health, the label pushed the album into production.
Though undeterred by a drug-induced stroke and a mugging in downtown LA while he was trying to score heroin, Mike TV was finally persuaded to go to a few late night AA meetings after being promised that “cute girls” would be in attendance. Though he initially only intended to stay clean for a month while his friends’ newfound sobriety solidified, he stuck with it because he “liked getting up and not feeling like a piece of shit every morning.”
What remains of that period of heavy drug and alcohol abuse is Ordinary World, a record “primarily about my relationship with drugs and alcohol and how that took my life to new lows.” He replaced his entire band, added a violist, and started aggressively touring and promoting the new and improved Get Set Go. “I would really like to get to the point where we can sell 40 or 50 thousand records and I can do this full-time for a living without having to worry each month about whether I’m able to pay my bills.”
The recording of Get Set Go’s third album has been rushed in order to meet the production schedule for the third season of Grey’s Anatomy. Despite being nearly complete, the album will probably not be released until next year. Having already spent his load of drug and suicide songs and with sobriety halting new creations in that vein, his focus is shifting towards sex and relationships, but he promises to continue to be “embarrassingly honest.”
While clearly not the band for everybody, Mike TV is just amazed that it’s for somebody. “I try to acknowledge the fact that people really do connect with my music, which is bizarre to me because it really is a process of exorcizing demons. The kind of people that seem to gravitate towards our music kind of get the humor and get the fact that, while it’s humorous, it’s also kind of deadly serious.”
It’s the kind of music that you either get or you don’t, leaving Get Set Go with a very devoted pond of fans in an ocean of indifference and dislike. Mike TV is aware of the divisive nature of his music and embraces it. “What I love are those moments when you’re trying to show someone else your favorite art and you realize that they’re just not getting it. You’re like ‘I love this’ and they’re like ‘are you insane?’” This is a moment that I have come to know well while trying to sell Get Set Go to friends that are appalled by the idea of a ditty about drinking Drāno.
Ordinary World is the rock equivalent of Harold and Maude in that it’s not so much obsessed with dying as it is obsessively trying to find a reason to live. Though it seems to be relying on the novelty of contrasting jaunty music and mordant lyrics, Ordinary World is a self-aware satire of melancholy. It is an incredible waste of time and energy to be depressed and Mike TV seems to have finally realized it. “We’re on this planet for a really short time and we’re all sharing this time with one another right now and that really blows me away.”
// Notes from the Road
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