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"I wanted to get away from the busyness of the Negro Problem, which means that the next TNP record is going to be really busy," he says. "It's out of my system. I have a place for that stuff now, so that we can make even crazier TNP records."
Guest Host was heavily influenced by Stew's relationship with Rodewald, who co-produced. "She really helped me in knowing when to stop," he says. "With the Negro Problem, I would say, 'One more triangle overdub!' Those guys wouldn't tell me to stop. If I said, 'Hey, dude, I'm hearing fuzz accordion and bagpipes,' they'd be like, 'Okay, dude, I think I know a bagpipe player!' She'd stop it right there."
The highlight of the album is "The Stepford Lives," inspired by the sun-dappled creepiness of the camp film classic ("A husband named 'honey' with too much money/He's sort of a jerk he told her not to work."). Other high points include "Cavity," an ambitious number about love so sweet it hurts (and a few other things like religion and hypocrisy), and "Into Me," a new-romance whoop. For blatant party fun, there's "C'mon Everybody," on which Rodewald puts Marcia and Jan to shame, and the pop-funk breakdown "She's Really Daddy Feelgood."
"I don't even know what most of the songs are about," claims Rodewald. "All I know is that they're the kinds of songs that, if they were 45s and I were still a kid, I'd sit in my room with my little record player and play them again and again."
The Negro Problem has taken some hits over the years: Two members have departed -- including terrific drummer Charles Pagano (no longer full-time but still a "TNP family member") -- leaving the nucleus of Stew and Rodewald. Part of what keeps the two together is sheer impatience. When a much-revered industry figure came courting, they were eager to enlist, but not eager enough to hold off from putting out records. Instead of waiting years for the green light, they grabbed their demos and released Joys and Concerns.
Even more amazing is their commitment to staying apart from the pack. As white kids rap, Stew chooses to write songs that mix humor and sadness -- though his lines can have a wicked edge, rarely will you discern real anger. The Negro Problem's name implies indignation, but Stew never rails against the world at large. His music is a relief; very contemporary, but also a genre-blind throwback to a time when radio wasn't segregated and pop songs stood on their own, apart from pop stars. Stew's lack of rage springs partly from his obsession with artfulness, and partly from his suspicion that most rock these days is merely commerce masquerading as passion.
"We were old when TNP started," he points out, "but we're even older now. I'm not so interested in anybody's angst anymore, unless it's really, really great. Half-assed angst, I'm not into it. Rage Against the Machine -- I'm sorry, I'm not feeling the fact that you're on Sony Records, you're all millionaires, and you're screaming about things. I'm not gettin' that."