Chicago has known Mike Lust for decades as a powerful figure on both sides of the microphone. To speak of his time as frontman for Tight Phantomz is to speak of a rock and roll apparition bursting with charismatic song-craft. The group’s epic, 36-track double album, Silk Prison, is the reach of imagination meeting the grasp of talent, a special wonderment with songs that reached millions through appearances in both film and television (Including the hit series Breaking Bad). As a complement to this inventory of bonafide bonafides, we look to Lust’s reputation as an experienced force in the recording studio. In addition to being the sound engineer for The AV Club’s A.V. Undercover series, he’s also produced or engineered albums by Urge Overkill, William Elliott Whitmore, Joan of Arc, and Russian Circles, to name just a few.
(Photo Credit: Ryan Bardsley)
Making a record under his own name for the first time gave Tight Phantomz frontman and producer/engineer Mike Lust an opportunity for total musical freedom, and the resulting album — Demented Wings — takes full advantage, jumping around genres and styles while still maintaining his distinct voice. Recorded largely during the pandemic and after a tough time in his life—the deaths of his brother and a close Chicago friend, as well as the end of a relationship — it reflects a certain darkness but also a sense of hope. “The first couple months were really jarring,” he says, “but at the same time it gave me the freedom to make music my job. I could wake up, make a pot of coffee, and go make music. I wouldn’t have to worry about breaking down at five o’clock to go bartend at Thalia, or pack up my gear to go record someone else.” Here, Lust walks us through every song on the album, which we’re premiering here exclusively. Vinyl can be found via Forge Again.
—Josh Modell, Talkhouse Executive Editor
That’s actually the last song I wrote for the record, around early May of last year, just as the pandemic was getting into full swing. I had lost a housemate — Christen, aka Carbomb — she was living below me when she passed away. And then in early May I went through a breakup. It was a pretty dark period. I went and recorded that whole song in one night, and what I was going through was reflected in that dark riff — people call it a Killing Joke riff, that distorted bass line. That was done in one night, and it was a pure reflection of a feeling like, “Holy shit, this pandemic is really going to be something. I just lost a friend, I just lost a partner.” Maybe making that song made me realize that I had an album. Instead of being unmotivated, I realized I had to turn it into something. I couldn’t come out of this thing with nothing to show for it. I decided I was going to go through all the stuff I had recorded in the past couple of months, and things I had from years back, and I was going to try to find a story arc. I guess I’m calling it a “dark pop” record, and that song sets the tone. It’s probably the darkest song on the record. Once I had the first song on the record, I knew I could start trying to make something with all the other music I had recorded.
“Somewhere to Run”
This is probably the most overtly electronic song on the album. I went up to the studio one night and started playing around with one of those Yamaha drum machines that have four pads on it. I got it for Christmas when I was a kid. I started running one of those cheesy beats through a myriad of guitar pedals. A couple months later I was in a recording session with my buddy Noah Leger, and that session ended abruptly and we had some time left, so I said, “Can you put some drums on this electronic song?” He heard the song once and played over that electronic beat in one or two takes and the song was finished. I don’t really know what it’s about.
That’s the first single, written the first week of the pandemic. I was out on a mobile recording session the night before everything got called off, so my equipment was in my living room. I figured if we were going to be quarantined at home, I’d set up this equipment. This song was completely a product of watching the Go-Go’s documentary, which is fucking awesome. There’s a part where they talk about writing “Our Lips Are Sealed.” They played the beat to that song and I realized, “God, that’s such a hooky, catchy song, and that four-on-the-floor disco beat takes it to a whole other level.” The song starts off with the raw beat. So I ripped the beat off that song and slowed it down, and wrote “Danceteria” completely to a slowed-down “Our Lips Are Sealed.” My friend Chris from the band Chin Up Chin Up eventually played drums over it so we could strip away the Go-Go’s beat, so I wouldn’t get sued by my favorite girl group of the ‘80s.
I just always liked the name of that club, and the word. Maybe I just labeled the song “Danceteria” because I thought I was making a dance song. The title has nothing to do with the lyrics. They’re just about the disillusionment of not being able to see the people you love. How do you hold it together? I didn’t do very well with all of it. I’m a social guy and I like to drink, so I was just having loud, emotional Zoom calls with people. I think it was driving everyone in my building crazy. In fact I know it was. It was tough. It’s most definitely where those lyrics came from. That’s the story of the video, too. It’s supposed to be my little Twilight Zone episode. Time is suspended, and it takes one guitar solo to bring the world back.
“Distort It, Pony”
That was me trying to make a Velvet Underground song, so it started with that tribal beat, that loop. In trying to make a Velvet Underground song, it became more of a Jesus and Mary Chain song, more and more psychedelic. It just ended up getting heavier, almost like a Black Mountain song. For some reason, when I was recording the song I kept saying “distorted pony,” until someone was like, “You know that’s a band, right?” I just thought it was a cool combination of words, but I must have seen the band name at some point. When it came time to change it, I couldn’t think of anything else, so I just changed it a little bit, to “Distort It, Pony.”
“Lusty vs. Talking Heads”
That’s my eight second hardcore song. It was originally called something else that was a lot more aggressive. One night I was driving to work at Thalia Hall and Talking Heads came on the radio, and I’m like, “I’m just so sick of this band, and I’m sick of everyone talking about this band.” So I wrote this a capella song and documented it on my Instagram Stories, like, “I don’t want to talk about Talking Heads/I never cared about David Byrne.” That was it, just an eight second a capella song that I screamed in the car, and that’s how it appears on the record, basically with just a hardcore drum beat underneath it. I don’t feel that passionate about it, I just thought it was funny. I thought, “I can’t call this song ‘Fuck Talking Heads,’ I don’t really mean that, and I’m not an aggressive person!” So I softened it a little bit.
That song is a direct result of hearing this Brigitte Bardot song called “Contact.” If you listen to that song, you’ll see that I just completely stole the bass line, to the point where in the liner notes of Demented Wings, I felt like I had to acknowledge it. And there’s a jazz flute countermelody in “Centipede” because I love the ‘60s Spider-Man cartoons, with all the swinging jazz. I loved that shit. Someone strung together all the music parts of the episodes on YouTube. It’s sort of a ‘60s homage, and because it is, I really couldn’t think of how to sing over it, so that’s the first instrumental on the album. I tried to think of something to sing over it, but it never came to me. I don’t know if I wanted my debut to have two instrumentals on it, but I came from an instrumental background in Lustre King, so… Also, I listen to mostly Burt Bacharach, so it makes sense that I’d have a couple of ‘60s inspired instrumentals on my album. I’m glad I didn’t ruin it by singing like a Muppet over it.
That’s a title I had forever. Do you know when people put, like, a boast on their windshield? I saw one of those one day that just said “Chrome Intentions,” and I thought it was fucking brilliant and wrote it down. A lot of the titles don’t reflect the lyrics; sometimes I just need something to put on the folder in ProTools and I’ll just look at my song titles notebook. Sometimes that ends up influencing the lyrics, but not in this case. I plugged into a really crappy amp and started playing a riff that sounded like Spoon to me, though I knew it wouldn’t come out sounding like Spoon. That was the first song I wrote for this record. This was before my brother passed, and I had so much fun writing it I wrote a couple more right after that. The lyrics are about a kid who has an obsession with a classmate. She’s a little more advanced than your typical Harry Potter fan — she likes Dracula. So the kid asks his father if he can dress as Dracula to go to school and his dad says no. And that’s pretty much the whole thing! I don’t know what inspired me to write a song about elementary school love, but I did. It’s that awkward obsession that we’ve all had. But yeah, the title phrase is so confusing — like does he intend to put more chrome on the car?
This was originally written years ago, potentially as a Tight Phantomz song. I recorded it with an Omnichord completely, except for the clean guitar. For obvious reasons, the final product didn’t really work in any Tight Phantomz context. The lyrics are kind of my “Don’t You Want Me” — working as a waitress in a cocktail bar thing. A bar patron developing an obsession with his bartender and going back time after time until she’ll date him. It’s the oldest song on the record. Depending on what day you catch me, it could be my favorite song on the record. It’s kind of my version of Jarvis Cocker.
“Sunday Night Instrumental”
That’s a pretty obvious title for the song. I’ve always been a fan of the big baritone guitar, that “Desert Highway” or Calexico or Glen Campbell guitar, and that’s the hook of that song. I didn’t want anything to distract from that. There’s one underlying drone under that whole song that if you live in Logan Square you’ll know: It’s just these train wheels that scrape in the middle of the night. By my house where I lived for 19 years, there’s a freight train track, and trains would just crawl and make this beautiful sound. You can hear it during the day, but it doesn’t have the same effect it does at night. It’s like hearing a highway in the distance, it’s so awesome. That’s the emulsion that ties that whole song together.
“All We Could Do”
I kinda wanted to write a song where the bass line was the main hook. Man, I don’t want to say Ned’s Atomic Dustbin at all, but when it was the God Fodder anniversary, I really went down a wormhole with it, what a great record. But I wanted to write a song where the bass really anchored it. A better example might be the Cure — that was sort of my Cure song. But it really came out so lo-fi, because my friend Stephen stopped in to practice for a Pinebender show, and he was going to play drums for the first time in years. There was just a vocal mic hanging in the room when he was practicing. That drum track is just an SM58 recording him practicing. I wrote the song around his practice beats. I just put a little Cure bass line around those and stole the vocal melody from “Pictures of You.” And that’s kind of it!
(Photo Credit: left, Ryan Bardsley)