The Best Thing Ever: Interview
The other thing about bathrooms is they have really good acoustics
Thing Ever is Noah (vocals), Jen (cello), and Alex (guitar). In May, they
embarked on a tour of New England bathrooms that took them from the restroom of
a Mexican restaurant in Maine to the public toilets at Revere Beach. I met with
Noah recently in the bathroom (where else?) of his apartment in Boston to talk
about flushing toilets for percussion, waiting for people to shit between songs,
and getting cited with a noise violation for playing "Ring My Bell" in a BU dorm
men's room. We were joined via cell phone by Jen, and together, she and Noah
told me about all the unique benefits and challenges of bathroom touring.
A little bit of background information: Noah sings sort of like Calvin Johnson
and has Asperger's syndrome. Jen was in a car with her entire family driving
through Cleveland, Ohio during the interview. Alex remains somewhat of a mystery
to me. This was my first time using my new cassette recorder.
Noah: Come on in. I'm cleaning my bathroom, is that okay?
Yeah, that's okay. But I have to pee.
Noah: Well, I just cleaned the toilet. It should be okay to use. Go ahead.
[Noah steps out and lets me use the bathroom.]
Why is my battery light on?
Noah: That means it's recording. Hey, you should call Jen.
[We call Jen on Noah's cell phone, and she participates in the interview via
Does your sock say "cunt" on it?
Noah: Yeah, one of them says "cunt" and the other one says –
Noah: No, "shit." But they're my favorite. Jen made these socks for me. Thanks,
Jen! Yeah, I had to clean my bathroom anyway, so I figured now was a good time.
I've never cleaned my bathroom; I'm just going to move out.
Noah: That's a good solution.
So, you really like Beat Happening.
Noah: Yeah! Calvin and I did a duet like two years ago, at What-The-Heck Fest. I
played a solo set, and during the set, I was like, "Hey Calvin, will you do ‘Ode
to Saint Valentine' with me?" And he was like, "Okay," and he came up and I did
his part and he did Mirah's part.
How has Beat Happening inspired your stuff?
Noah: Well, I think Calvin Johnson's autistic, too. Seriously, like, I think he
has Asperger's syndrome, and I think he's like 45 so he's dealt with it really
well, but he does all this shit that I do naturally, so we have that in common.
So, I'm like, "This guys real good, he's like, what I want to do." He reminds me
of what comes naturally to me. Plus, he's the fucking best entertainer of all
I've never seen him, which is stupid.
Noah: Sucks. Yeah, he's the funniest guy.
So, tell me about the Facebook show.
Jen: So, basically, we were looking for somebody whose room we could have a show
in. So we picked this guy. And we looked up his favorite bands on Facebook. And
we learned songs by all his favorite bands. It took us four hours, because we
had to arrange them and learn how to sing and play them. And then we showed up
at his apartment, and said that Carl booked us, and his roommate answered the
door, and he really didn't believe us, that we were scheduled to play a show
there, so we took off our coats, and showed her the back of our t-shirts
[commemorative tour t-shirts, which listed dates and venues, including the guy's
apartment], and he still didn't believe us, and then we knocked again, and he
answered the door, and he said that we needed to leave the building, and pointed
towards the exit, and then – what did he say, Noah? I can't say it, because I'm
in the car with my relatives and it's a not-nice word.
Noah: He said "Go fuck yourselves."
Oh. We always won. We always won, because
we were the best thing ever. So, they couldn't take that away from us. - Noah
Oh. We always won. We always won, because
So what were this kid's favorite bands?
Noah: Pink Floyd, Frank Sinatra,
Notorious B.I.G. Who else was it, Jen?
Jen: Did we do that Stone Temple Pilots song?
Noah: Oh yeah, "Creep."
[Jen and Noah begin singing.]
Jen: My grandma's holding her head and groaning. I'm in the car with my family,
in Cleveland, Ohio.
The way I would describe your Facebook show is "terrorist, in a really good
way." Does that sound accurate?
Jen: I've never thought about our songs being terrorist.
Well, in the Phoenix
article, they used the word "ambushing."
Noah: We did ambush people, but in more of, like, a paintball way.
Come on, you hijacked peoples' apartments.
Noah: No! We only went in with permission. We never broke in. We would knock on
doors, and if they let us in, cool, and if not, we left.
Jen: I have several words to describe us: consensual glam bombing.
Noah: Glamour bombing, yeah.
Jen: The word "consensual" before glamour bombing, though, that's important.
Noah: We did break in to businesses, though.
So, you enjoyed being met with resistance, but only when it came to corporations
and not individuals?
Noah: I think we enjoyed being met with resistance all the time. It was
entertaining, it was too bad that we couldn't play, but it was entertaining.
Jen: Yeah, it was too bad. It was their loss, though.
Did you ever feel like you got in, and it was too easy to play, and it would've
been more fun, or something was lacking because there wasn't more resistance?
Noah: Yeah, at the Prudential show.
How was that?
Noah: We only got to do, like, two minutes, because people kept on coming in the
bathroom and there were only two stalls, so that was shitty, but –
Wait, you wouldn't play while people were in the bathroom?
Noah: Well, people needed to use the stalls, and so we didn't want to get in the
way while they had to shit. So the show ended up being really short. Jen and
Alex were in one stall, and the camera man was in the other stall, and I was at
the urinal, peeing, and then I would start singing, and then their instruments
would start after I started singing, but every time someone had to use a stall,
we had to stop, because we didn't want to hold people up when they had to shit.
But yeah, the Prudential show was disappointing because we didn't get to do what
we had planned. We did meet with a little resistance, but it wasn't the awesome,
dangerous thing that we'd planned.
Jen: But we didn't get arrested, which was important.
Did you ever get arrested?
Noah: No. It was a possibility. How many times did they call the cops on us,
Jen: Well, the gas station, for sure.
Noah: The guy at Revere Beach.
Where did you play at Revere Beach?
Noah: The men's room. At the beach. We were playing, and the guy walks in, and
he was like, "You can't have a girl in the men's room.
Wait, that was the problem?
Noah: Yeah. And they didn't mind the camera or anything.
I have several words to describe us: consensual
glam bombing. - Jen
Right, so guys could play music in the guys'
room, but women had to play music in the women's room.
Noah: Yeah, so Jen was like "I'm
transgender," and he was like "Tell it to the cops." So I have the feeling that
he called the cops, or was going to, so then we went out into nature's toilet,
and played in the ocean. We were gonna do, like, half an hour of just "Wipeout."
Tell me about Play Every Party in Allston night. What I really liked was the
quote from the Phoenix interview that
was like "We're telling people we're playing in their home and seeing if they
realize they have the right not to let us."
Noah: Yeah, that's Stanley Milgram. He did this thing, where they made
people think they were gonna kill somebody, that psychology experiment where if
the subject fucks up, you have to shock the guy, so it's like "Shock him!" It
was a question of personal responsibility. So it was like, we're gonna come in,
and see if they realize they have the right to say no, or if they're like, oh,
this has been set up, it's out of my hands.
So you were inspired more by psychology than by performance art.
Noah: The two are kind of the same.
Are there any performance artists that you're into?
Noah: No! Well, yeah. Khaela Maricich.
The girl from the Blow.
Do you know Sophie Calle?
Noah: No, who is she?
She's this French woman who wants to make everything better. She beautifies pay
phone booths and follows strangers to other countries, things like that.
Noah: You should look at my ceiling!
Oh, it says "Make it better!"
Noah: That's what I look at every morning. Because for a while I got really
depressed and bored.
Noah: And it says "Be alive!" by my computer.
Jen, are you there?
Jen: Yeah. I'm trying to listen. I'm in the car, and
my grandma is making sarcastic remarks about everything I say over the phone.
Can you put your grandma on?
Jen's Grandma: We're at our destination now. So we'd like to have Jennifer join
Jen: She wasn't supposed to say that. She was supposed to say something funny,
and not rude.
Did it feel like winning when you were allowed to play?
Noah: Oh. We always won. We always won, because we were the best thing ever. So,
they couldn't take that away from us. But, on top of that, we got to play every
time. Like, there was this one time where we were like, "Hey, we're playing at
your apartment," and this guy was like, "No you're not," and we were like, "Yeah
we are, we've got this show," and he was like, "No you don't, get the fuck out
of here." Yeah, yeah, yeah, this lawyer in Allston. He was like, "We're lawyers,
get out." And Jen was like, "You know what? You're mean." And it was such a good
Jen: It was the best comeback of my life.
How did you know it was time to end a show, when you were playing?
Noah: You kind of just know. Or else you run out of songs.
Jen: Yeah, I would say, well, usually Noah doesn't know. So usually, Alex and I
just have a pretty good sense of when people are getting tired of us playing, so
usually we make eye contact, and then we make motions, to try and get Noah
going. But usually, yeah, Noah has a terrible sense of when we should stop.
Noah: It's because you're concerned with what the audience is doing, and I'm not
at all. That's sort of true.
How did you get the name The Best Thing Ever?
Noah: Me and [former bandmate] Emily Brodsky were
driving to our first show a few years ago, and Nikki Karam was driving us, and
we were like, "Yeah, we're gonna sing today." And Nikki was like, "Really, you
two sing? That sounds like the best thing ever." And I was like, "That's what
we're gonna call the band." And Emily's like, "Okay!" And Jen fell in love with
the name, too, and it was wicked pressure, because we always had to…
Live up to that?
Noah: Yeah, and I was going crazy, because every show had to be better than the
last one, and like, we had to make sure that nothing was better, and so I'm
constantly checking for stuff that's better, and we always won, but then we
stopped for a while, because we couldn't have any ideas that were better than
our last show was, which was February, 2004, and then we thought of the bathroom
tour, and I was like, what should we call this?
How'd you think of the bathroom tour?
Noah: We were like, where can you go where people can't leave, where there's a
built-in audience, and so, well, first we were gonna be in this band that was
gonna play in lounges…
You mean, like dorm lounges?
Noah: No no no, like jazz lounges. And then…
I don't think I've ever been to a lounge…
Jen: Exactly. None exist.
Noah: That was the problem. So then we were like, we need to go around
somewhere. We need to go to apartments, and say we're playing a show here. And
then the bathroom idea was like, there's a built-in crowd, you can't leave, you
have to watch, because you're using the bathroom.
I don't understand. So if someone walked in while you were playing, would they
have to be like, "Hey guys, I really have to pee?"
Noah: Well, we only played in men's
rooms, and guys don't really care.
It's a freshman dorm. We did, like, 14 bathrooms before we got kicked out. We
played on every floor. So then finally I was like, I'm getting bored, let's get
kicked out. "Jen, sing ‘Ring my Bell.'" So she sang really loud and I flushed
the toilets. -Noah
You only played in men's rooms? Why?
Noah: Because there's a double standard. Because if there's two guys with a
camera in a women's room, we were concerned. . . . Yeah, so we only played men's
rooms. We had guys pee during our sets. Guys will pee in front of women. It's
not a big deal. The other thing about bathrooms is that they have really good
acoustics, so whenever we played, I sounded a lot better in a bathroom than I
would just otherwise.
Well, I've only heard you in a bathroom.
Noah: The acoustics were really nice in there, and Jen's cello sounded amazing
in the bathroom. Occasionally, we got people following us around from one
bathroom to another.
show list online complete?
Noah: There's a couple shows that we didn't list. When we went to Portland,
Maine, first we did the record store, Strange Maine Records. Then we left and
went to this taco place, and we did "Amazing Grace" in their bathroom, and then
they gave us chips for free. And then we found out that there was gonna be a
Harry and the Potters and Jason Anderson show at the library around the corner
in half an hour, and we were like, shit, we need to open for them. So we went
down there and played in the bathroom at the library. And then we invited Jason
Anderson, who I've known for a long time, and he really liked it, and he brought
in Harry and the Potters, so we did our thing, we got kicked out after two
songs, and then Jason played, and then Harry and the Potters start their set,
and they're like "This song's about how you can't let the man keep you down, and
how you can't have him stop you from playing shows in the bathroom." So that was
really sweet. And then we played in Starbucks, in the Starbucks bathroom, and we
played "Baby, I'm an Anarchist." You know, "throw a brick through that Starbucks
window." We did a total of about 36 shows.
What was going on at Midway Café, when you played there?
Noah: Alex played a solo set.
He was scheduled to play?
Noah: Yeah, he was scheduled to play, and then we played in the bathroom
afterwards, and Jen did all the singing, all night. I just played triangle at
that show. And Jen can't sing. Sing "Ring my Bell," Jen.
[Jen sings "Ring my Bell."]
Noah: That's the song we got kicked out of Warren Towers for playing.
Is that a BU dorm?
Noah: Yeah, it's a freshman dorm. We did, like, 14 bathrooms before we got
kicked out. We played on every floor. So then finally I was like, I'm getting
bored, let's get kicked out. "Jen, sing ‘Ring my Bell.'" So she sang really loud
and I flushed the toilets.
Like for percussion?
Noah: Yeah. It was . . . awful. And a woman came in and she was like, "What are
you doing?" And I said "Hold on, she's almost done!" And she stopped for a
second, and she was like, "Wait, no, I'm the RA, you're all in trouble."
So you got in trouble.
Noah: Yeah, everyone who lived on campus got a letter.
That said what? Don't play shows in the bathroom?
Noah: "Noise violation."
Jen: The letter said: "If you were present during singing our loud banging in
the boys' bathroom on the fifth floor of Warren Towers, you have been cited with
a noise violation. You may have been involved."
Noah: "You may have been involved." That was the important part. I think three
people are on probation for next semester. But Jen graduated. So, we're done.
We're not gonna play anymore shows, ever. Well, maybe in a year and two months.
Jen's moving to South Dakota.
Noah: She's doing Teach for America. So the band's done. I'm playing by myself,
and with Hip Hip Hooray, which is with Kate Ferencz. Oh, one thing that the
Phoenix interview got a little off is that we do write a lot of our own
songs. They said we played all covers. We did play a lot of covers, though. It
What was your favorite cover to play?
Noah: "Hey Ya"!
Jen: You're breaking up, and I can't really hear, so I'm gonna go.
Noah: Oh! You should hear this.
[Puts on a recording of a Beat Happening cover, "The Fall."]
You know, this isn't really even a
good cover, because it sounds exactly like the original.
Noah: No, I know, it was just a song to play. What should we play? Oh, let's
play "The Fall."
You sound exactly like
Noah: Yeah. When I was seventeen, I just sang along to the Magnetic Fields, and
I'm echolalic, so, that was how I learned to sing. And then I stopped listening
to the Magnetic Fields so much. So I can sound like a regular person, too. But I
can sound like Calvin Johnson if I want.
Yeah, I can sound like Calvin Johnson, too.
Noah: Um. I don't think anyone would ever mistake you for Calvin Johnson.
If you're curious about what it might've been like to walk into a bathroom
and come across a concert,
here's a video from the first day of the tour. If that wasn't enough, and
you need more footage of restroom rock (plus interviews and commentary!), you
can order a DVD documentary about the bathroom tour from the band's website.