Written during the 2020 quarantine, 19 Total Feet is rife with witty social commentary and nerdy pop-culture references that will have you laughing your ass off. The album is a perfect showcase of the group’s endearing weirdness and their love for the absurd and ridiculous.
Case in point, in their breakout single, “Fictional Aisle,” the trio sings about a grocery store aisle containing fictional foods such as “dog eggs” and “celery farts,” and features the group repeatedly breaking the fourth wall. They are sharp, witty, and their comedic delivery is on point.
The group’s debut studio album, which was made possible through crowdsourcing, features radio-ready production, the group’s cleanest production to date, and is currently available on most social media and streaming platforms.
The group’s members, Alex Kagy, John MacGregor, and Zack Barker, originally met in Boston, where they were paying their dues in the local comedy scene. They began releasing comedic music videos on YouTube back in 2019, but they didn’t start gaining traction until 2020, when they gained thousands of new fans through their TikTok page.
Soon after, their song “Fictional Aisle” appeared on the final episode of the CBS show The Greatest #AtHome Videos during the “Cedric the Entertainer’s Picks of the Week” segment. This exposure made the track go viral, accumulating more than 270k streams on Spotify and over 237k views on TikTok.
We had an opportunity to sit down with Alex, John, and Zack to discuss their new album, creative process, basketball, showers, and much more.
What do each of you bring to the Tall Boy Special table, and what came first for the group, music or comedy?
John: I would like to say what my bandmates bring to the table! Alex is the one who fully fleshes out our music. He’s the only actual musician. SORRY ZACK. He writes the guitar and bass and horn and synth stuff, either on his own or sitting with us as we go, “what if it sounds like this, what if you go up here or make it faster.” He’s the one that knows all about music and knows like, chords and progressions and all that other crap and basically makes everything sound amazing and coherent. He’s also deeply knowledgeable about music and bands and the industry in general, so he recommends a lot of good bands and documentaries and lets us know where some of our ideas are rooted and what kind of stuff we can draw from. Without him, Zack and I would be writing one chord children’s songs. Which we did. It’s called, “Big Boys Know,” and it’ll probably be released very very soon.
Zack is an incredible lyricist and wordsmith. Go check out his Tiktok, “This Man Can’t Play Piano,” just to see how quick and clever this dude is. He keeps our stuff moving, keeps it quick and sharp. When we all get drunk and freestyle, Zack will do like 10 bars without pause, all funnier than the last one. He also makes sure we stay keeping our stuff funny. Sometimes Alex and I will get too deep into a concept or a point of view and Zack will always make sure to reign it in and add jokes and remind us to stay silly. He’s also the best singer out of all of us. SORRY ALEX. And is a musical theatre master who did all the plays and can belt a ballad like nobody’s business. Some day we will release his song “Cream of Coconut” where he sings from the point of view of a can of cream of coconut. It’s absolutely incredible!
John is a gifted story teller and all around hilarious man! Something I think that makes our songs stand out from the rest is that they aren’t just a relatable experience that everyone shares, they’re stories that have beginnings, middles and ends. We want to take you on a journey that feels like a short story or an episode of television (hey wouldn’t that be neat!) and most importantly, we want to keep you guessing on what will happen next! The more abstract an idea the better, and John always brings hilarious and brilliant ideas to the table.
I see where your song, “Fictional Aisle,” went viral and was featured on The Greatest #AtHome Videos show. What was that experience like, and would you consider that the group’s pinnacle moment thus far?
John: I remember I had COVID when it aired. That’s all I remember about that. I filmed it on my phone and sent it to my family. They didn’t respond. I’m serious. They’ve never once brought it up.
Zack: It was definitely a cool moment, but I wouldn’t say it was the pinnacle moment. Personally I think the response to our music after “Fictional Aisle” popped off was that moment. The internet can be a nasty place, and we were met with nothing but kind words and a new fan base that are honestly the best a band could ask for.
Alex: It was cool watching that show for the first time having no idea what the format would be. We watched the whole thing because our clip was at the end. Smooth move CBS!
I was hoping you could talk about your new album, 19 Total Feet. Is that the group’s combined height? If so, was a future in basketball ever in the cards?
John: Yeah, we explain the title in “Blank White Poster.” I think I’m the only one who played basketball. Corono/Norco NJB!!! I would go play basketball all the time when we all lived near each other. Alex went a few times. He’s pretty good. Zack NEVER went. EVER. He was always scared, but he’d make an excuse like, “oh I gotta shower in three hours, so I better hang back.” Truth is he was scared!!
Zack: Its true. I’m 28 years old and don’t know the rules to basketball and I’m too embarrassed to learn in public. Also I gotta take a shower in three hours!!!
Alex: I played some pick-up basketball in high school. Did anyone talk about the Zack 3-hour shower excuse?
“I think. I’m not quite sure. We were all pretty high on acid mushrooms while writing this, so i could be completely off base.”
So obviously these tracks are quite different from your everyday singer-songwriter songs. What’s the group’s songwriting process like, and are psychedelics ever involved?
Our songwriting process for this album was slightly different since we live on opposite coasts at the moment. But we would meet three times a week.
The first meeting we would lock down an idea, and make a little Google Doc for that song, and spitball ideas and write down every single one in the doc. Whether they were fully fleshed out lyrics, or just a small thing that could be funny. We also might lock down how the song is going to sound. The next day, we would start to build the progression of the song. Maybe Alex would have music to it. Or we would just start to write choruses and verses blindly with maybe like a vague melody in place. We would hopefully get most of the song written on this day.
The third day we would get the full idea locked in. These are the beats to the song, this is how it starts and ends. Sometimes we would have music at this stage, other times we just had all the lyrics. Then we would put it aside and the next week we would write another one using the same format. We were always prepared to abandon a song at the end of the week if it wasn’t up to snuff. We didn’t want to just have a song on the album for the sake of filling out tracks. That only happened a couple times though.
The third track, “L Shaped Limo,” seems to be something of a standout track on the album. What’s the story behind how this song came to life?
John: We have a shared Google Doc where we just put in any idea we might have. Throughout the day you walk around and if something strikes, just put it in the Doc. So on our first meeting of the week we would go through the new ideas. One of the first ideas on the list was “L Shaped Limo”. Alex came up with that! We came up with the chorus immediately. We wanted it to be like tribal kind of drums, sort of Cake-esque. Then the rest is just painting the picture of this limo. So we go through like, “Where are the doors?” “How are the wheels positioned?” “Where do we take it?” etc. etc.
There was actually a moment where we were planning on taking the “L Shaped Limo” to our karate tournament, and also to a ceremony where we accept the Nobel Peace Prize. And we realize in the limo that we can’t win both awards… something like that. And we were going to have Ghandi present us with the Nobel Peace Prize. We ended up scraping that and just keeping Gandhi in the final song as the guy who gifted us the limo.
I think. I’m not sure. We were all pretty high on acid mushrooms while writing this, so I could be completely off base.
Zack: Everything John said is true except the drugs. People just seem to think we have to take drugs in order to write these songs but it’s actually pretty easy to be silly and weird when you’re with your buddies! Though we did have a few drinks.
Alex: It should also be noted that this song was written the fastest of any on the album. We locked in the idea and wrote the jokes all in one sitting. Often the best pieces of work kind of write themselves!
Do you actually know a lot of Donnas?
John: I don’t know a single Donna. Truly. The story of how that song came to life is funny! I’ll let someone else tell it though!
Zack: The Donnas’ story is kind of an inside joke but it’s a really funny one. I’ll let someone else explain.
Alex: Yeah, the Donnas’ story is out of this world. Seems like it was pretty well covered in the answers above.
Is there a rhyme or reason to the order of the songs on the album, and how important is that to you?
YES! WE THOUGHT ABOUT IT FOR SO LONG!! There was a whole day dedicated to this!! We even did a thing where we all wrote down what we thought the order should be and if two of us wrote a song in the same position it was LOCKED IN.
But we eventually scrapped that and just talked for hours about the placement. We ended up reverting back to our days at Improv Asylum where we would make running orders for shows: What do you open with? What do you close the first act with? What do you close the show with? Where do we need little spikes of energy, where can we slow things down? Do songs have similar themes or references and do we need to space those out?
We knew we would open with “Fictional Aisle” after an intro because it’s sort of our “origin” story. And we knew we would end with “Feather Jacket” and “Hibachi” because they’re both pretty wild concepts. Everything else in the middle was like a fun little puzzle. Interestingly enough, after all that work, we realized that Zack had written the order down right away and we just didn’t listen to him.
What do you hope listeners think, feel, or do after they listen to the entirety of 19 Total Feet?
We hope they just feel better than they did before listening! Someone wrote, “I desperately want to live in the worlds these guys create.” And that’s sort of our North Star: just make silly silly things that people can dive headfirst into.
We hope people are inspired to tell their own silly stories to the world in whatever medium they prefer. The album is a little bit about escapism, let’s keep it going!
Do you plan on taking these songs on the road?
YES! We can’t wait because the live shows are going to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen!
Does Tall Boy Special have the wheels in motion for 2022?
2022 isn’t for another five years or so.