Write a quick, silly song about the L train. Get one of your leggy, beautiful model friends to hair-flip, lipstick lick, and prance around in a leather jacket for the music video. Serendipitously meet Michael Cera in an elevator and film him too. The goal: Capture a cultural moment, hyperbolize and emboss in ‘80s synth tones. Also, attempt an abstract artistic statement by deconstructing social behavior. Release to the internet, sit back and wait for negativity from the trolls.
That seems to sum up Zak Mering and Tyler Thacker’s creative process behind “L Train Girl,” a single off their upcoming EP. Mering and Thacker (collectively known as Greatest Hits) release Girl Crazy on May 30 with Maman Records, but last week unleashed their music video via Altered Zones. Some people have called it tasteless—another commenter called it a “mockery of Brooklyn.” But the two 26 year-olds are quick to emphasize that they come from conceptual art backgrounds influenced by Dadaism and Fluxus, and as such they welcome any reaction to “L Train Girl,” even if that reaction is shock and distaste.
Greatest Hits are, by their own admission, the first to call “L Train Girl” exploitative. For this reason, they aren’t surprised by many of the negative reactions they’ve received. “I think there’s definitely a lot of territorialism,” Thacker says, reclining, legs crossed, at a hole-in-the-wall Bushwick café. In his long navy wool overcoat, coke-bottle frames, chipped green nail polish and a clavicle-area tattoo of a dagger pointing at his throat, Thacker looks a bit like a deranged Orientalist medium. “And to make an exploitive song about women on the L train, for someone who’s stuck up about their fantasy bohemia in a certain area, hits a little close to home. But we are exploiting that.” Thacker even thinks some of the more biting comments could make good song lyrics.
Mering, who is wearing a bandana and moving a cup of coffee languidly and slowly to meet his lips, keeps his sunglasses on throughout the interview.
He moved to New York two years ago from Los Angeles, and Thacker just last year. They’re signed to Maman Records, a Parisian label that they met and mostly communicate with (oftentimes with significant linguistic obstacles) through Facebook chat. While Greatest Hits may not be “serious” in the way one might typically think of a Brooklyn band trying to make it, Thacker and Mering are seriously dedicated to playing caricatures of themselves. It’s something they call “psychological roleplay,” and they think it’ll be a while before people catch onto the elaborate art-prank/social commentary. While “L Train Girl” was written in part to help Thacker and Mering memorize the order of the stops (“Bedford! Lorimer! Graham! Grand!” goes a chorus), it was also created to poke fun at missed-connection train behavior.
“It’s kind of like a middle school dance,” Thacker says. “You can notice people who you would expect to be attracted to each other enter the same car and specifically sit on the other side of the train.”
Thacker also explains that an L train girl is stereotypically a “skinny, Western-hot” Manhattanite seeking out a “neo-bohemia.” So Greatest Hits sought out a mutual friend, a professional model, for the starring role. “It was important to get someone who could play a cartoon version of what we were plainly talking about,” Thacker said. Later, he says the critique is “a class thing.”
Thacker used samples of closing doors for snare beats and remixed recordings of the MTA announcer voice. And Michael Cera just happened to get caught in an elevator with the band the day they were filming. For Greatest Hits, Cera was just another opportunity to use relatable, hopefully reactionary pop iconography in the video.
But, just as an experiment, let’s take “L Train Girl” at face value. How would Greatest Hits successfully pick up someone on the L train?
Thacker says it has to be a romantic moment, like when the lights on the train start to flicker. But Mering, who has been somewhat subdued up until now, the Teller to Thacker’s Penn, perks up excitedly.
“What you have to do is this,” Mering says, sitting up straight and placing the sides of his palms stiffly on the table. “You go into a car adjacent to a car that has the girl that you’re interested in. And then you wait until the train’s going and then you go through the doors—you make an entrance—and you’re like, ‘Yo, I risked my life to find you,’ you know what I mean? Like, ‘I could have died walking through this car.’”
Mering continues. “Any time someone comes walking into a subway car you’re always intimidated by them, or you’re like, ‘Who is this person? Why did they do that when there’s really no need to do that?’ And there really is no need to do that, except to impress the girl you’re trying to talk to.” Mering says it’s worked every time.
Well, there you have it: How to pick up L train girls from your friendly neighborhood conceptual artists, Greatest Hits. Just be careful of the closing doors, please. Oh, and sexual harassment.
Greatest Hits are moving to Paris and touring Europe beginning in June. They have not yet ruled out the possibility of writing a song about Metro girls.