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Little Fyodor and Babushka Are Experimental-Music Legends

“I’ve had people tell me my music is too silly, and other people have said I’m a terminal bummer,” says the musician known as Little Fyodor. “To me it’s a mixture of both. Oscar Wilde once said, ‘Give a man a mask, and he’ll tell you the truth.’ I think it’s easier to go further into the dark side of things if you’re doing it with humor. Otherwise it gets too dreary and painful.”

Fyodor has been an important figure in the American experimental-music world since the early ’80s, when he moved from the East Coast to Colorado and became part of the band Walls of Genius. By the middle of the decade, he had developed a solo project, and by the late ’80s, Fyodor had connected with an artist named Babushka. Performing as Little Fyodor & Babushka, the two began to develop a cult following, including two future members of the Apples in Stereo, Jim McIntire and Hilary Sidney.

That band went on to become one of Denver’s best-known musical exports. And its members co-founded the influential Elephant 6 collective, which put out its first album as a record label in 1994: Dance of the Salted Slug, by Little Fyodor & Babushka.

Since then, Fyodor has firmly established himself as not just one of the strangest and most interesting performers anywhere, but also as a pop songwriter par excellence. The Little Fyodor & Babushka band has since added bassist Amadeus Tonguefingers, and drummer Tricky Dick Wikkit joined in the early 2000s. The group has come to perfectly embody the spirit of punk, with an irreverent sense of humor, dark songs about personal turmoil and frenetic energy to burn.

The foursome’s latest record — its first since 2009’s mind-twisting Peace Is Boring — is the first release featuring songwriting from Tonguefingers. The seven-inch, called Truly Rejected, is eighteen minutes long and should be played loudly for the full effect. Roughly half the songs are covers, but the band renders them nearly unrecognizable. For a take on the Beatles’ “I’m Down,” Fyodor modified the lyrics to reflect an awkward conversation he once had about Tim Tebow.

“McCartney had some stupid line about a woman that wouldn’t make out with him, and I figured he was just making that shit up,” says Fyodor. “I couldn’t relate to that, so I came up with my own verse, inspired by my social ineptitude.”

The original line was, “We’re all alone and there’s nobody else/You still moan, ‘Keep your hands to yourself!’”

“McCartney was probably eleven since he last heard something like that,” says Fyodor. Instead, he sings, “We can’t relate because you think I’m a nerd/I vomit on every word.”

Fyodor has made a career out of mining psychic angst for his art. “Most of my songs are inspired by working out difficulties in my life,” he says. “Some people might think I’m a loser or that I’m not as bad as my songs are. Who knows? That’s for other people to judge. When things are fucked up and I have doubts, and I’m trying to figure out what my life is about, that tension inspires me to philosophize about it. That sometimes turns into songs.

"Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who is my namesake, once said that suffering is the root of all consciousness. When things are going okay, you don’t have to think about it so much."
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.

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