Misery, Love, Company

Get down with The Model.

When they’re making music, Mark Richardson and John Woods hardly seem half as miserable as they are when they talk about it.

Yet pry into the backstory regarding Richardson’s lyrics, and there’s often a hard, sad catch to them. Like “N/A.” “I was in love with a borderline,” says Richardson about the tune’s state of dire amour. “Do you know what borderline personality disorder is?”Singer/lyricist Richardson and multi-instrumentalists Woods and Jason Buzolits do a sprightly romantic, handily literate brand of electro-pop on their band The Model’s debut, Physical, on Philly’s Playloop label. Think Depeche Mode without the doomy fetishism and Fischerspooner without the sense of failure and you get the zest of giddy Model tracks “What Does It Look like I’m Doing?” and “I Won’t Be Hanging Out Anymore.” Physical‘s finest songs are theatrical, sarcastic, philosophical and zealous. They are as much man as they are machine.

Or “Success.” “It’s a PSA for those of us who are never satisfied,” claims Richardson.

Or “Immigrant.” “The music came from a song I recorded in 1997, from my Run-DMC years. I don’t think I was having any sex while I recorded the vocals for the record, this song in particular.”

Woods’ stories of how The Model found its debonair pose are equally forlorn.

 “The way I remember it is this: I made a CD, Attacktion, inspired by Patrick Cowley and other early Hi-NRG artists popular amongst gay crowds around the turn of the ’80s. Markie got a hold of a copy through a friend, enjoyed it and sought me out to remix songs for him. And it did not go well.”

Woods didn’t initially go for Richardson’s Model tunes — they were “too easy to compartmentalize into the ‘retro’ category, with something a little too raw and simple about them.” Next thing Woods knew, he got roped into producing and mixingPhysical on a massive old analog console with knobs the size of minidoughnuts, with layer upon layer of electronic bass, orchestras of synths and tambourine. “Lots of tambourine,” says Woods. And though he retreats to the mad and the moody when discussing Physical (“The mixing process was a nightmare. There are mistakes all over it”) and becoming a Model (“I hate bands and swore I’d never play in one again”), Woods comes clean. “It’s the best nightmare I ever had.”

Richardson too takes some convincing when it comes to finding joy in the process. Before The Model, the Jersey native was in Crystal Skulls. Richardson had just returned from playing keyboards and singing with Christian Wargo (now in Fleet Foxes) in 2006, emotionally and physically battered. But he still wanted something more from music. “I hated touring, and became suicidal — the sticky van seats in summer, the 4 a.m. check-in and 9 a.m. checkouts, the Midori and Sprite every night and candy from Taco Bell at some truck stop in North Dakota. Actually I just hated playing in someone else’s band.” 

Richardson started writing Physical while running his parents’ ’50s-style beach motel in Wildwood and only barely looked back. “Hey, it’s out of that milieu that the lightness and schizophrenia of Physical came through.”