Published Jan 26, 2021When the pandemic hit, you could have forgiven Sam Bielanski and Matty Morand for drowning their sorrows in television, as so many of us did.
The Toronto-based musicians, who record music as PONY and Pretty Matty, respectively, were on tour in the United States last March when the lockdowns began all over North America, and were forced to abandon their journey early.
Before the pandemic, watching copious amounts of TV had been a common pastime for the pair. "In the old world, it seemed like we watched a lot of TV, maybe bordering on an unhealthy amount," recalls Morand to Exclaim! "We were also both working full-time jobs in addition to practicing, recording and touring with both bands, so TV was our escape. It's hard to want to do anything when you're spread out like that." Adds Bielanski, "Before lockdown, I would watch TV every night and try to squeeze as much as I could into my one day off a week."
But instead of joining the millions of other Canadians devoting their newfound free time to the small screen, the pair decided to channel their love of television into their music instead by way of the 2 Much TV podcast, which they launched last April. Each instalment finds the pair discussing a different episode from The Ringer's list of "The 100 Best TV Episodes of the Century." During each recording, Bielanski and Morand showcase new original songs inspired by the TV show. So far, they've written and recorded 37 new songs each (including one collaborative track for their special episode on the first two seasons of American Horror Story).
According to Bielanski, the songwriting challenge has "been a pretty big game changer for me. I feel like I have become very efficient in the way I write and I also feel like I have learned to be way less hard on myself." Morand agrees, saying, "Some weeks, it just comes naturally. It all comes together easily and I feel like an absolute brain-genius. Most of the time, it's the weekend before [recording] the episode and I'm in my practice space like, 'What did I get myself into?'"
You can hear the results in the music. The Ringer's list is impressive in its scope, including prestige dramas (Mad Men, The Sopranos), network classics (Grey's Anatomy, The Good Place), reality TV (Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Laguna Beach, Jackass), dark comedies (Atlanta, Curb Your Enthusiasm), game shows (Survivor, Jeopardy!), and even an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants for good measure. It helps keep Morand's and Bielanski's songs varied, whether channelling True Detective's wordy nihilism into '80s new wave or dismantling The Price Is Right's capitalist idealization by way of Drive-By Truckers alt-country.
The songs of 2 Much TV feature plenty of Easter eggs for fans of the respective TV shows, but also help to crack open the mysteries of songwriting, with the podcast laying bare the inspirations. The podcast has also featured guests, most of whom join in on the songwriting fun and add new perspectives to songwriting practice, like Lisa Prank's pop-punk tune about Glee's pregnancy scare storyline or Poolblood's singer-songwriter take on The Eric Andre Show that, invoking the show's absurdist spirit, devolves into a noisy squall of guitars.
According to Morand, the songwriting experiment hasn't just been helping the podcast hosts — listeners have been inspired, too. "A couple of months ago, a listener named Jordan Stowell hit us up to say that he was motivated by the pod to write more than he had in years and had just self-released a new single, which I think is the coolest imaginable outcome." They add, "From the start, the podcast existed as a way to hold ourselves accountable to writing new music. In that sense, every week we're accomplishing that goal, but the best-case scenario to me is that people listen to the show and feel empowered to write and record music."
Both Bielanski and Morand lead busy lives, even during the pandemic — PONY's debut album, the fittingly titled TV Baby, is set for release on April 9 via Take This to Heart Records, while Pretty Matty just finished recording their new album. Additionally, Morand has been making skate videos and releasing hardcore music as PM, and Bielanski sells homemade clothing accessories via their online store, Studio Sambi. They credit 2 Much TV for helping them stay focused on their work while allowing them the space to experiment and fine-tune their craft.
Says Morand, "I think the biggest influence that the pod has had on my songwriting was just to make me feel okay with writing something that sucks. In the past, any time I've had 'writer's block' has been because I'm in a negative headspace where I'm trying to write something I like, and when it doesn't work right away, it makes my skin crawl with embarrassment. Writing a song on a deadline every week, you become desensitized to that kind of embarrassment."
Adds Bielanski, "My experiences writing and putting out music in the past have not always been very healthy or positive. I think having bad experiences in the industry made songwriting feel so heavy and the stakes always felt so high. This has really reinvigorated my love for songwriting and also taught me that every song doesn't have to be a 'commercial success.' You can write a song about SpongeBob SquarePants and it can be good and it can be just for you."
Listen to 2 Much TV on Soundcloud and learn more on Patreon.