Broken hearted kids and kiddos of the world unite – your patron saints have returned. Simon and Milo, the beloved animated pop musicians collectively known as Prozzak (the brainchild of musicians/producers Jay Levine and James Bryan) are back with Forever 1999, the duo’s first collection of new music since 2005’s Cruel Cruel World.
After reuniting in July of 2015 to play Toronto’s Atomic Lollipop Festival, Levine and Bryan (who also spent time making hits with The Philosopher Kings) released a trio of singles prior to announcing an album proper. James Bryan (Milo) says that the two of them immediately fell back into Prozzak mode after years apart working on individual projects, which for Bryan included a lot of producing and playing guitar for Nelly Furtado.
“We definitely needed some time off to do that, but the fact is that Prozzak is one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of, and I think (Jay would) say the same,” Bryan says over the phone from his home in Toronto. “So once we did the (reunion) show we were totally inspired, we definitely wanted to make some new music. There were definitely some people who still cared about Simon and Milo, we didn’t wanna leave them hanging.”
After a decade away from the characters, he says it felt good to work a particular pop music muscle again, one he saves just for Prozzak’s unique brand of satirical lovesick pop that seemed ahead of its time in 1998 (debut record Hot Show‘s singles “Sucks To Be You” and “Strange Disease” didn’t sound like anything else on the radio) and more relevant than ever in 2017.
“When we get together it’s very natural,” he says. “We’re laughing constantly on the floor, we’re smiling. The process has always been very easy. It’s definitely not calculated, we’re not thinking about what style it should be. (The songs) are stories. A lot of it can be traced back to Jay’s experience and his love life at the time. Maybe we understand the characters more. I know we’re the creators behind the scenes, but it’s definitely straight from the heart and definitely not overthought.”
Overthinking might be something that caused a bit of a stir upon the release of the more mature Cruel Cruel World, when Simon and Milo’s classic look was “updated” to reflect the record’s sound.
“Jay and I came up with these characters with an illustrator named Scott Harder, but unfortunately he died really young of a heart attack right before the first album came out, so he never got to see the characters come to life,” Bryan says. “From then on we’ve been working with different people. The original videos were hand drawn, a massive budget that Sony Music covered at that time.
“Fast forward to Cruel Cruel World in 2005, and Jay and I wanted to do it on our own and put it out through Maple Music, so we had to pay for the video. We ended up working with the same director that we had worked with before, but now because of technology he was working on his own doing computer animation. It took longer, but we got a great video out of it. We did one video on that album, ‘When I Think of You’, and the characters look totally different. That was Jay’s and my mistake. We thought maybe he had to update them and make them look cooler or older or something. I think our fans clearly let us know that they like Simon and Milo how they were. So now, going forward with these new videos. We just did one for ‘Love Me Tinder’ and that was directed by Kevin Muhlbach and he’s doing them computer animated, but he’s referencing our old style. There’s a lot of clean lines and this one’s simple and direct in its presentation but it gets the story across. The humour’s there. Simon looks like Simon, Milo looks like Milo.”
While they are returning to the classic look, one new element is the inclusion of guests on Forever 1999, particularly Catey Shaw (an artist Levine had helped develop through his Lefthook Entertainment label) on ‘If We Were In The Jungle’ and Wackyboyz on ‘Love Fools Anonymous’.
“When we brought Catey in to write some of the stuff, that was definitely a big question mark,” Bryan says. “Maybe because she and Jay were already working together, I mean, they have a good flow. It was a lot of fun and worked really well. There weren’t any totally awkward moments where I had to tell Catey her idea was the worst thing ever.”
Forever 1999 is filled with plenty of netspeak commentary, found on such tracks as “All The Feels” and lead single “Love Me Tinder”, the video for which finds Simon hitting up a “cat bar”.
“I heard in Japan that’s a kind of specific fetish bar,” Bryan says with a laugh. “Simon is who he is. He’s got dating ups and downs that involve sex and heartbreak.”
Prozzak has always walked the line between between children’s entertainment and adult fare, slipping plenty of innuendo into seemingly G-rated pop tunes with videos meant for all ages.
“From the get go, we had fans that were five who just like nod to the melody and enjoy the characters, and fans that were 20 at the time, who got that kind of irony in the lyrics,” Bryan says. “We had a dream of having a TV show with the characters. Now it’s gonna be easier with new options, like a web series or Netflix. Animation is more widely accepted.
“Back in the day we did actually work with Disney on a Saturday morning TV pilot, and that was a huge disaster. We worked for like a year with them and every meeting the ideas just kept getting dumped down and taking that edge out that was kind of important to us. By the end it wasn’t very good and it didn’t wind up getting made, but it did teach us a lesson that you’ve gotta stick to who those characters are, and we’ve gotta do that on our own terms now.”
We can’t let James Bryan off the line without asking one last burning question: Will Simon, the perpetually melancholy lovesick puppy, ever find love?
“Milo, maybe,” he says with a laugh. “Simon, I don’t think so, because it’s such a part of what the band is. I don’t think he’ll lose hope that he’ll find it, and he might find it, but I don’t think it’s gonna last. Simon can sacrifice his happiness for the sake of all of us, so we can feel better about our situations. He understands that and he’ll carry that burden for the rest of us.”
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