When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water was an American experimental psychedelic rock band from New York City active from 1986 to 1996. Their recorded output consists solely of experimental cover versions of songs from various genres within popular music.
Alternating between precise and loose arrangements, their renditions were "not exactly affectionate tributes, but not complete jokes either", giving the group the double-identity of an art rock and party band. Despite failing to garner commercial success, they were a critically respected staple of the experimental scene associated with their label Shimmy Disc, where they shared the stage, and several members, with such groups as King Missile, Bongwater and Shockabilly.
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Basing their repertoire around deconstructive cover versions of other artists' songs, the group was formed in 1986 by vocalists Kim Rancourt and Joe Defilipps (the latter of whom also played trombone), guitarists David Raymer and Bob Meetsma, bassist Mitch Strassberg and drummer Ron Spitzer (of Band of Susans). Released on the Trace Elements imprint, their 1987 debut EP found them covering Ray Davies and reciting the Gettysburg Address.
Their second EP, 1988's Uncle Ben, featured the addition of bassist Dave Rick (of Phantom Tollbooth, King Missile, Bongwater and Yo La Tengo) and drummer David Licht (of the Klezmatics, Bongwater, Shockabilly and Eugene Chadbourne's band). The record also marked the beginning of their work with Shimmy Disc, a like-minded experimental rock label run by Bongwater leader Mark Kramer, who himself frequently played on the group's recordings. The Bobby LP followed in 1989, composed entirely of Bobby Goldsboro covers. Keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Chris Xefos (also of King Missile) played extensively on the record as a guest and joined the group as a full-time member shortly thereafter.
In 1991, the band released Porgy, an album of material from Ira and George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Their third and final LP, 1994's Bill Kennedy's Showtime, was composed of songs by obscure or semi-obscure 1960s and 1970s Detroit rock and soul bands, as Rancourt had grown up in the area during that time. Talk of an album of material popularized by Louis Armstrong arose as plans for the band's fourth LP, but the record never materialized, and the band became inactive.
Rancourt and Rick next co-founded Shapir-O'Rama, who played original music. They recorded several albums, including two with Jad Fair. Rancourt later formed JFK with Andrew W.K. and Don Fleming. Defilipps plays in After That It's All Gravy, while Xefos, Rick, and Licht remain active with numerous other groups.
Kim Rancourt - vocals, flute, casio horn (1986-1996),
Joe Defilipps - vocals, trombone (1986-1996),
David Raymer - guitar, keyboard, vocals (1986-1996),
Bob Meetsma - guitar, lap steel guitar, cornet, banjo, saxophone, vocals (1986-1996),
Mitch Strassberg - bass (1986-1988),
Ron Spitzer - drums (1986-1988),
Dave Rick - bass, guitar, vocals (1988-1996),
David Licht - drums (1988-1996),
Chris Xefos - keyboards, tuba, accordion, vocals, etc. (1989-1996)