Of the trio, 33-year-old Goodshank, a prolific guitarist and vocalist who’s self-released some 20 solo albums, displays the most technical aptitude. According to Culkin, he’s their go-to illustrator when “we want something to look the way it’s supposed to look.” Culkin, on the other hand, explores minutely observed abstractions via pointillist drawings and what Goodshank refers to as his “pushpin Pollocks,” which he creates by attacking his canvas with colorful paints and then affixing constellations of similarly colored pushpins over the splotches. Green, a 31-year-old singer-songwriter who’ll release an album of original duets with his friend and collaborator, Binki Shapiro, at the end of January, is the ideas man, the one from whom many of their playful works are derived. Culkin, who insists that “98 percent” of their work is made together, at the same time, says, “We all bring our own thing to the table.” Then he’s off to the kitchen, pristine compared to the living room, to get another Red Bull.
Goodshank met Green in 1999 through the antifolk music scene that was happening in New York’s East Village. Seven or eight years after that, Green and Culkin crossed paths at an Albert Hammond, Jr. concert. “I’ll never forget it,” says Culkin. “When Adam first introduced himself to me, he said, ‘Hi, I’m Adam Green from the Moldy Peaches.’ And I was like, You are, aren’t you! He’s probably one of the few people who can actually pull that off.” They exchanged phone numbers and hung out once or twice a year, until, two summers ago, they found themselves in Europe at the same time. Culkin had been “taking trains all over Europe”; Green was touring. “It was a two ships passing in the night kind of thing,” Culkin says.
As a joke (but also not), Green invited Culkin to join him on tour. “I’ll give you a bed on the bus,” Green said. Culkin responded, “I see a ‘Kokomo’ duet in our future,” and, sure enough, he was on the next flight to Stuttgart and spent the following two weeks performing one song each night at small clubs across Germany. “Kokomo” was one of them, as was EMF’s “Unbelievable” and the Scorpions’ “Wind of Change.” Following their return home, Green started capturing video footage for what would become The Wrong Ferrari, his 72-minute, largely improvised, largely drug-driven film, which was shot entirely on his iPhone. He enlisted the help of Goodshank and Culkin, who costar in the movie along with freak-folk musician Devendra Banhart, actor Alia Shawkat, and Internet personality Cory Kennedy. “It’s really impossible to separate the Ketamine from this movie,” Green told New York magazine in 2011. “I feel that it’s given me brain damage.”
When our conversation shifts to drug use, however, Green changes the subject rather than regaling the room with half-remembered anecdotes about K-hole expeditions. Perhaps they’ve outgrown the phase, but more likely it’s to safeguard against rumors that started swirling back in August 2012 when the National Enquirer ran photos of a sickly-looking Culkin under headlines alleging he was addicted to heroin and abusing OxyContin. There are no signs of recreational drug use smattered throughout the living room—not that there would be—but the air is thick with the palimpsest of hard living: the cigarette piles; the alcohol bottles; the discarded, half-emptied cans of Red Bull; the “Cobainsters” costumes; the way that conversations about past “game nights” and “cupcake-decorating parties” seem loaded with darker connotations. It’s the resulting detritus of the Big Syndrome that Culkin admitted to, and its wasteland effect calls to mind the abandoned McCallister home—but in Culkin’s case, the McCallisters aren’t rushing home to save him, if he needs saving at all.
The next day, Goodshank will fly to Berlin, where he’ll spend a year making music and honing his skills as a painter. Green is set to embark on a tour with Shapiro in support of their new album, after which he intends to hunker down and finally make his own anti-Disney film version of the Aladdin story, hopefully starring Benicio del Toro or Tommy Wiseau as the Genie. “It’s like the band’s breaking up for a second,” Green says. “The party game,” which is how Culkin describes their collaboration, has been put on indefinite hold. “I’m working on my next book,” he says. It’ll be the follow-up to his 2006 novel, Junior, and it’s a collection of non-fiction stories about his friends. “I’ve been about 80 percent done with the first draft for far too long. But now I’m going to make sure it takes up some of my energy.” He scans his apartment. “There’s no excuse at this point.”
Want more of the surreal life? Get the Surreal issue at The Bullett Shop!