The Electric Mayhem Talk Going Solo for ‘The Muppets Mayhem’ & Long-Awaited Debut Album: ‘We Knew We Could Deliver the Goods’
“He’s trying to bite the feather again! Grab him! Grab him!”
“Animal! Animal, down! Sit!”
“You know how much this hat costs?!”
It’s only been a few minutes and Billboard‘s interview with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem has devolved into, well, utter mayhem. In the middle of a question about their appearance in 1979’s The Muppet Movie, Animal — the band’s iconic drummer and de facto mascot — lunges at the feather in Dr. Teeth’s velvety top hat, sending his five felt bandmates scrambling to get him under control.
All it takes is a yummy treat, which wise-cracking bassist Floyd Pepper proffers to Animal with an open purple palm and a relieved “good boy” before turning back to face the camera. “Sorry ’bout that, next question!” he says through his scruffy orange mustache, as a thoroughly satisfied Animal happily devours the snack in the background.
The moment is so utterly surreal that it takes me a beat to remember my next question. But it only underscores the undeniable fact: I’m actually talking to The Muppets.
The sextet of rockers are gearing up for the premiere of their new Disney+ series The Muppets Mayhem, which — somewhat unbelievably — will serve as the band’s first standalone project in their nearly half a century of playing back-up to Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the rest of their friends. “We, like, for sure missed them, you know?” says Janice, the band’s guitarist, dreamily of the rest of the Muppets gang. “But it was nice to stand out on our own!”
“Yeah, I didn’t feel any pressure goin’ out on our own, did you?” Floyd adds while looking to Dr. Teeth. “We had the support of the frog, the pig, the bear and everybody else and, you know, we knew we could deliver the goods.”
Delivering the goods, in fact, is the entire purpose of The Muppets Mayhem. The ten-episode series (out May 10) also stars Lilly Singh, Tahj Mowry and Saara Chaudry, and documents the band’s efforts to finally record their debut album after more than 45 years of rocking out together.
To call the project ‘long-awaited’ is quite the understatement for many Electric Mayhem fans, but the band insists the wait was hardly intentional on their part. “We thought we did that,” Dr. Teeth says of signing a contract with the fictional Wax Town Records — the discovery of which kicks off the plot in the first episode. “We thought we’d done the album as well.” (“Apparently not!” Janice echoes from the side.)
“Y’know, sometimes you think you do things, then it turns out you didn’t do those things!” Floyd jumps in to explain. “So that’s what happened here.”
The new album, also titled The Muppets Mayhem, is out now via Walt Disney Records and not only features original songs like their 1979 debut single “Can You Picture That?,” the show’s sunny theme “Rock On,” funky ditty “Gotta Be” and the anthemic “Believe in Us,” but also allows the Muppets band to record covers of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and “Rock and Roll All Nite” by KISS entirely their own.
“I have been callin’ it a jam-packed jam sesh and an explosion of the groove!” Floyd says when I ask how the band would describe the sound they captured on the album, before Janice declares, “Ooo wow, I think our new sound is, like, just amazing — as amazing as our old sound!” However, it’s Animal who most succinctly and accurately sums up the project’s good vibrations: “ROCK AND ROLL!”
While it’s been a 48-year wait, you can’t blame Dr. Teeth and his bandmates for forgetting to cross something like ‘record an album’ off their to-do list. After all, they’ve been a bit busy appearing in 50 years worth of Muppet movies and TV shows.
Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem made their official debut in 1975’s The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, one of two pilots produced by Jim Henson for what eventually became The Muppet Show, where the group served as the house band over the course of 120 episodes. “We were most fortunate indeed to have our debut on such a prestigious program,” Dr. Teeth says, while Janice adds, “Yeah, yeah, and what I remember most is, like, really rocking out with so many incredible musicians!”
Cue Animal, who excitedly shouts out a few of the superstars he drummed with on the show: “ELTON JOHN! DI-AN-A ROSS! PAUL SIMON!”
“That’s right, it was a non-stop rotation of the best and brightest of the music industry!” Floyd agrees and Janice once again pipes up with her classic “For sure!”
From there, they made the jump to the big screen, performing “Can You Picture That?” for the very first time in The Muppet Movie. (“The inspiration came to us like a flash,” Floyd recalls of the funky track’s origins. “Literally! Zoot snapped a shot of all of us with one of his cameras and the song, you know, just came to us instantly. I mean, I guess it had to develop a little bit. Get it?”)
For 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper, the band took up residence in between gigs at London’s charmingly tattered Happiness Hotel, where Janice made a habit of laying out under a heat lamp to tan in the ramshackle lobby. Three years later, they moved to New York City with the rest of the Muppets and made their Broadway debut — on screen, anyway — in The Muppets Take Manhattan.
After increasingly minor roles in genre fare like 1996’s Muppet Treasure Island and 1999’s Muppets From Space, the Electric Mayhem continued popping up in The Muppets’ 2010s revitalization, which began with 2011’s The Muppets Movie and continued through 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted — and their most recent foray with the rest of their pals, the 2020 streaming series Muppets Now.
Of course, a new rock-and-roll story like The Muppets Mayhem couldn’t come together without a team of human co-creators and producers behind the scenes, all of whom had their own reasons for wanting to give The Electric Mayhem the solo spotlight.
For Bill Barretta, who’s, err, worked with the band since 2005, inspiration struck in 2016 after they played their first-ever festival at Outside Lands. The 25-minute set included “Can You Picture That?” as well as covers of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Home,” The Band’s “Ophelia” and The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Barretta was blown away by the response. “I think they ended up with 30,000 people there watching,” he remembers. “And I was like, ‘What? This is not real.’”
Co-creator Jeff Yorkes’ motivation to make the series, meanwhile, was much more self-interested: “I just wanted to own a vinyl of The Electric Mayhem,” he says with a chuckle. “And this was my long-winded way of getting it.” (For the record, he now has not one, but two copies of the soundtrack.)
The creative team — also including The Goldbergs creator Adam F. Golberg — used The Muppets Mayhem as a much-needed opportunity to flesh out the backstories and personalities of the band members. “The most they got used, really,” Barretta points out of the bandmates, “was in our last series in 2015 [in the short-lived mockumentary-style sitcom The Muppets that ran for a single season on ABC], we got to get a little more of a taste of them. But this was really an opportunity to expand much more on that.”
Fans learn that in the new series, for example, that Dr. Teeth is not only a self-described tickler of the ivories, but also a “fully licensed and accredited doctor of teeth,” who rejected his family’s expectation that he would carry on their dynasty of dentistry after a chance meeting in a New Orleans music shop with Floyd. Years later, after Dr. Teeth graduated from dental school and Floyd was dishonorably discharged from West Point for “turning ‘Taps’ into a jazz odyssey,” the two joined forces and the Electric Mayhem was born.
Meanwhile, Janice’s groovy flower child mentality extends to devoted practices of yoga, astral projection and dream-sharing, as well as a potent allergy to dishonesty. Mumble-mouthed trumpet player Lips, who had all of four lines in Muppets history prior to the series, turns out to be a walking rolodex of A-list connections; he’s friends with everyone from Zedd and Sofia Carson to Paula Abdul and Paul McCartney. As for why saxophonist Zoot has his head in the clouds all the time? “Well, he’s high,” Barretta explains matter-of-factly.
And then there’s Animal. “He tends to probably be the one that people think is…” Barretta trails off, leading Yorkes to chime in, “A monster?”
“Crazy all the time,” the former concludes, explaining that the writers’ goal for the shaggy-haired red drummer was to “pull back and let him be sweet… It’s not just one note. He’s not just, ‘Animal! Animal! [growls]‘ you know?” (Just wait until you see how much Animal loves bunnies.)
The 10-episode series also gave the creative team the chance to place The Electric Mayhem smack dab in the middle of the modern music industry — from collaborating in the studio with Zedd to joining Twitter and experiencing the dark side of stan culture — and see how they would get with the times.
“If I may say, they’re an analog band living in a digital world,” Yorkes opines. “It’s such the antithesis of who the band is — to hand them a phone and for them to try to operate, they would only screw it up.” (Spoiler alert: screw it up they do, inadvertently inciting a war with the Swifties, the Beyhive, the Beliebers and the Little Monsters.)
“The band is so comfortable in their world, just being together, traveling, their endless tour — and just having fun and hanging with their fans, right?” Goldberg points out. “So they are drawn into the fact that they could interact with all their fans and they could go and talk about their lives and inspire people. So it made sense to us why they would get sucked in so quickly, because it just opens up a world to this band that loves the world.”
Twitter beefs aside, Yorkes, Goldberg and Barretta have plenty of ideas for a potential second and third seasons and beyond when it comes to the Electric Mayhem’s musical adventures. But for the time being, Dr. Teeth, Janice, Floyd, Lips, Zoot and Animal are more than happy to keep doing what they do best: rocking out, touring and simply being together.
“It’s hard to believe we’ve been together for, like, so long. It’s, like, just yesterday we became a band, you know?” says Janice,
“It is indeed quite a heavy thing to considerate,” Dr. Teeth assents. “But there is no crew I’d rather rock beside than this boisterous band.”
All ten episodes of The Muppets Mayhem are now streaming on Disney+. Stream The Electric Mayhem’s debut album below.
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