"It's $40 for one game with shoes. Or, $38 for one hour and shoes," says the Serra Bowl cashier with mild frustration while he Lysols a pair of freshly-worn bowling shoes at the counter. Gabe Turow, percussion, keys, and back-up vocals for the chamber pop-turned-funk duo King Baldwin, turns to me, perplexed. Which is the better deal? Off to the side, Alexander Eccles, lead vocalist of the San Francisco-based duo, sits comfortably in a plastic chair, wearing his brown "bowling hat" slightly askew. Turow and I deliberate. We opt for the hourly rate.
As I tie the frayed green laces of my black-and-red, slightly damp rented bowling shoes, I begin to wish that King Baldwin and I had chit-chatted about the self-released LP Music For Unsafe Sex over coffee.
It's off to lane five. I’m the first to bowl. My pink eight-pound bowling ball ricochets off the lane’s side rail and knocks down one pin. Eccles is next up, so I turn to Turow to ask how King Baldwin got its moniker.
"Alex is King Baldwin. The persona is captured in many, many YouTube videos at this point. Some of them of which, I mean, he takes his shirt off in some of them," says Turow, laughing. "Each track [on Music for Unsafe Sex] is written from a different person's point of view, but it's all clearly King Baldwin fantasizing about what it would be like to actually have a life."
Music With Unsafe Sex begins with "Ron Jeremy," named after the iconic porn star. On this track, Eccles sings, "When I come to town/ All the horses scream/ With envy/ I don't care baby I just do/ I'm Ron Jeremy," against a sleazy funk groove.
"Every song on the album is encouraging sex in some way or another. It's either foreplay or, like, decent doing it," Turow explains as he approaches the lane.
It's the end of the second frame. The score: Jen, 14; Alex, 9; Gabe, 11.
Completely written, recorded, and produced by Turow and Eccles, Music For Unsafe Sex is a departure from King Baldwin's five-song 2009 debut, and its six-song 2010 release, Castle of Love. In the group's previous recordings, Eccles, a classically trained pianist, took more of a Talking Heads/David Bowie approach to the songs he composed. “Musically, there were a couple of things I had written that had come off as romantic or more feminine. Let’s just put it this way -- not very cool in any kind of rock way. So [Turow] sort of helped get a sense of groove in there,” he says.
After five frames, the score is: Jen, 34; Alex, 24; Gabe, 24.
"[Music for Unsafe Sex] was the first time I'd ever revised lyrics and done so with anyone else,“ Eccles recalls, bending his knees as he readies himself to bowl.
“These songs are like narratives, which is nice, because before they were about nothing,” he adds with sarcasm.
As the '80s hit “Forever Young” by one-hit-wonder Alphaville blares in the background, Eccles gets a running start while he approaches the lane. Turow and I notice he's using his left hand. He assures us that he is ambidextrous. The ball travels down the lane at roughly 8 mph. Gutter ball.
Before Turow takes his turn, he talks about Music for Unsafe Sex’s funk influence. “There are a lot of grooves. When they are grooves, they put you in a certain place and then try to hold you there.” As is the case with “Secretary,” where Eccles sings, "You don't need protection cuz the market's up/ And we know what happens next/ Oh my secretary! Get away from it all/ I have a wife and family/ I also have my secretary."
In between turns, Turow finds a magenta-colored ball with five finger holes, seemingly engineered for an alien species with seven digits."There's something wrong with this ball! There is something really wrong with this ball," he blurts out.
By the ninth frame, none of us have broken 100.
Music for Unsafe Sex's last track, "Muse," is a melancholic slow jam of disillusionment -- far different from the preceding songs of male hypersexuality. "All of that masculinity and sexuality that we were sort of playing with in the first eight [songs] is basically tongue-in-cheek, and at the end of the day I am not the most masculine or sexy person. I’m just not," Eccles says with seriousness. "Gabe and I both knew that, so we figured it’s sort of a reveal at the end."
By the tenth frame, Eccles, who is a part-time golf coach, knocks down nine pins with one ball. "I know how to do it now. You stand there. You roll your arm back and forth like a golf swing, then you make the golf swing. No running. No running.”