As the Blanks prepare to hit Dublin, Sam Lloyd and Philip McNiven talk to George Morahan about their time on Scrubs and male pattern baldness
When you’re in the world’s biggest a capella group, life tends to move at a fast pace. It’s been a career filled with debauchery in Las Vegas, TV stardom and bitter in-fighting for the Blanks, but when Otwo speaks with band-members Sam Lloyd and Philip McNiven all seems well. The band’s fame came as a by-product of the American hospital sitcom, Scrubs and off the back of their regular appearances on the show, they released their debut album, Riding the Wave in 2004. They’ve been able to carve out a modest career for themselves, but things started off quite innocuously, according to McNiven.
“My grandmother was having her eightieth birthday in Vegas – she’s a degenerate drinker and gambler – and we wanted to do something nice for her. We were always singing at parties, we knew three songs, so I said ‘Come on boys, my treat. Let’s hop into a van, we’ll go to Vegas.’”
The band were originally called Phil & the Blanks but “At the end of the weekend, after my grandmother had gambled away most of my inheritance, we dropped the ‘Phil’ and just became the Blanks.”
Lloyd is also a successful actor, having had roles in The West Wing and most famously, playing sycophantic lawyer, lackey and cosmic punching bag, Ted Buckland in Scrubs for nine years. The Blanks would become regular residents of Sacred Heart, under the guise of The Worthless Peons, with each member holding some position in various departments of hospital administration, such as Legal, Accounting, Shipping & Receiving and on-site property management (including pest control, night time security, non-arboreal gardening services, tenant-related easements and liens). Creator Bill Lawrence originally put the band in the show after their performance at the cast and crew’s Christmas party. Lloyd says that “I offered the Blanks up as entertainment. We sang at the Christmas party and the writers thought it was ridiculous, but also thought that we would fit well with the show.” Lawrence later admitted that the Blanks were his favourite running joke on the show, a comment they took as compliment until “he explained that his version of hell was to be stuck in an elevator with a capella singers,” laughs Lloyd.
The Peons would turn up intermittently and could usually be found singing a particular theme of songs. On their first appearance, inspired by the aforementioned party performance, the band sang cartoon theme songs. “The first episode, where we sing cartoon themes, was kind of based on the song we sang at the Christmas party. Paul [F. Perry, the band’s bass singer] wrote original words to the John Williams Superman theme which was just hysterical,” Lloyd explains. “We couldn’t get the rights to the theme, so we did the Underdog theme instead. They wanted something to indicate JD’s hero obsession with Dr. Cox and then to justify that they had us singing all cartoon theme songs on that episode.” It soon became a regular thing; “Then the next time we were on, they were thinking of what we should do to follow that up. So they went to TV theme songs and luckily for us, we love all that stuff, so it fit really well.”
When Scrubs ended after its ninth season early last year, Ted was content, in a relationship with his ukulele-playing girlfriend, the Gooch and planning on seeing America. Happiness could never last for the man, as proven by his recent appearance in Bill Lawrence’s latest show, Cougar Town, where he was found alone and depressed, the Gooch having left him for clinically insane surgeon, Hooch. We can expect Lloyd and the rest of the group to make an appearance in Cougar Town’s upcoming third season. In fact, the Blanks had just been filming the show with former Friends star, Courteney Cox, a couple of week beforehand. McNiven is quick to claim that “there’s a great picture of the four of us and Courteney Cox, lounging in her bed.”
Things appear to be going well for the veteran group, but there’s always one constant source of tension amongst them, festering under the surface: hair. Bass singer George Miserlis and his glorious jet-black mane are a consistent source of jealousy for the three other follically-challenged members of the group, as proven by McNiven and Lloyd when they give their explicit permission for Otwo to quote them as calling him a ‘dick’. The conflicted was once exploited in Scrubs and Lloyd scorns my naiveté when I ask if this conflict ever boiled over into real life; “Are you kidding? Of course! That man’s got a full head of beautiful hair … The guy, he has no class.”
If the McNiven and Lloyd can avoid debilitating envy, the Blanks will continue touring Europe and are planning on releasing an EP as an accompaniment to their coming to Ireland, which McNiven claims will be entitled Ode to the Emerald Isle: Songs from Ballyboy to Carrickfergus, although Otwo cannot quite gauge how serious he is being. Either way, we can certainly look forward to something different.
The Blanks play the Academy on November 19th. Tickets priced at €17.35.