Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s formed in 2005 in Indiana and rapidly went from a three-piece band to an eight-member orchestral pop extravaganza. With their 2006 debut, The Dust of Retreat, Margot quickly became known for their live show and their nontraditional auxiliary percussionist Cassie Tennis.
The Dust of Retreat was filled with folk-pop songs and yet that would change when they recorded 2008’s double release of Animal! and Not Animal. The band had signed to Epic Records and received negative feedback from the company about the songs slated for the album. Alas, Not Animal was the album that Epic wanted to release, and Animal! was the band’s choice. The band had difficulties making these albums, but a song arose from them that has become one of the best in Margot’s repertoire.
“As Tall As Cliffs” was one of the few featured on both albums. Frontman Richard Edwards has said multiple times it was inspired by a Cameron McGill song. In a Facebook note Edwards said of McGill’s song, “I had been obsessing over … Street Ballads & Murderesques and it had a song on it called ‘Noah’s Worst Nightmare.’ When Cameron played that song live, time took a long drag off a cigarette, and every drunkard in the bar shut up and listened. I admired this 7-plus minute song that seemed to go by in an instant, and I decided not to finish my record until I had a song that felt the same way to me. My feeble attempt was, ‘As Tall As Cliffs.’”
In the post Edwards also talked about a long weekend in Utah. The band had every intention of tracking most of the songs for Animal! but instead got lost playing shuffleboard. Edwards said there was another reason Margot didn’t get down to business, “I didn’t think I had written ‘that song’ yet. For every album, there is a moment, a beautiful moment, where you write a song that makes all the other songs finally make sense.”
“As Tall As Cliffs” begins with a laugh, maracas and handclaps before leading into a sweet harmonica. A buzzing slide guitar sails through tambourines and strumming guitars. Lyrically, the song is delicately groggy, “I tell tales as tall as cliffs, you’ve got a lisp/Kid those things are hard to miss/Like my crippled cough, all your weekends lost by the lake.”
It’s a rootsy song that discusses the woes of lying. “I can’t talk to you the way I wanted to/I’ve been tellin’ lies but I’ll tell you the truth.” The song builds up to anthem standards with the final verse where it seems that the sun broke through the clouds for Edwards.
In making the video for “As Tall As Cliffs,” Margot got politically humorous. It details George W. Bush’s last night in office. The former president is in the back of a limo slamming back beers and venturing into strip clubs. He even dances with a fuel pump at a gas station. While the video really had nothing to do with the song, it was an interesting concept.
After both albums were released the band toured for what would be the final time as an octet, Edwards continued with a few old members and some new additions, including McGill. The new Margot recorded Buzzard, released in 2010. It’s a different sound, having more of a rock appeal but Edwards scratchy vocals make old Margot fans feel right at home. The road to where the band is now was definitely rocky. There have been standout tracks on all of the albums Margot released and “As Tall As Cliffs” probably stands above them all.