D.C. septet and Band To Watch Le Loup (“The Wolf,” if you’re French) first charmed us with thee lengthy Dr. Bronner song titles, Dante references, and electro-acoustic excursions of their The Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations’ Millennium General Assembly debut. Multi-tasking frontman Sam Simkoff handles one of many voices, banjo, computer, keyboards, percussion, toy instruments, zither, and Le Loup’s conceptual arc: He’s also been working as a paralegal for the last year, making lots of PDFs on a daily basis. Sound like fun? As he put it: “Paralegal” is doublespeak for “office slave.” Guess not. I contacted Sam a couple weeks ago, during the final week of his employment, and we continued our conversation after he’d left, right before the band set out on their current tour. Congrats, Sam.
In honor of Sam’s temporary freedom, we’re offering a Le Loup refresher course that includes first single “We Are Gods! We Are Wolves!” along with a second look at a stream of “Planes Like Vultures.” The folks at Hardly Art were kind enough to let us plop the lovely “Le Loup (Fear Not)” in there, too.
STEREOGUM: How long have you worked as a paralegal?
SAM SIMKOFF: I’ve worked at this firm since last November. So, just under a year now. This week is my last. Upon leaving, I’m planning on just temping between tours.
STEREOGUM: How did you make the decision to enter the temp realm?
SS: I pretty much decided I was on my way out as soon as we got signed and the record release date started looming. Which is, I understand, incredibly foolhardy. There’s not really much money to be had in the indie music realm, but the prospect of having to take frequent breaks for touring, in conjunction with the feeling that I could no longer truly take office work completely seriously, forced me to make a decision. The joke’s on me, I’m sure — I’ll be flipping burgers or something in a few months, just for want of cash-flow between tours.
STEREOGUM: What’s the firm like?
SS: The firm is huge. There are offices in D.C., Baltimore, L.A., northern Virginia and New York City. In the DC office alone (where I spend most of my time), there are something like 250+ lawyers. I only really know those in my group.
STEREOGUM: Is it at all enjoyable?
SS: Within a more competitive or litigious firm, it might be a faster paced, more interesting job, but employee benefits work is little more than accounting, only with more twists and turns. The work is predictably dry.
STEREOGUM: Explain “employee benefits work.” I have a general idea, but it would be great to hear specifics.
SS: “Employee benefits work” can be translated loosely into “tax and policy law that Sam is almost completely unqualified to deal with.” Employee benefits attorneys manage and navigate all realms of legislation and policy dealing with the benefits related to employment — retirement, health, executive compensation, etc. Each subset requires a completely different realm of extensive training. Really, it’s just labyrinthine. The attorneys with whom I work have minds like steel traps. You need superhuman patience.
STEREOGUM: What are your coworkers like?
SS: My coworkers are polite, but they alternate between using me for every mundane task they didn’t feel like doing themselves, or else not bothering to use me at all, for anything.
STEREOGUM: Are they generally older than you? Anybody you regularly ate lunch with or whatever?
SS: Almost everybody I work with is at least 10 years older than me. Everybody in the group is nice, but nobody really has a relationship outside of work: No hanging out to smoke a joint in the back parking lot between tax forms, or anything like that. I had a vague notion that there were plenty of young paralegals throughout the firm, and that they met regularly for lunch and happy hour and stuff. I generally kept to myself, though. Had lunch in my office. Watched YouTube and read books.
STEREOGUM: What sorts of tasks did they have you doing?
SS: During the points at which I actually had work to do, here’s a short list of the type of things I’d do:
-create digital (PDF) copies of physical files, organized them in the electronic filing system
-create instruction manuals for those hoping to navigate said file system
-fill out various corporate tax forms, as well as form reports to the department of labor
-keep track of various tax and reporting deadlines
-write letters to clients, send packages to clients.
-every once in a lucky while, I’d get to do research. But it’d be the kind of research that makes you want to cry: “Find out the law regarding unemployment taxes and how they are to be paid for these thirty states.”
STEREOGUM: You were the only one who knew how to make PDFs?
SS: I got the feeling that the only ones who actually knew how to make PDFs were the administrative assistants and myself. All the attorneys were whip-smart, but paradoxically refused to progress past the paper age. If you were an attorney, and something needed to be done that didn’t require a pen, a notebook, and your mind, you shunted it onto the paralegal or the administrative assistant. I don’t believe it was laziness — I just think it was one of those generational barriers, you know? You might be able to dig your way through every iteration of ERISA legislation, but once you have to learn how to use a relatively simple piece of computer software, your brain just disintegrates.
STEREOGUM: You gave one painful research example. Can we have some more?
SS: A fair amount of the research opportunities were bittersweet. Most of the time, any research was such a welcome change from filling out forms and electronically filing things that I paid no attention to how dry the subject matter was. And sometimes, it was boring in the specifics, but actually pretty interesting in theory. For instance, one time I had to study, on a state-by-state basis, the tax treatment (or lack thereof) of same-sex domestic partners. Which, when you have to pour through each state’s legislative history, makes you want to kill yourself. But on a bigger scale, it really drives home how poorly a sizable subset of the population is treated, on a financial and professional level. It’s terrible. So that was alternately morbidly fascinating and horribly boring.
STEREOGUM: On the upside, there seems to have been some downtime. Were you able to get other things done in the office?
SS: Yeah, days and days on end where I’d actually go from attorney to attorney asking for work, and they’d scratch their heads and kind of shrug me off. I could never tell whether it was because they really had nothing for me to help with, or I was just a horribly incompetent paralegal. I suspect the latter. On the flipside, it meant that I could get a lot of other things done. Incredible band decisions — where we should book, who we needed to be getting in touch with, how we should advertise, how we ought to do taxes, etc. — were made during that downtime. I also drew the front of the CD and helped design the inset poster during snippets of downtime. God, I hope my old bosses aren’t reading this. I wasn’t alone, though — all the band members were doing the exact same thing. I suspect a large portion of the working population is constantly doing the same thing.
STEREOGUM: How does somebody become a paralegal? What were your plans in school?
SS: So far as I can tell, in order to become a paralegal, you know somebody in the firm, and they drag you on in. Actually, this seems to be the case with pretty much all jobs coming out of college. That whole “strong work ethic and good grades” thing? Lies. Nobody cares about college grads. In D.C., at least, you need a master’s or a Ph.D or a degree in sorcery in order to be seriously considered for a job by your own merit. It certainly didn’t help that I had no idea what I wanted to do coming out of college. I’d graduated with a Poli-Sci degree, and found it pretty entertaining, so I moved to D.C. That’s as far as my political or even professional aspirations went, though. I just came here and kind of fell into the swing of things. A friend in the firm got me an interview.
STEREOGUM: Ever help your friends with their taxes?
SS: I have never, and should never, help friends with taxes. They would end up in jail. Suffice to say, I think I made a pretty terrible paralegal.
STEREOGUM: Finally, any kind of dress code? Khakis?
SS: There was a dress code. That I was very bad at adhering to. In fact, during the first, I think, three weeks of work, one of my coworkers had to take me to lunch just to tell me that my pants, which were ragged at the cuff, were not appropriate, and I needed to be tucking in, and ironing, my shirts. He was really nice about it, but I hate dress codes. Casual Friday? What the hell? “FRIDAY IS CASUAL. YOU MUST WEAR DENIM JEANS AND RESPECTABLE, CLEAN SNEAKERS. SHIRTS MUST REMAIN TUCKED IN. PLEASE WASH YOUR FACE.” There’s nothing casual about Casual Friday. Ever. Towards the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to give a shit — started growing this patchy, scraggly beard,
didn’t cut my hair, didn’t — gasp — tuck in the shirt. My coworkers understood. I was allowed these small victories.
Le Loup – “Planes Like Vultures”
Le Loup – “Le Loup (Fear Not)”
Photo of Sam laying down on the job by Brian Stansfield.
The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly is out on Hardly Art.