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Photo by Allen Scott

If he weren't so sweet-natured and fun, Liam Lynch's name-dropping could be a drag. I mean, this guy — the creator of the KROQ sleeper "United States of Whatever" — seems to be friends with everybody: "I was over at Jack Black's last night . . ." "I was hanging out backstage with Jack White . . ." It's all Dave Grohl this and Tony Kanal that. Or something about hanging out with various fucking Beatles, for Christ's sake.

The thing is, it's all true. Better still, Lynch — 32, geeky as all get-out, relatively non-famous, from Akron, Ohio — earned every one of his stories. He wasn't born with connections, and he didn't marry into them. He's one talented lad, and that's all there is to it. Best of all, his celebrity anecdotes kick ass.

For example: When Lynch was studying at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in the mid- to late '90s, he had private songwriting sessions with Paul McCartney, the school's founder. No shit. One-on-one, in a 5-by-5 practice room, just the Walrus and him. "I would forget who I was talking to sometimes," says Lynch, sitting in his Valley garage turned digital HQ. "He told me weird things about how he and John would write [assumes Liverpool accent]: 'When John and I were doing Pepper's, there were certain words we wouldn't use — like very.'"

But the best advice McCartney ever gave him was the first. "He said, 'Nobody can tell you how to write a song. I [never knew] which songs of mine were going to be the ones everybody loved.'"

You can see this notion at work in the surprise success of Lynch's "Whatever," a 90-second bootleg that KROQ — and rock radio nationwide — played like crazy a couple of months back. "Whatever" was a slapped-together chunk of pseudo-arrogant garage-rockitude featuring tons of distorted bass, smart-ass vocals and not much else. ("I'm at the pool hall and this girl comes up and she's all, like, aww, and I'm like, yeah, whatever!") Between Stincubus and Puddle of Shitt, the song stuck out on KROQ like a dirty splinter and quickly became the station's most requested song for weeks. The whole thing was refreshingly old-school for KROQ, who, like in the early days, were playing a copy of an import: Lynch had first released it in the U.K., where it hit the Top 10.

Lynch actually recorded the song late one night three years ago on his 16-track. "I just plugged in a bass and recorded it as I made it up. That's why at the beginning the lyrics are kind of vague."

After hearing it on English radio, Ringo Starr contacted Lynch to ask if he wanted to work together, not even knowing about the Macca connection. And that's how Starr's producer, Mark Hudson, came to produce Lynch's debut, Fake Songs (released April 8). Ringo also makes a drumming cameo on the album.

Unlike, say, Afro-Man (or Sisqo, or Moon Unit Zappa, or . . . Ted Nugent?), Lynch is much more than a one-hit jokester. He first made a name as the inventor and co-genius of Sifl and Olly, the most poignant and painfully funny sock-puppet show you probably never saw. (MTV ran it irregularly in 1998-1999. It was deep. We could write sonnets.) Lynch now does music for the MTV cartoon Clone High and has made videos for the Foo Fighters ("Times Like These") and Tenacious D ("Tribute"). He's also shot footage for No Doubt's live DVD and directed curiously homoerotic shorts for Tenacious D's live show (including the unforgettable "Butt Baby"). Lynch's visual style, like his music, turns low-budget rinky-dink into a fully formed aesthetic with a subtext all its own: If I can make cool shit like this, you can, too.

Or, as Lynch puts it, in his typical run-on fashion: "The whole idea is to be fun and also to remind people they can do stuff at home, you can make stuff. Your album you're doing on your computer at home is just as legitimate as anything that a big star did in the studio for a million dollars."

He should know: He's self-released a mess of original records over the years (the first at age 14), including a concept album inspired by America — not the band — with titles like "Ben Franklin Kicks Ass." Fake Songs, originally self-released, contains several tributes to his favorite bands (Pixies, Bowie, Depeche Mode, et al.). Though it's out now on a major label, snazzed up with a major producer, the vibe is the same as always. "It wasn't even like I was trying to get a collection [of fake songs] going," says Lynch. "These are just songs I recorded that I'd listen to in my car when I go to the grocery store."

Lynch is so egregiously productive, I'd like to tell you he's an asshole, addicted, depressive and unwashed. Unfortunately, the worst you can say is that he's an insomniac workaholic who chain-smokes Carltons and drinks too many Cokes. His girlfriend, Audrey, is a sculptor who studied physics, and they have side-by-side garage studios. They seem to live a quiet, happy life together, own four spoiled cats, eat junk food and watch tons of TV.

"Last night we watched six hours of Dune," Lynch says.

He won't be touring for the album ("I don't want to be a rock star"), but has just started work as writer/director of the forthcoming Tenacious D feature. And though he longs to do a White Stripes video — "I have a great concept and everything!" — he's now way too busy. It's natural he'd find kindred spirits in these two bands — and in Beck, another favorite. They've all created original identities by sifting through and reacting to the work of earlier artists. That's what Lynch does on Fake Songs: Between funny gimmick songs like the gospel "Electrician's Day," he sings goofy caricatures of iconic bands he loved growing up. The best by far is the Talking Heads tribute. He fakes it so real, and with such love, he is beyond fake, you know?

"It's completely a Valentine 'cause I love David Byrne. He made me realize [as a 13-year-old] that everything that makes you geeky and not fit in is what makes you weird, and weird is cool, and weird is special, and those sorts of things that make you funny are the things that make you awesome."

Lynch was pretty much marked as "different" from the start. "I was a nerd as a kid and had bullies. I hated them." After high school he moved to Nashville to get into the music biz. "It was a failure. Playing in crappy bars, going on tour, working as a dishwasher for

three years."

Then he developed a sinus infection so severe he almost died.

"I laid there dying, and I tried to feel like everything I'd done up until that point were big accomplishments. They weren't really. Summing yourself up is really

hardcore."

During the weeks of convalescence, four crows sat on his windowsill. Lynch is part Irish and Native American, and he's come to recognize crows as his spirit guides. ("Though I'm really not a hippie or anything!") When he first visited Mark Hudson's studio, he saw four stuffed crows mounted on the ceiling.

Finally, after weeks, he regained enough strength to get up.

"So I go outside with my acoustic guitar — and I just want to sit in the sun and strum my guitar. I'm standing there, and suddenly it slips out of my hands, and smashes in a million pieces on the ground. I just crumpled and started crying. Then, my mom came out and laid over me and started weeping too."

That's what they call rock bottom, the mythical point from which things literally can only get better. "After I dropped my guitar and really cracked, it was like I was reborn. I felt like I dwindled down to a little twig, and I just went snap! But then a little sprout came off one of the ends, and I got to grow into something way bigger and way stronger."

What followed was the beginning of his new life: Liverpool, Sifl and Olly, Fake Songs, a movie, everything. Mostly, the license to be a nerd.

"I'm glad I got a record deal now, because back when I wanted one I wasn't me. I was trying to be cool. I hadn't failed enough — so you really try to impress, 'cause you're afraid you will fail, you know? You have to fail a hundred times to the point where you're just like, 'whatever' — literally."