Hooks ‘N’ You: International Pop Overthrow
I mean, it must. If it didn’t, would David Bash sign all of his E-mails with that phrase?
Actually, he probably would.
There are few individuals out there who’ve done quite so much in recent years to keep the genre of power pop in the public eye (and ear) than Mr. Bash, otherwise known as the founder of the pop musical festival known as International Pop Overthrow. As I type this sentence, the 2008 Los Angeles festival has come to a conclusion…and if this was 11 years ago, then David would be breathing a sigh of relief and relaxing for a couple of days before starting the planning on the 2009 festival. Nowadays, however, I have a suspicion that the guy doesn’t even take time to breathe…and how can he? The San Francisco leg of IPO begins tomorrow and continues through the 16th. The Portland stop of IPO – the first time the festival has ever traveled to Oregon – will occur from Aug. 20th – 23rd, and then it’s up to Vancouver from Aug. 26th – 30th.
A long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away (i.e. before I was married and had a lovely daughter), I attended the 3rd annual IPO in Los Angeles, where I absorbed way too many pop hooks than could possibly have been good for me, but I walked away with an experience that I’ve wanted to duplicate ever since. In this one year alone, I was witness to performances by Starbelly, Doug Powell, The Shazam, Myracle Brah, Martin Luther Lennon, the Mockers, the Rubinoos, Cockeyed Ghost, Kyle Vincent, Kara’s Flowers, Michael Carpenter, Blue Cartoon, and Phantom Planet…and that’s only to name, like, a tenth of the artists I saw. I wouldn’t pretend to claim that every line-up since ’99 has ranked up there with that one (indeed, from what I’ve seen, some have been even better), but it certainly left this pop fan in awe…and if you’ve experienced IPO for yourself, don’t be afraid to cite some of your own favorite memories in the comments section.
Every year, Mr. Bash compiles a compilation that’s given out free to attendees of the festival, with copies available for purchase through Not Lame Records – and let’s use this opportunity to throw in a shout-out to Bruce Brodeen, whose passion for pop often rivals David’s – and since it’s the 11th anniversary of IPO, I’ve culled together my 11 favorite songs from throughout the 11 International Pop Overthrow albums. Lord knows I could include many, many more without blinking an eye (including a certain song by The Crayons, which is only absent because it was just spotlighted last week), I’m not looking to give away a box set’s worth of tracks here; I’m just trying to give you a feel for the fantastic music that can be found over the course of these compilations, thereby spurring you to buy an IPO volume or two yourself. (It’s also worth noting that every single one of these songs appears on a release that deserves its own “Hooks ‘N’ You” column, so if you happen to know or, even better, be one of the artists responsible, don’t be afraid to leave a comment or drop a line!)
1. Linus of Hollywood, “Say Hello to Another Goodbye” (Your Favorite Record) I have a lot of fond memories of Linus’s former band, Size 14, but when he dropped his first solo platter, I was left speechless.
2. The Adventures of Jet, “Emily Mazurinsky” (Muscle). New-wavey goodness, plain and simple.
3. Tiny Volcano, “Loaded Gun” (Tiny Volcano). I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sold on the Jellyfishiness of it all.
4. Paul Melancon, “Jeff Lynne” (Camera Obscura). Easily one of the greatest tribute songs of all time.
5. Adam Daniel, “Battle Song” (Blue Pop) He describes his music as “literate pop.” I’ll buy that. Actually, I did buy that.
6. Starbelly, “Baby’s Eyes” (Everyday and Then Some). I’m sure I wasn’t the only one left uncertain about the band’s status when Cliff Hillis went the solo route, but within three minutes, my fears dissipated.
7. Wendie Colter, “Peephole Queen” (Payday). Pleasantly bouncy while being slightly sinister.
8. Mr. Encrypto, “The Last Time” (Hero and Villain). This guy has two solid albums, but I still miss his old Bruce Gordon / Eclipso schtick. (DC Comics put a halt to that, unfortunately.)
9. Matt Bruno, “That Someone” (Punch and Beauty). Forget Matt Lauer, someone tell me where in the world Matt Bruno is! He seems to have vanished off the face of the earth, and it’s only mild consolation that he left a fantastic album behind, since I’ve been waiting for a follow-up for almost a decade!
10. John Faye, “If You Could See Me Now” (The John Faye Power Trip). He was awesome in the Caulfields. He was awesome in the John Faye Power Trip. And, now, he’s awesome in IKE. Would someone please make John Faye a star?!?
11. Single Bullet Theory, “Finding Out.” These guys have since evolved into The Now People, but I can still remember the chill I got when I first listened to this song and had it go into that bouncy, oompah chorus. This is what they call pop genius, people. The bad news is that you can’t actually buy anything by Single Bullet Theory. The good news, however, that you can pick up The Last Great 20th Century Love Affair, an album by The Now People which features a song called “My Luck Ran Out” which sounds suspiciously similar to “Finding Out.” Sorry, did I say “similar”? I meant identical…like, down to the lyrics. But, hey, it’s too damned good a song for me to have any complaints. I’m just sayin’, is all.
By the way, if you’re a longtime fan of the IPO series, you may notice that these tracks weigh very heavily on the early years of the series. That’s absolutely nothing against the later volumes and totally a sign of how much less free time I’ve had to listen to music since the real world began to get in the way. Rest assured, however, that I have got all eleven volumes in my collection, each one has received more than its fair share of spins, and I can’t conceive of a future July when I won’t be getting excited at the prospect of buying the next volume.
Speaking of that, if you’re interested in checking out the 2008 edition, just click right here to give Mr. Brodeen your money…and don’t be afraid to search the phrase “International Pop Overthrow” to see what other previous volumes he still has in stock.
Now, let’s chat with the one and only David Bash, who, despite everything going on his world right now, still managed to find time to not only answer 10 questions about International Pop Overthrow but also answered a bonus 11th question that gave him an opportunity to pick five of his favorite obscure albums that deserve the “Hooks ‘N’ You” spotlight. Given how much this man loves to talk pop, you can imagine that none of this conversation was terribly tortuous for him, but I really appreciate the amount of time he put into his responses…and I think you will, too.
Was there one specific epiphany that made you say, “By God, I’m starting my OWN pop festival,” or was it a gradual process that led to the start of International Pop Overthrow?
I think, as with most epiphanies, there was a gradual, unconscious process happening, and once it rose to a conscious level it manifested as an epiphany. For the previous couple of years before starting IPO I’d been semi-involved in the existing LA pop festival, Poptopia, bringing bands from out of LA and out of the US to the attention of the organizer. Most of them weren’t selected because the organizer wanted the festival to be more LA-centric, so I would hear from the rejected artists, who would commiserate with me about not being able to play. I think that was what helped bring the unconscious process to consciousness. Then, in December of 1997, I was having lunch with an attorney friend, Ben McLane, and we started discussing Poptopia and suddenly it hit me as an epiphany, in the form of “I can do this!”…and so, IPO was launched in Los Angeles in August of 1998, with a large percentage of bands from LA, but a very significant number of bands from all over the U.S. and all over the world!
I’ve always wondered: how did the members of Material Issue take the tribute of the festival’s name? Because some people take things in the spirit in which they’re intended, and others say, “That’s nice, now give me 10% of your profits in perpetuity or I’ll sue you.”
You know, I had wondered what they were going to think as well, but one day I got an e-mail from Material Issue bass player Ted Ansani, saying that he thought it was very cool that we used the name. In 2001 we started to take IPO on the road, and the second city (no pun intended) we hit was Chicago, in March of 2002.
Chicago was extremely welcoming, and I’m sure this was due in large part to the name of the festival, which they took to heart. Both Ted Ansani’s current band and former MI drummer Mike Zelenko’s current band played that first year and had a wonderful time. Ted’s band, The Ted Ansani Project, has played IPO every year since, and Ted always includes several Material Issue songs in his set, singing them very much like Jim Ellison did!
What do you consider some of the greatest coups when it comes to songs you’ve been able to include on the IPO discs over the years?
I take it you mean which are the most notable tracks by “big names.” Those which come immediately to mind are a couple of tracks by Jason Falkner “She’s Not The Enemy” and “Hello Mr. Future”, both of which were unreleased at the time and the latter still remains unreleased, other than it’s appearance on the IPO CD. There’s also Al Jardine‘s live version of “Heroes and Villains” (glad Mike Love didn’t sue me over that one!!!), a previously unreleased live version of “The King Is Half Undressed” by Jellyfish, and a previously unreleased solo track by the aforementioned Jim Ellison, “Each Day (I Call Her Name)”, which was donated by Seth Swirsky, with whom I’m sure many pop fans are familiar. Seth had done some backup singing with Jim and happened to have that track. But perhaps my most sentimental “coup” in this regard is “What A Groovy Day” by Tony and Anthony Rivers. Tony Rivers had been the main man of a couple of UK bands from the ’60s, Tony Rivers and The Castaways and Harmony Grass (who actually had a Top 40 hit in the UK). The Harmony Grass album was one of my favorites of all time, and when it was reissued in Japan I got Tony’s e-mail address from the label guy, and lo and behold I found out he was still doing gigs with his son Anthony. I ended up meeting him in LA at Brian Wilson’s “Pet Sounds” extravaganza-while we were watching the show Tony remarked how nothing could top any of these songs, and I said “I would put ‘What A Groovy Day’ up there with any of them!” He couldn’t believe it, and reminded me of what I’d said for several years afterward. Anyway, he and Anthony ended up playing IPO LA in 2001 (with a large ensemble cast) and recording a new version of “What A Groovy Day” for the comp. Anthony had produced and arranged it, and I thought it was a very touching tribute to his father. I still have tears in my eyes when I hear the new version.
Was there any point in the planning process for Vol. 3 that you considered making it a 3-disc set, then Vol. 4 a 4-disc set, and so on, simply to continue the logical progression of the number of discs each year?
No, it never worked that way, but for the past few years my graphic artist Steve Stanley has urged me to aggressively seek out enough tracks to make a four-disc set. I’ve never really been comfortable “going after” tracks; I just put the word out about the CD to all the bands who have played IPO in a given season and wait to hear back from those who are interested.
Occasionally, if I hear an album by a band who has an amazing track, and they’re playing IPO, I might ask for it, but as far as actively contacting each band individually and saying “come on, you should be on the CD!”…no, it’s just not me. A related phenomenon occured last year when we planned on doing a box set for IPO Vol. 10. We got a quote from our manufacturer which was very reasonable, but with two weeks until IPO was to begin they rescinded the quote, adding on several thousand dollars. Steve had to go back and reformat the design to fit a jewel box. He was so bummed that we couldn’t do the box, and I guess I was pretty bummed, too.
You’ve had several bands reunite for IPO. Which one was your greatest thrill, and are there any dream reunions that you’re still hoping for?
I would have to say my biggest thrill of a band who reunited for IPO occured during the first IPO Chicago, when The Elvis Brothers did their first show in six years. The excitement in the venue (The Abbey) was palpable, and when they finished their set, the applause was so thunderous that I’d never heard anything like it! Talk about love and devotion being showered from the crowd to the band! Man, it was spine-tingling! Another big thrill was when one of my favorite bands, Beagle, reunited after 7 years to play IPO Los Angeles in 2001, and what made that one extra cool was that Beagle is from Sweden!! It probably would have even beat out the Elvis Brothers reunion had Beagle consisted of all the original members, but the only one present was the singer/songwriter Magnus Borjeson; granted, he was by far the driving force of that band, so it was as close as we could get to a genuine Beagle reunion.
My biggest dream reunion, hands down, is Jellyfish. I know that’s the tallest of tall orders because a) Andy Sturmer is not interested in revisiting that time in his career and b) Jason Falkner had too many bad experiences in that band to consider doing it again. However, age often tends to soften hard feelings, and perhaps if the stars allign the right way (a figure of speech-I don’t ascribe to astrology), it could happen. Everyone tells me to bury that pipe dream, but my credo is “never say never”, and if and when the time is right, if a Jellyfish reunion is to happen, it’s got to happen at IPO!
What’s your position on artists who so slavishly reproduce the sound of another artist (:::coughing::: The Beatles :::coughing:::) so much so that they have absolutely no identity of their own?
I don’t have nearly the kind of problem with that as other people do. I think most music fans and critics alike can’t see the forest for the trees. To be sure, a band deserves much more credit for producing something that’s wholly original, or that distills influences in an orginal way than does a band who merely apes another band’s work, but for me, what it always comes down to is one simple question “do I or do I not like this song?”. I once sitting with a couple of friends, Phil and Mark, who were also big music fans and Phil said “I’m music, Mark is lyrics, and David is ‘feel'”. I knew what he meant by that; that essentially, when I listen to a song, I don’t do any sort of “analysis of it”, in terms of whether or not it’s derivitive or original, or any other “trapping”, I just let the song attempt to work its magic on me, and if it “feels right”, my brain processes that as “I love this song”. I think most critics, when listening to songs, do that sort of analysis, and almost decide a priori that the song is not “good” or not “substantial”. In my opinion you’ll find that sort of analysis being done by critics who have a very inflated opinion of their self-worth, and their value as a “taste-maker”.
Setting aside this year’s compilation, which of the previous years’ IPO comps is your favorite? And with the same caveat, which festival has been your favorite?
Hands down, my favorite IPO compilation is Volume 5, and I don’t know that any future IPO comp will be able to beat it. It was our first triple CD, and part of the reason that happened was I contacted a lot of bands who were playing IPO who had a song or two that I truly loved, and asked them if they’d like the song on the comp. To my pleasant surprise, most of them said “yes”, and to my even more pleasant surprise, my opinion has been validated by many people who have the entire set of IPO CDs!
As for my favorite IPO festival, of course the first one, in Los Angeles in August of 1998 is a sentimental favorite, as its success proved to me that I could really accomplish the organization of a music festival…and there were a lot of very good bands! However, perhaps my favorite IPO is the most recent one in Liverpool, in May of 2008. We had more than 175 bands representing 16 countries, and we really did get the cream of the crop of the lot, thanks in large part to Myspace, which has been a godsend in terms of helping us find the best bands from around the world! Plus, even though this was our sixth IPO Liverpool, it’s still The Cavern Club, and it’s still surreal! To add icing to the cake, while there we found out that the author of a recent book on the history of The Cavern Club, Spencer Leigh, devoted four pages to IPO!! I mean, could anything be cooler than that???
How much do you have to twist Bruce Brodeen’s arm to get him to keep putting out the comps under the Not Lame label, since it’s otherwise defunct? Or is it something that he does strictly for love…?
I don’t have to twist his arm at all-he’s happy to do it each year. I don’t really want to speak for him, but I would guess he does it partly for the love, and partly because the IPO CDs are always consistent sellers, for which Bruce and I are very thankful and appreciative.
How has your personal definition of “pop” changed over the years?
It really hasn’t changed much at all. For me, pop will always be made up of catchy tunes with strong hooks that stay in your head long after the song is over. Of course, that can encompass several different sub-genres, so if you want to spotlight power pop, you could add “guitar-based music with an emphasis on harmonies”, if you want to spotlight soft-pop, you can add instead “vocal oriented music”, and so on. I think what has expanded for me, in terms of IPO, are the parameters by which I will abide in the selection process. For the first few years of IPO a lot of naysayers complained that there was too much of an emphasis on power pop at the festival. To answer those people I have definitely expanded the parameters to include more melodic indie-rock, punk/pop, singer/songwriter, garage pop, and several other sub-genres. Having said that, I think power pop will always be the number one genre represented at IPO.
Can you suggest five of your favorite obscure pop albums that I should consider spotlighting in this column?
Okay, here you go. Of course, most pop heads will have heard of these, but if your readership isn’t that pop savvy, it could open some eyes…
1. The Beckies-The Beckies (1976)
Many people know the song “Walk Away Renee” by The Left Banke, but don’t necessarily know that its writer was Michael Brown, one of the true pop music geniuses, in my humble opinion. After The Left Banke, Brown went on to Montage, The Stories (whose hit “Brother Louie”, was not written by him), and then The Beckies in the mid ’70s. Like all Brown’s previous work, The Beckies is marked by baroque-pop flourishes, although in this case with a strong guitar-based pop-rock veneer. Some absolutely gorgeous ballads like “River Bayou” and “On The Morning That She Came” sit side by side with equally beautiful rockers like “Right By My Side” and “River Song.” One of my biggest music-based wishes is that someone would reissue this album on CD!
2. Sound On Sound-Beagle (1992): The debut album by the aforementioned Swedish band whose reunion show at IPO was one of my biggest thrills at the festival! Singer/songwriter Magnus Borjeson distills just the right influences from bands like The Beach Boys, The Association, Elvis Costello, Crowded House, and others of that ilk to create a powerful pop masterpiece that sounds extremely original. As it was with most Swedish pop of the era, the VU meters are turned way up, creating a pleasantly, almost distorted guitar tone at times, which adds to the overall ambience. One of this albums cuts, “Slow Down“, is my favorite song of all time!
3. Looking Over My Shoulder-Chris Rainbow (1978): Punk and new wave weren’t the only phenomena happening in the late ’70s music scene! There was a small but very devoted pocket of artists who were greatly devoted to the sounds of Brian Wilson, including Chris White (see below), Alan Carvell, Tony Rivers (whose heyday was the ’60s but who was still doing lots of Beach Boys oriented background vocals for other artists like Cliff Richard) and Chris Rainbow, whose second album was an absolutely gorgeous slice of pop, reminiscent of The Beach Boys “Sunflower” period, Alan Parsons Project, and Pilot. In fact, several members of Pilot play on the album. One of my all-time top 10 songs is here: “Dear Brian“, which, yes, is a pastiche to the master.
4. Mouth Music-Chris White (1976): As you read earlier, White was one of the ultra-talented Beach Boys influenced artists who was part of that UK collective. Mouth Music rocks a bit harder than Looking Over My Shoulder (though one would hardly call it a rock album), but the vocal harmonies are splendidly arranged, and the album contains some “could be power pop” classics like “Don’t Look Down” and “Not For You”, among many others.
5. Properties Of Sound-The Nines (2001): Perhaps the best band ever to come out of Canada, and yes, that includes some who are beloved to many (including me) like the Guess Who, and others who are certainly beloved by the cognoscenti (me included) like The Grapes Of Wrath. Steve Eggers is the mastermind behind The Nines, and although the recordings are not stellar from a sonic perspective, the songs are absolutely tantalizing, with amazing chord changes, dizzying vocal arrangements, and cool guitar and piano playing. Yet another Top 10 song for me here: “Melanie“, whose bridge is easily one of the most amazing moments in pop music history!
And, lastly, how in God’s sake do you find enough hours in the day to listen to all of the artists who approach you about appearing in the festival line-up?
It’s a little-known fact that I’m bionic. “We can rebuild him”…and after a bunch of IPOs in a row, I often wish somebody would!