You may remember Pop Etc's music when they were working under a different name. The group changed a lot of things about themselves recently. One thing was their title from the Morning Benders, which apparently had homophobic connotations in the UK. They just released their eponymous debut under their new moniker. Most importantly, they changed their sound quite a bit. POP ETC is, well, it's pretty much a pop album, a synth heavy pop album.
We spoke with singer and songwriter Chris Chu about the power of pop music, necessary life changes, and growing up on D'Angelo.
New Times: Your new album... you guys worked with Danger Mouse and Andrew Dawson to create it. How was that process?
Chris Chu: It was really interesting. Our kind of idea was to get producers who live in a different world from us. Andrew usually works with mostly hip-hop and R&B people, and Danger Mouse has done a lot of different things but more mainstream things. The idea was to get ourselves outside of our comfort zone and try something new, and I feel like it really pushed us to explore that freedom.
You've had some identity shifts in both your sound and your name. Do you think you can maintain your fan base while changing things that majorly define your band?
Yeah, at the end of the day, it's still the same people behind it all. It's still me writing the songs, still me singing. There's lots of things that remain the same, and there's things that change. That's always been the case with us. We're a band that is really interested in trying different things all the time and not going into anything that feels safe or is too easy; then we feel like we're not pushing ourselves. I feel like we have no choice but to change, but at the end of the day, people will identify us three and our creative band personality.
You studied music. You're a trained musician. What'd you grow up playing?
I studied composition at Berkley. It was all very historical, classical, Baroque stuff. Like Bach and Beethoven, classical composers. It was completely different from what I grew up with and what I was interested in at the time. I grew up with pop music that my parents listened to and I listened to growing up. I was raised on the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Around the time I was growing up, Boys II Men, Mariah Carey, and D'Angelo were on the radio.
The new album (POP ETC) seems to have some R&B influence.
Yeah. A big part of the new album is rediscovering some of that music that we haven't listened to in a long time. Much to my surprise, relistening to what I listened to in the '90s, I realized how much I missed the first go-around. With what I know about music now, how I've changed over the years, I just enjoyed it a ton more than I expected.
Then you weren't an indie-rock nerd in high school? You were more popcentric?
I was definitely more popcentric. When I got into music as a kid, I just loved good melodies, and I kind of just picked that up wherever I could.
This pop sensibility reflects in your new name.
What made you decide on the new name?
I really believe that pop music is very powerful and it's very meaningful and can be done in an artistic way. And that's been lost over the last couple of decades. I'm not sure really why. In the '60s, there wasn't that same stigma with pop music. Today when you listen to pop, people look down on you, like it's a dirty word. But I just don't feel like that's the case. A lot of what we're trying to do with this word or genre pop, give some artisticness back to it. We approached this album from really a pure place. There's no major label writing the songs for us. These are ideas we came up with on our own.
It's almost like you're making pop music but with indie sensibilities.
Yes. The ethos is that way. But it's also originally pop. A lot of the pop music in the '60s everyone was writing and playing their own music. Just somehow, in the '70s and '80s, it changed to assembly-line pop.
Pop Etc opens for Dirty Projectors tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Visit cultureroom.net.
Liz has her master’s degree in religion from Florida State University. She has since written for publications and outlets such as Miami New Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Ocean Drive, the Huffington Post, NBC Miami, Time Out Miami, Insomniac, the Daily Dot, and the Atlantic. Liz spent three years as New Times Broward-Palm Beach’s music editor, was the weekend news editor at Inverse, and is currently the managing editor at Tom Tom Magazine.