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Q&A: Kevin Popejoy on Vagueness Versus Openness and ELO; Show Tonight at Dada

Glimpses of the South Florida Scene is a column devoted to the artists thriving within Broward and Palm Beach counties featuring interviews with the folks making it happen. This week, Kevin Popejoy.

The common and boyish first name, the seemingly heroic surname: Is there a better moniker than Kevin Popejoy? Saying it sounds better than reading it, and the journey your own vocal chords take when you say it is similar to the one your ears will take when you hear one of his tracks. What initially sounds like beautiful, bare-bones acoustic folk slowly builds into something overflowing with mood. (Just listen to the quiet synth on "Colors.")

Though he's been playing live around Lake Worth for a little under a year, an interview with him felt overdue; his buddies like Nick Eberhardt and Keith Michaud are quick to give him props. And they're well-deserved. His music, though sparse, is intimate and beautiful, good for forest adventures or serene pondering. After plodding through finals, he was able to exchange some emails with us, discussing his process and a former obsession with Pink Floyd.

New Times: Could you talk a little bit about your musical background, such as how you got started playing around Lake Worth? That tends to happen naturally, but explain the steps leading up to your becoming a songwriter.

Kevin Popejoy: I started teaching myself to play guitar when I was a kid, maybe 10 or 12. I didn't really take my guitar playing seriously until about three years ago. At that point, I started producing these sort of goofy instrumentals which got a little bit of attention here and there. 

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to play live and I felt the only way to do this was to actually write songs. I really struggled with this because I had never sang and played guitar, so the first songs that I wrote were pretty horrible. When I felt confident enough in a couple of my songs, I played an open mic night. This was my first experience playing live and it almost didn't happen, but through the efforts of Jesse Baumann [of Everymen] that night, it did. 

After playing a couple of open mic nights, Cecil Lunsford offered me a gig playing a small July 4 festival make up day in Lake Worth. Since then I've been writing and playing my songs in Lake Worth.

Tell me a little bit about your involvement with the Lake Worth "scene." I found out about you through other local musicians mentioning you. I know it's really a warm, helpful community. What's it been like playing local shows, especially compared to when you first started?

Lake Worth is pretty amazing. There is always live music and I try to go to as many shows as possible. That's the great thing about Lake Worth too -- musicians are always recommending each other to other musicians. One thing that has always impressed me is the willingness of musicians to collaborate, help out on stage or just jam for fun. 

When I first started I had terrible stage fright, but after a few months of playing shows and getting boosts of confidence from others' words, I eventually got over that. Lately, playing shows has been an amazing experience. People are so generous with their kind words and it's really a pleasure to get up there and play a few tunes for those people.

Your music has a very organic sound. What are some of your influences? What did you listen to when you were growing up and what hasinspired you recently?

As I was growing up, my mom would always have the oldies station on in the car while driving us around. When I was in high school, I listened to only three bands: Pink Floyd, Electric Light Orchestra, and Radiohead. My brother, to this day, still jokes that he can't listen to any of those bands because he had to hear them so much when we were growing up. 

Now, as my musical taste has matured, I listen to a lot of the Pacific Northwest singer-songwriters like Damien Jurado, Tony Kevin Jr. and Sera Cahoone. They are really talented musicians and I draw a lot of my influence from them.

You have two tracks released on your Bandcamp. What are you currently working on, besides getting a bunch of local shows? Is there an EP in the works?

I'm actually in the process of writing it. I have all the music written for it, now I just have to write the lyrics, which for me is the hardest part. I'm considering maybe taking the last half of the summer off from playing shows so I can focus more on writing rather than practicing my older material. 

My Soundcloud page is probably the best place to go to listen to new songs. I upload a lot of what I record, whether it makes the cut or not, just to give a little insight into the creative process. 

 I'm also working with Michael Muller, formerly of Funcrusher, on a project called White Hats. So far we've been doing it entirely through e-mail correspondence a la The Postal Service. We haven't officially released anything yet but that will change fairly soon.

That sounds exciting. What else can you tell us about White Hats?

Basically, White Hats is me and Mike sending each other tracks back and forth via e-mail. One of us will add something, send it back to the other for approval. As that cycle repeats itself, more and more layers are added to the original track. Some of the rough tracks we've done have been really great. It's very casual and there's a lot of room for me and Mike to both open up creatively because there's not really any pressure to please anybody.

Going back to what you said before, why do you find that it's difficult to write lyrics? Have you ever experienced an instance in which the lyrics came to you first?

When I write lyrics I have this inner struggle with striking the right balance between openness and vagueness. Finding the right mixture of both is the hardest thing for me. I'm a pretty private person when it comes to my personal life and my past so I don't like putting everything out there for everybody to see, but I do like writing about it. 

I've had lyrics come first a few times. Usually, I form lyrics around a melody that I came up with on my guitar. Once in a while though, I write down a complete song with no music in mind and I get so attached to the lyrics that I'll work really hard to come up with music that suits them.

Since we're on the topic of songwriting, what inspires your music -- the lyrics that sometimes come first as well as the songs you've been playing without lyrics? I know it's a pretty free-flowing process for most musicians but I'm curious about your take on it, and what inspires you, if you can pinpoint anything at all.

It's actually really difficult for me to point to one specific thing. Most of my songs are about my convictions whether it be about society, relationships, etc. I also feel like writing songs sometimes gives me closure to certain things that are otherwise unresolved. 

As far as the music goes, I don't think I really have an inspirational source for that. I usually just play guitar while improvising the melody of the vocals until I come up with something that makes sense and sounds good to me. There's definitely a lot of trial and error involved.

Summarize what's next for you. We've discussed your summer plans, writing songs, working on the E.P.... What else? Any shows? What are you looking forward to? And what are your summer plans that don't have anything to do with your musical pursuits?

Besides thinking about taking the summer off from playing shows so I can write more, I'm also taking summer classes trying to finish up my degree in Psychology at FAU. I'm really looking forward to the show I have on May 30 at Dada. I'm playing that show with Daniel Demosthenes from Your Umbrella. He's an amazing musician and a great guy and I'm grateful to be able to share the stage with him.

Kevin Popejoy. With Daniel Demosthenes of Your Umbrella. 8 p.m. Monday, May 30, at Dada, Delray Beach. No cover. More info available on the Facebook event page.

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Monica Uszerowicz