Tom Curless – Person of Interest

“Almost Ready for the Future” was one of my favorite records of 2020. Its follow-up, “Person of Interest”, released last week, is even better. The songs Tom Curless writes gain in strength, power, and expressiveness with every release. Take “Something for Nothing”, Bob Mould or Rick Springfield would be king if such a melody came to them. But it didn’t. It blew to Tom Curless and, trust me, that’s no coincidence.

On Bandcamp, ‘Person of Interest’ is described as ‘a rocking effort’. What is the most significant difference for you compared to ‘Almost Ready for the Future’?

The main difference between this one and the last one, “Almost Ready for the Future”, is that it is 100% me, just starting with a basic idea/structure and overdubbing like mad. The last album was primarily recorded with my band, the 46% (Chip Saam, Ron Vensko, and Ron McPhereson) live in the studio and then adding stuff here and there.

This one was more of a one-man show which can be a lonely endeavor but still gratifying in a different way. I called it more rocking as, for some reason, most of the ideas were somewhat aggressive electric guitar riffs or chord things; I mean, Scare Tactics that kicks off the record is one of the most aggressive tracks I have ever done, and it was fun to record!

I think I hear some Bob Mould influences, but it looks like there are so many more. Who are you influenced by, or, maybe better, inspired by?

I am definitely influenced by Bob Mould, no question, I absolutely adore both Workbook, and I think Copper Blue by Sugar is a masterpiece, the heaviness of that combined with the melodic sense and amazing tunes, really love it. Michael Lucas, who mastered the record, told me he heard Andy Summers, David Gilmour, and Alex Lifeson (he must have meant 80’s Alex Ha!) in my guitar work, and it’s a fair cop, those three loom large for me. I like a bit of atmosphere.

I like your lyrics, and I keep coming back to Street Kids because of some of the triggers that you built in there. Do the words come easy?

I am so happy you like the lyrics because that is the hardest part for me. The music always comes first, and then I try to get a vibe from the music to write a lyric. Sometimes a snippet will come to me, a line here or there, and then I run with it. Street kids is me trying to be a little like early The Clash, and thinking that way the lyric came pretty fast, the theme being I want the younger generation to wake up and live more in the moment, stop taking all their cues from social media and have their own strong opinions. OK, I can get down from the pulpit now, phew!

Something for Nothing. That’s a special one. It’s not infinitely hard to imagine this should be a huge hit. Did you think that too when you wrote it?

A huge hit would be nice! Hell, a minor hit would be nice! Ha. This one came to me one night; it must have been one of those good nights because it felt like it just appeared. The verse is obviously Zenyatta Mendatta, and then it runs smack into Pete Townshend in the chorus!

I was thinking it may be a bit too rip-off, but then I came up with the words and the melody on top, and I thought, hold on… this is pretty cool!

Then when I got the mix back from Nick Bertling, who did a FANTASTIC job, BTW, I cranked it up in the car and thought, I really like this!! This is a cool track. Did I really do this? If you start feeling like that, you know it is one of your better efforts.

The songs are out, and you probably know you released a great record. Or is it not that easy?

You are too kind. I never feel that way; I mean, I am proud of it for sure, and I put a ton of time and sweat into it but usually, by the end, I have heard the songs SO MANY times that I totally lose perspective and wonder if it is any good? It’s probably because I am sick to death of it…but it turns around when I can send the finished product out into the world, and people hear it with fresh ears. I am so glad you like the record!

Photo by Rick Warhall

Ryan Allen – I’m Not Mean (Q&A)

I’m not afraid to try new things, tweak old things, or do whatever I want in order to keep making new art.”, says Ryan Allen.

Being productive and not becoming predictable at the same time is not given to everyone. Ryan Allen manages to do exactly that, and he surprises with four wonderful jangle pop songs. “I’m Not Mean” is the first Pop-must-hear of 2022.

Did you start with the idea of ​​writing some jangle pop songs, or did it just happen?

I’ve been toying with writing something with a little more lightness to it, but wasn’t exactly sure how to approach it. Then I stumbled upon a podcast (shoutout The Vinyl Detroit Podcast) that had an interview with one of the founders of Sarah Records. That kind of kickstarted me going down a Sarah rabbit hole, which also led to listening to a lot of similar bands like Black Tamborine, Aislers Set, the Pale Saints…stuff like that. Even some newer bands like Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Crystal Stilts.

So yeah, I was just kind of drawn to wanting to make some very breezy, jangle-y, reverb-drenched simple pop songs. As usual, once I had the inspiration, the songs came fast and basically wrote themselves.

Where or How did you find the story for ‘To Be A Journalist’? The guitar sounds so SO beautiful here.

I majored in journalism in college and worked for a free arts & entertainment magazine in my 20s, so I’ve always had an interest in the practice. Now, however, journalists are basically replaced by “media personalities” who push the agenda of whatever network they are affiliated with, seemingly with little oversight.

This song kind of digs into that concept a bit, essentially saying that it’s easy for anybody with an opinion to just start blathering on about whatever they want in a pretty public forum, and how there are some pretty clear consequences when these media personalities decide to lie or stretch the truth for what boils down to monetary gain. Then I set all that depressing drivel to a cheery pop song. Haha!

It looks like it is easy for you the switch between genres?

I mean, no matter what type of sound I decide to tackle, it’s always going to have a focus on lyrics and melody. So to me, it’s all the same at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s going to be more punk-influenced, sometimes I’ll lean more pop, sometimes it’s got a shoegaze angle, or other times it’s hearkening to something super aggressive.

I think the most interesting creative people are ones that aren’t held back by people’s expectations of what they are “supposed” to do, and instead follow whatever their next muse is to the end. I’m not afraid to try new things, tweak old things, or do whatever I want in order to keep making new art.

The title song sounds intense and close?

I wouldn’t say it’s “intense” as much as it acts as more of a reminder. I’m pretty introverted and don’t get my energy from being around a lot of people…so social distancing works for me (haha).

But in all seriousness, sometimes I probably come off like a jerk or “mean” when I don’t intend to. It’s just that I get very quickly drained by social interaction, to the point where I sort of check out or say/do things that may seem insensitive….when, in fact, I’m very sensitive and compassionate. It just doesn’t always come off that way. So this song is sort of my plea to those around me to just be patient and understand the often-misleading plight of the introvert.

For every four songs you release, how many do you reject? Or is that not the way you write songs?

I knew I wanted to do something very short and concise for this project and didn’t want to go too overboard with it, so I just wrote these four songs and capped it. But I’m constantly writing.

We have a new Extra Arms album in the can that will come out this year, and I’ve got another 30, or so songs demoed that I’m just waiting to unleash on the rest of the band members for whenever we feel like working on new stuff. Obviously, some of those will get rejected, and in fact, there are a lot of songs that don’t see official release (which you can listen to via my “Rchives” release from 2020 here.

You are very productive. I can imagine some more music is in the making?

Always. As I said, we have a new Extra Arms album coming out in 2022 – most likely in late spring/early summer – that I’m extremely excited about. I think it’s the best record we’ve ever done as a band. The songs are really joyful, upbeat, and super catchy for the most part. I wanted to make a really fun and powerful rock record that was easy to listen to, and I think we achieved that. So look out for that one soon!

Thrift Store Halo – Enemies With Benefits (Q&A)

Enemies With Benefits, a 3-song EP by Thrift Store Halo, will be released on CD and via all streaming platforms on 2.18.2022.

Thrift Store Halo is an Indie Power Pop band hailing from Chicago. Yet their classic Power Pop sound is often compared to English greats such as Elvis Costello, Paul Weller, Graham Parker, and Nick Lowe.

Frank Gradishar (Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar & Songwriting) explains how the new songs came about.

How did this record come together?

Well, it’s been an interesting few years since our last EP, in 2019.

Obviously Covid has changed everything, and on top of that, our guitarist and my co-writer since 2016, Lance Tawzer (former Material Issue bassist/Lupins guitarist) took a new job heading up the Abraham Lincoln Museum here in Illinois, and moved house several hours away. With that move, we basically decided to end our tenure, which had been, very fun and exciting. It was an amicable split and we’re still very good friends. Lance still does our artwork, and I always like getting his opinion on my new music.

Initially, with Lance’s departure, I had actually thought that maybe it was time to shut the operation down for good, and just end it. But last summer, my partner in crime, Scott Proce (drummer), thought the time might be right to try and reform Thrift Store Halo as our original trio. We had previously contemplated that back in 2016, but it didn’t work out; that’s when we joined up with Lance.

So in July, 2021, Scott and I went into a little studio and just started playing again with Brent Seatter, our original guitarist who appeared on our first EP in 1996 and our 1998 LP, World Gone Mad. Brent is a really gifted guitarist and as soon as we got into a room and started playing with him, it just felt right. Having played together for so many years back in the 1990s and briefly in the summer of 2016, it’s as though we share a form of telepathy or intuition, which made it all very comfortable, for lack of a better word. Everything just kind of fell into place, very quickly.

I had such a back log of songs, and we had a few tracks from the 1990s, two of which, “Not Too Late” and the rather experimental track, “Shelter”, had been written back in 1997, so we had plenty of material to choose from and it was rather easy hitting our pace.

Then we called Kevin Mucha, the fourth “member”, who recorded, produced, mixed and mastered all our release from 2017 through 2019, and he was really keen on working with us, so we got to work recording finally in October, and we are really happy with how everything sounds. Likewise, our old friend Kenn Goodman of Pravda Records/Pravda Music Publishing here in Chicago is like family, and he has been such a great ally and he was very happy to help us get the record out and to the “masses”. It feels great to be sitting here and looking forward to another new release!  

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

The meaning of success certainly has changed! Honestly, I think the fact that I’m surrounded by friends and musicians who are still actually interested and excited to make music with me, record the songs and release the songs is a success in and of itself! Considering that I had seriously considered calling it a day, I feel really happy just to be answering these questions about a new release!

Now, back in the day, success for me, was definitely measured more by label interest, big gigs at the bigger Chicago venues and by getting our songs on TV and FM radio, and, of course, getting reviewed in magazines. We did quite well in the late 1990s on all those fronts, especially with TV placements; we had songs on some relatively big US shows, like Party of Five and Smallville.

For this record, I think it’s already a success because it actually got made! Now, the rest is gravy! Having people actually checking out the music is the best part. Thankfully, in this day and age, I feel blessed that there is such a strong and supportive online scene surrounding power pop and that we can share our music and interact with other artists remotely and via streaming. There are so many great indie internet radio stations out there, and we have been blessed to be supported by so many. So really, I am utterly content and happy with what we have done and what we are continuing to do!

How great is the urge to stay creative?   To keep writing songs and lyrics?

I write constantly. It’s just what I do. In a way, I suppose it is very therapeutic and cathartic. Not that my songs are necessarily autobiographical, but I love trying to tap into an idea or emotion and weaving it all into a cohesive 3- or 4-minute song.

I am always striving to perfect my particular brand of songwriting. I am amazed sometimes at what jumps out when I sit down with my guitar and start humming over some chords. I seem to go someplace else entirely, where it just flows out and writes itself. I wish I could figure out how it all happens, but then again, I worry I would lose the ability if I did.

With Lance, he would send me, in most cases, complete musical ideas, with verses, bridges and choruses, and I would develop the melodies and write the lyrics on my own. Sometimes we would sit together and write, which was also very cool. But, I wasn’t really needing to develop songs from scratch, as I had been doing previously. That was a unique challenge, trying to write lyrics for the someone else’s chords. But it was a fun exercise and I think we crafted some very good songs with that approach.

Now I am back to bringing in songs I wrote from the ground up, so to speak, into a group setting, where the songs will be reassessed, modified, and almost always, very much improved upon from my original ideas. I do not demo, not as such; I simply sit down and sing as I play guitar into my iPhone. I have toyed with the idea of getting a nice little home studio set up, but I think I know that if I do, I will begin to get too set on my ideas of what songs should sound like and I would risk being too dictatorial when it comes to fleshing out arrangements in the band. I don’t want that to happen.

I want the band to remain collaborative, team effort in terms of arrangement, feel and approach for the songs. While Scott and Brent might not write the lyrics or the original chord structures, they do rework them and force me (sometimes kicking and screaming) to develop the songs into their final arrangements, which I think, is very important. I trust the, and their musical instincts.

Put another way, it’s as though I “write” the blank coloring book, and then Brent, Scott and I color in the lines together to create the final picture. I really dig our approach. I might write songs, but those songs aren’t just mine. They belong to the band. That’s also why I share all royalties equally.

I have over a 150 songs in the vault – or cloud as it may be – at this point. Now, 85% or more of those songs might never see the light of day, but that’s alright. I like having the ability to throw open the doors to Scott and Brent and say, pick what you think are songs we can arrange and to see where they end up!

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

We’re not much of a live band anymore, for many reasons, but, without a doubt, the most memorable show we played was opening for recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees and British Invasion icons, The Zombies.

We opened for them at a “sold out” show in Lincolnshire, Illinois, in July, 2012, and it was incredible. It was such a pleasure getting to meet them, and see them, up close at soundcheck, and of course, during their set, which was stellar! They were very gracious and humble; true British gentlemen. And they were, and still are, so well-oiled, and full of energy. It was infectious! I remember having a great conversation after the show with the late Jim Rodford (who had been in the later-era Kinks and of course, Argent), who was playing bass for the band; he was full of great stories and was really, such just such a lovely guy.

Another show which stands out was a festival show in Wisconsin, back in 1998, opening for Eric Burdon – another British Invasion hero. The main memory of this show was when Eric’s drummer for that tour, the legendary Aynsley Dunbar, found his way into our dressing room while we were out walking around the fest; we returned to find him there after he drank every last beverage that was in the fridge! 

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

Great question – and a tough one! I would have to include:

1. “What Now” by Something Happens. From this awesome Irish band’s 1990 album, “Stuck Together with God’s Glue”, produced by the brilliant Ed Stasium.

2. “New Mistake” by Jellyfish, off their second album, “Spilt Milk”. A perfect power pop song.

3. “Everything Flows” by Teenage Fanclub, off their first LP, “A Catholic Education”. It’s perfectly grungy and provides perfect insight into what a great band they were destined to become.

4. “God Speed” by Velvet Crush, off the band’s 1998 “Heavy Changes” LP. Brilliant. 

5. “This Better Be Good” by Fountains of Wayne of their 2007 release, “Traffic and Weather”. It’s just a fun, and catchy song, with some excellent guitar work.

If I was allowed a 6th, I would certainly include “Still Breathing” by Green Day – love the lyrics, the attitude and the sound…Power-pop-punk?! Yes, please!

Daryl Bean – Mr. Strangelove (Q&A)

Daryl Bean had almost given up making music; he didn’t feel like playing covers at weddings and was convinced no one wanted to hear his self-written songs.

Last year Mr. Strangelove was released, an EP with four of Daryl Bean’s own songs. You can hear the pleasant influences that Squeeze and Pugwash have had on his writing style.

How did this record come together?

I’ve been writing songs for over 20 years, but I’m not very prolific – in fact, it took me 15 years to write the four songs on this EP! I had a period where I was very depressed and dissatisfied with being a musician and almost stopped entirely. I owe it to Andy Reed, who mixed the EP, for talking me “off the ledge” so to speak, and encouraging me to take the time and effort to fully realize these songs I’d written. Prior to this, they had been pretty rough home-recorded demos.

So, I did a Christmas single in November 2020 called “Holidaze” as a beta test; I’d written it over a decade ago but never recorded it, so I decided to try it as a beta test. It came out so well and was so much fun to do that I decided to take more of my songs, record them properly, and release them as an EP.

So, I spent the first few months of 2021 recording at home and Andy Reed’s studio in Bay City, MI. Andy mixed it, and by May, it was all done. I’m really happy with it.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

I actually quite deliberately *didn’t* ask for opinions! I wanted to lean on my instincts and ideas, sort of as an exercise, because I sometimes let my need for external validation get in the way of doing what my instincts tell me to do. I wanted to make songs that I liked in a way that pleased me, so I didn’t ask anyone else. Andy and I would sometimes discuss arrangements, and he had excellent ideas that helped the songs a lot, but I didn’t want to make a record by committee. I wanted it to represent the best playing and producing I could do.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

You know, I feel like the record has already achieved success beyond what I ever imagined. When I decided to do this, I steeled myself to the idea that I was making it for myself and that no one else would probably like it or care about it. So, it’s a fantastic thing when people who I’ve never met buy it and tell me that they enjoy it. And I’m always chuffed when I get an order to send a CD to another country – so far, I’ve shipped them to France, England, and Japan, and it just blows my mind that music I recorded in my living room in Michigan is going all over the world. I feel so appreciative that people like it.

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

I think that it’s a challenge, like it is for many people. Nothing is more exciting than having the tiny spark of an idea, playing around with it, and turning it into a real thing. But, I also have a job, and daughters, and all the other stuff in life that I want and need to be present for.

And also, those sparks of ideas can be hard to come by sometimes. So it’s a balance for me to make the time to be creative and pursue those little sparks while also being present and available in my life. Hopefully, it won’t take me another 15 years to write four songs for another EP!

As an artist, you choose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

Definitely not. Another exercise for me in the writing and production of this EP was to let my guard down a little and talk honestly about myself in the songs. So you have songs like “Keeping Me Alive” and “Be Careful” which were about some very personal events in my life, and it felt very vulnerable to open up a little.

And although “Phoebe Waller Bridge” was written with tongue firmly in cheek, there was a little bit of hopefulness, like “but what if she *did* hear it and found it charming and maybe wanted to meet me?” I felt like it made the songs more satisfying for me to play and sing, and hopefully for the listener too.

You can pick three co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

Thomas Walsh, Mike Viola, and Taylor Swift. Thomas records under the name Pugwash, and I just love his music to death. Mike because his writing is always so surprising and yet still so melodic and satisfying, plus I really want to be friends with him because he seems like the nicest, coolest guy.

Finally, Taylor because I loved Folklore. According to Spotify, it was my most listened to album the year it came out. I think of her like an early 70’s Joni Mitchell – her writing is so confessional and real, and I wonder if working with her would give me the courage to be more vulnerable in my own writing.

I’m going to cheat and throw Colin Moulding and Andy Partridge on this list as well – I wouldn’t be writing or recording without XTC.

What compliment you once received will you never forget?

Not to beat on how important Andy Reed was on the existence of this EP, but when I almost quit music in 2020, we had just started to get to know one another through our mutual friend Amy Petty. He had a discussion thread on his Facebook wall about things that frustrated people about making music, and someone had mentioned how they felt like quitting music. I agreed and said I was thinking about selling everything and getting out. Andy messaged me and said, “what are you talking about?”. So I replied that I didn’t like playing covers at weddings and bars, and I didn’t see any point in doing original material because who would want to listen to a 47-year-old guy sing his dumb songs.

Andy asked me to send him some of my songs, and we barely knew each other at the time. But I did, a week or so went by, and when he replied, he said, “I’m not going to tell you what I think you should do, but I think these songs are worthwhile, and you should make them the best they can be”.

I deeply respected his opinion, and the word “worthwhile” really stuck in my head. So, I think that’s the nicest compliment I can think of, for someone whose work you respect and admire to say that your work is worthwhile.

Those magical moments when you’re working in the studio. Which moment was the most magical?

Recording “Phoebe Waller Bridge” with Andy and Donny Brown in Bay City. I had an idea in my head of what I wanted the song to sound like, but Andy and Donny are such good musicians they took it a step beyond that. Hearing the first rough mix of it was a really lovely moment. I couldn’t believe that we got *that* in like 4 hours. Play with the best people you can, folks; you’ll never regret it.

Suburban HiFi – Superimposition (Q&A)

Just before Christmas, Suburban HiFi’s Superimposition was released. Greg Addington (Hangabouts), inspired by late 1970s rock, pop, and disco, wrote 11 great, very catchy songs. He explains to SSM how the record came about.

How did this record come together?

Once Covid hit, it was pretty clear that Hangabouts wouldn’t be getting together in a meaningful way to make an LP for a while. I’m always writing songs in various styles, and there were a few that I just didn’t think would end up on a Hangabouts record. Or what I think of as the Hangabouts sound.

So I started recording, at first as demos, in my basement studio. The first thing was Potemkin Honey. It was a different song then, more Freedy Johnston than how it ended up. I think maybe the third attempt is the one on the record. I started messing around with a Sequential Multi-Trak and found a sound I liked, and everything for that song was born out of that.

About three-quarters of the record was already written before I started. The rest came about during the process. Vinyl on the Radio and In Her Reverie were definitely written in 2021. But some songs pre-date Kits and Cats and Saxon Wives (Hangabouts), and I wanted to get them out there. Here Comes the Blood is one of those, for example.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

I ask my wife for an opinion as soon as I finish something. I play it on an acoustic guitar for her, and once I track it, I play it for her. She doesn’t have to say anything. If she doesn’t move and says it was really good, I know it isn’t right yet! Once she starts moving around and the feet move, I’m probably on to something.

I always bounce stuff off of John Lowry and Chip Saam. Nearly all the songs were played for those guys before I even recorded them.

But in reality, if I really like a song, even if others don’t respond to it, I’ll do it. I think January Book may fall into that category. That one’s for Mom; rest her soul.

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

Honestly, for me, writing is a daily thing. I don’t set aside time specifically, but it would be nice! Sometimes I wake up with something to get down. Or I’ll hear an idea and jot it down. The preference is to finish songs once I get started, but I don’t have the luxury to do that most of the time.

So with many ideas, I sit down with John, and we write something. Or John helps with a chord here or lyric there. All of the Hangabouts songs that are John or I get written that way. But with a couple of exceptions, the songs on Superimposition were written by me.

My preference is to write with John or Chip. It’s important for me to have a writing partner that I can trust. Putting something out there is a vulnerable experience and having mutual respect for that is vital.

Lyrics are too often taken for granted. What is the line of text, or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember? And why?

I love this question because I often think that lines that resonate with an artist/writer aren’t necessarily the same ones that work for the listener. I remember an interview with Elvis Costello where he mentioned people would say how they loved the line, “I wish you luck with a capital ‘F’.”  But he liked the preceding line, “With these vulgar fractions of the treble clef.”

Personally, one of my favorite lines, for whatever reason, is in Fight on our Wedding Night. “When I see you, all will be forgotten, chiffon will turn to cotton.”  I guess I like the idea of forgiveness it alludes to. There is a formality to this big event, and it’s the event itself that is causing the friction for this couple, who just want to get on with it. In any case, the bridge hasn’t even happened except in the narrator’s mind.

Suppose you were to introduce your music to new listeners through three songs. Which songs would those be and why?

I’d probably choose Space Between Us, Fight on our Wedding Night, and Here Comes the Blood. I think they represent the album as a whole pretty well. They’re upbeat and pretty catchy, I think. 

The record is done, the music is out. Is the best fun done now, or is it just beginning?

I like the promotion part of releasing music. I wish I had more time to dedicate to it. I’d like to play some of these songs live, maybe with the Hangabouts. We played a version of Vinyl on the Radio a couple of months ago in the studio while rehearsing other stuff. Sounded great! Hangabouts are starting to record some new stuff again, and maybe this summer will be time to hit the stage again. I think everyone is itching to get out and do it. Additional Greek letters notwithstanding.

Let’s Put the Power back in Pop! Happy 2022!

The most popular Sweet Sweet Music Blog post of 2021 is the same as the most viewed one in 2020. The Best 100 Power Pop Songs of the Century (2000 – 2020) now has over ten thousand views.

Let’s Put the Power Back in Pop! Happy 2022!

Have fun (re)reading this year’s ten most popular articles.

Image by Sabeth Elberse Studio

01. The Best 100 Power Pop Songs of the Century (2000 – 2020)

02. The 42 Best Power Pop Records of 2021

03. The Stories behind the best Power Pop songs of 2020!

04. Underwater Sunshine – Suckertree

05. 2021 is a good year for Power Pop and these are the 10 best records so far!

06. Even – Reverse Light Years (Q&A)

07. SORROWS – LOVE TOO LATE … the real album (Q&A)

08. Caddy – Detours and Dead Ends Vol. 1 (Q&A and more…)

09. The Reflectors – Faster Action

10. Go Further: More Literary Appreciations of Power Pop

The Split Squad – Another Cinderella (Q&A)

Keith Streng (The Fleshtones), Eddie Munoz (The Plimsouls), Clem Burke (Blondie), Michael Giblin (Cherry Twister), and Josh Kantor (The Baseball Project) make up The Split Squad. They describe themselves as ‘America’s least famous Supergroup!’. A band of heroes, in my world.

Another Cinderella is The Split Squad’s 2nd album. What an outstanding, excellent record to end 2021 with.

SweetSweetMusicBlog spoke with Michael Giblin.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

The genesis of the band was basically, “Let’s get together and see if we can have some fun together”. The only expectation was a good time making music together. However, in the first sessions, listening to a playback, producer Scott McCaughey turned to engineer Dave Minehan and said, “Clem is NOT phoning it in, is he…”. That just lit a giant fire under everyone to try and keep up with him.

How did this record come together?

The band has been together for almost ten years now, but this is only our 2nd full-length album. That’s because, given the band’s nature, we get a limited amount of time together when many busy schedules align. We usually spend that time touring, because we love to play together.

So this record is a pandemic record, and it has a colorful and meandering story, as I’m sure many pandemic records do. Even though I have done it a lot in the past, I’ve gotten to the point where I DO NOT like to record and produce my own songs. I prefer to have an external voice in that role. So we started doing demos for a number of songs, to give to folks who would be interested in producing. We had a couple of near-misses with some people, mostly from scheduling.

So I listened closely to the demos, and realized that the basic tracks were generally all quite good, and that we had at least half an album of basics already done. So I bit the bullet and decided to just forge ahead on our own. We booked some shows in the first week of March 2020, and planned to do a little more recording around those.

However, that was exactly when the world fell apart, and all our shows were cancelled. So this afforded us the time to complete all of the basic tracking we’d need. But then it wasn’t until late summer, when the country opened up again, and we could get together for overdubs and such.

Same with mixing. We did it all around the few moments of respite that the pandemic allowed us to have. I’m amazed that it holds together so well, as a group of songs, because there are at least 5 that started out as pure demos. If the pandemic hadn’t forced us into the studio, we’d still be probably trying to pull together the demos!

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

We just hope that it serves as a good tool to allow us to keep playing together in front of people, because that’s what we really love to do.

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

I’d love to say I’m one of those “I just HAVE to write all the time!” people, but I’m not. I’m an inspirational writer, not a grind-it-out person, for the most part. So I write when lightning strikes, and I don’t when it doesn’t. Having said that, I quite often go through periods of “that’s it, I’m empty” self-doubt, but then eventually, the inspiration always manages to find it’s way back.

As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

NOOOOO. As a writer, I pay very close attention to point of view in a song, and I quite often write in 3rd person; as an outsider looking in.

That helps me to “bare my soul” without it necessarily being about ME. I also like to write from the point of view of defined characters, like in “Trying to Get Back To My Baby” on the new album.

It really all depends on the song, but going all the way back to Cherry Twister, those are techniques that have served me quite well.

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

Pete Townshend, Elvis Costello, and Peter Case. The first two are obvious, if anyone knows anything about me and my musical history. As for Peter Case, while The Plimsouls are definitely an important point on my musical compass, I am a huge devotee of ALL of his work. For my money, he is perhaps the greatest songwriter presently walking the earth.

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

Keeping it just to The Split Squad, we did a festival in Spain a few years ago, and they told us we were scheduled to go on at 1:00 AM. It was a public, free festival in the town square, and we thought “1:00AM!?!? This is gonna suck!”

However, when we hit the stage (at about 1:45!!), we were met by 5000 totally wired, drunken, wonderfully crazy Spaniards. When Clem switches into “Arena Mode”, it’s a glorious thing to behold, and that’s all it took, regardless of the hour.

Lyrics are too often taken for granted. What is the line of text or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember? And why?

While most of The Split Squad’s songs are not intended to be overly “literary” (I often refer to our sound as “Big Dumb Rock”), perhaps the most heavy lyric in our catalog is “I Can’t Remember”. It’s written like a breakup/lost love song, but it’s actually about my own personal state of mind after the death of my wife from leukemia in 2010. Her illness was very brief and intense, and she passed quickly and unexpectedly. The lines “I can’t remember the day you went away/I can’t remember the last thing you did say” are borne from the fact that I cannot remember what her last words actually were, because we didn’t expect her to pass when she did. It’s intended to remind myself (and anyone who listens) that those moments that you WANT to hold onto forever may go by so quickly that you don’t notice them. So pay attention…

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

Well, given that I haven’t listened to mainstream radio for many years, I’d have to say, in the radio station of my mind, it would have to be “Hey DJ”, the first track on the new album. Of course, in my mind’s radio station, Cheap Trick and The Plimsouls take the place of Journey and Def Leppard, so take that with a grain of salt.

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

That’s a tough answer, because the band is quite eclectic. For a good sampling of The Split Squad, it would be “Now Hear This”, “Showstopper”, “I Can’t Remember”, “Hey DJ”, and “Bigger Than Heroin”. That gets you Guitar Mayhem, Heavy Rock, Soul, Power-pop, and Psychedelia!

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

With The Split Squad, we don’t do things exactly the same way each time. Especially Clem. He like to stretch out and change things up quite a bit, so the songs are constantly evolving. And he totally feeds off of audiences and environments to do that. Eddie, as well, is a bit of a wild card. He will at times play things so out of left field it makes us forget what we are doing. Keith, especially, is constantly marvelling at what Eddie comes up with on the fly.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

One of the things I have always tried to showcase in this band is the breadth of everyone’s musical vocabulary and stylistic reach. We could, conceivably, play a song in any style, from straight garage-punk, to New Orleans R&B, because there is at least someone in the band who is great at THAT style. We can always make it sound like us, but on both of our albums, there are at least a half-dozen different stylistic checkpoints.

Suppose you were to introduce your music to new listeners through three songs. Which songs would those be and why?

Again, tough because of the broad, eclectic nature, but “Now Hear This”, which showcases the incredible guitar firepower that we have, “Hey DJ”, which plays to the power-pop side of all of us, and “I Cant’ Remember”, which is a straight-up soul song.

If you could tour the world with two other bands, who would you ask, and why?

Assuming you mean still active bands, I would say The Fleshtones and Wilco/Jeff Tweedy. I have toured with both in the past, and I’d pick The Fleshtones because they are 4 of the most erudite, epicurean fellows you’ll ever meet. They know where the best place to eat or get a great cocktail is in EVERY city in the world. As for Wilco/Tweedy, I toured with Jeff in 2015, as part of the Minus 5, and their operation is so incredibly professional and respectful, from top to bottom, and their audiences are so warm and receptive to other acts on the bill. They set an extremely high bar in that regard, and it was a joy to be a part of it.

What compliment you once received will you never forget?

I’m not sure I’d call it a compliment, but because I’m a singing bass player, I get a lot of (fairly lazy) people assuming that I’m a Geddy Lee/Rush fan. I’m not. At all.

Those magical moments when you’re working in the studio. Which moment was the most magical?

While everyone in this band is more than capable of producing those kinds of moments (and have on several occasions), the winner on this record would have to go to Clem. The “Bolero” section, at the end of “Invisible Lightning” was a completely unrehearsed, spur of the moment thing. We finished the take, and Clem just launched into it, without saying anything to aynone. We fell in behind him (and then cleaned it up later), but listening back to the raw take, everyone was just laughing hysterically, beause it was so brilliant, and spontaneous.

What place do you occupy in the music industry?

Oh man, I have a LOT to say about this. Far more than you’d like devote this blog to! But this is an interesting and difficult time for people who make rock music that are “of a certain age”. Unless you want to trade in flat out nostalgia (DO NOT get me started on tribute bands), making rock music with and for people over the age of 40 is a very steep uphill climb these days. Basically, people at large of that age don’t want to hear music they don’t already know. The mainstream music industry, of course, ignores us, because of our ages (which it has ALWAYS done. That’s nothing new), so unless you already have a devoted audience, cultivated from decades of hard work, catching the ear of people who don’t already know you is a very daunting task. It’s a bit of a cliche, but Europe continues to be a place that is significantly more open to that than the US. So like many acts “of a certain age”, we look there first for audiences to embrace and inspire us.

If you could pick three singers to sing harmony vocals on your next record, who would you ask?

Marti Jones (who did sing on a Parallax Project album), Harry Nilsson, and David Bowie (for that amazing counterpoint singing he was so great at, like on “Space Oddity”)

The record is done, the music is out. Is the best fun done now or is it just beginning?

Well, since we enjoy playing together so much, I would have to say “No, the fun is definitely not over!” Hopefully the state of the world lets us get on with that!

The 42 Best Power Pop records of 2021

Many artists have used the pandemic time to get creative and crank out an album within the course of a few months. Some have used this time to revisit projects that they have previously abandoned, and it is those releases that dominate the list of The 42 Best Power Pop records of 2021.

Of course, there is also a Spotify playlist with the best song of each listing (41 songs because Have A Cool Summer! is not on Spotify).

I asked the makers of all this beauty, ‘Why has this become such an excellent record?’.
You can read the answers, in addition to the short comments from myself, below.

01. Underwater Sunshine – Suckertree

The most beautiful release of 2021 appears to have been recorded in 1996. Underwater Sunshine’s Suckertree takes you back to the heyday of Modern Power Pop and sounds as fresh and exciting as the records released that year by the likes of The Posies, Fountains of Wayne, and Superdrag. 

Johnny Nikolic: “Like a fine Burgundy wine, it’s had twenty-five-plus years to age. Also, we had the amps turned to eleven.”.

02. Tuns – Duly Noted

Chris Murphy: “What I like about TUNS is that the songwriting process consists of making up jams out of thin air and once we lock into something interesting, we record a voice memo of that idea, and we do that for a few days until we have at least 50 jams and we have a voting process to arrive at 15 from which 12 songs have songwriting chops applied to them, and we have an album.

We did this process for both LP’s. The first one used only nine songs, so we put the 10th, and 11th song on a 7” single, and the 12th went on a digital-only soundtrack compiled by a friend to help promote a book he wrote.

We really didn’t know what we were doing when we made the first LP, but we knew better the second time around, and I’m really happy with the results. Every song starts with a catchy bit of music, and I get to work with these two fantastic singers who put great melodies overtop and sing great background parts.

The whole process is also without any of the pressure of a band that is responsible for paying the mortgages of those involved or anyone else in an extended organization. It’s pretty ideal.”.

03. Lolas – All Rise

Tim Boykin has already produced some Power Pop classics, and All Rise is as good as Something You Oughta Know or Doctor Apache.

Tim Boykin: “I was sad and depressed when I wrote it, and as we all know, sadness and depression makes for the best power pop. LOL”.

04. Caddy – Detours and Dead Ends Vol. 1

If no one had told me that Detours and Dead Ends Vol. 1 consisted of only covers, I probably would never have found out. Tomas Dahl didn’t just choose obscure songs; he made them all his own and gave them the, so specific, Caddy treatment.

Well, …

Tom Dahl: “Many people were surprised this is a cover album as it’s basically a collection of unknown songs from unknown bands/artists. It sounds like a Caddy album, but at the same time, these bands/artists are introduced to a new crowd. If someone covers Caddy 30 years from now, that will be the ultimate compliment.”.

05. Daniel Romano – Cobra Poems

Daniel Romano is the new Tom Petty, and Cobra Poems is the record Petty would have made if he had accepted Stevie Nicks as a member of The Heartbreakers back then.

06. The Summer Holiday – B-Sides Stories, Volume One

If the mystery has been solved in the meantime, then it has passed me by. I have no idea who the members of The Summer Holiday are. However, the quality of what’s on offer is so high that I wouldn’t be surprised if some well-known grandmasters were involved. What Happens When You Lose might be my favorite song of 2021.

07. Sorrows – Love Too Late … The Real Album

Love Too Late was first released in 1981. A record full of beautiful songs that were killed by a wrong production. Forty years later, Sorrows reworked the songs, and if this version had been released at the time, this would have been a classic from the golden age of Power Pop. And now it’s a Modern Power Pop classic. Easy as that!

Arthur Alexander: “Well, first off, you DO realize that by asking me this question you are forcing me to agree that this is indeed an excellent record!… OK, I am forced to wholeheartedly agree! LOL That said.

When Sorrows went to England to record this album, we KNEW we were going in to make something special. All the pieces were there. We had a bunch of great songs, not a piece of fluff among them; a band which by that time was one hell of a well-oiled rock ‘n roll machine, and we had Mr. Legendary Producer at the helm to make sure this would be a great record.

The cluster fuck that followed and the resulting sham of an album left us devastated. But ultimately we were determined to do it justice, no matter how long it took.

And it took a loooong time to pull it off, but pull it off we did in the end. It was our determination to do right by our music and the legacy of the band that was what, in the end, resulted in the album it was always meant to be.

So yes, an excellent album it is, and we always knew it was. It was taken away from us… and we took it back!”.

08. Ward White – The Tender Age

Ward White describes himself as an art-rock crooner. An accurate description, I would say.
On The Tender Age, Ward reminds me of David Bowie and Parthenon Huxley but he is also, quite rightly, compared to Bryan Ferry and Elvis Costello. What an overwhelmingly beautiful record.

Ward White: “I don’t know if it’s an excellent record; hopefully it’s a good one. Like kids, you just hope each record inherits your best qualities, surprises you from time to time, and doesn’t embarrass you down the road.”.

09. LOVEBREAKERS – Primary Colours

LOVEBREAKERS sounds like a group of cheeky brats. Simply irresistible.

10. The Reflectors – Faster Action

If you loved The Beat in the early ’80s and your musical taste hasn’t changed much, there’s a fair chance that Faster Action is your favorite record of 2021.

James Carman: “This record is very special because around the time this was recorded, the world was on lockdown, and those moments of playing music and writing, it gave us our platform to write songs that were coming from our hearts.”.

11. Andy Bopp – AB

Until this year, I was sure that Myracle Brah’s Life On Planet Eartsnop was Andy Bopp’s masterpiece. I know better now.

Andy Bopp: “It was made during the pandemic over a one-year period. It’s special because disc 1 is more of a “pop” album, and disc 2 is noisier”.

12. Local Drags – Keep Me Glued

Keep me Glued is a master class on how to put the power back in the pop.

Lanny Durbin: “Keep Me Glued is pretty special to me because it turned out exactly how I wanted it. Not a lame riff or lyric or melody (in my opinion). I’m proud of every song on the record. I’m my own worst critic, but this was the first time I was able to say, “wow, every song is pretty cool!” I used to worry that my style wasn’t PUNK enough to be a punk/pop punk/whatever band, so I tried to write a “punk” song on my first record, and now it’s the worst song on there!

I used to worry my voice wasn’t good enough, etc. This time I just said to myself, ok, then sing better because who cares! To quote John Prine: you are what you are, and you ain’t what you ain’t. The songs are my best work; the boys played their parts just right, the packaging is sick too. Basically thought to myself, what is the exact record you’d like to listen to? And this is it!”.

13. Scott Warren – Shadow Bands

Shadow Bands sounds like a record made by kings like Neil Finn or Elvis Costello. Yes, Scott Warren is that good!

Scott Warren: “I think this particular batch of songs came together really well writing/production-wise. When releasing a record out into the world, you never know what to expect. It’s nice to see that it has resonated with folks.”.

14. The Brothers Steve – Dose

If I were to make a list of records that I sing along the loudest, Dose would have been #1.

Steve Coulter: “Making ‘Dose’ was a lot of fun and an interesting challenge given the state of the world. Without the ability to be in a room (or on stage) bashing out the songs as a band, we were forced to experiment more—which I think contributed greatly to the end result. It doesn’t hurt that the members of The Brothers Steve are some of my oldest friends and partners in crime. It’s always a blast to rock out and make music with those guys.”.

15. The Easy Button – Lost on Purpose

“Lost On Purpose” reminds me of “Welcome Interstate Managers”. In my world that is the greatest compliment imaginable.

Brian Jones: “Our new record “Lost On Purpose” is our most daring record to date! The most songs we’ve put out at one time – 22 in under an hour eight minutes, consistent in theme and hook and full of surprises. The songs came quickly during the lockdown and took us on new melodic paths. We were overjoyed when friends and a few of our music heroes guest performed on the album and took it to even greater heights. “Lost On Purpose” is also the first release where we made a vinyl version companion to the full CD and Streaming version.”.

16. Even – Reverse Light Years

Reverse Light Years is the best guitar-record of the year.

17. The High Strung – HannaH or The Whale

HannaH or The Whale was also lost to the flow of time, recorded in 2002, only released this year. As good as any Sloan record released around the turn of the century.

18. Caper Clowns – Abdicate The Throne

Abdicate The Throne is full of very well-made, mature pop songs, played by a group of young dogs. The Danes deviate several times from the Power Pop template on this third, making it completely irresistible.

19. Jim Trainor – Staring Down The Sun

Jim Trainor’s Staring Down The Sun is incredibly easy to listen to, but it took me a while to recognize that there weren’t many better records produced in 2021 than this one. Twelve stunning Power Pop songs.

Jim Trainor: “Staring Down The Sun” is my first full album as a solo artist, and to me, that’s very special. I was encouraged by the warm reception of last year’s EP “Glass Half Full” and wanted to continue that momentum into a full project. I was overjoyed how “Staring Down The Sun” was embraced by pop/rock lovers in general, as well as the airplay it received and still gets from radio hosts. Plus, on both albums, I had the honor to work with some very talented artists, some of whom are at the top of my favorites list.”.

20. The Legal Matters – Chapter Three

Chapter Three is a triumph, a master class in songwriting and harmony singing.

Keith, Andy, Chris: “Chapter 3 is special to us because we feel like we’ve really evolved as recording artists. We were able to use all of our strengths to make the best record that we could make. Our harmonies have become our main instrument, and we really focused on creating the arrangements to support our vocals.”.

21. Doublepluspop – Too Loud + Too Fast + Too Much

Doublepluspop made a Power Pop classic in 2002. However, the record was never released.
Too Loud + Too Fast + Too Much would have certainly made “The Best Power Pop Record of 2002” lists if it had been released back then! Last year there was a digital release of Too Loud + Too Fast + Too Much, and Kool Kat Musik released it on CD in 2021.
I can think of nine more reasons why Too Loud + Too Fast + Too Much shouldn’t be on this year’s list, but the record is too good to leave it out. Maybe I’ll already reserve a spot for next year.

Paul Averitt: “I don’t think of this album as anything other than “this album”. I don’t tend to qualify it in my own mind. I will say that we are very pleased that so many have found and enjoyed it. The glowing reviews are still pouring in more than a year after the digital release, and we are grateful for the encouraging attention. Thanks to anyone who has gone out of their way to check it out. We are humbled.”.

22. Yorick van Norden – Playing by Ear

With Playing by Ear, Yorick van Norden claims an even more prominent place within the very vibrant Indie Pop scene in the Netherlands. Ten extraordinarily personal and beautiful pop songs.

23. The Stan Laurels – There is No Light Without the Dark

Don’t you dare confuse accessibility with mediocrity or even nimbleness. The twelve songs on There is No Light Without the Dark are all easy on the ear but take on a new dimension with every listen. That type of record!

John Lathrop: “While I appreciate your description of my album as being “excellent,” it’s not for me to say it is such; what I will say is I worked very hard on each and every song to craft something I felt was unique and dynamic, offering a wide variety of sounds and feelings; and while each song is quite different from one another, there’s a central sound as well as an over-arching theme connecting all of the songs, making what I feel is a cohesive record. But the #1 priority was and always is melody, so within and underneath all of the soundscapes of buzzing guitars, dreamy keyboards, and pounding drums lies (hopefully) a few nice-sounding vocal melodies and chord progressions in their simplest form.”.

24. David Brookings – Mania at the Talent Show

Like so many other musicians this year, David Brookings seems to have raised the bar for himself again by emerging from the lockdown with twelve of his best songs. Warmer than his previous records, and those earlier ones weren’t cold at all.

David Brookings: “Why has this record become such an excellent record? I think it’s a strong batch of songs and that also the production on it is really great. I teamed up with my old friend Josh Scolaro (he’s in Virginia, and I’m in L.A.) to record it. We file shared back and forth for the past year, putting it all together and including cameos from a few other music friends, and it just turned out to be magical.”.

25. Radio Days – Rave On!

A Power Pop Celebration!

26. Silvertwin – Silvertwin

Pure Pop for the Power Pop people!

27. Novelty Island – How Are You Coping With This Century?

More Pure Pop for the Power Pop people!

Tom McConnell: “Thank you very much for including my little album in this mighty list! Writing and recording ‘How Are You Coping With This Century?’ was a little bit of surreal therapy for me through the dystopia of today, and I hope it is for everyone else too…”.

28. Nick Frater – Earworms

Nick Frater did stop the search for perfection but what came out sounds pretty perfect to my ears.

Nick Frater: “Thanks for the great feedback about Earworms! I wrote it to sound and feel like it was a long-lost LP from the mid-70s. Unashamedly embracing melody and harmony, combined with lyrics that touch a few emotions, seems to have come together just right on this record!”.

29. The Sails – Bang!: The Sails Best of 2006 to 2020

My introduction to Michael Gagliano’s band The Sails took place this year. Quite late when you know that the band has been active since 2006 and has produced a fairly steady stream of high-quality pop songs ever since, all gathered now on this MASTERPIECE.

Michael Gagliano: “Power Pop is more than a genre but an acclamation of taste, style, and attitude. It’s a coded way of life . Everything The Sails stand for.”.

30. Ed Ryan – Don’t Follow Where They Lead

Ed’s songs are my friends.

Ed Ryan: “Once I wrote what became the title track, the album just came together. The song was a little different from my norm and led me to experiment stylistically and to include some of my instrumental pieces as well. It was like throwing a stone in a pond and watching everything ripple out from there.”.

31. The Szuters – The Devil’s in the Details

If I needed a definition of the Power Pop genre, I would ask The Szuters.

32. Split Single – Amplificado

If Power Pop is defined for you by the music of Guided by Voices or Bob Mould, then Split Single’s Amplificado is most likely your favorite record of 2021. Jason Narducy outranks those who influenced him.

33. The Well Wishers – Spare Parts

Gathered what once seemed superfluous and not good enough, turned out to be a wonderfully incoherent whole.

Jeff Shelton: “It’s special because it gave a batch of random, orphaned songs a final home. I’m pleased to hear from some people that these tracks are as worthy as any others I’ve included on “proper” Well Wishers albums …even if the styles and sound of each are a bit disparate. My ultimate goal is to get my music out there for people, so I’m pleased to have found a home for these tracks.”.

34. Galore – Roller

“Fronted by Haligonian Barry Walsh—of the late, great Cool Blue Halo—Galore is a ballsy trip to ’70s glam and power-pop.”, The Coast wrote in 2007. There’s nothing wrong with that characterization. Although Roller also reminds me of the first Fastball record. The recordings were completed some time ago, but Roller was only recently released.

Barry Walsh: “Galore has been through many permutations over two decades, but the line-up for “Roller” is perhaps the longest-lasting, and as a result, I think it’s evident in the recordings that we had — and still have, when we’re in the same room — a chemistry that really serves the music. Even though we didn’t have an outside producer, the songs were shaped through years of live performance and rehearsal, but there’s still enough raw energy there to prevent it from being too slick. And given that it was recorded over a decade ago but just released now, it feels like a sonic postcard from a simpler, more carefree time for me… which is nice to have in these current times.”.

35. Motorists – Surrounded

Frontman Craig Fahner says (in their band bio): “We worked through feelings of isolation as a group to the tune of jangly guitars, infectious power-pop hooks, and a steady motorik beat. Surrounded is an album about modern living and isolation in a technologically saturated society, laden with romanticism around radical togetherness.”.

36. Kiwi Jr. – Cooler Returns

For those who like The Strokes and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Snotty Indie Power Pop.

37. LMNOP – whatNOP dONW7

Every time I listen to whatNOP dONW7, which I’ve done exceptionally often over the past year, I conclude that LMNOP’s music is about a hundred million miles closer to the core of Power Pop than, for example, ELO. So that you know. DIY is king!

Stephen Fievet: “This is my best and most consistent album, probably because I had 32 tracks and enough time to accurately create what was in my head.  I purposely left some rough edges to avoid sounding too glossy and discarded several recordings rather than include everything.  whatNOP was an experiment to learn how to use digital equipment.  Now that I kinda know what I’m doing, the next album should be even better.”.

38. Stephen Chopek – Dweller

Dweller is a beauty of an EP, full of real pop songs with a soft New Wave edge. Chopek sounds like a young Ian McCulloch or Roddy Frame.

Stephen Chopek: “Dweller is a special collection of songs for me because it’s a snapshot of how I spent my time in lockdown throughout 2020 during the pandemic. I had just gotten back from tour and planned for a busy year, but those plans quickly changed. Instead of focusing on all the things I couldn’t do, I decided to put my energy into writing and recording at home. It was an important lesson in accepting things that are out of my control, and maintaining a healthy perspective. I hope listening to Dweller brings you as much enjoyment as I had making it.”

39. Steve Rosenbaum – Steve Rosenbaum – Have A Cool Summer! (4​-​track Gems and Summer Pop Demos: 1979​-​89)

Have A Cool Summer! is a collection of demos released on 8-track and reel-to-reel tape. Read that line again. Welcome to 2021. Beautiful songs are timeless, come in all formats and all styles, and appear when time permits.

Steve Rosenbaum: “I think this record became excellent because it is a real labor of love and an example of how necessity is the mother of invention. In the 80s, when I realized I wouldn’t be able to afford to go into a multi-track studio to realize my songs, I figured out how to use two cassette decks and, later, a 4-track Portastudio, to realize my vision. Although no one would say these recordings sound like they are professionally done, I hope most will see that there is something unique and personal about them. Also, I hope the songs transcend the limitations of the technology.’.

40. Fur – When You Walk Away

‘Pure Twinkle-eyed joy’, is the description of their music that Fur uses on Spotify. Did I need some of that in 2021?!

41. Warm Soda – Best of Warm Soda (2012 – 2016)

Best of Warm Soda (2012 – 2016) would be its definition if Gritty Power Pop were a sub-genre.

42. Rockets Of Love! Power Pop Gems From The 70s, 80s & 90s

There’s a lot of good Power Pop being made nowadays, but it’s nice if Ace Records sends an anthology with fabulous songs from the genre’s heyday.

Yes, I break the rules. Welcome to the modern age where the difference between EPs and albums is no longer visible, where music in many formats is released at different times, where you only discover some bands when a greatest hits overview is released…!

So much more beautiful music has been made this year. Enjoy the Sweet Sweet Music’s favorite Power Pop Songs of 2021 – Spotify Playlist. Buy the music on Bandcamp or via the Kool Kat Musik webshop!

Vic & Kepi – After The Flood (Q&A)

Kepi and Vic made a record together. On ‘After The Flood’ you hear two friends who just want to make music and decided to press the record button. No frills, no hassle. Uninhibited and energetic.

R O C K  A N D  R O L L!

Did you think the end result would sound more like Hank Williams than The Ramones when your collaboration started?

Kepi: We Like it all! If it has roots or a rhythm, we like it! I think we are just happy whenever we get to play or record, so hopefully, that comes through!

Vic: Kepi and I have always been into old Blues, so that’s the main thing we were thinking on this recording when we thought of covers… We are always feeling the old-school blues and real rock ‘n’ roll… Like T-Rex or the NY Dolls or Johnny Thunders… Kepi’s got the mainline on Chuck Berry too, so it’s like that…

Kepi, Carly Simon is great. You recorded it before. How did that song come about? Do you start with the idea that you want to quote Coming Around Again, or does that idea arise while you are looking for the right words for the story?

Kepi: I had never heard that particular Carly Simon song, but I had remembered that title… It just seemed like a good positive line that I needed to remind myself that eventually everything comes back around, so I used it! I think it did its job! Years later, I was in the supermarket and heard Carly Simon singing the ‘Coming Around Again’ line and thought, “This must be that song!”

Vic: Hahaha, that’s so good. I do stuff like that too. Hahaha, I thought it was named after some dude or somebody that happened to have the same name… Who knew?

What’s the energy? What connects the two of you? 

Kepi: My guess is just a love of music, I dug Vic’s stuff from the first time I saw him, and I’m sure that we have just been talking about music for the 15 years since then…

Vic: Yeah, there are people you meet sometimes, and it takes like five minutes of talking, and you know you gonna be friends. I think it’s when I was standing at the merch table and Kepi handed me all these fanzines he made… Just looking at what was in them and the fact that he was making all this stuff, I knew this dude was like my kinda people. You don’t just have dreams; you live in them every day…

It starts with a good song. You both wrote plenty. Finding the melody and words is probably different now than when you started? 

Kepi: It has never gotten particularly harder or easier for me… Hopefully a little better each time. 🙂 The songs tell me when they are done, I try not to rush them… I guess it is like baking bread; you put them in the oven and hope that they come out ok!

Vic: Yeah… I got better at hearing the transmission and tuning it in. That’s all… That song “Do Unto Others” is a hook I’ve had kicking around for 20 years… I sang it for this hippy girl back then, and she was like, “Yeah, Vic! Right on! That’s beautiful!” She was too, So I never forgot it… Then I played it for Kepi, and I had like only half a verse… So he filled in the blanks, and that was that… It must have taken like half an hour.

In another world, you easily traveled the globe twice after making such a record. A bar stool and a guitar, you don’t need much more. Was the record supposed to have that vibe?

Kepi: Absolutely… This record is so simple and minimal; I remember literally taping a mic to a broomstick for certain songs in Vic’s place. 🙂 We have played houses in the desert and sailor bars in Hamburg, and all kinds of crazy stuff, and that is definitely the vibe that this record gives off… Two friends traveling and singing and hanging out… It can be the very best thing in life sometimes.

Vic: Haha yeah, there was no choice on this album what it was going to sound like… It was in my little basement apartment, and I’m not known for being the most pristine engineer anyway… We just knew we wanted to do something together, and that was a moment we could do it… One of those takes was a practice take and we weren’t even near the microphone haha. When I gave it to the mastering engineer, my buddy Mitch, he said “You’re really making me work for my pay this time huh?!” Hahaha. But I got to be honest, it sounds exactly how I wanted it to sound.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs? 

Kepi: We didn’t.

Vic: You just gotta play it and see what happens, right? You never know who’s gonna like something.

If you could tour the world with two other bands, who would you ask, and why?

Kepi: No other bands could keep us with us. Maybe Joan Jett could!

Vic: Whew!! Yeah, who does trips like Kepi?! One time you guys were with Kevin Seconds and you guys kept coming back to my place in New Jersey like a homebase… I remember one time it took you like six hours to get back from Long Island… I’ve never been as impressed by anyone as your van team with Kevin… Yes, I do believe we take a cue from the early hardcore scene when it comes to touring… Honestly I don’t feel like I’m on tour unless I’m sleeping on a couch or in a van… I hate to admit it… I would say Chris Murray can hang! He impressed me on the road! He’d take over the stereo at an after party and be like “Are we gonna dance or what?!” Haha. It takes all kinds… I can see Kepi doing the same… 

When was the last time you thought, ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

Kepi: Each time after finishing a song, I will be right one day!

Vic: I can’t say much for myself, but every time Kepi teaches me one I’m like “Damn why didn’t I think of that?!” I felt like the bass player on “Brown Eyed Girl” on this recording… Nobody knows who that guy’s name… (I think I met his daughter once) but like everybody around the world has been singing his bass part ever since… “Dum, dum du-dum dum, da dum dum-dum, dum da-dum dum…”

Thanks for your time!

Kepi: Thank you for this! Cheers!

Vic: Indeed… Gracias!! Peace.

Galore – Roller (Q&A)

“Fronted by Haligonian Barry Walsh—of the late, great Cool Blue Halo—Galore is a ballsy trip to ’70s glam and power-pop.”, The Coast wrote in 2007. There’s nothing wrong with that characterization. Although Roller also reminds me of the first Fastball record.

The recordings were completed some time ago but Roller was only recently released. Walsh explains how that came to be.

And, oh yes, he also mentions the possibility of a second Cool Blue Halo record!

Many artists have used the pandemic to get creative and crank out new albums in a few months while others have used the time to revisit projects they previously abandoned. What’s the story?

In my case I was lucky enough to do both. With my close friends, Laurence Currie and James Parker, I was able to record an EP under the moniker Mammoth Gardens (“Remote”) which is a little more electronic and experimental, and with Galore, the band I’ve been a part of/ the founding member of for 20+ years, I was able to revisit a “lost” album that was recorded over a decade ago. In both cases it’s been great to get the stuff out into the wider world and hear from folks who are enjoying it. And admittedly with the Galore album there’s a feeling of, “Finally! What took us so long?”

How did this record come together?

Galore has been around in various versions since the turn of the 2000s, but this version (myself, Kevin Hilliard on bass and vocals, Stephen Krecklo on guitar and Tim Timleck on drums) started demoing these songs at a friend’s house back in 2008 or so. From there we fiddled about in various home studios and then did significant tracking at Sloan’s rehearsal space (both Kevin and Stephen worked with Sloan’s crew and everybody’s friendly, and Kevin and I also hail from Halifax, Nova Scotia).

From there, Stephen took it home to mix and we heard the final results and … sat on them for years. Life got busy in myriad ways for all of us and as we started playing less and getting involved with other things, putting the record out wasn’t a huge priority.

But over the years we would kick around the idea of releasing it and we would have various people asking about it. Eventually, this year, I just asked myself, “What am I waiting for?” The ability to release things digitally certainly makes things easier and while I know many people love physical products (I do too) we don’t necessarily love having boxes of unsold CDs on hand. That said, we might do a small CD or vinyl run in the near future.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

I’m lucky in that I’m able to support myself and my family to some extent through work in another field that I’ve wanted to be in since I was a kid — as a magazine editor — so commercial considerations or pressures don’t really exist with my music now. In my 20s and 30s I admit that there was always this moving goalpost of “making it” as a musician but that is all consigned to the past for me.

Success lies in having people hear it and enjoy it. And this might sound cheesy but here goes: I’m not exaggerating when I say that music has saved my life on more than one occasion. So to be able to give back or contribute to this incredible magical force by writing and recording a song that someone somewhere in the world will receive a few minutes of joy from — that is success beyond anything I could’ve hoped for. But if millions of folks want to download the album I won’t argue!

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

The urge is always great but the challenge is in finding the time. I have four wonderful kids, and with the full time job, there are long stretches where I don’t touch a guitar. But I’m usually always typing a lyric into my phone or humming a melody into a voice memo so when the stars align (and they will) I’ll be able to sift through the fragments and stitch things together.

But admittedly, if I don’t engage in something creatively for a long period of time, I feel terribly off balance.

Getting compliments can be so nice. What were the best?

In the early 2000s, an iteration of Galore (myself, Tim Timleck on drums and Edward Pond on bass) went to New York City to record an EP with Richard Lloyd (Television, Matthew Sweet) producing. We had one song, “Amy Airplane”, that I’d intentionally left the guitar solo unwritten for… I was having a hard time figuring out an approach and so we asked Richard if he might want to try something.

And so he went through running the song about three times or so, soloing throughout so that when he got to the solo bit he’d be inspired. And he’s such a unique player that you can tell it’s him from the first note. I eventually released the song on the first Mammoth Gardens EP, New Moon Variety, and maybe some other stuff from those sessions will see the light of day soon. So while it wasn’t a compliment in the strict sense of the word, to have one of my musical heroes contribute to a song I wrote was pretty wonderful and a real blessing.

About a year or so later that same iteration of the band, along with guitarist Michael McKenzie, had a residency at this funky club in Toronto called Stone’s Place, run by someone who was a pal of the Rolling Stones, or various members. And at that time, the Stones were in town rehearsing for a tour. So Bernard Fowler, who has been one of their backing vocalists for years and is such a powerful, amazing singer, came to the club to hang out and eventually joined us to play. Initially he didn’t want to play any Stones songs so we played some AC/DC but he relented and we did a Stones tune or two. At the end he jabbed his forefinger into my bony chest and said, “You got the fire!”

And that moment made everything in my haphazard musical “career” up to that point worthwhile.

Oh, and David Bash, in a capsule review of one of Galore’s International Pop Overthrow sets, said my voice was “Robin Zanderesque” which was very, very generous of him.

The record is done, the music is out. Is the best fun now or is it just beginning?

It’s definitely fun to hear from people who are enjoying the record, especially given the long period involved in getting it out. To a degree there’s a sense of closure for this album, so the fun is in figuring out what to do next.

Cool Blue Halo, the band I’ve been part of since the Nineties, has been threatening to make a second record (what would be our 2nd in 25 years!) so maybe that will come to pass in 2022.

And perhaps Galore will play the odd show, as might Mammoth Gardens.

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who and why?

Ooh, that’s a tough one and it probably varies weekly. But today I’ll go with what might be a cliche choice in Paul McCartney, simply because of what I’d learn from him. I’m on a Bee Gees kick lately so my second choice could be Barry Gibb. We could start a baroque pop band and call it The Barries, And for my third choice I’d resurrect Chris Bell.