We Went to a Haunted Bar With Pop. 1280
Photo courtesy of Pop. 1280
It's not a bad time to be Pop. 1280.
They've released their second full-length--the impressively matured Imps of Perversion yesterday. Their label, the consistently brooding New York staple Sacred Bones, is also having a good year. It's bringing a lot of attention to the band, and their unique brand of dystopian punk. While label mates The Men have gone headfirst into Dad Rock territory and Pygmy Shrews have disbanded, the illogical genre term "pigfuck," has fallen by the wayside--and they couldn't be happier. Finally, people can start taking them seriously.
Until I took them to a haunted bar, a tourist trap of sorts in Manhattan's West Village.
See also: Five Disastrous Musician Interviews
It's easy to recognize guitarist Ivan Lip and front man Chris Bug at the bar. They're clothed in black slacks, tucked in dress shirts, dress shoes--an idyllic sort of uniform. Everything about them feels like a performance, their fascination with all things serial killer and psychosexual evident within moments of conversation. This is the White Horse Tavern, the very bar poet Dylan Thomas is rumored to have spent his last hours on this earth--eighteen shots of whiskey later, he dropped dead. Pop. 1280 find this romantic.
They're fun guys with a lot to say, but when it comes down to art, they mean business. This 30-minute interview turned into a six hour romp, concluding with Jell-O shots at a nameless Polish bar in Greenpoint.
Let's start from the beginning. How did you form Pop. 1280?
Chris: You know the answer to that question. We started because I was living in China. Ivan here was distraught and we start emailing about music a lot and we decided that we needed to start a band, and if we didn't do it immediately we were never going to do it.
Why were you in China?
Chris: I decided I needed to get away from this place. I was doing a lot of things I shouldn't have been doing, but I was teaching kids English. We were both in Boston at the time.
Ivan: I was in a pretty mediocre band in Boston and then a pretty mediocre band in New York for a year. I wanted the band to be weird, but it ended up being pretty indie rock because other people in the band liked pretty boring music.
Chris: Nardwuar is going to tear you apart.
Ivan: Everyone better keep they're mouths shut. So anyway... I thought that if I was around people with cool music taste it would draw me closer to cool music than this stupid boring music thing. I wanted to annoy people, and they didn't. I was really angry with shitty rock clubs.
And Chris, you said, "that sounds great! Sign me up!"
Chris: Yeah, and we were pretty weird, our influences are pretty obvious...
Ivan: Before you signed up there was this English guy who was pretty addicted to cocaine and had a number of drum machines. It could have started out differently.
Chris: I never met the guy.
Ivan: You would have liked him.
Do you ever get annoyed with all the bands you get compared to?
Chris: At this point it's not even accurate.
Ivan: It's lazy journalism.
It's like a game of telephone.
Ivan: I'm not going to try and deny that our first 7" didn't sound like The Birthday Party on the A-side and Suicide on the B-side or something, but some of the songs on our new album, like "Lights Out" or "Riding Shotgun" don't sound like those bands. Now that we're getting heard by a wider audience, I don't think it works. I saw some review today that called us "harsh" and "aggressive." We're just a rock band.
Chris: "The guitars are screeching."
Ivan: Based on that description, you think we're Burzum or Whitehouse or something.
Chris: There's a list of adjectives that get thrown around.
Ivan: We get compared to the Jesus Lizard a lot, and there's something going on in the musicianship that I just don't know how to do. No one ever mentions the bands I'm actually ripping off.
Chris: I would like to see someone write an article about us without mentioning another band.
I think it might be the most offensive thing you can do to a band, just say "they sound like all of this ... put together!" Chris: The weirder you are, the more people want to do it. No one is writing an article that reads "Pissed Jeans sound like this, this, this and this." You could do it, easily.
Ivan: How many fucking bands in Brooklyn, never mind other cities, sound like Sonic Youth or Pavement? At this point it's not even worth mentioning. This has become a template for music.
You guys are often referred to as a New York City band. How steeped is this city into your personality?
Chris: I guess it's impossible for it not to be part of our personality. I don't think we're writing songs thinking that we're writing New York songs, but we are a product of our environment.
Since your band name comes from a crime novel by Jim Thompson ... do you consider yourselves to be a literary band?
Chris: We do read. We make it too obvious. The book's not high literature--its crime literature. I don't think we chose the name because the book meant something important ... we like the book.
Ivan: We just needed something to put on that first five-song demo.
Chris: It looks cool and you can say it a bunch of different ways. It doesn't really have meaning to us at this point.
Ivan: We do read a lot. We've both had a bunch of nervous breakdowns where we thought we'd move to different fishing villages and become writers.
Chris: I always say, "I'll just move back to China." I hope it comes across that we're literate. We spend a lot of time on lyrics.
Is there some cohesion when you write songs separately in an entire EP or album or song?
Chris: Within an album, the themes will start coming out.
Ivan: I'm a pretty empathic individual. I know when I write something whether or not he'll sing it. We've created a sort of hive mind or fake personality for the band.
It seems like you guys have similar thematic interests.
Chris: We're interested in the same facets of modern society. I think that makes our albums cohesive, this album is the most cohesive. We're gotten much better at writing songs.
Ivan: We have songs that have like three riffs now and maybe even change key.
Let's talk about your aliases. Did you kill someone?
Chris: We just thought it was funny. I think it's cool to have a cloak around you--it makes it feel more artistic.
It definitely feels more performative.
Chris: It's a shtick; it's haunted! I think I just felt Dylan Thomas move through me...
It's getting cooler in here.
Ivan: Chris was rapping in Hong Kong, which is how his name came about. Wu Tang has a lot of aliases. Like the band name, it was thought of for about two seconds.
Chris: My co-workers know what I do, I just don't want them finding a picture of me dry-humping something.
Pop. 1280's new album is out now. They play Mercury Lounge with Chrome Cranks August 16.
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