Brooklyn’s ace pop stylists Ex Cops have it all: the badass moniker, the underground cred (they were 4th Street record shop institution Other Music’s first signing to its fledgling label), the swanky veneer and slick, ubiquitous poptones to match. On its debut True Hallucinations, melodious ear candy-weaver Brian Harding, along with songstress partner Amalie Bruun, juxtapose their soothing voices sublimely with saccharine melodies that echo the playful new wave jangle of kindred spirits the Vaselines, the hooks galore of Teenage Fanclub and the sunny harmonies of the Beach Boys.
We caught up with Harding on the phone to talk signing to Other Music Recording Co, their Replacements-inspired video and, in a glorious twist, the shocking revelation that Bruun is all about the black metal.
How did you hook up with Other Music’s label?
Brian Harding: It’s funny. I had known one of the guys who’s worked there–Gerald–for almost ten years. We hadn’t really talked that much but I recorded this EP with a friend of mine in Bushwick named Dan Schapiro and I kinda did a cold call. I stopped in Other Music with the EP and just was like “Here’s ten copies. Do what you want to with them” and I guess they sold all of the copies that day because they were playing it on a PA. Coincidentally, they were starting a label. They called me up and were like “Do you want to be the first band on the label?” It was like a super-organic, “universe is on my side” kind of thing. It was really weird.
Other Music’s label only has you and a couple of other bands at the moment.
Brian Harding: Yeah, it’s us and Nude Beach and a Japanese psych guy (Shintaro Sakamoto) who’s awesome.
Ex Cops and Nude Beach have a similar pop thing going on.
Yeah, yeah. They are super-awesome. They are kinda like Tom Petty, Johnny Thunders stuff. Nude Beach definitely rocks harder than us.
I’ve read the New Zealand comparisons but I hear the Vaselines in Ex Cops stuff.
We definitely love the Vaselines. The whole New Zealand thing kinda threw us for a loop because we had never heard anything from New Zealand [laughing]. We were like “Yeah! New Zealand. Totally.” Amalie and haven’t written together that much. The album is written mostly by me but we’ve been starting to write more together for the second album, which is really exciting.
Had you been shopping at Other Music for years?
Yeah, totally. I remember when I was 16 and visiting New York, going to Other Music and being like “What’s cool? What should I buy?” I think they told me to get a Black Heart Procession record.
So, you weren’t a Kim’s Video & Music guy?
I always thought Kim’s was just a little too “New York” for me, since I was from North Carolina. I was kinda scared to go into Kim’s [laughing]. In Other Music, they were just super nice and it had more of a better vibe. Whenever I went into Kim’s, there was a bunch of security guards and shit and that scared me off. I actually went to Kim’s last month with Amalie and our 7-inch was in there. We took a picture just for the hell of it and the guy was like “You can’t take pictures in here!” They have like five security guards. Dude, relax.
When did you meet Amalie?
I actually met Amalie backstage at a Clean concert. The second time I met her was at a show she was playing at Cafe Vivaldi, then we just started doing some demos at her apartment in Chelsea maybe two years ago. We started playing shows together at the Ace Hotel just for fun and then this whole thing with Other Music started happening and she became more of a full time member of the band.
The band is a bit more expanded now.
Brian Harding: Yeah, now it’s five-piece. It’s all our friends. Our bass player, Leif (Young Huckman), is an old friend of mine and he owns that bar Donna in Brooklyn. Kai (Kennedy) and Sam (Bair) are really old friends of mine too and they play drums and guitar.
Did you and Amalie bond over certain bands? I know you were in a band called Hymns and they were roots-rock sounding, right?
If we bonded over music, it definitely wasn’t over that [laughs]. She’s really into Scandinavian black metal stuff, which I have no fucking knowledge of at all but she’s kinda been getting me into appreciating the harmonies and stuff like that. I’ve been getting her into Bob Dylan.
So, Amalie is into black metal? That’s freakin’ cool.
Yeah. She actually has her own side project where it’s all black metal.
What’s the name of Amalie’s black metal band?
I don’t know what she’s calling it. I think it’s just like under her name. But I heard a couple of demos and they’re really sick. It’s super-heavy [laughs].
Is Amalie turning you on to black metal?
We’re taking baby steps on the black metal.
Will both of you start your own black metal side project?
I think she probably wants to do it herself. I’ll just stay out of that.
The Replacements-inspired video for “Ken” is pretty cool. How did that come about?
That’s a video that I’ve always loved. I remember seeing that in high school or something and I just always liked the idea that it was anti-video and I like black and white videos a lot. I always wanted to copy that video. We did that video in just two takes.
I take it you’re a big Replacements fan.
Yeah, I like them a lot. I don’t know them hardcore but I have all their albums. Our producer (John Siket) actually did a Paul Westerberg album.
Was that the first video that came to mind to pay homage to?
I think that was the first one that came to mind. We actually shot a video before that which comes out in a couple of weeks.
Is that you in the video smoking, playing the Paul Westerberg character
It must have been fun kicking over the speaker at the end.
Yeah, it was pretty awesome.